Dr. Strangelove’s Chocolate Factory

Yesterday I wrote about chocolate. The cool thing about Choclatique is it’s run by the self-proclaimed “Dr. Strangelove of chocolate,” Ed Engoron, who I can only imagine learned to stop worrying and love the bonbon. Choclatique combines chocolate with nifty concoctions like apple pie, pineapple upside down cake, and grogg.

Naturally I had to see what’s up.

15 beautiful options, where to begin?

Don’t let the pretty pictures fool you, this will be some of the most interesting chocolate you put in your mouth. Next time you’re in LA, give them a call, or have them ship you a box of eight or fifty.

That’s what I call an investment in good taste. You can read all about it at The Chocolate Tourist blog.

Backyard Explorations: Hike to the Hollywood Sign

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Now that I live here, it may be time to do some local tourist attractions. I went to a live taping of The Voice a few weeks ago, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures. Or really talk about it, other than to say we did it. So.

The iconic symbol for everything glamorous

The iconic symbol for everything glamorous

Today I’ll show you pictures of the big hike (I use the term loosely – more of a metaphor than an actual fact) up Mt Lee Drive to the tippy top of Hollywood. As hikes go, it’s a pretty easy climb. It’s a little less than two miles each way, most of it paved, and the steep uphill bits are interspersed with plateaus.

The hardest parts were the stench of horsey poo and the flies that really wanted to lick our sweat. Blech.

Tips to other explorers: make sure to bring water, sunglasses and sunscreen. You’re either in full shade or full sun all along the way, and I don’t know about you but I don’t need any extra problems when I’m trying to walk uphill.


This is the closest we could get and still actually see the sign. So I took two shots for good measure.


It took us about 40 minutes to climb to the top, and we saw several more tanned and svelte citizens beating us there and jogging back down well before we made it. But we didn’t give up. No sir.

The quintessential tale of dream-chasing persistence.


To the right, the reservoir

We made it! Got to see the world from up high. What a beautiful day, well spent.


To the left, downtown Los Angeles

Did you do something new this weekend? Did you take a picture?

Backyard Explorations: Smithfield, Virginia

Funny thing about spontaneity – you have to leave space for it. It’s difficult to pick up and go when you’re busy all the time.

I doubt I’m alone in my tendency to occupy every moment of the day. With good stuff, important stuff, but the stuff adds up and before I know it a month’s gone by and I haven’t done anything cool.

So my friend Tessa and I occasionally plan to leave space for doing cool things together. Spontaneously.


Home of the Smithfield ham, and a repository for peanuts and dairy farming, Smithfield, Virginia, is a quiet little place with bits of charm tucked throughout. Specifically the Porcine Parade – a series of eight painted pigs celebrating Smithfield history.

One of the eight pigs on parade - Swine and Roses

One of the eight pigs on parade – Swine and Roses

We bunked at Smithfield Station, a beautiful and comfortable hotel with a view of the lake and a delicious buffet brunch.


It’s a good day to wake up in Smithfield.

Walking around downtown Smithfield is an exercise in cute. From the quirky juxtaposition of architectural styles to the sweet people running the shops, it’s a treat for a quiet weekend. The Smithfield Store fed us ham biscuits and provided a variety of Virginia-themed treats to stock up for later. I got a slab of uncut bacon and some unique varieties of toffee.


Photo op with Ben Franklin (what’s he doing here?)


Just typical cuteness.


These Victorian style houses shared the street with the plainer Colonial variety. A startling combination.


Pretty bird!

It wasn’t exactly the tourist season when we went, so things were a bit silent. But we had a blast gadding about the tiny downtown area – a couple of streets with shops and an art gallery.

We visited the Smithfield museum and learned all about the World’s Oldest Ham (it’s 111 years old… and it has the wrinkles to prove it), as well as the making of the largest ham biscuit ever. It was enormous.

All you’d ever want to know about curing techniques (and being two foodies, we want to know a lot), and a good amount about peanuts. And a replica of an old timey general store, featuring a penny game and lots of badly acted voice recordings depicting pioneer days in southern Virginia.

Or maybe they weren’t badly acted. Maybe people really sound like that 200 years ago.

I guess we’ll never know.

I love cool houses.

I love cool houses.

Being so close to Surry, we skipped down to Bacon’s Castle – which I confess to secretly hoping would be an elaborate pork tower, but in reality is a big house. A big house built by a colonial planter, which was at one time commandeered by the uprisen Nathaniel Bacon in 1675.

I also quite like old houses.

I also quite like old houses.


Saint Luke’s historic cemetery


One last stop at Fort Henry in Virginia Beach – to take a gander at the lighthouse. The historic one is out of operation, but there’s another newer one right next to it. We had some trouble finding it, but the guard at the wrong entrance we went to first was very kind and redirected us.


This is the new one, viewed from the old one.


All around, a fine weekend. Let’s plan to spontaneously go somewhere else cool.

Traveling Light


I love to travel. I hate to pack. But whenever someone picks me up at the airport, they invariably note my two carry-on bags and say, “Wow, you travel light.”

It was not always this way.

I’m one of those nerds that thinks they’re going to spend an entire week reading. I’m one of those indecisives that thinks they’re going to need clothes to suit every occasion for three different kinds of weather. I’m one of those “fashionistas” (I use the term relatively) that needs four pairs of shoes for one weekend.

But one day I go to a conference with a few coworkers. One of whom has his entire two days’ belongings tucked neatly into a laptop bag. A bag zipped and snapped securely, not misshapen and barely clinging together (as mine would have been).

As I lug my backpack and rolling Samsonite to the car, I gaze enviously at his light and elegant baggage. I am inspired.

Surely if he can distill his weekend necessities to one small bag, so can I.

This is an ever-evolving practice, but I’ve simplified life, conserved energy, and saved some cash with the following travel tips. I hope you like them too.

1. Make a list

Important things seem to pop into my head at inopportune moments. Rather than trying to remember all the stuff I need/want to pack on a trip, I really benefit from keeping a running list. It’s much harder to forget anything important, and much easier to avoid packing the truly unimportant (and weighty/bulky/misery-inducing).

2. Your carry-on

What will you need while traveling? And I mean, really need? Will it all fit in your purse or an easy-to-carry backpack or shoulder bag (that closes)?

I plead with every traveler to do away with the notion that you need a purse and a laptop bag and two or three shopping bags on a plane. Not only is it annoying for everyone you’re traveling with, but it’s such a headache for you. Why do that to yourself?

Streamline this process by taking the important things out of your purse (if you normally carry one), which in the grand scheme will probably boil down to: your wallet.

Put the wallet in your carry-on and pack the purse in your checked bag. That way you are only carrying what you truly need during the flight, and are not beset by half a dozen bags dangling from your appendages as you scurry to make your connecting flight.

I always bring snacks on a flight. A bag of nuts or trail mix and maybe cut fruit will do the trick. These don’t take much space in your carry-on, and won’t go south in un-refrigerated conditions.

I also bring a notebook. Writing is one of my favorite things to do on a plane, and I often get a ton of ideas since I’m just sitting there for hours at a time.

A good book rounds out the inventory, or if you are so blessed as to own an Amazon Kindle, bring it. My Kindle Fire is really a marvelously efficient travel companion, with storage for as many books as I wish to borrow, buy, or check out from the library. I can also listen to music and watch movies on it. It’s now a necessity (and I really mean that, no one paid me to write it).

Toss in a lip balm and a brush and I’m ready to fly. Without pulling my shoulder out of socket lugging my junk all around the airport.

3. Your wardrobe

In my experience, the bulk of my suitcase is filled with clothes. So combining outfits and sharing big accessories (like hats, belts and shoes) can really save space.

For instance, I have three skirts that can be worn with boots. The boots are easy to get on and off, but bulky, so I can wear them on the plane and only need to pack one other pair of shoes for non-boot-appropriate outfits.

It’s like a game. See how many outfits you can create with just a few variables. Rather than packing 7 sweaters, 7 tops, 7 bottoms and 7 pairs of shoes, you can get creative with half the volume.

4. Ship ahead

If you’ve pared your mountain of belongings down to a reasonable level and still find you can’t fit it all in a carry-on, consider mailing the extra. The US Postal Service has a flat-rate box that ships Priority Mail for less than the cost of most bag checking fees.

If it comes down to traveling with two carry-on bags or a carry-on and a checked bag, try mailing the extra items to yourself in your new location. A quick call to the Post Office should give you the skinny on rates and delivery times. Even if no one will be there when your box arrives, you can pick it up from the nearest Post Office within a few days of the initial delivery.

And when all is said and done, try not to sweat it. Traveling light is a state of mind as much as it is a state of being. We don’t need to lug all our favorite things from home in order to enjoy the new place we’re going to explore.

It’s a new experience in a new environment. Embrace the possibilities.

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Point Dume State Beach


Point Dume is a state preserve, different from your typical beach in that the sand ends about 100 feet above the ocean. I would show you, but I was too chicken to get close enough to the edge. But one can still enjoy the beauty and relaxation of ocean waves from a safe perch on the sand.


The view from my perch.

If I were feeling more adventurous, I would have scrambled down the haphazard path to the beach. But this was primarily a reading and journaling mission. And scrambling back up the sandy cliff was not really on my list of priorities.

Maybe next time.

I spent a considerable amount of time gazing at this house.


House-hunting in Malibu. If it has a clock tower and a finished basement, I’ll take it.

A number of large birds roamed the sky. They looked like herons or cranes (though I’ve never seen a heron fly). At one point a whole bunch of them swooped out of nowhere and dispersed over the ocean, looking for lunch I expect.

I thought that sounded like a good idea. It was a good thing I had food with me, because this place is substantially off the beaten path. It’s quiet and peaceful, even on a Saturday. A few miles off the PCH, it comes at the edge of a neighborhood of illustrious, well propertied (and typically gated) houses.

Parking consists of about ten spots on the side of the road, and the posted signs limit you to 2 hours. Which works out okay, because with no food and no bathroom, you’re probably not going to want to hang out all day.


For a quiet perch to write and read, however… Point Dume is perfect.

Backyard Explorations: Point Dume

For we wanderlust sufferers, it is easy to overlook the fact that getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily require a big splurge on plane tickets and hotels. Next time you need a change of scenery, consider looking in your own backyard.


Topanga Canyon

LA has been my neighborhood for almost three months now, and it’s high time I did some exploring. Work pressures and writing commitments have been piling up. I could use some perspective.

And my motto is, when the going gets tough, the tough go driving.

The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH, for cool) is the famous road that follows the coast of California. It runs all the way up to San Francisco and beyond, but I was not planning to go that far today.


My eyes were too busy watching the road to notice where the camera was pointing.

In order to get to the coast, I took the 101 freeway west and followed Topanga Canyon Boulevard up, up, up and down, down down – winding around the mildly frightening mountainous terrain with my game face on. I even managed to hack a few photos with my free hand.

canyon3Coming down the other side, the first thing I noticed (aside from the gorgeous canyon views) was a distinct drop in temperature. After 90 degrees and climbing in the valley, those first whiffs of 69 coming over the hills was dreamy.

Topanga Canyon is a really charming part of the world, with barren hills suddenly boasting civilization. Signs for businesses and houses and even a Post Office. I felt a little nervous for the safety of several cyclists hugging the teeny margin of street next to vehicular traffic, but nothing horrible happened.


I wish I could do it justice (you’ll have to go see it yourself sometime), but suddenly out of all this up and down comes a stunning ocean view. This being a Saturday, the view was made slightly less stunning by the volume of cars lined up all along the side of the road.

These beaches do offer paid parking, but most visitors would rather take their chances on the side of the road than waste their nine bucks.

I drove the PCH for eight or ten miles, just looking around and soaking in the atmosphere. It reminded me of weekends in Virginia Beach – the smoosh of locals clamoring for some beach time on their day off.

Once I hit Malibu, public beaches gave way to houses built right on the coast (completely blocking the view). I thought these might be fun and eccentric like the ones in Florida, but they were mostly forgettable. Still the main drag feel was fun and funky, with a mix of fast food and kitschy Mexican establishments lined up together.

The first glimpse of something promising...

The first glimpse of something promising…

I set my sights on a quieter, less commercial part of the world. On the map, Point Dume State Beach (I pronounce it ‘Dyoom’ so it doesn’t sound so ominous) forms sort of a horn protruding into the ocean. I imagined a wide swath of sand from which you could enjoy a 180 degree view of the Pacific.

Who knew if that’s what it’s really like, but it’s fun to imagine.

I had a dream when I was planning my Key West road trip that the highway through the keys was just two lanes right on the water. I know that’s probably impossible, but come on, engineering has absolutely nothing to do with the way my mind works.


So there I was, beginning to look for my next turn, and the world opened up before me. The traffic, the busy Saturday, the deadlines, the questions about the future, they all fell away.

This is what exploring can do for you, folks. You take a break from your schedule. You simply behold.

This is discovery, in my book.

More on Point Dume tomorrow, but for now: when was the last time you followed a road you’ve never seen the end of? Maybe that should happen soon.

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One Morning in Richmond

Counting down to June 2, at which point I will no longer be a Virginia citizen! In honor of my home state, I re-post these meanderings in Richmond a couple summers ago. A breezy read that just may inspire you to visit.

Going Places

In which a quick road trip and a visit to my cousin is really just a foil for the lengths to which I will go for a great haircut.

It’s Saturday morning, calm and breezy. Warm but not too warm – yet. This is summer in Virginia, after all. My dear cousin, Carly Childers has recently become a stylist at Blackbird Salon in Richmond and I have an 11:00 appointment.

I-95 was busy, not too surprising for 8am on a beach day. I rocked out to great hits of the 60’s and 70’s through the Fredricksburg traffic and pointless rubbernecking and made it to the salon with moments to spare.

Blackbird is on North Lombardy Street, right near Carytown, and a very picturesque area of Richmond. It’s highly residential, with some of the houses converted into shops here and there. Blackbird Salon appears to be one of these, which makes…

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Sleepless in Saint Louis


Dear STL:

I was so excited yesterday I woke up at 4:30am. I didn’t need to get up that early to drive to Washington, DC, then fly to Saint Louis, MO. I had a wonderful time gallavanting around the MetroLink system, with learning the ticket validation system and people watching and refusing to speak to strangers who approached and asked if they could talk to me. Although I felt a little badly about that last one. And I really enjoyed spending time with my dear Saint Louis friend, Lina, and her adorable 1-year-old son, who showed me all his cow toys and played peek-a-boo with me to no end. But it is 5am now and I’m tired, and I haven’t worked on my screenplay at all. What should I do?

-Sleepless in Saint Louis


Dear Sleepless:

Do you know you can ride to the top of the stainless steel Arch for a spectacular view of The Gateway City? Too bad you weren’t here for the thunderstorm the other night – the Arch was struck by lightning! It was pretty incredible. Or why not explore Forest Park, home of the 1904 World’s Fair? There you will find the art museum, golf courses, the zoo, not to mention walking and biking trails. And as long as you’re not sleeping anyway, check out our nightlife! Laclede’s Landing features some of our hottest bars and dance clubs, most of which are smoke free and open until 3am. Then there’s always the theater, the casino, the botanical garden… you will never run out of things to do in Saint Louis!


Dear STL:

Thank you for the recommendations. I wish I were going to be here for another week, but it’s just today, so… I’ll let you know how it goes.

A Rainy Day in Whistler

Whistler, Canada natural beauty

In keeping with British Columbia’s rambunctious weather patterns, Day 4 was chilly and overcast. The sore throat I’d been wrestling since the night before the trip was beginning to get a leg up on me, so Mom proposed a trip to the health food store to get some supplements for my suffering immune system.

I countered that we walk – it was only 5 kilometers from where we were staying. A good stretch of the legs. Plus I was eager to explore some of the trails I’d seen branching off the main highway. Dad agreed to walk with me, and together we explored the backstage area of Whistler’s network of ski resorts and parks.


Gorgeous. Even when they’re hidden by fog, the mountains are stunning.

We passed wildflowers and rock gardens, a variety of trees. We watched paddle boarders on the lake, enjoyed the quiet, and talked about all kinds of things.

That’s what I love about long walks with my dad – neither one of us are big talkers, but when we’re gallavanting in the great outdoors, we let loose. Everything under the sun, we discuss it. I discovered this a couple of years ago when Dad talked me into training for a half marathon with him. When we did our training ‘runs’ together (more like jog for ten minutes, then walk until I was ready to try again), we swapped wisdom on topics ranging from travel plans to job searches. It does me good.

I don't know what these flowers are named, but I thought they were so surprisingly beautiful in the middle of this pond.

I don’t know what these flowers are named, but I thought they were so surprisingly beautiful in the middle of this pond.

Whistler Village Park is an enormous town center, the center of the shopping and dining in Whistler. Even in summer there were numerous patrons – maybe since there wasn’t any skiing to do. We located the health food store and got me some Olive Leaf extract to take with the Emergen-C I was drinking.

Since we were there, we wandered around a bit and watched people. Dirt bikers riding down the mountain, lifts taking people up the mountain. Lots of shoppers and diners wandering through the bricked streets. We found a coffee shop for a snack and fortified our walk back.

Just as it began to rain. It was a gentle rain, so we didn’t mind.


Canada Geese – in Canada! Whoa.

Even so, it was nice to get home and put on dry socks.

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Whistler, BC: Home of the 2010 Olympics


If the following photos look familiar to you, it might be because Whistler was the home of the 2010 Olympic Games. What you probably don’t know is that it was June when the games were recorded.

Okay, not really, but seriously it could have been. Whistler is gorgeous and full of winter sport, but the temps stay pretty low even in summer.

We were feeling a little wiped out from all the getting around and frigidity of the Victoria Island portion of our journey, so for our first day in Whistler we decided to keep it chill. It was actually a sunny, pleasant day – pushing 60 degrees Farenheit, so we drove a little bit down 99 with the intention of finding something scenic and looking at it.

Scenic is not tough to find in Whistler – around every bend, over every hill there is something to see. The view above is fairly common… snow-capped mountains, evergreens flourishing beside trickling streams, rushing waterfalls. Wildflowers galore. And also bears.



This sign greeted us as we began the winding ascent to the official home of the winter games, on a quest for waterfall viewing. It was an exceptionally foggy morning (pretty early, as we were still somewhat jet-lagged 3 hours ahead of the rest of the west coast) and we didn’t THINK there were any unpleasant creatures about.

But still.

We locked the car doors and drove past one or two black bears foraging on the side of the road. They may have been intimidating in real life (ie: outside the car), but they appeared to be much more interested in posing for pictures than in taking a bite out of any hapless tourists or misdirected winter Olympics spectators. They were just doing their thing with no apparent concern for the cars driving past.

Normally there is an entry fee for the park, but it just so happened that a private event was going on that day, so the fee was waived. We drove past the ski jump and the official mascot for the 2010 games. We passed the Olympic rings. We kept driving until we found what we were looking for.

Official 2010 ski jump of death

Official 2010 ski jump of death

The official 2010 rings and stone man

The official 2010 rings and stone man

A waterfall!

It was ethereal and mysterious in the lingering fog and rising mist. The sound of rushing water was at once calming and invigorating.

Ethereal beauty and invigorating calm

Ethereal beauty and invigorating calm

There didn’t seem to be much of a road beyond this point, so we drove back up 99 and got lunch (Southside Lodge, excellent diner cuisine slash hostel). Feeling fortified and refreshed in our quest for pretty things, we headed north this time.

It took about 30 miles, but eventually a sign for Nairn Falls caught our eye. Parking was a cinch, and we found several signs that informed us that a quick trek through a mile or so of trail would bring us to the falls.


The trail was pretty easy walking and we came across several families with young ones as well as older folks along the same path. I love wildflowers and paused to admire some of them as we went by. The idea that something so beautiful would take root and bloom whether any human being would ever be involved or not is one that I find haunting and inspiring.

I could philosophize further, but that’s not really what we’re doing here. I’ll just let you think about the daily miracles that go unseen by human eyes and take away your own deductions from it.

Nairn Falls: the main event. The falls are gorgeous, and now that the fog had cleared we enjoyed sunning ourselves on the wooden deck built across the rocks at the base of the falls.
_NairnFalls copy

More wildflowers grew in the cracks between the rocks, and the foaming water looked frigidly inviting. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and videos, struggling to master a perfect panning shot without the aid of a tripod or steadicam rig. As you can imagine, this was an absorbing endeavor. When I looked up to locate my parents, I found my mom doing the last thing I would have expected.

She was lying down. On the wooden deck. Feet propped on the railing, arms out to the side, eyes closed.

This woman was on vacation.

So I joined her, and in a matter of minutes Dad plopped down next to us. Just three Matzes lying in the sun, enjoying the waterfall mist and the waterfall noise and all the wonderfulness of being in Whistler, British Columbia. Should you visit Nairn Falls, you may very well be tempted to do the same. It was highly gratifying.

As you can imagine, after all this excitement we needed some ice cream.

Prompted by signs for a Pemberton just a bit farther north, we located and drove through the small town featuring a skate park, a library, and a coffee shop. There was ice cream too, so we lounged on the deck furniture and reminisced about our favorite parts of our road trip so far.

It’s been a beautiful, delightful, enjoyable day in Whistler. Let’s do it again tomorrow.

The view from Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton, BC

The view from Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton, BC

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