Things I learned while attempting to make chocolate from scratch in my truck

Stories from the Road, Trucking

1. I need a bigger mixing bowl. I’m sure there are worse things to be covered in, but still. Lots of cleaning up to do.
2. Making your own chocolate is actually surprisingly easy to do. The recipe is incredibly simple; 1 part coco powder, 1 part oil, sweeten to taste. You don’t even need a double boiler – although I’m sure that makes it easier.

(I used unrefined coconut oil, but I’m guessing you could use butter or any other oil-based solid stuff, maybe even cream cheese? Also I just realized I forgot to add a pinch of salt. Whoops!).

3. Bitter chocolate is BITTER. Very bitter. It took 12 ounces of liquid sweetener just to get it to taste like dark chocolate.

4. Beware liquid sweeteners. My chocolate was looking beautiful with that liquid silk texture glistening in the sunlight as I stirred….and then I added liquid sweetener and it almost immediately turned into gritty mush. Turns out the liquid sweetener I used contained water.

5. Beware of water. Apparently chocolate does not mix well with any amount of water. It took a little internet research to figure out that this is what ruined the texture of my chocolate, but not that much. (Edit: after some more reading I have learned that chocolate will tolerate liquid as long as you maintain the ratio 1 part liquid to 4 parts chocolate. Haven’t tried it myself – seems easier to just avoid liquids altogether.)

6. Even ugly chocolate tastes good. Although my chocolate didn’t end up with that silky smooth texture I was hoping for, it still tastes just fine. I had to strain out all the water that kept separating from the mix but in the end I had some pretty good tasting chocolate. 

7. The flavor changes over time. When I first put it in the fridge to set, it still tasted pretty intensely tangy and bitter but after sitting overnight it has mellowed considerably. Now it tastes much more like the fudge I was hoping for.


A Sports Fable

Essays, Fiction, Short Story

A long long time ago in a land far far away, a child picked up a stone and threw it across a field. A second child that was with the first also picked up a stone and threw it and his went further. The two of them laughed in delight and continued picking up stones to see who could throw theirs further. This game became a tradition and was passed on from generation to generation and was a source of great delight and friendship between siblings families and tribes for many years.
One day a child was discovered to be exceptionally talented at the throwing stones game. People came from all around to see her throw and try their hand at beating her but she was always the best. Seeing her throw soon became a spectacle and people traveled for miles to witness the poise, grace, strength, and subtle technique that made her stones always traveled farther. 

Later, it came to pass that one of the people who saw her throw was so impressed by her talent, that he decided to dedicate his entire life to gaining the ability to throw stones farther than anyone else. Oddly enough no one thought this a strange way to spend your life so people supported and encouraged him in his quest. Again and again he challenged the champion stone thrower and not long after dedicating all his time and energy to the task, he defeated the champion in a stone throwing contest. The defeated champion laughed shook hands with the new champion and went on with her life. She still threw stones and enjoyed it, but the spectacle was over (somewhat to her relief actually).

The new champion basked in the attention and spectacle of being the farthest stone thrower until one day, another decided to also dedicate their life to stone throwing. This one seemed to have more natural talent than the new champion (although arguably not as much as the first) and soon this new challenger defeated the second champion and became the third.

The second was furious and shouted that the third had used tricks like taking a step forward so their throw really wasn’t that far, and anyway that first throw really wasn’t a tie – his was further by at least a finger width. Some people laughed but many of the people were so dismayed at the argument that they consulted the elders – who said they were too busy dealing with issues like the current famine and the overly aggressive tribe to the north – so the people came together and held a counsel to determine what the rules should be for throwing stones. They even consulted the first champion but she was busy with her life and told them she didn’t really care.

Soon the counsel came up with a set of rules and the contests continued with more and more individuals deciding to dedicate their lives to throwing stones (which were now of regulated weight and dimensions).

Occasionally someone would be born with a natural talent for throwing stones, but there were always so many that dedicated all their time and energy to it that competition was fierce, and unless one had a passion for throwing stones, you were called things like “amateur” or “hobbiest” or “not really serious about throwing stones.” Thus it was that throwing stones went from something fun for friends to do together, to a fiercely competitive career complete with rules and regulations and – as time went on – legal battles, social upheaval, betrayals, and tragedy of all kinds. 

Over throwing rocks. 

Because it was fun one time. 

And this is why I don’t like “sports.”

♪ Somewhere on the wrong side of the Rainbow… ♫

Pictures, Trucking

weatherThere’s no place like home [click click]…there’s no place like home [click click]…there’s no place like home [click click]…
Darn. Well, that didn’t work (friggin’ converse shoes…) so here I am in the flattest state of all, and I thought I was off to see the wonderful mechanic of Fontana, in the Emerald truck yard (in my emerald truck!) with my cat To- er, I mean Bowie…but anyways, it looks like I am going to be here for a while; and by here I mean this:

Phone photo0221 

Yeah. I am not moving in this picture. In fact I am still not moving as I write this. I have not moved since last night. I used to say I was a “middle of the road” kinda guy but this is ridiculous. There was a snow rescue crew out here earlier who asked if we wanted to be taken into town, but I and the driver ahead of me declined as it is generally company policy to stay with your load, besides which I have the added problem of a battery that won’t last more than a couple hours with the truck shut off. Now however, it occurs to me that I am low on fuel (I am 4 miles away from my fuel stop) so I won’t be able to idle my truck much longer…I wonder how long it will be before I can move again? To be continued…

Positive Thinking: Because Everything is Awful.

Essays, Staying Happy

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of articles that are very critical of what they call “Positive Thinking” but demonstrate a very superficial understanding (or complete lack of understanding) of what “Positive Thinking” really is.

Much of the misunderstanding seems to hinge on what the goal of “positive thinking” actually is. Let’s be clear. The goal of “positive thinking” is…(drumroll)…positive thinking. The whole point of positive thinking is finding hope and optimism in a cynical world – not gaining health and wealth. Granted, health and wealth may sometimes be enhanced as a byproduct of positive thinking, but it’s not the goal. It must also be admitted that there are plenty of charlatans and opportunists out there who have hijacked some of the terminology of positive thinking in an attempt to sell easy recipes to their own brand of health/wealth based “success,” but these are counterfeits of the real article.  

True positive thinking is for the purpose of gaining a healthy mind and enriched experience of life – not miracle healing and getting rich quick – and it is based in self honesty and personal responsibility. Let me show you. Here are a couple basic principles of true positive thinking.

1. You are not a victim – a mere object of circumstances; you are a being with strengths, talents, and will that can be brought to bear on your circumstances. Obsessing over what has happened or is happening to you does not help you. Taking action and making decisions does. Focusing on what you CAN’T do doesn’t help you. Focusing on what you CAN does. Injustice and hardship are real, but you get to decide whether your story is a tragic one or a heroic one.

2. Judging or categorizing things, experiences, or people with simplistic labels like “good/bad”, “smart/stupid”, “pretty/ugly”, may seem expedient, but it ultimately dulls our ability to discern, learn and grow.

3. Regret is not the same thing as shame. Enduring shame and guilt are a miscarriage of regret. Regret informs you that certain decisions or actions have undesirable consequences. Shame and guilt come in when rather than learning, changing, and moving forward, we instead label ourselves as someone who does those kinds of things and agonizes at our fate of being so terrible/stupid/whatever. Regret that gives birth to learning and change is healthy and productive – wallowing in shame and guilt is not.

4. It’s good to feel your emotions and acknowledge their source. Suppressing negative emotions does not help you to be a happier person. Our bodies instinctively react with sobs, laughter, or adrenaline based on various stimuli in a way that has served us well for thousands of years. Trying to stifle these reactions can only lead to frustration and confusion. Instead, focusing and channeling these reactions into constructive action can help these instincts to be more effective. For instance, anger signals us that something urgently needs to change (often what needs changing is our own perspective or approach to a problem) – our body gets a shot of adrenaline and our mind suddenly becomes very tightly focused on the issue at hand. If that energy and focus can be aimed at examining options and blasting away obstacles, then that is anger well spent. Likewise tears, while seeming to blind us and cause embarrassment, have been found to carry away stress-inducing toxins. Fear increases our heart rate, preparing us for action and boosting our senses and awareness. The trick is to take the reigns of these emotions, acknowledge the cause, and consider how you can best use your body’s natural reaction. Sometimes you just need to have a good cry and shed some of that stress. Sometimes you need to blast through the bullshit – the excuses, the distractions, the procrastination – and take action. Sometimes you need to stop and take stock of your situation, acknowledge any risks you are taking and be alert for new developments.

As long winded as this may seem, it’s just scratching the surface of what goes into truly positive thinking. There are so many other principles including things like “personal narrative,” “an attitude of gratitude,” and “laws of attraction,” that are not as simple to explain – often because we don’t necessarily understand why they work, just that they do. Ultimately though, if you are looking for health and wealth, positive thinking is not necessarily going to help you. In fact, an obsession with that kind of “success” will likely inhibit your ability to think positively. If, on the other hand, what you seek is hope and and a brighter perspective on life and maybe some practical tools to help you through the ups and downs, the bumps and scrapes, and the general turbulence that is every day life, then “positive thinking” may be something you want to look into.

Pruned by Ariana Mullens


With so many books out there promising clever tricks stratagems and shortcuts to a better life, it is incredibly refreshing to read a book with plain simple practical ways to enjoy the life you have, in all it’s imperfect awkward and sometimes even painful glory. Such an accomplishment may sound intimidating but the book is anything but; the chapters are short and easy to read and each is followed by one or two simple questions for reflection, as well as suggestions for further reading.
A large part of the book is simply stories. By sharing her own experiences and how she and her family have grown through hardships and uncertainty, Ariana Mullins illustrates simple yet priceless lessons in cultivating flexibility and happiness in all of life’s seasons. Sharing her stories with no special tricks or gimmicks, she has created a book that is both an easy read and a handy guide to return to when things get rough. I only wish there was a printed version so I could keep my very own dog-eared scribbled in copy close at hand. For more about Ariana and her book as well as her family and their adventures, see the link below.

6 Driving Habits That Could Save Your Life

Essays, Getting It Done, Trucking

Every day you plop down into the driver seat often with a mocha in one hand and a cell phone in the other with a hundred things running through your mind – none of them driving. You turn the key without even realizing it and merge into 60 mph traffic daydreaming about what you’ll do this weekend or wondering what that girl or guy really thinks about you.

Then it happens. There’s a loud noise that snaps you out of your reverie and suddenly your heart is in your throat as you realize something terrible is about to happen and that this is probably going to REALLY hurt.

If you’ve ever been in an accident or even had a really close call, you know what I’m talking about. The hard reality is that regardless of who is “at fault” in an accident, there is usually something both drivers could have done to avoid it. Tragically, even the person hurt the worst in an accident often could have done something to prevent the crash. It is so easy to forget that people – imperfect, everyday human beings – are behind the wheel of every automobile on the road and those people will make mistakes.

Here are a few tips to keep someone else’s mistake from costing you money, pain, or your life.

1. Pay Attention.
I can’t stress this enough. There are so many things to distract us on the road. Music, cell phones, passengers, stress, food – all these things can take your attention away from that forty ton truck in the lane next to you for just long enough for something really horrible to happen. The solution is to train yourself to focus first on your surroundings and second (if at all) on anything else going on. If it helps ask yourself these 6 questions as you drive:
• What’s going on IN FRONT of me?
• What’s going on LEFT of me?
• What’s going on RIGHT of me?
• What is about to happen ABOVE me?
• What is about to happen BELOW me?
• What is going on BEHIND me?
Being aware of what’s happening in these 6 areas should go a long ways to keeping you safe on the road – in fact most of the tips on this list have to do with those 6 questions.

2. Keep Your Distance.
Besides lack of attention, underestimating safe following distance has got to be the most common mistake drivers make. The simple rule for keeping a safe distance is this: in an average automobile the minimum safe following distance in ideal conditions is 3-4 seconds. This means when the vehicle ahead of you passes a stationary object (like a road sign, a bridge, or even the dashes painted on the road) it should take at least 3-4 seconds before that object passes you. Remember this is for ideal conditions when your attention is focused on the driving, it’s sunny and clear, and the roads are smooth straight and dry. That 3-4 seconds allows you just barely enough time to see a hazard, recognize that you are in danger, make a split second decision on how to react to the danger, act on that decision, and then finally – likely with screeching tires and smoking brakes – have your vehicle respond to your action. To avoid the screeching tires and smoking breaks, it is prudent to give yourself more than the minimum safe following distance. Here’s a Pro-Tip: in traffic keep your speed slightly slower than the car ahead of you. Cars may cut in front of you, but as they pull away, your safe following distance is automatically restored.

3. Slow Down for Conditions
Notice that I didn’t say “don’t speed.” This is more specific. The speed limit may be 75 mph but that doesn’t mean it’s always safe to go that fast. Obvious conditions that should cause people to slow down are things like rain, snow, ice, traffic, construction, etc. Not so obvious are conditions like blind curves, darkness, fog, fatigue, and many other conditions that can slow your response time or your vehicle’s response time or compromise your visibility. When in doubt, slow down or park.

4. Don’t Change Lanes.
Do you really have to pass that guy? Whenever you change lanes, you are at risk. You are either moving in front of a vehicle, into a space that another vehicle may be headed for, or even into a space that a vehicle you didn’t see is already in. In addition, regardless of whether or not you see the other driver, there’s the chance that they don’t see you (failing to signal your turn only increases that risk). Lane changes also often take your attention away from what is happening ahead of you as you check your blind spots and try to gauge oncoming traffic before you make your move. The bottom line is that lane changes are risky and the less you do it, the safer you will be.

5. Check & Maintain Your Vehicle.
The most dangerous accident I’ve ever been was on a clear dry road in the middle of the day with no other cars in sight. A tire blew causing immediate loss of control and I went careening off the road at 75 mph. Luckily I didn’t collide with anything but it was a close thing; and it could have been avoided by simply checking my tire pressure. Making sure that your wheels, steering and brakes are all in good order, as well as securing any loose parts or items attached to your vehicle is probably the easiest and yet most neglected way of preventing serious accidents on the road. Don’t skip it – the one time you do may be the one time that really mattered.

6. Don’t Take It Personally
The truth is, most of us are completely oblivious to how our driving is affecting the people around us. Driving is a very isolating experience with each driver is in his or her own little bubble so, while what the driver in front of you just did may seem anywhere from discourteous to downright insulting, chances are he or she had no intention of offending you and might even be someone you would enjoy having a beer with were you to meet them in person. There are many factors that can trigger us or make us feel threatened, from the appearance of another drivers’ vehicles to the way the vehicle sounds and moves. The driver, however, is NOT the vehicle. The driver is a person just like you or your spouse or mother or best friend. The vehicle may look and sound like it’s growling at you but it’s not. It can’t. It’s just a machine. Likewise the way someone handles their vehicle is probably not an expression of how they feel about you. Taking someone else’s driving as a personal affront is likely going to cloud your judgement and take your focus away from safely driving your vehicle. If you have trouble controlling your response to other people’s lousy driving, consider anger management counseling. It could save your life or someone else’s.

Driving is dangerous. Most vehicles these days weigh in excess of two tons and frequently operate and speeds in excess of 60 mph, very often in close proximity to other vehicles doing the same. It takes less than a second for something to go horribly wrong and the consequences could be fatal. You may have driven the same stretch of road a million times with out applying any of these tips and never had a problem, but remember this; it’s not the million times that kill you – it’s just that last one.

Reasons to Love Wyoming

Stories from the Road

Why do I like Cheyenne, WY so much? To be honest, I haven’t taken in much of the actual town; big rigs (like the one I currently drive to pay the bills) are generally a pain to take into most towns and in five years of driving I have never tried it in Cheyenne. I guess the Cheyenne I know is more the outskirts; the wide open spaces with broad roads and plenty of visibility. Practical considerations like this that apply mostly to truckers make it an easy favorite. Several truck stops located right off the interstate with very little car traffic will tend to put most drivers in a good mood – or at least a better mood depending on the driver. There are also several very spacious distribution centers that are relatively easy to pick up and deliver to; this, together with Cheyenne’s location – at least a hundred miles from the nearest major city in any direction – would be enough to make it popular among drivers who live for the open road. Beyond practical considerations however, Cheyenne – and Wyoming as a whole – has a natural beauty that is unsurpassed by any other state.

To put it one way, Wyoming is 90% sky. There is little if anything to crowd the horizon, and what is there is distant and magnificent. The state straddles the rocky mountains, but in a place where the range gives way to rolling foothills and broad plateaus instead of the jutting craggy peaks of Colorado. The result is vistas that go on all the way to the horizon, mostly unbroken, and dressed with purple mountains in the extreme distance. Meanwhile, the real scenery is in the sky as towering cumulous colossi dwarf the mountains and paint their mile long shadows across he table lands.

So yeah, I like Cheyenne, and I like Wyoming. The driving is easy, the miles are long, and the scenery is pretty hard to beat; and at the end of the day, knowing that a hot meal and a shower are just off the interstate is just the icing on the cake.

I Should Have Had The Salad

Stories from the Road
Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia, where outdoor conditions are just about right for boiling eggs. The nights are filled with the agonized shrieks of cricketts and bullfrogs who are likewise boiling, and my belly us filled with cheap fried food which is just about all that is available at the moment. I’ll admit I did consider the limp brown salad but decided to give it a pass.
Is it any wonder then that my stomach is holding a protest rally and recruiting neighboring organs to join in? Whatever happened to just signing a petition? Anyhow we are beyond that phase and I’ve lost a few days of driving to the necessity of having a restroom within range for suprise demonstrations from my agrieved digestive track.
There is a little more to it actually. I would only be out a day or so if I had been able to successfully deliver my cargo here in Atlanta, but I was turned away at the gate due to an unforseen technicality. It seems that this particular customer will not unload a refrigerated trailer unless it has at least 3/4 of a tank of fuel. I had only 1/2. This seems odd to me since unloading the trailer takes only a matter of hours, whereas 1/2 a tank of fuel will last days. Anyhow before I was able to acquire the requisite fuel (which due to another technicality could not be purchased at the nearest fuel station but only at an approved fuel station about 20 minutes away) I was visited by the avenging spirit of Montazuma – undoubtedly on behalf of the newly formed digestive reform movement in my belly.
Anyhow the upshot was that I was delayed at the nearest (un-approved) truck stop just long enough to run out of legal hours of service (yet anothet technicality) and so could not legally drive to the approved fuel stop and get back to the delivery point – which by this time was fine by me as civil unrest had clearly developed in my lower intestine and I was not feeling up to navigating Atlanta freeway traffic – or indeed even the truckstop parking lot. I communicated the situation to my dispatcher who offered her sympathies and prescribed rest and liquids. Feeling wiped out, exhausted, and light headed I retreated to my bunk hugging a gallon bottle of water which I nursed for the next day. As it turns out, the holiday weekend will delay delivery even further so it looks like I will be here a while. I will probably at least get the fuel situation taken care of tomorrow and maybe look for a grocery store so I can get some healthy food before my kidneys go on strike. Wish me luck!
Believe it or not, there is food worse than McDonalds. It’s called Waffle House. For those of you who haven’t experienced Waffle House, burn some bacon, then throw on some frozen hash browns, top with a slice of Kraft singles, and season with cigarette ash and broken dreams. Or you could just take my word for it. Their grits are actually pretty good though. The waffles are “meh.”

Night Rider

Stories from the Road
Hello Virginia. Oh the lush green of Virginia in summer time. Oh the thick night air like a warm blanket – or like a damp pillow someone is trying to smother you with. Anywho I’m here.
There are pros and cons to driving all night in the eastern states. Pro: way less traffic. Con: What day is it again? Pro: better chance at finding parking in the early morning – slim chance in the evening. Con: trying to sleep during the day, getting your circadian rythms trying to play brazillian jazz instead of their usual conventional lullaby. Pro: getting more sleep while still making ontime delivery. More or less. Con: Catching up on sleep is not an optimal use of time for logging milage, but then again neither is falling asleep at the wheel and the consequences thereof.
Its a tough call to make sometimes but ultimately, when I’m exhausted – as I am now – if I can get more sleep in exchange for an all nighter, I’ll take it. I’ll get back on a normal rythm later. Meanwhile I apoligize for being out of touch as I will be sleeping during normal phine conversation hours. Don’t worry though as you are all in my dreams. Seriously. It gets wierd sometimes. Like I’m usually back in highschool and can’t find my pants or something. Anyways.
Until next time – adios!