It is the two year anniversary of this blog.  I started it for Valentine’s Day in 2009 – and it has been a source of love and fulfillment for me every day since then.

I created this blog out of a course at Landmark Education called Power and Contribution.  It is my way to get my love out there into the world.   I am always grateful that you read it, that you email me to tell me how a story reminds you of something or someone in your life, that you comment on the difference it makes for you.  I am grateful to all of you!

Instead of a story, I’ve created a Valentine’s Day tribute – to you, to the full self-expression that is available to all of us, and, as an expression of my love:

1.               My son, Josh, has given me a special Valentine – one I cannot tell anyone about yet.  For me, that is VERY hard, but my friend, Jennifer Watt, helped me to think of this in a new way.  It is my “Secret Valentine,” the “yum, yum, yum, yummy” of my heart – like good chocolate, I can savor it, letting it melt slowly on my tongue, closing my eyes and enjoying the moment of it, the taste of it, the way it makes my heart glow in warmth and love.  There’s no one like Josh to me, so this Valentine is just the ultimate, the mountain-top, the Oscar of Valentines.  I am savoring every moment!

2.               Yesterday, I went to a chocolate tasting event given by my friend, Shana Dressler, to benefit her organization, The Global Cocoa Project.   I always held it before that I was a chocoholic, the word having an addictive connotation, like I have no control over it.  At the event, I met Clay Gordon and bought his book, “Discover Chocolate.”  While in conversation with him, he distinguished for me that I am not a chocoholic, I am a “chocophile”, a lover of good chocolate, a seeker for that which is sweet and beautiful and yummy in this life.  Thank you, Clay, for that distinction about myself – it is so empowering!  And, so very Who I Am, not just about chocolate, but about Life, about Love.  I’m a Love-o-phile!

3.               I am blessed to have the people around me that I do.  The special men in my life — all of them, my heroes:  My aforementioned totally lovable and loving son, Josh Feuer, who has been the source of Joy in my world; my incredibly supportive and amazing former husband, Fred Feuer, who has been my anchor and my rock through many a storm; my wonderful brother, Ralph Ruocco, who has distinguished “family” for me in a way that I’ve not seen before – and who is an example for me of everything that is giving and kind in this world; my coach, Tony Woodroffe, who opens the world up for me every time I have a session with him; my too-many-to-name dear friends and family – you are all a part of me; and, my dear readers, you have allowed me to become the writer that I’ve always dreamed I’d be — the one I’ve kept hidden inside all these years.  I am grateful for,  and to,  all of you!

I am declaring this year to be a turning point for me, for my writing, for my life, and a deepening of my love for you!  I will continue to write stories, and will add commentary, more reviews – of books, places,  and experiences.  I will also keep you posted on the memoir I am writing, currently titled, “The Beggar Laughed,” which begins when I volunteered at the armory with the victims’ families after 9/11 and ends with a revelatory experience at the Taj Mahal two years later.   The message is..  Well, that’s for you to read in the book…

Yum, Yum, Yum, Yummy…!   That is my mantra for the delicious life that I intend for me and for you this year!

Every day is Valentine’s Day…!

Deliciously yours in the Juicy-ness of it All, Linda

Follow me on Twitter @Linda_Ruocco

Visit The Global Cocoa Project at www.globalcocoaproject.org and see how you can make a difference for the cocoa farmers in the world.

Picture by Seneca Klassen on http://www.chocophile.com.

Visit Clay Gordon at www.chocophile.com (also accessed at www.thechocolatelife.com) and learn everything there is to know about fine chocolate!

Visit www.c-spot.com, the search spot for all things chocolate.

Visit www.lawofchocolate.com to find my friend, Sandra Champlain’s, CD of the same name.

Visit my amazing life coach, Tony Woodroffe, at www.twlifecoach.com!

And, last, – but not least, here is the link for www.landmarkeducation.com, a company that has an already-always listening for mine and everyone else’s Greatness that causes me to be that Greatness – and, I mean, no kidding!

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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I used to be in the fashion business.    My job was to find the things that people would buy before they knew they wanted to buy them.    That’s what being a merchant is.

People often ask me, “How do you know that you’re a merchant?” and I am always stumped by the question.    I don’t know how to answer them except to say,  “I just am.”    It comes to me – at odd times during the day when I’m doing something else, when I’m meditating, often when I’m least looking for it, sometimes in the dark of night and I awaken to scribble something on a pad by my bed.

It always seems like an accident and it never is.   It’s just who I am.   I am eternally inspired – some people call it their “genius”.   Some think it comes and it goes — I believe  it’s what’s there when you take all my “stuff” away.   It’s wrapped up with the love, the truth, the beauty, the goodness, the Divine — that is in all of us.

My best merchant moments are when I don’t intend it.   I just let that inner spark tell me what to do and I go with it – and then – I’m always so surprised when people love it.   In fact, sometimes, I seem a little weird to people.    That’s when I REALLY know it’s right.    Maybe not right now – but, it will be in a year or so.

I have a story that illustrates this phenomenon – for me.  Perhaps you’ll recognize it in yourself.

I used to travel to Italy three or four times a year to buy the sweaters for my division at Bloomingdale’s.  Anyone who knows me knows I love Italy and all things Italian.  My plane lands in that country and my ancestral fires start to burn and my heart flames up in love and beauty and passion – and, well, there’s just no stopping me!

After working for a week, seeing lines and creating styles for my sweater programs, I walked into a showroom one day.  As I lay my coat on a chair, I looked down to see someone’s open bag.

It was love at first sight.  This bag was a tawny and black leopard print PLASTIC bag, like the kind of stuff that cheap cosmetic bags are made of – except it was Italian – and, nothing that Italians make looks cheap.  It was about 14 inches long and 10 inches deep, with two little carry handles at the top – not my usual favorite, since I prefer shoulder bags for the kind of carrying around everyday of lots of useless stuff, which  is what I do and what I have always done.  Even better, it had four deep outside pockets, two on each side.    Oh, goody!  More places to stick things!

I turned to my sales rep and just gushed, “Ooooh, I love this!  Where did you get it?”

(Side note:  People in the fashion business have no qualms about asking you where you bought something, what designer made it, and we even go as far as to touch your clothing all the time to “feel the fabric”.  Fortunately, I have harnessed this habit… a bit.  However, if I reach out to rub your sleeve, do not think I am hitting on you – it’s simply my primal need to figure out what the yarn is and where it came from…).

She laughed and said, “You like it?”   Oh, yes, I did.  She leaned over to whisper, “I bought it at the cosmetics store on the corner.  It’s just a make-up bag.”  I laughed with her and shook my head in amazement!  So much for Gucci and Louis Vuitton!

After the appointment, I dragged my assistant and my translator to the corner, and, sure enough, there it was in the window, full of lotions and potions and blush and brushes, with a paisley scarf tied through one of the short handles.

Truly, only in Italy can they pull off paisley with leopard print… Don’t try this at home.

I walked in the tiny, crowded shop, pointed to the bag, and the saleslady climbed on a ladder and took down a fresh one in a clear plastic bag from a high shelf.  “Quanto e?”, I said in my almost native, but limited Italian.  She told me.  $25 worth of Italian lire.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune!  A bag that I loved without a designer price – big enough to hold everything and everything again.

I have always loved leopard print – everyone makes fun of me for it.  My Blackberry cover today is hard plastic leopard print, half my closet is leopard print; I have leopard print sweaters, a leopard print raincoat, leopard print shoes – you get the picture.

However, being a merchant doesn’t mean buying what I would wear, it means buying what other people would wear.  For me, those are usually two different things.  This time, though, there was a powerful trend emerging – and this is how I knew….

I dolled that bag up with my own little black and gold scarf – wisely knowing the limits of my Italian heritage and not attempting the paisley – and took it out and about into the world.

And, that’s when I got it.

Everywhere I went, people asked me where I had found my bag?  Where could they get it?   Whose was it?   What designer had designed it?  I always laughed inside at this – if only they knew.

It didn’t end there.  My next stop was Paris for the fashion shows and EVERYONE who is ANYONE in the fashion business was in Paris for the shows.  And, EVERYONE asked me where I got my bag!  I was stopped in the street and photographed – the photographer, on two occasions, asked me to hold the bag up for a closer shot.

Even better, every other buyer, merchandise manager, and fashion office person asked me about my bag.    Now, I started to play coy – I would smile sweetly, half-close my eyes, flutter my false eyelashes, and say, “Isn’t it DIVINE?”

When I got back to the states, it escalated to fever pitch, culminating with my being photographed on Fifth Avenue by New York Times Styles photographer, Bill Cunningham.  Then, I was in the Federated Department Stores offices one day and my friend, MaryJane, who was VP of Accessories for all Federated stores, came out to say “Hi”.   She saw my bag and asked if she could photograph it.  “Sure,” I said.  I was very blase about it by this time.  I knew what I had.

Finally, a peer of mine at Bloomingdale’s,  Doris, who was in charge of the accessories division, came to me one day, wanting to photograph the bag.  I could no longer hold it in – I worked for this store, for Goodness sake!  I said, “Doris, don’t knock it off – it will be too expensive.  It’s just a make-up bag I bought in a cosmetics store in Florence.  Call the manufacturer and buy it from them directly!”  With that, I opened the bag and we found the little, obscure label on the inside pocket.  She copied it down and that was the beginning.

Months later, I came through the front doors of Bloomingdale’s from Lexington Avenue, into what is known as “The Arcade” – and there they were!   All over the better handbag department!  There was my version in leopard, and then white and black zebra stripes, and a cocoa and black tiger stripe version.  They were $125 for each one.

They sold out in only a few days.

Meanwhile, in my own division, I had created leopard prints and tiger prints, and cheetah prints, and zebra stripes in everything that you could put those prints on:  skirts, blouses, dresses, stamped on tee-shirts, on printed angora sweaters – all a hit, all “hot”…

All sold out.

A few months later, someone I worked with told me that they overheard the CEO of Bloomingdale’s say, as I walked by, “I just don’t understand why she can’t carry a Chanel bag like everyone else.”  The person responded by saying, “Do you know that she found those bags and we’re now selling them down in the Arcade for $125?  And, they’re selling out?”

In all of this, I can only tell you that it never occurred for me as something I reached for, something I looked for, something that was odd or different.   It felt like the right thing at the right time.   I always find it to be the most powerful when I’m more than slightly surprised that everyone else thinks it’s great  — and I am just doing what I do, effortlessly.   I feel like an innocent who has stumbled onto a treasure — full of joy and delight!

Everyone has this, you know.  It’s your gift.  Find out what that is and do it.  And it will be joyful and beautiful forever.

Deliciously yours in the “Fabulous-ness” of it All,   Linda

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you just like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”  e. e. cummings

Here is the famous leopard bag, which traveled with me all over the world — Here seen in The Forbidden City in Beijing, China in 1987.  That’s me, on the left, holding on to it, proud and tight, with two of the buyers in my division, Paul Price (now at Burberry in London) and Roberta Troilo.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I have become quite the social media butterfly.  One three-hour breakout session on social media marketing at the Conference for Global Transformation at the end of May, and I’ve become a tweeting fool!

I love Twitter.   I didn’t used to.   I thought it was silly.   Why would I want to read the blow-by-blow of someone’s day?   “I’m going to the bathroom now,” “I’m in the bathroom,” “I just came out of the bathroom.”   You’re laughing at this, I know, but there are people like that on Twitter.

I thought that was everyone who used Twitter.   That, or the people who are always selling something – that’s what I was last year.   I only “tweeted” when I wrote a new blog post to let my huge following of 23 people know that I actually had a new blog post that they should go to and read.

Facebook seemed much friendlier – because I only let my actual friends “friend” me.   I was playing to a kinder, gentler audience, or so I thought.   These people are my friends.   They comment if they like my post, they ignore me if they don’t or if they don’t care – and that’s fine with me.   They’ll buy my book when it’s published because they know me and they love me.   I think.

Twitter, I learned, is not supposed to be just your friends – not if you’re looking to brand yourself in the social media arena.

The first thing I learned is that anyone who is just selling their stuff is going to max out at the level of followers who know them and  like their stuff.    You may say, “That’s logical.  Why would I want anyone else anyway?”

Because there are thousands, nay, millions of people out there who don’t even know they like your stuff yet  (and, by association, YOU) – and, unless you can figure out a way to get to them, you are going to be limited to the however many people know you and follow you – or seem like they’re following you – no matter what you do or what you say.  In other words, your friends.  And, they’ll  buy your book anyway — you think.

So, first things first:   Think of Twitter as a cocktail party, not a sales call.  You wouldn’t walk into a cocktail party and say,  “Hi, I’m Linda.   Go read my blog (my novel, listen to my radio show, etc)”, would you?  And, if you did, you’d be thought of as boorish, right?

A cocktail party is:  introduce yourself, listen to other people, tell people about an interesting book or poignant article you read, talk about a fascinating person who said something wonderful the other day – and then, perhaps, you drop into the conversation that you are a blog writer and you just wrote this piece that moved you to tears.  Now this group that is related to you by virtue of just having spent the last 10 or 15 minutes in conversation with you may say, “Oh, where do I go to read that?” and then you say, “Really?  How sweet of you!   Just go to SpiritualChocolate.com, one word.   After you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you think.   Would you let me know?”

This is a Twitter cocktail party.  Figure out what you stand for, what you want to align yourself with (branding), do some searches and find other people who are interested in what you’re interested in and follow them.  Now, here’s the important part – retweet to your followers what they (the people you’re following) tweet — 80% of the time.  That’s right.  Only tweet about yourself 20% of the time. Retweet interesting articles, who’s written a book that you like, a quote that you love and — and never, never, ever tweet anything nasty or mean, unless you want to brand yourself as someone who is nasty and mean.  I also suggest not tweeting or re-tweeting something highly controversial, unless that is your brand.

Me?  I’m a blog writer, aspiring memoir writer, real estate broker, Shakespeare aficionado, lover of all things spiritual and all things Italian, fascinated by transformation of any kind – personal or business, a futurist and a visionary, moved by the transcendent, often inspired and even, sometimes, inspiring.

I follow people like @writerbythesea @writingnodrama @thebardbot @TEDtalks @SimonSinek @culturesync @publictheaterny @fouryearsgo, @AboutTuscany, @NYC_SohoTriBeCa, and @peaceloveunity. My current searches are #writing, #write, #theater, #leadership, #spirituality,  and #Italy.  For a while, one of my searches was #oilspill – until BP capped it.  I never follow anyone who is only selling their stuff and are tweeting the same thing over and over:  “If you want to earn money online, go here….”

As people follow me, I follow them.  You cannot acquire a lot of followers without following a lot of people – unless you’re Oprah or Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

That’s the branding piece.

Now, here’s the hidden jewel:  I have made friends on Twitter.  I don’t know why I’m surprised – if you’re following people who believe what you believe (Simon Sinek TED talk), it’s inevitable.  I’ve had direct messages with people I don’t know but with whom I share an affinity; I’ve even had a conversation “in Shakespeare” with @thebardbot, a wonderful Tweeter who only talks in Shakespeare quotes – that really tested my knowledge of my favorite playwright.  It was SO much fun!

Last week, one of the people I follow, @writingnodrama, who gives advice to writers – and from whom I have gleaned a few lovely tidbits for my own writing, tweeted that she had a book on Smashwords.com, where one could read the first 30% of the book for free.  I went, I read, and I became so enthralled with her book that I bought the rest of it.

The book is called “Plain Jane” and I could not put it down – or whatever our new phrase is going to be for reading a book online.  I sat at my computer into the wee hours, aching tush notwithstanding  — or notwithsitting? (Sorry…),  unable to leave this tale of a serial killer who only kills plain women, brunettes, who have had an abortion.  I was intrigued by many things, not the least of which was, how did this killer know which women had had an abortion? Which brunette women had had an abortion?  There was a gory component to this serial killer, which made him all the more ghastly and, for me, all the more interesting.  I have a thing for serial killers. “Criminal Minds” is one of my favorite shows.  I should have been a profiler.  This book is about a serial killer and a crazy profiler.  Perfect.

The ending was a bit more than I bargained for, even for me, but I loved it, gory details and all. I sent a direct message to my online author friend.    Dwritingnodrama: “Boy, that was SOME ending!” and off we went into a dialogue about her book.

Say what you will about Twitter – I haven’t had such fun meeting people in years – and I meet fabulous people all the time!  Whether direct tweeting about the oil spill, or talking about a book, or rummaging through my Shakespeare plays next to my computer to answer @thebardbot, the time I spend tweeting has been a new found pleasure AND a way to put myself out there in the world in preparation for the day that my spiritual memoir is published.    “Eat, Pray, Love”, I’m on your tail!

And, I now have 334 followers, up from 23, in 2-1/2 months.  I guess a lot of people are interested in what I’m interested in, like what I like, believe what I believe…

I’m @Linda_Ruocco.    Follow me and I’ll follow you….?

Deliciously yours in the Fun and Play of it All!   Linda

The title of this blog piece is from the song, “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” by Gene Austin, Irving Mills, and Jimmy Mc Hugh.

I want to recommend my friend, Cristyn West’s book, “Plain Jane.”  You can go to Smashwords.com and read the first 30% before you choose to buy.  If you, like me, are into serial killer mysteries – with a touch of the ghoulish – you will want to buy the rest to read.  Here’s the link:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/16176.  Then, follow her on Twitter @writingnodrama and tell her what you think.

And, here’s my favorite TED Talk of the moment, Simon Sinek on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” is really the basis of my philosophy about the culture of Social Media — about the “Why” and his Golden Circle — go here for the best 18 minutes you may spend today:  

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @Linda_Ruocco.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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