The post that broke my heart

I was reading through this week's Sunday Scribblings posts, and came across one that has broken my heart. It's about a sweet, brave little girl and her wise little friend. I have never written about someone else's post before, but you must go over and read it-- it's the most moving post I have ever read. It makes me want to go up to my children's room and hug each of them like there is no tomorrow.

Sunday Scribblings: I wish I had Wings

Isn't the Sabbath supposed to be a day of rest? Not for your typical Silicon Valley parent. There just aren't enough hours in the day to do everything we have scheduled. I wish I had a pair of wings to get me from one place to the next. Or a fairy godmother to help me out.

What I've done today so far:

Went to the laboratory and had my blood drawn for some tests.

Went to the drugstore to buy some kids' toothpaste and milk.

Went to Whole Foods market to buy some snacks to take to this evening's barbecue party.

Did three loads of laundry.

Wrapped three birthday presents for birthday parties (one for this afternoon and two for tomorrow).

Went to the Spring Carnival of our sons' new preschool, so hubby could check out the place for the first time. Spent a fortune on bake sale goods, face painting, cereal necklaces, .

Rushed home to drop off sons and change daughter's clothes for upcoming birthday party.

Spent ten minutes fixing up daughter's butterfly-design face paint because she WOULD NOT wash it off for the party and after an hour in the sun it looked like someone had thrown a paintball at her face.

Dropped daughter off at birthday party, negotiating several construction-related road detours along the way.

Rushed back home to put sons down for much-needed naps because birthday party host said they must come along to pick daughter up because she has slices of cake and goody bags specially made up for them.

Checked email, snuck a peek at some of my favorite blogs and started on our house scrapbook.

Still to do:

Wake boys up and make sure they are clean enough to take to birthday party.
They will not be clean, so clean them up as much as possible before leaving to pick daughter up from party.

Pick daughter up from party.

Make sure boys don't eat too much cake because they'll be too hyped up for barbecue at 5PM.

Drag boys from birthday party in the shortest amount of time possible -- because we'll need to get back and get ready for barbecue at 5PM.

Drag boys from birthday party making the least noise possible -- because they won't understand why they need to leave since they've only just arrived.

Prepare appetizers for barbecue.

Get everyone clean again for barbecue.

Go to barbecue.

Chase after kids at the barbecue making sure they don't wreck the beautiful things in barbecue host's house.

Drag kids from barbecue back home, easier said than done after a day of cotton candy and cereal necklaces and birthday cake and barbecue party desserts.

Get kids bathed and ready for bed. Send them back to bed five or six times because they are still hyped up.

Do three more loads of laundry.

Spend five minutes with husband for the first time today.

It's ridiculous! Someone tell me why we do it? I've spent too much time blogging already and writing out the Still to To Do part has made me nervous.. See, wings would really help me out because now I really must, uh, fly.....

For more wings, click here.

Love Thursday: A mother's love

Can you spot the differences between this photo
and this one?

Both show a mother with her child on her lap. But the first photo is one of me and the Pea on vacation, the second photo comes from sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS, malaria and TB are part of life. Which means....

My life expectancy as a person living in the USA is about 77 1/2 years. The prevalance of AIDS and other infectious diseases have shortened this woman's life expectancy by as much as 15 years, to just 48 years.

My chances of having AIDS or HIV are nil. It is highly likely that she is infected, because the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is 8.7%. If she lives in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Zambia or Zimbabwe, her chances are even worse; 20% or more of adults there have AIDS.

Her baby is incredibly lucky to have survived his first year, because infant mortality in Africa is about 10%, or 10 deaths in every hundred babies before they reach a year old. Ours in the USA is 7 deaths per thousand.

But the love that mother has for her baby is no less than the love I have for mine. And this is what breaks my heart. I was moved to tears by American Idol's Idol Gives Back special fundraising event. I turned the TV on to see Melinda Doolittle sing and Chris Richardson get kicked off. Instead I saw incredible images of poverty, both here and in Africa. I saw Simon looking sick, his expression of perpetual boredom wiped from his face. I imagined my children dying of malaria when a $2 tablet could have saved them.

I thought, if every one of the 30 million people that watch Idol gave just $5, and that was matched by contributions from businesses and celebrities and wealthy individulas, think how much we could do to help! So for the first time in my life, I picked up the phone for American Idol.

For more expressions of love, click here.

Finding the "Me" in "Mom"

Many people have told me, "You are so calm for a mom with 3 kids!" or "You are such an easygoing mom". I think they're mostly being nice, or they feel sorry for me and can see that I need an infusion of positive reinforcement. But compared with myself two or three years ago, I think they're right. I am a calmer parent. And a happier and more involved one. And it's directly correlated with the increasing amounts of "Me" time that I've been able to carve out for myself.

Having twins is a wonderful blessing, but there is no denying that it is difficult, difficult, difficult, especially in their first year. Seriously, there's always at least one baby crying or feeding or pooping every hour of the day. I was breastfeeding twins and caring for a toddler by myself. My daughter's preschool hours left me some time with "just" the two babies, but I didn't think we could afford any other outside help. I was exhausted, miserable, and almost resentful of my situation.

The only time I had to myself was at night, after all the kids went to bed. I would escape to any store that closed at 9:30 (Michael's, ToysRUs, Cost Plus World Markets) or 10PM (Target, Walmart) and just wander around. When the stores closed, I would return home and surf the internet for hours. My husband could not understand it -- Get some sleep! he would say. How could I explain that after a long day of caring for everyone else's needs but my own, I had this desperate desire for a looong stretch of time by myself, for myself?

Finally, my husband put his foot down and hired a housekeeper to come twice a month. That single act made a huge difference in my outlook and began the process of finding the "Me" in "Mom". With each step I felt more like a person. After breastfeeding stopped, I was able to leave the kids with my husband for longer hours. I joined a gym with childcare. Next came an occasional babysitter. Then last September the boys started preschool two days a week. Six hours of time by myself per week! Me time!

Note that I said Me time, not free time. Those six hours are easily eaten away by tasks done better without kids in tow, such as laundry, cooking or light cleaning, or volunteering at school, or errands like grocery shopping or running to the bank. But it's time alone. And I do manage to set aside some of those six hours to do things I enjoy. Like blogging. Or window shopping. Or having lunch at a cafe and sitting quietly in the sun.

The boys are starting a new preschool in September, and today is their last day at their old preschool. That means it's going to be my last "Me" day for several months. Good-bye to those precious six hours (and I've already spent one of those hours writing this post!). I guess it's back to late-night visits to Target again.

But you know what? That's ok. The kids are a bit older now, and require less attention. I'm really looking forward to spending time with the boys at the park and at the Mommy-and-me classes we'll be taking. I have lots of ideas for projects we can do together at home. I've surfed the internet and filled our calendar with events and outings all over the Bay Area. I'm not going back to being miserable and desperate. All that "Me" time I've taken is paying off -- it's making me a better Mom.

Let them eat cake

Here it is......ta-daaaa! The culmination of my beginners' cake decorating class. OK, the cake is lopsided (part of it stuck to the pan and I didn't have time to bake another one) and the flowers are all crumbly (I used the wrong type of icing plus I didn't make any larger ones) and the basketweave is too squiggly (no excuse for that one). But I'm happy with my effort.


For those who hate listening to parents brag about their kids: skip this post!

I found these used rollerblades for the kids at 5 bucks each. They enjoyed ice-skating so much, I decided to let them give it a try. I was shocked to see how they took to it! This photo shows the Pea's second attempt at rollerblading, and the twins' first attempt. Not only were they able to stay up unassisted but they were shuffling around within five minutes and gliding along -- sort 0f -- within ten.

On a sadder note, today the grandparents returned to England. Lots of tears were shed and the house certainly feels emptier.

Let the tour begin....

Are we having a party? A garage sale? An open house? The answers are no, no, and sort of -- it's an open house, but we're not selling it, and you've got to pay 30 bucks to get in. Welcome to the hottest house tour in the Bay Area, the Charming Cottages Tour of Palo Alto 2007!

We were approached by the organizer, the Palo Alto Area Mills College Club, some months ago. Despite some initial misgivings and moments of despair, we did it because it's for a good cause and a good incentive for us to fix up the house. Today I realized there are other benefits to opening your house up to perfect strangers:

* The organizers gave us a lovely flower arrangement.

* We got to gawk at four other houses for free. One sumptously-decorated house with charming little knick-knacks certainly made me feel like ours was quite plain in comparison -- but then, as my mother-in-law reminded me, there is no way we could decorate our house like that with little kids anyway.

* Looking at the other houses gave me a chance to see what other little touches they threw in to make their houses look awesome (ahhhh... flowers in the bathroom, must buy a bunch for tomorrow..... ooooh, their bedding is so nice, gotta make a late-night trip to Target for some throw pillows!).

* Last but definitely not least, it's nice to have a bunch of strangers come in and look at your house and say nice things about it. Seeing a long line outside your house five minutes before opening made us feel a bit like celebrities!

Would I do it again? Sure. As long as they don't look inside the closets (which some did) or swipe our stuff (which I hope no-one did).


This week's Photo Hunter's Theme is Steps.

Once upon a time, there was a pretty little house with just one thing wrong with it: a set of front steps that had grown older and more chipped and more bedraggled with time.

One day, the man of the house decided to do something about it. He called in his trusted master builder. There were many steps involved, and not much time. After three hours in Home Depot, they were ready to begin.

They ripped out the banisters.

The master builder set to work.

He encased the original steps in new wood.

He put a fresh coat of white primer paint onto them.

He put on two coats of green paint. Nothing stopped him; he worked like a madman through the blistering heat and pouring rain.

Finally, the steps were finished.

The very next day, hundreds of people trekked through the house, all hoping to view some Charming Cottages. They all saw the steps with their very first glimpse of the house. They all trod on those steps to enter. They all raved over the fine craftsmanship and beautiful colors, but no-one mentioned the steps in particular, because they looked like they had always been part of the house. That's just how master builder wanted it. As far as he was concerned, his job was done.

(This post is dedicated to Dar. Heartfelt thanks for our beautiful steps; you know how much this means to us.)

Goodbye-a, Sanjaya!!

Finally, Sanjaya has been voted off American Idol. Everyone can rest easy now. Funny, I've been tearing my hair out week after week as Sanjaya was voted safe, and now that he's gone, I can't help feeling sorry for the kid. After all, he's only seventeen, so young to be enduring such harsh criticism. So Sanjaya, no hard feelings, and good luck to you. Now go off and finish high school, sign up with the Disney Channel, become an MTV veejay, or a hula dancer or whatever. As for the rest of the Idol contestants: Let the real games begin!

Bonggamom's Napa Food Finds

Those of you who know me know that "getting hammered" is not one of Bonggamom's characteristic traits. I'm always the one who has water or soda, the one who drives at the end of the night. I don't mind the occasional vodka or mixed drink or white wine, but the taste and kick of alcohol is not something I crave or look forward to.

So I was surprised to find not one, but two wines that I can honestly say I love, during our trip to Napa Valley last weekend. I thought I'd be playing with the kids at the winery parking lots while my husband and in-laws sampled vino after vino, but there I was, swirling and sipping and thoroughly enjoying myself. Both wines are from Sterling Vineyards, a lovely winery at the top of a hill.

The first is their 2005 Pinot Gris, which I thought was lovely and crisp, almost like a sparkling wine, when served nicely chilled. You might find it sweet after the first sip, but try it again after eating a chocolate truffle, and believe me, you'll be amazed at the change -- it gains a "kick" and tastes more like a dry white.

Next is their 2005 Malvasia Bianca. I had never heard of this varietal before but thoroughly enjoyed sipping this sweet, sweet dessert wine. The wine server made a special point to remind us to sniff our wine, swirl it then sniff again to fully appreciate the wonderful aromas.

We also visited Stag's Leap Cellars and the Rutherford Hill Winery during this trip, but Sterling was the clear winner for me. So this brings to a grand total of four, the number of alcoholic drinks that this wine enthusiast has enjoyed in recent years.

Of course, my all-time favorite, grand champion alcoholic treat still remains the Winter Cabernet dark chocolate truffle from Anette's Truffles. Anyone passing by the town of Napa needs to drop by their First Street shop to pick up a box of these decadent goodies. They're pretty generous with the free samples, so even if you don't care for wine truffles (huh?!), I'm sure you'll find something you like.

Happy sampling, everyone!

Happy Anniversary Mum & Dad!

Belated happy anniversary to my in-laws: they've been married for fifty-three years!

Somewhere over the rainbow

The rain in Napa Valley this weekend was torrential... but without it, we wouldn't have seen this double rainbow.

I couldn't quite catch it with a single shot, but we could actually see the whole arc of BOTH rainbows.....

....... and where did these rainbows end, you ask.......

........ why, at the pot of gold, of course -- the local WalMart!

Secret Identity Exposed

He's English.
With his own unique sarcastic wit.
Married, with three children.
Loves motorcycles.
Rides a Triumph Bonneville.
Plays guitar.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first: when he's not playing Dr. Gregory House on TV, Hugh Laurie destresses and avoids his hordes of fans by retreating into his secret identity -- My husband. Tabloids, take note!

For more more secret identities, click here.

Photo Hunters: Hobby

This week's Photo Hunters Theme is hobby.

Here are my husband and sons enjoying their hobbies....

... bikes....

... (motorbikes, that is)....

... and football.

Like father, like son!

Funny kidism for today

(James and I are talking about the little present he received in his sister's party goody bag)

Me: Wow, you are so lucky!
James: I am NOT lucky!
Me: Oh?
James: No, I'm HANDSOME.

Why I loved our Ballerina Party

Yesterday we celebrated the Pea's 6th birthday. Like all her birthdays, it rained in the morning and the sun shone in the afternoon, but unlike previous years, I didn't wait for the weather to clear and moved on to Plan B: Indoor Party. I think it was a good decision because (a) we were able to decorate the space more effectively indoors, and (b) 7 ballerinas (and 2 ballerinos) would not have enjoyed running around in ballet slippers and thin ballet clothes in the cold afternoon.

I would have blogged about this last night, but after the party we were absolutely exhausted. I think I came down with a cold just hours after it ended, and today I'm sick in bed. Planning and executing the party was more tiring than I thought. I know it's corny to say this, but Love got me through it! (and a little bit of adrenaline).

Love is planning out all the birthday activities with your daughter (read ballet books, watch a ballet video, decorate crowns and cookies, play ballet games and just dance!) and enjoying the time you spend planning it together.

Love is figuring out a way to give your daughter the party of her dreams on a budget, even though it means scouring party stores for sales, hot-gluing your fingers together when making fairy wands by yourself and messing with Adobe Photoshop for hours to stick little girls' heads onto ballerina's bodies for some awesome ballet photos.

Love is turning your kitchen into a ballet wonderland while she's at school, so that when she returns, the sight of it all makes her face light up and takes her breath away.

Love is dressing up in a leotard, tights and tutu skirt even though you feel a bit silly, because your daughter wanted you to be a ballerina for the party as well.

Love is playing Pass The Slipper and Statue Dance and seeing the 7 ballerinas wiggle their hips to the tune of Van Morrison's Star of the County Down and Shakira's Hips Don't Lie.

Love is letting your little brother be a ballerino and decorate a crown if he wants to and letting him play Pass The Slipper even if he's a bit slow. Love is putting up with his whining and letting him open your birthday present and play with it because you understand he wishes it was his party too.

Love is sitting down to a pink table under a pink canopy with ballet plates and cups and napkins and eating yummy food, most of it pink (cupcakes, ice cream, strawberries, pink lemonade, ham sandwiches, and veggie chips).

Love is 7 ballerinas and 2 ballerinos screaming and singing dancing and having the time of their lives.

Love is hearing a guest say, "This is the best party ever!". Even better, love is hearing your daughter say, "This is the best party ever!".

Really, love for the Pea is what made all the effort worth it. Happy Love Thursday!

For more expressions of love, click here. And here are more of my thoughts on yesterday's party here.

Check out my latest post on SV Moms Blog

Today, I woke up, as usual, to the early morning news (which my husband watches to wake him up). The story of Don Imus' suspension caught my attention, and inspired me to write this piece on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog:

So, what do you think?

Vote for SV Moms Blog!

My other blog, the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, has been nominated by the Blogger's Choice Awards. So far, we have 8 votes! (yeah!)... but we need more! :) If so inclined, click here and vote for us! It just takes a few steps...

On second thoughts, make that Happy Springtime!

I just wished the blogging world a Happy Easter in my previous post.... but bearing in mind all the controversy over Easter in the news this past month, perhaps I should have said "Happy Springtime" instead? (Spring officially started last March 21 but nevermind....). Spring Bunny, Mr. Fun. E. Bunny, Spring Egg Hunt...... surely things have gone a bit too far? I don't know what to think.

For Catholics and other Christians, Easter has nothing to do with bunnies and eggs and chicks anyway, it's about Jesus and the Resurrection. So removing the religious connotation (the word "Easter") from activities that are completely non-religious would actually make sense. Oh the other hand, Conservative Christians say that by removing the "Easter" in "Easter Bunny", people are taking PC to absurd heights. They also have a point... but then to be consistent, why are they all bothered over this Chocolate Jesus? Are they outraged because Jesus was depicted in chocolate or because he doesn't have his loincloth covering up the naughty bits? Are they demanding that Cosimo Cavallaro be more PC?

Happy Springtime everyone!

For other newsworthy items, click here.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone! Here is a whole new use for those pesky plastic Easter eggs..... turn them into a football and start kicking away!

Photo Hunt: Clean

This week's Photo Hunters Theme is clean.

Since I'm in the baby photos part of my photo archives, I decided to go with one of the Pea's early bath photos. She looks a bit overwhelmed, but she really did enjoy it. Perhaps I took this just after I started the Jacuzzi tub. She has always loved bubble baths but the noise of the jacuzzi always scared her.

Happy Birthday Natalie!

..... fast forward from yesterday's post to six years later, and here is our little girl on her special day......

..... showing off her new ballet bag and Mary-Jane Crocs.....

.... and trying out her new 20" bike. Happy Birthday, Sweet Pea!

Love Thursday: The Pea's birth story

The Pea's birthday is actually on Friday (April 6), but it goes without saying that she is the topic of this week's Love Thursday. After all, it was actually the day before, April 5, a Thursday, that I went into labor. Here is our story:

April 5, 2001, Thursday, approx. 3PM: I'm already 5 days late and fed up with being pregnant. On March 19, I was 1cm dilated and on my due date, March 31, I was almost 2cm, so I was sure it wouldn't be long. Indian food, long walks and sex have not helped to bring upon labor. I secretly resent every woman who ever gave birth early or on time. Walking home from Ace Hardware with my in-laws, I begin to feel "twinges" that come and go, like regular menstrual cramps. Hmmmm.... wonder if this is it?

April 5, approx. 5PM: Yes, it's labor. These are definitely contractions. Still pretty far apart and bearable, so I'm content to sit on the sofa and watch TV.

April 6, 2001, Friday, approx. 1AM
: OK, it's going to be a sleepless night. Contractions are keeping me awake because they are starting to hurt. I envy my husband sleeping beside me (he claims I woke him up with my moaning at each contraction but I know better --I heard him snoring).

April 6, 4AM:
Contractions are 4 minutes apart. We start to think about calling the doctor.

April 6, 5AM: We arrive at the hospital, and are disappointed to find out that I'm still only 2.5-3cm dilated. With this kind of pain, I thought I'd be 7 at least!

8AM: At 3cm dilated and 75% effaced I'm outraged to hear that contractions have stopped! There is no way I'm going through a night like that again, not when I'm already in so much pain. No way, baby, you're coming out today. We agree to have bag of waters broken to speed up contractions. Contractions become REALLY painful. Now there's no turning back.

2PM: After all this time, still only 3cm dilated and 80% effaced. I'm exhausted, discouraged, defeated. All the hot showers, Lamaze breathing, squatting, hanging down from Graham and walking have not helped manage the pain. Graham is begging me to get an epidural so we can both get some much-needed rest. We decide to get the epidural. It kicks in.... o blessed relief!! Graham takes a break from holding me up for the past 6 hours and immediately falls asleep, as do I.

5PM: 5cm dilated. I'm cold and puking right and left, but I can move my legs and contractions are still coming on nicely.

6PM: 10cm dilated. It's time to push -- but Graham is away at Walgreens!
6:30 - 7PM: Thank goodness Graham's back. We get down to the business of pushing, but it's a bit difficult to do when you can't really feel anything. Push what? Push where? Bear down? I decide to pretend I'm constipated. That seems to do the trick.

7:30PM: I'm discouraged again -- this is taking a looong time. We're already on our third nurse shift. Doctor and nurses cheer me on like I'm winning a marathon. I feel ridiculously proud of myself for doing such a good job (later, I wonder if they say that to all the women in labor).

8:3oPM: Hang on, I thought I had an epidural down there? How come I can feel contractions? How come I can feel my legs now? No time to wonder, because there is a commotion; the head has started to show and She's Blond!! What??? A mirror is held up and sure enough, I can see wisps of damp blond hair on a very pale head.

8:45PM: OOOOMIGOOOOD! It HUUUURTS! What happened to the f***ing epidural??? I'm dazed and confused, in pain, it's burning, just want it to stop, I'm screaming I can't do it, my skin is being ripped apart (yes, I tore), I want to pull back but I have to puuuuUUSH!! Ahhhhh.... momentary cessation of pain... head's out doctor (calmly) and Graham (not so calmly) tell me to stop pushing for a moment, so I stop (later on I'm told that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck).

April 6, 2001, 8:49PM: One final push.... I feel a funny shhlurrping, deflating sensation as the body comes slithering out.... and there she is on my chest, all wet and soft and pink. Why hello, little baby, we've been waiting a looong time for you. Happy birthday my love.

Love is saying hello to your very first granddaughter just minutes after being born. Love is peering up at your very first grandpa and liking what you see.

Love is coming home, stretching out on the sofa after a sleepless night and finding some rest, with the love of your life snuggled up on top of you.

Happy Love Thursday everyone, and may your Thursdays be as precious as the one we had six years ago.

Happy Birthday Silicon Valley Moms Blog!

With all the money, post-graduate degrees, cultures, shares of stock, mansions, BMWs and Priuses floating around, parenting in Silicon Valley certainly has its unique challenges. For instance:

  • Is it difficult to find a mom on the playground who had a first child before turning 30?

  • Do you feel like an uneducated parent if you have a college degree but don't have a doctorate/medical/law/business/any graduate degree?
  • Did your kids learn their alphabet, not via Sesame Street, but through typing out the letters on Microsoft Word?
  • Do the Toyota Priuses and BMW X5's outnumber the Toyota Camrys and Ford Focuses in your neighborhood street?
  • Do three or more children in your son's preschool class have parents who are .com or Google millionaires?
  • Do you feel like you're feeding your kids junk food if your kids' lunch is peanut butter sandwiches on white bread from Safeway instead of organic whole wheat bread from Whole Foods?
  • And does your child's preschool gently remind you that peanut butter is banned from school but soynut butter is a delicious, nutritious and acceptable substitute?
  • Do your kids enjoy hummus and carrots for lunch, blue cheese for snack, sushi for dinner and gelato for dessert?

If so, have I got the blog for you! Whether you want to commiserate with your fellow San Francisco Bay Area parents, read about life in this strange microcosm or just want to laugh at the real and imagined peeves of parents around here, get on over to my other blog, the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, celebrating its first birthday today! Snarky, snippy, thoughtful and true, written by the coolest bunch of moms I know, it's the most successful one-year-old I know (except for Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, but then she didn't have to work as hard to get where she is today).

Thanks for getting me hooked on blogging, SV Moms, and happy birthday -- you rock!

Tahoe trip recap

Just got back from another weekend of fun in the sun (and snow) at Reno and Tahoe. Here are some photos; enjoy!

Here are the boys "going up the mountain", as they put it. By the time we arrived at Soda Springs, all the little kids' skis had been rented out, but they were quite happy to ride the "magic carpet" up the little slope and walk back down.

Lake Tahoe was as beautiful as ever., but the view of the snow-capped mountains from Kings' Beach was the last thing on this little boy's mind. He was more interested in throwing pebbles into the lake.

We lucked out; our first visit to Northstar coincided with the United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA)'s 18th Annual USASA National Championships. So we were treated to some truly awesome half-pipe runs.

On our way home, we stopped by the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA. Again, we lucked out; 411 directory service reported no Jelly Belly listings for Fairfield, so we decided to wing it and follow the signs to the factory. Except there was only 1 large sign off the freeway and not much else, just a couple of tiny signs that were pointing the wrong way (Jelly Belly people, you really ought to fix that!). Armed with my eagle eye and unerring sense of direction (and bull-headed stubbornness... the D*** factory must be here somewhere!!!!), we found the place and arrived just in time for the last factory tour of the day.

The whole experience was really enjoyable. The 40-minute tour (no photos, unfortunately) was interesting to kids and adults alike. We walked right above the jellybean production line and got to see how the beans are made, sorted and packed. The tour ended (not surprisingly) right at the souvenir store where visitors could sample any flavor of jellybean and buy all kinds of Jelly Belly merchandise, including Belly Flops, the JB rejects that local farmers sometimes buy for their pigs. They're still completely edible, honest!

We went home with tons of free Jelly Bellys and even repainted our van in their honor. (Just kidding. that's one of their vans in the photo, but I'm sure the kids would trade this van with ours in a heartbeat).

Sunday Scribblings: Deepest, Darkest....

When I hear the words "Deepest, Darkest...." , I can only think of one thing: chocolate! My whole family loves chocolate, and my husband is a confirmed chocoholic, especially dark chocolate (or plain chocolate as they say in England). And with all these studies touting the benefits of the antioxidants in dark chocolate, his chocolate fix has become almost a guilt-free pleasure. At least the way he eats it is ok: just one square of deep, silky dark chocolate per day. Just a 1/2 inch square. I don't know how he does it, I can't stop till I eat the whole bar.

Anyway, just for fun, I thought I'd share with everyone some of our family's favorite chocolate treats. Before I start, it must be noted that we are not gourmet chocolate connoisseurs. No doubt serious critics would laugh at this list; it's just the stuff we find the yummiest.
Also, our experience is mainly limited to US and English chocolates. Unfortunately we don't have the opportunity to sample Belgian, Dutch, Swiss or other European chocolate very often, so we can barely recall their names, much less rate them. (But we have eaten enough to say that Europeans and English take the business of chocolate a lot more seriously than the US). OK, on to the deep, dark stuff...

Presenting the Bongga Awards for Best Chocolate:

Best all-around chocolate maker: Cadbury's chocolate -- but it must be genuine English chocolate because Cadbury's chocolate made in the US actually wins our award for worst chocolate!

Best drugstore chocolate candy: There are so many, it's hard to say!!! It would have to be a tie between Cadbury's Turkish Delight, Nestle Aero, Galaxy, Ritter Sport dark chocolate hazelnut, and of course, good ol' Twix! Honorable mention goes to Trader Joe's for making a great economy sized and priced slab of chocolate.

Best chocolate ice cream: Haagen Dazs. Runner-up, Dreyer's.

Best chocolate truffle: Champagne truffles and port truffles from Anette's chocolates . Runner-up, Champagne truffles from Joseph Schmidt.

Best chocolate baked treat: Mrs. Fields (or any moist, chewy) chocolate chip cookie. Runners-up, any chocolate-covered biscuit such as McVitie's plain chocolate Digestives, plain chocolate Hobnobs, or Cadbury's fingers (again, it must be genuine English Cadbury's!).

Best guilt-free chocolate treat: Melted strawberries dipped in dark chocolate. Runners-up, Jello sugar-free chocolate pudding or sugar-free/ fat-free Fudgsicle pops.

Mmmm.... all this talk of chocolate has made me want to drive over to the nearest British foods store! So tell me, what's your favorite deep, dark chocolate indulgence?

For more things deep and dark, click here.