I just met a girl named Maria

Yesterday I attended a Maria Shriver book signing event and met the First Lady of California in person. I got to mingle and chat with the awesome bloggers of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, have Maria sign me a copy of her wonderfully inspirational book, Just Who Will You Be? (read my full review here), and chow down on scoopfuls of Lovin' Scoopful, the new ice cream that she and her brother created (read my full review here).

You can read more about what we did and what she said here , and you can read about the stupid things that happened to me during the event here. For now I'm content to reflect upon what I thought and felt.

As I stood back and listened to her speak, my initial impression was, There you have it, The Best of America, right in front of me. Looking at her, it's impossible not to be reminded of the incredible legacy she bears; it's in her hair, in her face, in her voice, and it hits you like a punch in the face. The blood of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Ted Kennedy runs in her veins. Her father founded the Peace Corps; her mother, the Special Olympics. She's married to a superstar and a governor. She's a famous journalist in her own right.

The only thing we have in common is our first name, Maria.

But as she spoke and answered questions, I got a little glimpse of the Maria behind all of that.

Ways Maria Shriver is not like me (besides the money, the career, the husband, the famous family):

She's punctual.
She dresses like she stepped out of Vanity Fair.
She looks like she weighs about as much as my right thigh.
She's at ease with anyone and everyone.
She finds the time to do a million things and be a million things every day.
Because she knows how to prioritize and say No.

Ways Maria Shriver is like me:

She has a hunky husband (ok, I had to write that out of loyalty; truth is, I think maybe Ahnuld might be a little bit hunkier than Alfie)
She comes from a big Catholic family.
She's a mom.
She thinks parenthood is the hardest job in the world but she doesn't want to be seen as just a mom.
She gets insecure, tired, and stressed.
She wants to make the most of her "wild and precious life".

So when it was my turn to meet her, I felt a rush of affinity. We spoke for a couple of minutes. And after it was all over, I was left with one thought: She gets what I'm going through.

Maria Shriver and I are totally soulmates!

Meet FrankenBear

This has got to be the worst patch job ever. Meet Peanuthead, a small blue teddy that 3Po won at some carnival game in Vegas. When Peanuthead's crotch started to split, 3Po came to me for help. I was too lazy to get the sewing box out, so I got the glue gun (which is right beside the sewing box) and tried to hot-glue the seams together. As you can see, it didn't work. I was forced to sew them together anyway, and the glue just hardened Peanuthead's fur and made it impossible to make fine, delicate stitches. It was like pushing a needle through a plastic plate.

Moral of the story: Do it right the first time. Unless you want your son's teddy to look like he's been eunuched by Frankenstein.

MOMocrats giveaway

How's this for a cool giveaway -- you could win some cool Hillary/Obama/MOMOcrats swag! My favorite political moms, the MOMocrats, are hosting a Mother's Day giveaway

In case of emergency, get ice

You're relaxing in your hotel room, when all of a sudden the fire alarm rings. You stare at the doorway in shock -- smoke is coming out from below!

You open the door and rush into the smoke-filled hallway. Of course, the elevators aren't working! You reach a door marked "Fire Exit -- Emergency Only". Sobbing with relief, you open the door.....

... Only to realize that the door leads... to an ice machine! And a Coke vending machine! And the exact same hallway you were in before!!

We were doubled over with laughter when we saw this at our hotel in Las Vegas. We figured they had done some renovations and had forgotten to take off the Fire Exit signs.

It took us a while to realize that the door actually did serve a purpose. It is right beside the elevators, and in a fire, steel doors actually come down (see the metal track on the ceiling and walls?), shutting the elevator area off from the rest of the hallway. So if you happen to be waiting for an elevator when someone pulls the fire alarm, you'd be trapped -- unless you use that door to get back to the hallway. So it's not so funny after all. But we still had a good laugh.

For more funny signs, click here.

Spread awareness, not malaria!


Today is World Malaria Day. Malaria. It sounds like such an antiquated disease, one that should have gone away with polio and ricketts. But it is very real for too many people today.

It kills up to 3 MILLION people each year.

It is one of the leading causes of death for children.

Malaria is entirely curable and preventable! Anti-malarial drugs are becoming accessible to even the poorest people on the planet. And just sleeping under a mosquito net can prevent the disease from striking.

Only poverty and ignorance and apathy and stopping us from eradicating this disease. So please join me and people all over the world in spreading awareness of this horrible disease.

Bloggers, let's spread some linky love: If you are blogging about malaria and World Malaria Day, leave me a comment and I'll go to your site, pronto, and leave a comment too!

And now for some fluffy stuff....

I could (and will) blog about Haitians eating mud cakes to ward off hunger, or about how people are still dying from malaria. But for now I will blog about a different kind of feast. And I am doubly grateful to be able to blog about trivial as well as serious things...

Name something you would categorize as weird.
I hear the new James Bond movie is jinxed.....oooooh!

What color was the last piece of food you ate?
I had a brownie and it was a rich, chocolatey brown. Yum......

On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being highest, how much do you enjoy being alone?
9 -- I like having time to myself. I will happily shop, watch a movie, or take a walk all alone.

Main Course
Fill in the blank: I will NOT vote for JOHN McCAIN in NOVEMBER (actually, I won't be voting for any candidate since I'm not a US citizen)

Describe your sleeping habits.
I sleep like Dracula, straight on my back with my hands clasped together on my stomach. Alfie says I don't even close my eyes properly so you can see the whites rolling around!

What does daddy do all day?

The kids got to play hooky from school today (and mama got to sneak in a couple of hours at the outlet mall)! It was "Take your sons and daughters to work day" at Alfie's office, so they spent the day doing crafts, eating donuts, playing foosball and making photocopies of their hands. They got some nice tshirts to wear....

All the kids got together and painted a canvas that will go up on permanent display at the company office.

But most importantly, they got to see daddy at work and learn about what he does the whole day...
... drink tea!

What's your Eco Footprint?

To commemorate Earth Day, The Pea and her Brownie troupe spent Sunday afternoon cleaning up the bike path near the railroad trash. She and five other seven-year-old girls picked up trash for two hours. It got me thinking about how the rest of us could celebrate Earth Day as well.

Over the past few years, we've made several lifestyle changes to lessen our impact on the environment:

* I walk with The Pea to school each morning
* Alfie takes his 45 miles-per-gallon motorcycle to work each day
* We recycle paper, aluminum, glass and plastic
* We use filtered tap water instead of bottled spring water.
* We use cloth bags instead of paper or plastic to carry groceries
* We use a front-loading clothes washer
* We wash almost everything in cold water
* We planted native, drought-tolerant plants in our back yard
* We use a drip irrigation system to water our plants
* We use non-toxic, earth-friendly cleaning products
* We pack lunches in reusable containers

But before you wear yourselves out patting me on the back, realize that we still have a long way to go before we can say that we live an eco-friendly lifestyle. For instance:

* We use way too many paper towels. I try to rationalize this by telling myself that I'd have to wash the dirty dishcloths anyway and use up more water.

* I semi-lied about using non-toxic, earth-friendly cleaning products and packing lunch in reusable containers. I do use Method and Simply Green cleaning products, but I had to switch back from Ecover laundry detergent to regular Tide -- Ecover just wasn't getting those stains out. Ditto for our automatic dishwasher detergent (I went back to Cascade). Again, I told myself that washing a pile of dirty dishes for the second time around ends up using more water, which isn't good for the environment anyway.

* And I also semi-lied about the reusable containers. Sometimes (ok, lots of times) I get lazy and I pack sandwiches in ziplock plastic bags.

* We buy most of groceries the old-fashioned way, from a regular grocery store. Yes, we do stock up on pesticide-laden tomatoes and grapes imported from Chile and milk with hormones and non-local, processed, overly-packaged food. And we buy waaay too many single-serve bottles of water or juice for lunch boxes and travel.

* We still drive the van quite a bit. The boys' preschool, the gym, the kids' ballet, soccer and ice-skating lessons are all too far away to walk. And I still like to go on occasional late-night runs to Target.

* I've been telling myself that I should dry our bedsheets and towels on a clothesline but I just can't bring myself to do it.

So in reality, my Ecological Footprint sucks. According to a test I took on the Earth Day network, it would take almost 6 Planet Earths to support mankind if everyone lived like me. Part of that is a consequence of living in a developed country (the US in particular), and I can deal with that. I'm not about to give up little luxuries like electricity or central heating or chicken breasts in styrofoam trays.

But I know there are still ways we can chip away at our wasteful lifestyle to do our part to save the Earth -- line-drying the sheets, learning to live without strawberries in winter, doing away with ziploc bags once and for all. There's no time like the present to begin. After all, it's Earth Day -- and doesn't the planet deserve a gift from humankind for once?

My kids can shoot

Now that we have our new digital SLR camera, we've become less concerned about the well-being of our old point-and-shoot camera. So this afternoon I gave in to the boys' pleas and allowed to them to play with the camera for a little while. I looped the camera strap around 3Po's wrist and told him to take a photo of whatever he thought looked nice, as many photos as he wanted, then did the same for CleanBoy.

The resulting pictures were quite interesting. It may have been luck, but I thought some of their shots were very well framed. At the very least, it's an interesting glimpse into a 4-year-old's aesthetic sense. So in keeping with this week's Photo Hunter's theme of Thirteen, here are 13 of 3Po and CleanBoy's best photos:

Time to Feast!

I haven't participated in a Fridays Feast meme for quite a while, so here goes..

Appetizer : Name a color you find soothing.
Powder blue, the blue of my bedroom.

Soup : Using 20 or less words, describe your first driving experience.
I was 17. My instructor was a funny little man who kept droning, "shift", "clutch", "half-brake", until I got it.

Salad : What material is your favorite item of clothing made out of?
Soft, comfy knit cotton.

Main Course : Who is a great singer or musician who, if they were to come to your town for a concert, you would spend the night outside waiting for tickets to see?
I don't think Iwould ever spend the night in line for tickets for anyone -- I'd rather watch it on TV!

Dessert: What is the most frequent letter of the alphabet in your whole name (first, middle, maiden, last, etc.)?
The letter "A" -- it appears 6 times in my full name (I have 5 names in my full name!)

For more feasts, click here.

A Blast from the Past

Since it's just about time to celebrate Love Thursday and since the Pea recently celebrated her 7th birthday, I decided to take a walk down memory lane and look at photos of her past birthdays.

Here she is just two weeks ago, celebrating her 7th birthday...

And here she is last year on her 6th...

Her fifth...

Her fourth...

Her third...

Her second...

Her first ...

And here she is on her real birthday.

Just looking at these makes my heart want to burst with all the love I feel for her. Even after all these years, she's still my Sweet Pea.

Book Giveaway: Parenting, Inc.

Attention, new and expectant parents: Do you know the difference between Bees, Cameleons and Frogs? Between a Mei Tai and a Bjorn? Do you know who Phil & Ted are? Should you care? If questions like these are making your stomach flutter more than the baby kicking inside you, you ought to read Parenting, Inc: How We are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers -- and What It Means for Our Children. And for the next 2 weeks we're giving you a chance to read it for free. Head on over to my book giveaway post, leave a comment there and get a chance to win a free copy of the book!

A Twisted Tale

Talk about karma: after teasing Alfie's mother mercilessly for her antiquated laundry methods (i.e. she dries her clothes on a clothesline), we now find ourselves with a broken dryer and fifty feet of clothesline strung out on the side of the house. I've had to twist it back and forth through the trees so that I have enough space for all of the wash.

What a twist. I, the eternal laundry procrastinator, who likes to leave at least a week, preferrably ten days, between laundry days, now find myself having to do laundry daily. Ugh.

Click here to read more about my laundry sob story on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog.....

And for more twisted stories, click here.

Allergies: Nothing to sneeze at

Fridays Feast is having the day off today, so I thought I'd try a different meme today: Aloha Friday. All you have to do is post any question on your blog on a Friday, share your answer and sign Kailani's Mr. Linky. Then have fun answering the questions of fellow participants by visiting their blogs.

My question of the day is related to allergies. I used to be allergic to chocolate and shellfish. Thank God I outgrew the chocolate allergy; eating shellfish still causes me to break out with red, watery, itchy, swollen eyes (it's not pretty). But lately I've been having allergy attacks nearly every day. Actually, my whole family has been suffering (Alfie does get spring allergies but the kids don't have any allergies that we know of). Our theories regarding the cause range from our neighbor's jasmine tree to increased pollution to the spray that Bay Area counties are using to get rid of the apple moth infestation.

Come to think of it, nearly every family we know has some sort of allergy these days: peanuts, wheat, gluten, pollen, you name it. When I was growing up, we were the only family I knew that had any allergies at all. What's happening? Which bring me to my question:

Do you suffer from allergies? And have you noticed an increase in allergy suffering among the people you know in recent years? What do you suppose is the reason?

Play the Game, Save a Life

I hated mosquito nets. I slept under one for almost every night of my childhood, for almost 18 years, until my parents could no longer force me to set one up. It seemed like the silliest of things. None of my other friends in Metro Manila used mosquito nets; they relied on airconditioning to keep their bedrooms cool, and consequently, mosquito-free.

What a child I was, what an innocent, self-centered child. I don't think I was ever at serious risk of contracting malaria, but I failed to see the importance of that silly pink plastic cover. I didn't realize that there are millions of people around the world for whom mosquito nets can save lives. And I didn't realize that there are millions of people around the world for whom mosquito nets are an unaffordable luxury.

It only takes $10 to deliver a net, protect a family and save a life. And from now until April 25, it actually won't cost you anything. Check out Deliver the Net from Nothing But Nets. Just play the game and they'll send a net for you. What could be easier?

An American Girl Fashion Show

For The Pea's 7th birthday, her grandmother and I took her to an American Girl Fashion Show . Despite the $45 price tag, we naively weren't expecting much; a few nibbles and a nice fashion show in some function room. All I can say is, the folks at American Girl must be secretly tutored (or owned) by Disney, because just like Disney, They. Go. All. Out. In other words, Bongga.

The show was held at the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton, an absolutely gorgeous located on the former estate of William Randolph Heart's mother. Driving up the winding road to the clubhouse (note to Bongga Sister, who plans to move to Pleasanton in June: boy, have I got the perfect neighborhood for you to go house-hunting in!), we passed well-manicured lawns and putting greens and pools and fountains that screamed, Money! Class! Don't forget our No-Denim Dresscode!. The parlor room where people picked up their tickets and waited for the show to begin proved to be just as elegant.

The show's main sponsor, Girl Ambition, had a booth with some freebies, cute shirts and a Celebrity Interview station where they interview girls who are willing to get in front of the camera and talk about why they love their American Girl dolls. The Pea and her friend were too shy to volunteer.

There were a few souvenir items for sale, like posters and notebooks and doll outfits with matching girl-sized tshirts. Whyever didn't they sell the matching girl-sized skirt as well? If they had, they could have pried another $15 from our pockets.

They had an assortment of door prizes as well as a separate raffle with some really fabulous things, such as dolls, backpacks and beds. Raffle tickets cost $10 and I never win at raffles, so I decided to resist entertaining the fantasy of paying $10 and winning a Mia doll.

Upon entering the ballroom, each little girl was given a special American Girl goody bag with stickers, a notepad, keepsake book and coloring page (I quickly made a mental note to photocopy it for future "Mama I'm bored" days; click here for the coloring pages). We proceded to our table, gawking and gaping at the beautifully decorated ballroom.

Instead of nibbles, we found quite a substantial lunch at our places (thank goodness we didn't have time to stop at a McDonald's on the way over!).

The fashion show itself was really cute. Models walked the runway dressed to match the American Girl dolls they held in their arms. We saw the well-loved American Girl historical characters like Kaya....



Julie, and all the others.....

.... as well as a bunch of girls in contemporary clothing (The American Girl of Today).

I was totally surprised by what a good show they put on and how much I enjoyed it. A cheapskate like me doesn't usually say this, but it was totally worth the money and I'd pay it again if I had the chance. Look at it this way: people pay $100 for Cirque du Soleil or $40 for The Nutcracker every Christmastime. Your little girl will appreciate this just as much.

Speaking of little girls, The Pea loved it. It was absolutely the perfect birthday present. She was thrilled to dress up and join us and her doll and her best friend and other girls and mums and grans, all dressed up and acting like little ladies. Her table manners were impeccable. She was thoroughly transfixed the entire time. When she saw her own Just Like Me doll appear on the runway in one model's arms, her entire face lit up. And as much as I enjoyed watching the girls on the runway, I preferred watching my own little American Girl.

Sunshine in a bottle

The green bottles used to hold Italian soda, the blue one used to hold sparkling water. 99.9999999% of the time I throw them into the recycling bin, but something made me hang on to these three. That was around 7 or 8 years ago. I still love how the sun shines through them. Funny how ordinary bits of colored glass can brighten up a kitchen windowsill.

For more pieces of glass, click here.

We heart baby dolls

As far as photo quality goes, this one ranks with the lowest of the low, probably the worst of all my Love Thursday posts. But I couldn't resist featuring it. Alfie's parents recently bought a vintage motorcycle model and the boys were thrilled to find that it was just the right size for their baby dolls, Pansy (in the pink suit) and Jane (on the motorbike). The motorcycle is not a toy, but Alfie let Pansy and Jane ride for 5 precious minutes each.

Yes, 3Po and CleanBoy play with dolls (they used to belong to The Pea but she gave them up so that all 3 could play dollies together). They dress them and serve them tea and make them speak in baby voices to each other and generally love them to death. And I couldn't be happier. It shows they are loving and nurturing human beings. Hopefully the way they treat these dolls will be the way they treat kittens, babies, and other people later on in life.

For more expressions of love, click here.