How do YOU use technology in your daily parenting?

If you've been following my @bonggamom or @bonggafinds tweets for the past couple of months, I'm sure you've noticed a fair number of them contain the #momspotting hashtag. For those who don't know what that is, I’ve been participating in BlogHer’s Family Connections citizen journalism project as a Momspotter. Basically that means I tweet a few times a day with the #momspotting hashtag about how I use technology in my day-to-day parenting life.

This week a bunch of Momspotters are participating in a fun meme about digital parenting. Feel free to laugh at my lame answers and leave a comment on this post -- I promise I'll drop by your blog sometime this week to thank you for spreading the commenting love. Even better, join the meme and share with everyone how technology affects your parenting style! Leave a link to your post on the Mr. Linky below, or in the comments section, and I'll visit your meme post sometime this week and leave a comment.

(By the way, if you leave a comment on this post or do the meme on your own blog, you'll be eligible for an extra entry in my Chocolate Cheerios giveaway! Head on over to the giveaway post to see what you could win!)

1. Which expensive electronic device do you most often let your older children abuse or your baby drool on?
Our Bose cd player. Which is why it has been broken for about 6 months now.

2. How many take-out restaurant numbers do you have programmed into your phone?
We don't do take-out. If I'm going to be spared the cooking then I want to be spared the cleaning up and the washing up as well!

3. How many hours of television do you so totally not let your kids watch a week?
Technically each kid is supposed to be allowed 1 hour of screen time a day, which includes video game time, computer time and tv time. But on weekends or days that I'm totally engrossed in blogging........

4. Do you think people who say “we don’t watch television” at playdates but really mean “we just watch DVDs” are lying liars from Liarville?
Yes, and Alfie and I are the mayor and vice-mayor of that lovely little town.

5. How many miles have you driven with your child and not one device of electronic entertainment in a single car trip?
Usually our rule of thumb is that you should be able to entertain yourself by listening to Kidz Bop or staring out the window or hitting an adjacent sibling on trips shorter than 20 miles or so. But remember, we are the mayor and vice-mayor of Liarville so that 20 miles maaaaaay occasionally lose a zero.

6. What’s your record for calls to the pediatrician or Ask-a-Nurse in a single day?
I think it must have been about 3 in a single night -- that was when The Pea was about a week old and she spat up blood after a feeding. We were new, sleep-deprived parents and it didn't occur to us that the blood was probably from me (newborn learning to breastfeed, nipples unaccustomed to breastfeeding, you get the picture).

7. What’s the sexiest thing your husband/partner could text you after a hard day?
If Alfie ever texted me that he'd had a "hard day", that term alone would provide fodder for many, many naughty texts.

8. What’s your favorite iPad joke?
Aunt Flo will be so happy!

9. What’s the dumbest parenting tool, gear, gadget or device you ever bought?
The Pee-pee Teepee. What is that, you may ask? Read my post about it here....

10. How many years will it take for your child to become more tech-savvy than you?
Not long, which is why we're limiting their screen time!

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for this particular post but I do receive compensation for my participation in BlogHer's Family Connections project. Although I have offered extra entries in my Chocolate Cheerios giveaway as an incentive to join this meme, BlogHer and Sprint (sponsors of the Family Connections project) are in no way affiliated with that giveaway or with the giveaway sponsors (General Mills and MyBlogSpark).

3Po's Guide to Etiquette

Alfie: Now, 3Po, you've got guests coming to your home today, and you are the host. We want to make sure our guests have a good time and go home happy -- so what is the first rule of how a host must treat his guests?

3Po: Dont Kill Them.

Photo Hunt: Spotted

On our recent trip to Punta Fuego beach, The Pea spotted this hermit crab scuttling across the sand. I'm not sure how she managed to do it; the sand was fairly coarse and strewn with shells, whole and broken, and the crab was about as big as her fingernail. The shell it lived in was perfectly patterned to blend in with its surroundings so it was really a wonder that The Pea was able to see it.

It only took a second for The Pea to became the crab's sworn protector and built a sand fortress around it, standing guard against predators like birds and curious little brothers. They, of course, kept trying to pick the shell up to see the hermit crab more closely, only to have The Pea swoop down on them, shrieking, "Leave him alone! You'll drop him! He's scared! How would you feel if a giant picked you up and poked you?!" She doubled the size of her protective sand wall; eventually 3Po and Jammy decided to help, and grew more interested in the fortress than in the crab.

Once he realized he was no longer the focus of attention, the little hermit crab quickly burrowed back into the sand. The Pea mourned the loss of her impromptu pet, but acknowledged that he was better off free, as all wild things should be.

Feel free to leave links to your own Photo Hunt entries below. And for more spotted things, click here.

My love affair with pearls

Diamonds may be a Girl's Best Friend, but as far as I'm concerned they'll have to share BFF status with pearls. Forget the old saying; the only kinds of tears I would cry because of pearls would be tears of joy (Besides, the dampness would just ruin the pearls' luster, which is kind of weird because pearls come from the sea). Just like diamonds, I love their elegant simplicity, and how they go with anything. Just like the diamond, it amazes me how something so beautiful and precious started out as a humble substance (sand in the case of the pearl, carbon for the diamond) that people wouldn't hesitate to sweep from their porches.

I've always loved pearls, ever since I was a little girl. Their perfect symmetry fascinated me, their luster seemed like a crystal ball with mysterious lights swirling inside. I didn't know about cultured pearls back then, so perfectly round pearls seemed like the rarest things ever. How in the world did the oyster get it so perfect? How difficult it seemed to collect enough pearls for just one necklace! Other little girls dreamed of being able to wear high heels and nail polish when they grew up, but I wanted to wear a pearl necklace. I loved it when my mother would go out to parties and take out her strand of Mikimoto pearls to wear. They looked so elegant draped around her neck. My dad got them for her on their honeymoon in Tokyo; years later, when I got married, my parents gave me a Mikimoto pearl necklace and bracelet as a wedding present.

There are only two things wrong with pearls, and the first is their price. Unless we win the lottery, that set my parents gave me is likely to be the only expensive set of pearls I own. Fortunately, in the last decade a huge South Sea pearl industry has sprung up in the Philippines. Traders from Mindanao sell huge quantities of South Sea Pearls and freshwater pearls at unbelievable prices. They cost less than costume jewelry in the States -- but here, the pearls are real. The cheaper varieties use pearls that aren't symmetrical, but they're beautiful just the same.

Here's a photo of my sister at one of the pearl stalls at a flea market near my parents house in Manila. The vendors will customize any necklace according to your specifications. One of my sister's co-workers sent her a hundred British pounds to buy whatever pearl jewelry she could find; my sister returned to London with a classic single-strand choker, a double-strand necklace, a longer, flapper-style single strand necklace, a couple of double and triple-strand bracelets, and several pairs of earrings. All of them were custom made with large, round South Sea pearls; I don't think anyone other than an expert jeweler would be able to tell that some of the pearls weren't perfectly round. My mother bought cute pearl necklaces for all her granddaughters (The Pea received hers and promptly declared, "I have pearls! I'm rich!". Yes you are, honey, even if that strand cost only $2.50).

(photo courtesy of Fine Living)

The second "problem" with pearls is that they tend to send out a grandmotherly vibe. Personally I think it's hogwash -- Coco Chanel, for instance, would recoil in horror at the thought of being considered grandmotherly! -- but I'll admit the classic pearls-and-twinset look isn't exactly edgy. Single strand pearl necklaces look nice on kids and the elderly, but they're not the kind of jewelry you wear if you want your man to tear your clothes off (Except with Tea Leoni. For some reason any kind of pearls and Tea Leoni just go together, and she still manages to look hot wearing them. I guess it's because she looks hot no matter what she wears).

So I never wear single-strand pearls (okay, I've worn them once or twice, but they were to family events with parents and grand-aunts and grandparents in attendance). Most of my pearl jewelry has other elements or accents, like silver beads or ribbons or other gems. I love the look of a pearl pendant on a black leather string! I also the sumptuous look of pearls piled upon pearls. I think Michelle Obama looks absolutely fabulous in the photo above, and I love how she's revived interest in pearls and other classic fashions by giving them a modern twist and making them her own. Michelle certainly ain't no-one's grandmamma, and with the right attitude and style I think pearls only add to a woman's sex appeal, not take away from it!

This post was inspired by Coco Chanel, her love for pearls and the latest book about her vivid, passionate life: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky by Chris Greenlaugh, the topic of this month's Silicon Valley Mom's Blog Book Club. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book to read.

Ten Things I always keep in my car

I admit it, I'm a Minivan Mom. I live in suburbia and I drive everywhere, even to a friend's house three blocks away (hey, it's raining and I'm late....). What with the grocery runs and the ballet carpools and the dropoffs to soccer and basketball and skating and everything in between, sometimes I feel like I live in my minivan. Just like my real home, there's never enough space in it for all the things I want to keep in it, but there are certain things that I am willing to allot precious cargo space for. Here are ten things I try to make sure are safely in the van before I get into the driver's seat and buckle up:

10) Extra carseat
I started carrying an extra carseat in the back of my van when The Pea entered kindergarten -- when she started going on playdates and I started driving carpools for field trips. I figured it was worth investing $19.99 to be able to dispense with the hassle of arranging carseat dropoffs and pickups with other parents. Now that I have 3 kids in school, at pickup time there's always the chance that at least one of them will want to invite a friend over on an impromptu playdate. With that extra carseat in the back I get to be the cool mom and tell the friend's mother, "Sure, Billy can come home with us! I've got an extra carseat in the van so it's no problem".

9) Sunblock
Living as we do in sunny California, we take sun protection seriously. When we know we're going to outdoors for any length of time, we're pretty anal about slathering sunblock on our kids' faces, arms and legs before we even head out the door. But there are times when we're coming home from lunch at a restaurant and we decide on a whim to stop by the local playground on the way home. Or sometimes the indoor museum we're in turns out to have a pretty cool outdoor area. Or sometimes we're in a hurry and we forget. So it's nice to have a can of sunblock spray for the body and a tube of sunblock for the face (see, you never even have to get your hands all sticky). I just hope that leaving it in my closed, hot van doesn't cut the SPF level down to 2, or make the spray can explode.

8) Hats
Like I said, we're anal about the sun thing. But hats are also an easy, effective and stylish way to keep heads warm on cold, windy days (Alfie tells me that's one thing he's learned quickly now that there isn't much much hair left on his head).

7) Emergency gear
We've got enough emergency supplies in the van to prepare us in case our car battery dies (emergency jump starter), a natural disaster strikes (disaster relief kit), a snake sinks its fangs into one of our ankles, (first aid kit), a car windows shatters (the first aid kit has masking tape, and yes, this actually did happen to us once on our annual trip to Lake Tahoe), I accidentally eat shellfish (I put extra Benadryl in the first aid kit) or we get into a really, really bad traffic jam (and double-extra Tylenol).

Come to think of it, even though we have all the equipment to treat snake bites I'd still have to read the instructions on how to use it (giving the venom enough time to spread through the victim's arm and make it fall off or something). I don't know how to use the jump starter, either. And even if I did manage to figure it out there probably won't be enough power in it to jumpstart my dead cellphone, because you're supposed to charge the thing overnight every 3 months or so, and we charge it once a year, before the Tahoe trip. But illogically, it still makes me feel more secure having it there -- and if I'm not quite as prepared as I like to think, at least this stuff gives me peace of mind.

6) Diapers
Diapers really ought to fall under the "emergency gear" category, because even though my kids have been potty trained for years, there are still times when they hold it in until they're about to explode -- and full bladder plus no bathroom equals emergency. There are places in this world with no trees or bushes to hide you, and there are no empty bottles to pee into, and you'd be surprised at how much liquid a size 5 diaper can hold.

5) Extra clothes
There are times when my kids are freezing and need an extra layer of clothing. And there are times when they find themselves wet or muddy or dirty, for some reason or another (like cutting it so close that there isn't time to fish out that size 5 diaper). Rather than let them into my nice, clean van or have to give up my own coat to keep them warm (why should I go cold when I told them and told them it was fifty degrees out yet they insisted on wearing shorts?), I just keep a permanent stash of extra clothes in the back.

4) Phone charger
I can never remember to charge my phone at night, so I frequently run around during the day with a dead cellphone in my purse. My car charger is my cell phone's primary source of power; without it "What good is having a cellphone if it's always dead?".

3) Food
If I had my way I'd drive to the nearest Krispy Kreme or In-N-Out Burger every time my kids needed a snack, but because of those inconveniencies like cholesterol levels, fat and sugar content, I bow to the fact that they need healthy snacks. I like having a small stash of food in the car just in case I forget to bring snacks, or the snacks I've brought aren't enough, and no, I don't want to rely on the eat the month-old goldfish crackers wedged in the back seat. I have a feeling we'll need those for real emergencies -- no way my kids are going to eat that dried-up nutritional brick in our disaster relief kit.

2) Entertainment
I'm so happy I no longer have to carry around a basket filled with stuffed animals and duplicate lovie blankets and books and Happy Meal Toys. My kids are old enough to choose their own toys to amuse themselves on long car trips and bring them back into the house after our journey is over -- or suffer the consequences of boredom should they forget. But I do keep a notebook in the seat pocket and some colored pencils in one of the side compartments, and our center console is stuffed with assorted dvd's. Anyway, watching movies on car trips doesn't really count as tv time since it's more like a parental sanity-saving tool... right?

1) Baby wipes
I will leave the house on an empty gas tank before I leave without baby wipes, which in my opinion are God's Gift to Parents (after the babies themselves). I use baby wipes to clean everything, not just dirty bottoms and sticky hands. I use them to wipe the seats that the sticky little hands have touched before being wiped. I use them to mop up juice that has spilled on the floor. I use them to wipe off scuff marks from the floor and the backs of seats. I even use them to wipe birdshit off the windshield and the sides of the car. We park under a tree that hosts all the squirrels and birds in the neighborhood, and I don't have the time or the money to take my van to the carwash twice a week, so if it weren't for my baby wipe carwashes I'd be driving around looking like a tramp.

As you can see, that's a lot of stuff. But it's not so bad -- most of it fits in a large plastic bin that lives permanently in the back cargo area. And having these things around certainly makes mobile life more liveable. All I need now is a portable shower and I could really get comfy. Hang on, I've got an extra-large pack of baby wipes; who needs a shower?

Photo Hunt: Balance

You don't get much more balance in a photo than this: two sets of identical twins, two sexes, in matching yellow outfits (in fact, if 3Po hadn't insisted on hamming it up, we'd have had identical expressions on all 4 faces). On our last day in Manila the kids and I attended an extended family reunion, and we ran into these little ladies. They're daughters of a cousin of mine, and they're about 6 months older than 3Po and Jammy.

Here's the last time these four were in a photo together:
The girls are already looking identical, but at this point 3Po and Jammy looked so different from each other that Alfie and I were seriously doubting their identical diagnosis. We paid $200 to get a full DNA analysis, which of gave us the result: identical. We should have saved our money, because two month after this photo was taken we couldn't tell one boy from the other.

Feel free to leave links to your own Photo Hunt entries below. And for more balancing acts, click here.

Staying single (and safe)

3Po (in a tone of wonder): Mama, did you know that even old people, you know, like really old people, can find love and get married?

Me (suppressing a smile): Yes, honey, I do know that. People of any age, old or young, can fall in love and get married.

3Po (scornfully): Oh, I know about young people. Even the girls on Jumpstart chase me and want to marry me.

(n.b.: Jumpstart is an online virtual world that my kids like to play on. Kids create avatars for themselves, and when they are in certain portions of the site they can see the avatars of other people who are logged on to Jumpstart at the time. They cannot have private conversations or contact or see any information about another player unless they have "friended" that particular player but they can maneuver their avatars around the area to "follow" other players' avatars.)

Me: Oh? How do you know they don't just want to be friends with you?

3Po: Because I know. Girls chase you to marry you. And that's why I've put a robot mask on my guy, so the girls on Jumpstart won't like my face and won't want to marry me.

Funny, sweet stuff aside, I'm wondering whether this was the perfect opening for a discussion about online safety. The kids are still at the stage where everything is as it seems; it wouldn't even occur to them that the player behind that pigtailed avatar might not actually be a young girl, or might not even be a girl. They know they're not to "friend" anyone on these online kids' sites, and they've ignored all requests except the ones that have come from cousins and schoolfriends (and this only after exchanging user names on the phone or in person).

But the only reason I've given is "we don't know anyone else, those other people are strangers". I haven't mentioned anything about the seedier side of the internet and the darker consequences of exchanging information with a stranger. I believe in age-appropriate explanations, and at this point I don't want to scare them off with worst-case scenarious. That "don't talk to strangers" rule is enough for them now -- but The Pea will be turning nine (OMG, 9!!) in a couple of months, and I wonder how long it will be before she'll want to make friends with strangers on the Jumpstart site, or spend time on sites that are less kid-focused (and less safe) than Jumpstart. I guess having age-appropriate explanations also means we have to keep revisiting topics with our kids and adding more information as they're able to handle it. I dread having to tell her that the world is full of sickos, that anything you post on the internet can live forever, that no site is ever hack-proof, that so many things can be taken away from you online: your money, your reputation, your identity. Ugh.

If only all you had to do to keep safe online was put on a robot mask.

Gaining balance in 2010

Every January since I started blogging I've posted a list of resolutions for the new year. This year's New Year's Resolutions post comes later than usual, and I'm blaming the delay on the fabulous vacation I had in Manila and the blogging blackout I had to endure there. To be honest, I have to admit that it was probably a good thing, because after my initial withdrawal symptoms I grew accustomed to life without constant internet access. I no longer feel the need to check my email every five minutes, and I feel more confident that the opportunity to host the latest fabulous giveaway will still be open even if I respond to it at 1:00PM instead of 10:00AM. If it isn't, I've come to accept that there will be other pitches down the road.

In short, I think I gained a little more perspective, which helped me look back at 2009 and admit to myself that all things internet was taking over my life. Blogging, blog-hopping, Facebook-hopping, tweeting, product reviewing, hosting and managing giveaways, joining giveaways, checking email all consumed my attention. Not that there's anything wrong with anything I listed; I love doing them with a passion and intend to keep doing them in 2010. It's just that because I was so obsessed with those things, other things -- my health, the laundry, the dust bunnies under the bed, time spent with my kids, evenings on the couch with my husband -- have suffered.

So for 2010 I resolve to get more balance in my life. I resolve to look at people's houses by taking a walk instead clicking on their satellite images on Google maps. I resolve to show up at my kids' classroom door five minutes earlier so I can get to know the other parents instead of sending out self-congratulatory tweets while waiting in the car. I'll still be blogging about the latest playground or a great kids' play that's opening in my area, but I resolve to take my kids to those places as well. Most importantly, I resolve to keep in mind that there is more to life than what I can download and upload over that DSL connection.

Okay, enough already with resolutions. I've spent enough much time on this post, so I resolve to log off Blogger and fold the laundry.

Helping Haiti

Like everyone else, I've been following the developments in Haiti, and what I see makes my heart sink, right down to the earth where all those buildings have crumbled. The devastation is tremendous: there are tens of thousands dead (people are estimating up to a hundred thousand by the end of it), people trapped beneath the rubble, the capital city decimated. How can people even begin to organize when all the infrastructure -- hospitals, shelters, food warehouses, telecommunications -- is gone? I think they've found two working hospitals so far. As for help of a spiritual or inspirational nature, the UN headquarters, the Presidential Palace, and most churches have collapsed.

It's so unfair. Haiti is already one of the poorest countries in the world; this earthquake hitting Haiti was like giving a homeless man a kick in the face and breaking his nose. I know every country has their own issues, the hungry that need to be fed, the homeless that need to be sheltered, the kids that need to be taken off the street and educated -- but I hope that people can look beyond their own back yards and extend not only their compassion, but their assistance, to the victims of the Haiti earthquake. This time, they cannot help themselves, so the rest of the world has to.

Here are five quick and easy (and legitimate) ways you can help:

* text 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts in Haiti
* text YELE to 501501, which automatically donates $5 (added to your cell phone bill) to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund (Yele Haiti is a grassroots movement founded by native Haitian musician Wyclef Jean).
* text Give10 to 20222, which automatically donates $10 (added to your cell phone bill) to n to support the Haiti earthquake relief work of Direct Relief International.
* donate to Save the Children's Haiti Earthquake Fund via credit card, Amazon, Google Checkout or PayPal.

You bought Wha-at?

My sister-in-law recently gave birth to a baby girl, and when The Pea and I went shopping for baby presents, I was amazed by the multitude of new products that have come up in the 6 years since 3Po and Jammy were born. Some of these products are so cool (hello, Bumbo Baby Seat!) or cute (hello, Mary Jane socks!) they almost make me want to have another baby so I can use them, but others are just plain useless. I'm not talking about frivolous fashion accessories like newborn baby bikinis or unnecessary gear like toddler beds, I'm talking about products that most people would look at and think, "Are You Kidding Me?" With apologies to the people who make'em and the people who buy'em, here are 5 Totally Ridiculous Baby Products on the shelves today:

5) Mommy Mitten
I get that your hands get cold and you've lost your gloves and you don't want to push that stroller all around the park with bare hands. But instead of paying $30 for a fleece-lined folder to shove your hands in, wouldn't it be easier (and cheaper) to tug your coat sleeves down over your hands? And won't your hands get cold anyway when you take them out to adjust your baby's blanket/wipe his nose/pop his pacifier back in/pat his cheek/hold your cup of coffee/answer your phone?

4) Peekaru
All the comedians on late-night talk shows are making fun of the Snuggie (that ridiculous blanket with sleeves), and instead of getting the message, the baby products industry has come up with a Snuggie for babies. I'm all for babywearing, but I draw the line at baby straitjackets, and honestly, seeing a mom with a baby's head popping out of her stomach is a bit freaky, kind of like the alien baby in Total Recall.

3) DadGear Cargo Jacket
Alfie was horrified at the sight of this jacket-slash-"wearable diaper bag", which has pockets for diapers, wipes, and even a changing pad. The manufacturer claims "no one will know dad's carrying diapers, wipes, and even two bottles" Ha! No sane parent would leave home without packing at least half a dozen diapers, a Costco-sized pack of wipes, changing pad, Purell sanitizer, tube of diaper rash cream, diaper disposal bag, extra change of clothes, pacifier, bottle or sippy cup, snacks, books, toys, special blanket or lovey, and chocolate bar (for the parent) into their diaper bag. Try stuffing that into the DadGear Cargo Jacket without looking like the Michelin Man! And good luck carrying that dirty diaper around in your "wearable diaper bag" until you can find a trash can to throw it in.

2) Toddler Hotdog Slicer
I own an apple slicer and an egg slicer, but a hotdog slicer is one slicer too many. This plastic contraption looks more likely to smash the hotdog into "Ewww! I'm not eating that!" bits instead of neat little chunks, and any time saved by cutting a hotdog in a single stroke instead of twelve is negated by the time it will take to scrub all the hotdog bits off each and every one of those corners. Get a knife already!

1) Pee-pee Teepe
The number one spot in my Ridiculous Baby Product category has to go to the Pee-pee Teepee. Why? Because it actually suckered me in. Yes, I bought a pack of Pee-pee Teepees when 3Po and Jammy were born. I had heard lots of horror stories about parents getting pee'd on while changing their newborn sons' diapers, and these absorbent flannel cones seemed like the perfect solution. How cute! How neat! But reality bit me, or should I say sprayed me, hard. For one thing, the cones never stayed on for more than a second; they fell off my little fellows' winkies with every squirm. The only way to keep them on is to hold them with one hand -- and since you need the other hand to hold the baby, there are no hands left to change the diaper. On the rare occasion that the Pee-pee Teepee was actually positioned correctly when one of my sons pee'd, the force of their spray shot the stupid thing into the air anyway. It was simply too much of a bother to use. In hindsight, a simple washcloth draped over their fronts would have been far more effective.

So why are these products still out there? Why do parents still buy them? For the same reason, I suppose, that I bought the Pee-pee Teepees: because taking care of 3Po and Jammy was unfamiliar and scary, and they were too precious for me to fail, and I was hoping that the Pee-pee Teepees would help. For all the years that humankind has been doing this, parenthood is still uncharted territory for any new parent, and people will always be coming up with bizarre ways to help map the way. Besides, a product that's useless to one parent could be a goldmine for another. Hey, that wearable diaper bag got one reviewer's 5-star rating on As for those Pee-pee Teepees, I ended up washing them and giving them to The Pea to use as little hats for her stuffed animals. So I did get some use out of them in the end.

Wading Through the Holiday Aftermath

Has it really been 18 days since I last posted on this blog? And to think I had just posted about resolving to post more frequently. Oh, hang on: that was over a month ago, and between then and now there was this little thing called a vacation. I didn't think anything could cure me of my internet addiction, but apparently 3 weeks in Manila with only occasional internet access does the trick.

And now that I'm back, there's a multitude of tasks competing with blogging time for my attention. I thought holiday to-do lists were bad, check out my after-holiday to-do list!

* Unpack suitcases and find extra space for all the new toys and souvenirs and bric-a-brac that we've brought home from vacation;

* Throw or give away old toys and clothes because extra space is harder to find in this house than a pair of matching Polly Pocket shoes;

* Wash all the dirty clothes we've brought back with us (Fortunately for me, Alfie returned home a week before the kids and I did, so he tackled the laundry I left behind in December. He even stripped and washed all our bedsheets, even though already did that before we left. Hmmm, maybe I ought to leave Alfie home alone more often);

* Take down and store the holiday decor (again, Alfie took them down for me since he didn't want to be the only house on the block with holiday decor in January, but he has no idea where they're stored so they're still all over the guest bedroom);

* Sort through a month's worth of mail: bills, magazines, junk mail and everything in between;

* Sort through this year's holiday cards, which is a task entirely separate from sorting mail, since it involves updating our records for people whose addresses have changed, sending belated cards to people we forgot about, and deciding which cards to keep, which cards to toss, and which cards to cut and save for the kids' holiday crafts next year;

* Sort though hundreds of holiday photos and upload to various social networking sites, including Alfie's and my Facebook accounts, Flickr accounts and family home page;

* Completely restock our cupboard and refrigerator with food;

* Help the kids prepare their class presentations so that their teachers can see that they didn't miss an entire week of school just to sit at home and watch the Cartoon Network.

All of this would be doable were I not on the toilet every fifteen minutes, suffering from what the doctor says is "traveler's diarrhea" (I was born and raised in the Philippines, so a part of me refuses to believe that there's a parasite in Manila that isn't already in my body, and I'm thinking of something much more exotic, like a foot-long tapeworm. Ok, maybe I watch too much House). I'm not sure whether I feel lightheaded due to lack of food (curse this BRAT diet!) or lack of sleep, but so far, given the choice to blog or to nap, napping has won. So I've decided to put this blog on autopilot for the next few days while I sleep my post-holiday haze away, and schedule some posts with photos of our vacation. Because a picture is worth a thousand words anyway, right? Especially a picture like this:

Hopefully that tapeworm will decide I'm a bad hostess, and seek refuge elsewhere. and I can get on with things. Till then, I'll be in bed.