It's one of those Annoying Family Newsletters

Hello, everyone! This year we're taking our cure from the economy and downsizing our annual newsletter. Here's a short and sweet list of memorable events in 2009:

* In January, Bonggamom cut off her long hair and donated it to Locks of Love.

* In February, Alfie took the kids to a Monster Truck Show.

* In March, Jammy lost his first tooth.

* In April, The Pea entered her first skating competition and placed second.
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* In May, Alfie gave 3Po and Jammy a mohawk haircut.

* In June, 3Po and Jammy moved into bunk beds. They also learned to swim.

* In July, Bonggamom went on an out-of-town trip, her first ever without the kids.

* In August, we camped in Napa Valley and took our first ever family hike.

* In September, The Pea started third grade, and 3Po and Jammy started kindergarten. The boys also joined a soccer league, with Alfie as their assistant coach.
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* In October, we got to cross off one item on our "Must-See-Places" list -- the Grand Canyon.

* In November, Bonggamom gifted Alfie with a much-needed GPS.

* In December, we'll all be in Manila for the holidays!

Happy Holidays, everyone, and we are looking forward to another memorable year!

from bonggamom and family

(For all you PhotoHunters -- that's my Twelve (twelve photos, that is) for this week's theme! Click here for more Twelves..... And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your blog!)

Cookie, Cookie, Cookie!

I realize I haven't been posting about food too much lately (actually, make that posting about anything too much lately), so I'm remedying that today with some mouth-watering shots of cookies that people brought to my friend Rox's holiday cookie party. Everyone had to bake 6 dozen cookies, and everyone got to take 6 dozen of other people's cookies home. Everyone baked a different kind of cookie, so we ended up with quite a delicious selection. Check out these beautiful striped peppermint cookies:

Get ready for 12 days of giveaways!

It's almost Christmas and the presents, they are a-comin'! Have you been naughty or nice? At Bonggamom Finds, it doesn't matter, because everyone gets a chance to win! My 12 Days of Christmas Giveaways event on Bonggamom Finds begins on December 25 and I'll be giving away one present for each of the 12 Days of Christmas. Don't forget to stop by and enter to win!

Photo Hunt: Fast

Holiday Ice Show

I love this photo of The Pea gliding on the ice. Now that she's in the Freestyle levels, she can go quite fast, and do some pretty moves on the ice: spins, jumps, arabesques (they call them spirals in the ice skating world) and such.

For more fast things, visit the Photo Hunt. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your blog!

Would you tweet about a family tragedy?

It's not every day that a question you post on a BlogHer forum makes BlogHer's front page, and since mine did today, I thought I'd milk it for all it's worth and do some shameless self-promotion over here.

In my defense, the topic is an interesting one. On Tuesday morning I belatedly heard that a fairly prominent Tweeter and Momdot Community member, Shellie Ross (@military_mom), had found her 2-year old son at the bottom of a pool and tweeted about it. Along with messages of sympathy and support came accusations of neglect (how could you keep your eye off your kid?), callousness (how could you tweet at a time like this?) and exploitation (don't donate to her until we verify that the kid really died). I really wanted to know what everyone thought of it, and if you want to weigh in on the discussion (or read about what's being said), I encourage you to head over to BlogHer's Family Connections forum.

Me, a murderer?

A couple of weeks ago Alfie came home from Morrissey's concert in Berkeley with a bunch of stickers that declare "Meat is Murder", "Fish are Friends, Not Food" and "Jesus Love Me, Too" (with a picture of a cute little chick). Morrissey is a pretty militant vegan and has some pretty strong views about people who eat meat. I looked at the stickers and pamphlets -- and went on eating my chicken nuggets.

Am I cruel and heartless because I eat meat? I don't think so, and to my mind, being accused of cruelty and murder doesn't seem like the way to get more people to become vegetarians. If activists want to change people's behavior, I think they ought to focus more on the benefits to people rather than attack their values and get them on the defensive.

Yes, I disagree with inhumane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses and cages. It's unnecessarily cruel, and the thought of eating a product of those filthy, crowded, possibly disease-ridden conditions is really not appealing. It's enough to get me to buy cage-free eggs and free-range chickens. And I'm happy to cut down on our meat consumption because it's good for the earth and good for our health. In fact, we've been eating far less meat this year, and we haven't really missed it in our daily lives. I'm happy to eat a yummy lunch of goat cheese pizzas with caramelized onions and peppers, or pack a hummus and pita in my kids' lunchbox, or have my favorite cauliflower and white bean soup for dinner.

But I'm not ready to give up meat or eggs or fish entirely! I'm comfortable with the fact that humans are at the top of the food chain. Besides, many cultures don't have the luxury of considering the feelings of the goat that they need to kill and feed to their kids in order to survive. Humans have been eating meat since the beginning of time, and I'm not sure activists screaming bloody murder will change that.

An Afternoon of Fashion and Fun

If I had my way, I'd stay in my pajamas all day -- and if I had any pajamas without snowflakes or Strawberry Shortcake or paisely swirls or stripes on them, I probably actually would. But last Saturday I was invited to Aspiring Couture's Winter on the Runway event and I realized that printed stretch cotton probably wasn't going to cut it. So I took my time, dressed up and got ready for an afternoon of fun and fashion.

Aspiring Couture is an online boutique featuring creations by various independent artists, and last weekend's show featured the best of winter fashion by Wise & Prosper, Mahtab Azimi, Selah D'Or, Jesica Milton, Liise Wyatt, Karly Orr, Sofie Olgaard, Gypsies & Lords, and Zoe Hong. I got to hang out in the press area and play the part of the paparrazzi, clicking along with all the professionals. I thank my lucky stars that I decided to make an effort with my appearance, because apparently even the photographers have a sense of style:

I've never been to a fashion show before (I don't think American Girl fashion shows count), and now I can see why people like going. It's a visual treat to be able to sit back and look at such beautiful things being paraded in front of you. Kind of like visiting a museum, but instead of walking around and admiring things, the artwork obligingly walks by you. What I really liked about the fashion show was that the clothes featured were clearly designer quality -- but they were also fashions that normal, stylish people can actually wear. Here are several that really stood out for me:

This dress would be the hit of any holiday party. Especially when there's dancing and shimmying involved! If you still don't know what the word "Bongga" means, I suggest you look at this dress. Now that's Bongga.

I thought this dress was so romantic and fresh, and I could immediately see The Pea wearing it to a holiday party ten years from now. I just hope her dad doesn't decide to follow her around with a floor-length cape and shotgun to scare off all her boyfriends.

At times, the star of the outfit was not the dress; my eyes were instantly drawn to these femme fatale booties by Eidia Lush.

Okay, maybe I wouldn't wear all their designs. You'd have to be super skinny and live in New York to pull this one off.

This is one design I love, but unfortunately it doesn't love me. Again, only for all the skinny ladies, All the Skinny Ladies.... (*sings to the tune of Beyonce's Single Ladies*)

The fashions on the runway (and on the blog) were simple yet stylish, elegant yet fashionable. Most surprisingly (and refreshingly), they're also reasonable. Most of the fashions I saw on the Aspiring Couture blog are priced between $100 and $300, which is pretty much department store prices! Even the most "inexpensive" dresses, the $95 Monroe and $90 Meibury by Mahtab Azimi, are the ultimate in designer chic.

I have to commend Allison O'Grady, founder of Aspiring Couture, for putting together such an enjoyable holiday event-- and for finding such a great group of designers. Thanks, Allison, for supporting these up-and-coming artists!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated to post about this event. I did receive a press pass and a sliver of luscious red velvet cake.

Photo Hunt: Undesirable

Crickets don't sound like the most delicious things in the world, but you'd be surprised how much a sprinkling of cheese powder can help. I can't say I'd ever eat them like potato chips, but many cultures enjoy fried insects, so they're not totally undesirable.

For more undesirable things, visit the Photo Hunt. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your blog!

An apology letter to my blog

Dear Finding Bonggamom,

I've been neglecting you lately, and I'm sorry. I've been posting less and less, not because nothing's been happening in our lives -- I still get that "This would make a great blog post!" feeling once or twice a day -- but because too much has been happening in other parts of my life!

So what's your competition, you may wonder? What sort of new mistresses have been vying for my attention? Well, there's real life, of course. Volunteering for 3 kids' classes has taken up a big chunk of my time, as do their after-school activities, especially during this holiday show season (The Pea just finished her Nutcracker performance last week, and she and Jammy have their holiday ice show this week). I wish I could say that I've been increasing my housework efforts, but Alfie will pounce on this lie so quickly I won't even have time to turn on the vacuum cleaner. Actually, what with houseguests and dirty soccer uniforms and lice-ridden bedding, I have been doing quite a bit more laundry these past few months, but it's all been sitting on the folding table, gathering wrinkles, in our laundry closet.

I continue to write for the SV Moms Blog, SavvySource and Filipina Moms Blog (and I have to admit that sometimes I save my "This would make a great blog post!" moments for posts on those blogs, and you've lost out). I've also added a couple of new commitments to my blogging activities (Did I mention I'm a Sprint Momspotter? and a Group Manager for the SavvySource Silicon Valley Parents Group?). But really, dear Finding Bonggamom Blog, the biggest time-suck has been doing product reviews and giveaways on your little sister, my review blog, Bonggamom Finds. Traffic to my review blog, Bonggamom Finds, has been growing and so have the product pitches.

So what has Bonggamom Finds got that you don't, dear blog? Some reviews have been compensated, but most aren't. All I get from these are free stuff to try out, which I don't consider as payment for writing posts; rather it's a tool to aid me in writing posts. Some of the free stuff is pretty awesome, but the time I spend reviewing a product or writing a post is not dependent on how much the product is worth, and I've raved about $3 products just as much as I have about $100 products. And I'll admit, it's flattering to be contacted and pitched, just like a country bumpkin might be flattered by the attentions of the rich city slicker who drops by her little corner of the world. But honestly, I get my review blogging kicks from discovering and falling in love with new products that people pitch to me, and from being able to give away products to lots of people, and from seeing my blog stats grow.

But it's getting quite overwhelming, and more and more I'm feeling the need to pay more attention to you. I want to just update family and friends on what we're doing. Just post amusing stories and fun photos about our life. Just reflect on my experiences as a parent who's trying to keep her sense of self. In other words, just blog.

I still love you; you've always been there for me, to absorb my frustrations and my need to shout out to the world how great my kids are, or how my life sucks. Thank God you're not going anywhere!

Love ya,

You're Invited to a Style Lab Twitter Party

Great news: Bonggamom Finds is partnering with Ubisoft to bring you a Twitter Party that's stylish and girly and oh-so-fun. We're talking fashion, makeovers, and games girls play. We're talking moms, daughters, sleepovers and manicures. And we're talking prizes!

What: a Style Lab Twitter party
When: Tuesday, December 15th, 5:00 - 6:00 pm PST
Where: Chat with us on Twitter using the hashtag #games4girls (you can use services like Tweetchat or Tweetgrid to follow the conversation)

Head over to the Twitter Party post on Bonggamom Finds to see the great prizes you can win........

What do you get your child's teacher for Christmas?

Each year since kindergarten, The Pea has declared her current teacher to be "The Best Teacher Ever", and I must admit I've adored all her teachers so far. The fact that they are full of praise for The Pea and her talents probably has a lot to do with it, but they've also been open about areas where she can improve and how we can help her progress at home. I credit her teachers for making classroom learning fun and exciting, and for challenging The Pea to be the best Pea she can possibly be. 3Po and Jammy are having similar experiences with their own teachers and at this point I can safely say our school is blessed to have great teachers, and my kids will have great learning experiences no matter which classroom they end up in.

So when the holidays roll around, I like to think extra-hard about what kinds of presents to get them. We don't have a big budget for holiday presents, but I always like to get my kids' teachers a little something. The eternal question is, what? What would a teacher appreciate? Candy or baked goods is always my first impulse -- but imagine getting 20 boxes of chocolate! The same goes for #1 Teacher mugs, soap-on-a-rope and other useless trinkets. If you've got the same dilemma, here are 4 ideas that work for me:

1) Contribute a small amount of cash along with other parents in the class and get a gift card to Starbucks, Target, a spa or some other . As a room parent I have never advocated specifying a set amount of money since I know different parents can afford different amounts; I think any amount you can give, be it $5 or $25, will be appreciated.

2) My friend and fellow Office Max blog panelist Heather (the Tween Teacher), wised me up about giving school supplies to teachers. I had no idea that so many teachers had to pony up their own cash to buy school supplies for their kids! So ask your teacher if she needs anything for her class -- be it a ream of paper, a couple of ink cartridges or a box of file folders -- and get it for her. Or get a gift card to an office supply store.

3) Who doesn't like flowers? Flowers always make me feel special, and a vase of flowers on the dining room table always makes me feel a wee bit closer to Martha Stewart -- and I can't think that any teacher, male or female, would feel any different.

4) What are we giving teachers this year? Nothing. To be more precise, I'm planning to buy something from Manila and give it to my kids' teachers when we come back in January. I'm sure I can find some native pendants or scarves that won't cost a lot of money but are unique and meaningful because they come from a country that The Pea has ties to.

If anyone has other good teacher gift ideas, I'd love to hear them! Let's work together to make sure no teacher gets a ceramic apple paperweight this holiday season!

This post was inspired by teacher/author Phil Done's experience of receiving a present shaped like a box of candy, freezing it and taking out months later, only to find out that it was actually a tie. It's all chronicled, along with other hilarious and touching stories, in his latest book, Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind. Read my review of this book on Bonggamom Finds, and head on over to the Silicon Valley Moms Blog to read how this book inspired other moms.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Phil Done last summer; the views and opinions expressed in my review are my own.

My holiday to-do list

I have invitations to three holiday events this weekend. Each invite says something to the effect of, "Come, relax and unwind with friends before the holiday rush sets in".

Before? Seems to me we're already in the thick of the holiday rush. Fortunately I've already got all the presents for the kids and family sorted, but even with that out of the way, I still have a long list of things to do. In a perfect world, I'd get all of the following done:

* Decorate the house for the holidays.
* Sign, address and mail holiday cards.
* Help 3Po and Jammy rehearse their roster of songs (17) for their kindergarten holiday concert
* Watch and cheer 3Po and Jammy when they perform in said concert.
* Watch and cheer The Pea when she performs in the Nutcracker.
* Watch and cheer The Pea and Jammy when they perform in their Nightmare before Christmas skating show.
* Bake treats for 3 class parties, 2 cookie exchanges and 1 skating party.
* Attend all 6 holiday parties above.
* And a couple more that sound like a lot of fun.
* Drive around with the family looking at all the holiday lights.
* Have breakfast with Santa and pose for a photo or two.
* Buy presents for the kids' teachers, teachers aides, cleaners, gardener.
* Gather canned goods, toiletries and linens to donate to various food closets and shelters.
* Buy toys (or raid my gift closet) for toys to donate to Toys For Tots, the Giving Tree, and other various holiday charities.
* Take the kids to the Family Giving Tree warehouse to sort and wrap toys that will be giving to needy kids this holiday season.
* Collect medical receipts to submit to our prepaid medical expenses plan.
* Return all library books.
* Host a holiday giftguide and giveaway extravaganza on Bonggamom Finds, complete with cute little widget that people can post on their sites.
* Keep up with all my blogging commitments.
* Write some posts for SV Moms and Savvy Source to tide me over the holidays, when internet access will be sketchy at best.
* Lose 5 pounds.
* Do boring stuff like get the car washed, clean the bathrooms, vacuum the floors and other housework.
* Pack suitcases.
* Do laundry so we'll have something to pack into the suitcases.

I'm sure there a couple of other things I've left out that will come out of the woodwork to bite me (Mama! You were supposed to help my class with our toilet paper wreaths today!) And I have to accomplish all that in the next fourteen days, before we leave for the Philippines.

Maybe Santa can lend me a couple of elves to help out with the laundry. Come to think of it, I don't actually need to do the laundry. I'm not above packing dirty clothes into our suitcases and laundering them when we get to Manila.

And I think we're going to skip the house decorating this year. And a couple of other items on that list. Or maybe I should try to get everything done; I might just lose those 5 pounds, along with my mind.

It's in the Blood

Earlier this week two of my mother's sisters stopped by for a short visit. They had arrived in the US after spending several days in Vancouver with a cousin, and spent the night at our place before heading down to Santa Cruz to visit another relative. The first place they wanted to visit? Costco.

My aunts are veteran shoppers. These ladies will literally shop from the time stores open till the time they close. I've accompanied them on numerous shopping sprees, from the time I was a teenager, around the malls of Manila, to weeklong junkets in Hong Kong, to day trip to the outlet malls in Gilroy and New Jersey. They do have enough money to fund their buying sprees, but they're also bargain hunters who think that the only thing better than the perfect pair of shoes is the perfect pair of shoes at 50% off. And for my aunts, they enjoy the looking as much as the buying-- so shopping with them is always a fun bonding experience.

Much to their sorrow, we weren't able to stay at Costco too long (only 45 minutes, a blink of an eye!) before we had to fetch The Pea from school. But after we got home, we decided to set out again and look for some things that another aunt from the Philippines had asked them to buy. 3Po and Jammy stayed home with my dad, who's also visiting, but The Pea decided to go with us.

We left home at about 4:30PM. I called Alfie at the office to ask him what he wanted us to bring home for dinner. He scoffed and said he would take the boys out somewhere because there was no way we were getting home before 8. We said we just had to buy a few things, of course we'd be back. Of course, he was right. We shopped till 8:30PM, and would have stayed longer (we only covered half the mall) had The Pea's bedtime not been at 8PM. Nothing out of the ordinary there, just another day's shopping for my aunts.

The surprise of the night was The Pea. She's never really liked shopping before. Usually, after 30 minutes or so at Target she's ready to hit the snack stand and go home, but that night her dormant shopping genes came out in full force. She discovered Marshalls and the joys of bargain hunting and window shopping. She tagged along and searched for presents for her best friends; even though she didn't buy anything, she loved looking at all the beautiful things on display and imagining how great it would be to buy them for her friends. Then one of my aunts gave her $20 and she had a grand old time trying out clothes and buying her perfect outfit. I had a coupon for 40% off our whole purchase, which made it even better. She kept saying, "Wow, I never knew shopping could be so much fun!".

Now she wants to wake up at 3AM tomorrow and join my sisters and me for a Black Friday shopping trip. What monster have we created?

Giving Thanks

Today I'm sharing a couple of videos of my boys giving thanks.

Jammy and his classmates expressed their happiness and thanks through dance. Judging by the little jigs he's doing, Jammy is very thankful this year.

3Po is thankful for friends and the earth and such. I'm thankful for him.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Technology is nice, but it's not everything

3Po's kindergarten class presented a short play yesterday, and throngs of parents showed up to watch. With cameras and iPods and videocams in hand we settled down to cheer our kids as they sang a couple of songs performed "The Little Red Hen".

Sadly, one of 3Po's classmates burst into tears as he said his lines because his mother was late for the event and missed his "Little Red Hen" solo. He cried throughout the whole thing. Afterwards I tried to cheer him up by saying I had captured him singing his songs and we could let his mother watch it. It didn't really cheer him up.

I guess technology is no substitute for a mom.

Wordless Wednesday: Route 66

Welcome to my Wordless Wednesday post! This month I'm featuring photos from our trip to the Grand Canyon. Click here for more of my WW / Grand Canyon photos.

We spent the last night of our Grand Canyon vacation in Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaffers, please forgive my ignorance: I had no idea that your city was right smack on the route of Route 66. You'd think the directions from Google maps that said "Continue onto Historic US 66 W" would have given me a clue.

Eventually, it did dawn on me that we were on the famous "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" highway, and fortunately we figured it out before the sun set. So we were able to pull over and take this photo. We got tooted a couple of times so I'm guessing that might not have been quite a legal thing to do. I guess I have to apologize to the Flagstaff highway patrol as well. Oops!

Visit the Wordless Wednesday site for more entries. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your entries as well!

What's in *Your* Disaster Kit?

Here in the Bay Area people like to say that it's not a question of whether we're ever going to experience a disaster, but when it's going to happen. We haven't had a major earthquake since Loma Prieta in '89 but we've had wildfires in Santa Cruz, El Nino flooding and landslides, and goodness knows what. We are fortunate that we haven't ever experienced a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or the New Orleans flooding-- but it's important to remember that a disaster doesn't have to be a major disaster. It can be as localized as your house catching on fire. So it's important to be prepared.

In the spirit of being prepared, I attended a talk and demonstration given by the California Volunteers for Bay Area bloggers, including bloggers from the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, Techmamas, It's My Life, The Silent I, Xiaolinmama, FreitasFamily, WhosTheBoss, and our host, Citymama. Volunteers went over some tips that every family should know about being prepared for a disaster, and we walked through Citymama's chic apartment and discussed ways for her to make it more disaster-ready. I left feeling empowered with all the knowledge I had gained, and determined to do more to prepare my own family.

I won't list down everything that we went through in our demonstration -- Robyn from Who's the Boss already has a comprehensive, informative summary of our disaster preparedness talk And I won't go through all the details of what should be in your family disaster plan -- you can download everything you need from the CalVolunteers website, including a customizable book for kids. But I will go through the contents of the disaster kit that California Volunteers presented us at the end of the event. If you don't have one yet, it's super-easy to make one. Just grab a backpack and stuff it with the following supplies:

1) A flashlight and batteries. We were given a solar-powered flashlight/radio, which also had a crank handle so you could power it up by winding the handle for a couple of minutes.

2) A first aid kit. You can buy one at any drugstore, or you can assemble one yourself.

3) A blanket. The one in our kit was one of those insulating foil blankets, but if you have the space, I suppose any blanket will do. If you've ever been given one of those Slankets as a present, here's where it can go.

4) Food. That protein brick is definitely something you'd only want to eat in an emergency, so I intend to throw some energy bars into the backpack as well.

5) Water. We received water purifying tablets as well as drinking water in foil packets, but I suppose bottled water works just as well.

6) Personal Hygiene items. Everything in the photo above falls under the "What if we need to take refuge in our car or a church or a gym or some other shelter": Baby wipes, disinfecting wipes, cleansing cloths, tampons and freshening spray. I'm not suggesting you pack your entire skincare regimen, but these are small "luxuries" that will help you feel human in inhumane conditions.

Everything fits neatly into a regular-sized backpack. You should have one handy in your home, and another in your car. It's a small but significant step towards preparing you and your family for a disaster!

Can't seem to get around to putting one of these together? Would you like to receive one of these kits, all ready-made? I'm giving away 12 disaster kits on Bonggamom Finds -- head on over to my giveaway post and leave a comment to enter.

Photo Hunt: Birds

This week I'm featuring some bird photos we took inside the Desert View Watchtower at Grand Canyon National Park. Despite what the photos might lead you to believe, the watchtower isn't an ancient Native American structure. Far from it. It was completed in 1933, and it was designed to be a rest area and gift shop.

I have to hand it to architect Mary Colter. She could have fooled me. I'm no expert, just an awestruck tourist, so it may not take much to fool me. But apparently Mary Coulter made a huge effort to give the tower an ancient look, down to choosing every single stone.

Authentic or not, the result is beautiful.

Here's a gorgeous hawk, or eagle, or falcon. Whatever. Like I said, I'm just an awestruck tourist.

Here are some cute little prairie hends. I wonder why their feet look like pitchforks.

Here's a chap dressed up as a bird. Don't ask me what that contraption is underneath his tail feathers because I don't want to know.

For more birds visit the Photo Hunt. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your blog!

How to throw a Twitter Party

Yesterday I co-hosted my first Twitter party, and I have to say, it was a great experience. Stressful, yes (The RSVP list on my Twitter party post was dangerously low on Monday, so I was so worried that the only people who would attend would be the people and me!). Nerve-wracking, yes (I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to keep track of all the tweets for giveaways and that the conversation would be lame. It's just lil' ol' me, after all, who wants to listen to me or take my advice?). Time-consuming, yes (I spent lots of time promoting the party beforehand on blogging forums, twitter, my own blogs and email lists). Intense, yes (I was gave 110% during the party itself). Fun? Yes! Gratifying? Yes! Succesful? Yes!

I would definitely host one of these again, and if I do, there certain things I would definitely do and not do, based on what I learned from my experience. Not that I'm the gold standard for Twitter party hosts (that would be the fun, amazing and oh-so-resourceful Amy, ResourcefulMom). But I'm sharing with you what worked for me:

1) Let people know about the party well ahead of time. I was asked to do the party less than a week ago, so I felt nervous from the start. I quickly put together a party invite post on my blog and began tweeting out the details. I linked to it on Facebook and various blogger forums, and emailed all the bloggers I know. I included a list of prizes we'd be giving away, with photos, on my party post, so people could see all the great stuff up for grabs and be inspired to attend -- and to tell other people about the party. Word of mouth (or tweet) is key!

2) Plan ahead like you're running a military operation. Decide on points of conversation and questions you'd like to throw out to partygoers. Write out a timeline for the party to keep you on track -- you'll be surprised how time flies! Space out your giveaways throughout the party to keep people interested.

3) Pre-compose some tweets -- welcome tweets, basic info, giveaway announcements, bye-byes, thank you's -- so that you don't have to waste twitter party time typing it all out and making sure they meet the word max. You can put them in a Word or Notebook document, then copy and paste into your twitter app.

4) Speaking of twitter apps, I used Tweetchat, which keeps track of all tweets with your party hashtag, automatically adds the hashtag at the end of your tweets, and refreshes automatically at a speed you set. I actually used 2 machines. My laptop had Tweetchat on it with the highest refresh rate possible -- that's how I monitored all the tweets. I sent all my tweets from Tweetchat on my desktop, with a refresh rate of about 15 seconds.

5) Find something for the kids to do during the actual party. And find someone to take care of them. There will NOT be time for you to step away from your computer during the actual party! If one of your kids spills his milk, have his older sister wipe it up. You can always reward her later.

6) At the party, don't focus solely on asking questions or announcing giveaways. Join the conversation, reply to partygoers, and retweet any tweets that you find particularly profound, funny, helpful or cool! You might just meet a new twitter friend!

7) Relax, and don't worry so much. Twitter partygoers are awesome. They are so supportive, and they will take your conversation prompts and run away with it in ways you can't even imagine.

If I think of anything else, I'll add it here. Good luck, and enjoy your twitter party!

Getting the Swag Part Right

What do you get when you mix fifty mom bloggers and a holiday party? A lot of fun and a lot of swag! When Jill announced a couple of months before BlogHer that the Silicon Valley Moms group wouldn't be putting together a BlogHer swag bag, I completely understood the validity of doing away with swag in the midst of such a crappy economy. Even when BlogHer '09 turned into the biggest swag fest ever, I was kind of proud that the SV Moms hadn't added even more swag to the mix.

Little did I know that she was saving all the sponsors and swag up for last weekend's Silicon Valley Moms Holiday party. Generous sponsors such as HP's Photosmart Premium, Chevrolet, Nintendo, Bosch, and many more showered us with presents large and small.

But honestly, it wasn't all about grabbing swag and filling up a bag -- really! The brains behind SV Moms came up with a fun, brilliant way to mix swag, networking and fun. Partygoers got "bingo cards", which were stamped by sponsors after the blogger stopped by their table. After their bingo cards were all filled up with stamps, the blogger got to pick up a swag bag at the end of the party.

The great thing about the bingo card system was that bloggers actually got to meet with and talk to the sponsors -- no skulking behind some other blogger, grabbing a piece of swag and slinking off. Not that any SV Moms are like that. Okay, maybe I'm kind of a swag whore, but I would never accuse my fellow SV Moms bloggers of anything so base.

But the point is, the swag was secondary to the opportunity to meet with the sponsors, learn about their products and see whether working together would be a good thing for both parties. The sponsors were very well chosen, with products and services that were truly relevant to this mom (and dad) blogging audience. I really enjoyed discovering new companies like Dillon Rogers and the Astak Mole Camera. I appreciated learning about alternative permanent birth control methods and organic skincare. I was happy to see my friend Rick from Tiny Prints and ooh-and-ahh over their latest designs. And I was overjoyed to meet the designers behind some local children's products that I already know and love -- Wati, Livvie and Luca, Giddy Giddy, and Lucky Jade.

What made it even more fun is that the sponsors provided plenty of opportunities to interact and socialize with the other bloggers. The HP Photosmart booth was crowded with bloggers printing out their holiday photos and admiring each others' beautiful babies. At the Nintendo station, ladies lined up for the chance to beat each other's scores on the Wii Fit. And the Nestle Coffemate table was actually accepting swag -- gently used office and professional clothing, that is -- to donate to Dress for Success.

All those little fun booths were, indeed, fun, but after three years of blogging together, I don't think we need all of the gimmicks to have a great party anymore. Our get-togethers have become true social events, an opportunity to gossip and laugh and tweet together, a chance to get together with some good friends IRL (in real life!).

So congratulations to the organizers of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog Holiday party -- Jill, Beth, Tekla, Akemi and Linsey -- you got the swag part of the party right, along with the rest of the party!

Credits: All photos in this post were taken by Carla Duharte Razura. When I saw Carla that night with her camera I put mine away, knowing she'd get better photos of the event than I ever could. Thanks, Carla for putting the Bongga in Bonggamom that night! For more of Carla's exquisite photographs, head over to her website at, and head over to our party Flickr page for more of Carla's photos of the SV Moms Holiday Party.

Disclaimer: I did receive lots of swag (which I will write more about on my review blog, Bonggamom Finds) at the party, which I am enjoying very much, thank you, but I was not required to write this post. I didn't even have time to eat the free food.

Wordless Wednesday: Painted Desert

Welcome to my Wordless Wednesday post! This month I'm featuring photos from our trip to the Grand Canyon. Click here for more of my WW / Grand Canyon photos.

One of the nicest surprises we received during our Grand Canyon vacation actually occurred after we had left the Canyon. We drove east on highway 64 and got to see the western edge of the Painted Desert. It was just about sunset as we drove through, so the colors were especially beautiful. We were experiencing the usual "back-to-reality" feeling that comes at the end of a vacation, so getting to see such a lovely sight really lifted our spirits.

Visit the Wordless Wednesday site for more entries. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your entries as well!

I'm on the Schmap!

I just got an email today announcing that one of my American Girl Place photos on Flickr was selected for inclusion in the Schmap Chicago Guide! Last year Alfie's Twinings Tea photo was also selected to be in Schmap's London Guide, so our travel photos are gettting worldwide exposure :)

You're Invited to a Holiday Twitter Party!

Guess what? I'm hosting my first-ever Twitter party! I've attended my fair share of Twitter parties this past year and I've really enjoyed meeting new Tweeples, tweeting about topics that interest me and keeping the discussion alive (not to mention the great prizes!). So when invited me to join them in hosting a holiday Twitter party, I thought, Why Not? It'll be fun! I'm putting on my party dress and hostess hat next Wednesday afternoon, and I hope you all can join in. Here are the deets:

Date: Wednesday, November 18th 4-5pm PT
Hosts: @Bonggamom & @Cardstyle
Hashtag: #CSParty

Follow me -- @bonggamom -- and the blog -- @cardstyle -- as we share tips on making the holidays less stressful and more memorable. Tweet with the hashtag #CSParty and join in -- you'll get some great ideas for your own holidays, meet some great people on Twitter and get a chance to win some great prizes from

Check out my #CSParty post on Bonggamom Finds for a list of all the fabulous prizes you can win during the Twitter Party. If you RSVP to the party and leave a comment on that post, you'll also be eligible to win a separate set of prizes from!

Wordless Wednesday: Elk

Welcome to my Wordless Wednesday post! This month I'm featuring photos from our trip to the Grand Canyon. Click here for more of my WW / Grand Canyon photos.

In case you didn't know, that's an elk. I'm not trying to be condescending, just helpful. I had never seen an elk before, either. Until one showed up outside our front door.

These things are HUGE. They're as big as horses, with antlers. Sharp, scary antlers. From the way it stood, peacefully eating grass, you'd think elks were as gentle as deer.

Apparently not. There are warnings all over the park about elk. You're not supposed to go within 45 feet of them, especially during mating season, because they'll run you over and gore you through.

This elk wasn't 45 feet from us. He was more like 5 feet from us. And he had friends nearby.

They are freaking AWESOME.

Visit the Wordless Wednesday site for more entries. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your entries as well!

Priorities, priorities

This morning, at breakfast time, I stepped on a little metal car that one of the kids had left on the floor. I tried to impress on them that this little bit of carelessness, while small, was actually a safety hazard...

Me: You know, leaving your toys on the floor like this could be dangerous. I just stepped on one and it really hurts. But what would happen if you stepped on one and it rolled away and made you fall?

3Po: Oh, yeah, that would be bad. The Hotwheels car might break!

Photo Hunt: Veterans/Military

Okay, back to Grand Canyon photos. Finding a military themed photo from the Grand Canyon wasn't easy. We did ride on the plane with a couple of military guys, who were upgraded to first class (wasn't that a nice thing of US Airways to do?). But I didn't take their photo because, well, I had no idea I was going to be looking for a military themed photo, and because, well, I'm not a stalker.

Then I found this photo of Jammy taking a photo of me taking a photo of him. He was wearing his army camouflage pants that day, as well as his flight bomber jacket. Mission accomplished!

For more military or veterans photos, visit the Photo Hunt. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your blog!

Wordless Wednesday: Grand Canyon

We seem to have an excess of photos from our Grand Canyon vacation two weeks ago, so for each of the next 4 Wordless Wednesdays, I've decided to feature a different photo from the Grand Canyon. After all, when you've got over 400 shots of one of the world's most scenic places, you've got to share them.

The thing with the Grand Canyon is, photos don't do it justice. Especially crappy photos like the ones I take. None of the photos I had seen previously had prepared me for the colors, the vastness, the majesty of it all. You'll just have to take my word for it that it's an awesome sight.

If you don't believe me, then maybe you'll trust the opinion of a couple of pretty picky travelers. They give the place Two Thumbs Up!

Visit the Wordless Wednesday site for more entries. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your entries as well!

Some Thoughts on Videogame Violence

Last week we were invited by Ubisoft, a gaming software company, to their San Francisco office to check out their lineup of games for Nintendo DS before they are released this holiday season. They mentioned role-playing games and nurturing animal games that boys and girls can play, so I was intrigued. Besides, I can never resist a sneak peek, so off we went.

We were greeted at the lobby by this:

I have to say, this made me nervous. 3Po and Jammy were grinning from ear to ear at the sight of Commando Ubisoft, with his fatigues and nightvision goggles and mysterious-looking doodads strapped to his waist. My heart sank. I hope they don't end up trying out war games.

Until recently, I've been pretty negative about video games. Now that my kids have tried out video gaming systems with an educationaal slant (like the ones for the Leapster and Didj), I've loosened up a bit. Now I consider video games as a form of screen time, in the same category as tv watching, dvd watching and online gaming. It's entertainment that can help kids unwind and relax, and it's harmless in moderation, especially when the games have an educational component. These days my kids get 20 minutes to 1 hour of screen time per day. The length usually depends on how much screen time they've had in the recent past, how much homework or chores they have to do that day -- and I'll admit, how much time I need to work undisturbed. It's up to my kids to choose what form of screen time they want to engage in that day.

But we have much experience with video gaming systems for older kids like the PSP or Nintendo DS. And I still dislike videogames with violence in them. It doesn't matter that kids say they know the difference between the virtual world and the real world, that they would never consider spraying a whole field of people with bullets, or trashing someone else's car. I just think that repeated exposure to that kind of violence desensitizes them to the real thing, and when aggression is glamorized the way it is in violent videogames, kids might become more likely to react with aggression in real life situations because they have absorbed the message that it's what cool people or badasses do.

Fortunately, I'm happy to say that Commando Ubisoft did not make an appearance that day, and that Ubisoft actually has an excellent selection of nonviolent games for kids that emphasize exploration, strategy, creativity and critical thinking rather than mindless violence. And no, the games were not lame-o offerings that would put a 4 year old to sleep after a couple of days. The two games that 3Po and Jammy played definitely look like they would satisfy my young boys' obsession with battles and combat for quite a while -- because what could be more violent and destructive than dragons and dinosaurs?

I'm not naive, and my glasses are not rose-colored. I get that boys like to act out aggression and role-play good versus evil. I know combat can be rough, but at least in the two combat games that 3Po and Jammy played -- Battle of Giants: Dragons and Battle of Giants: Dinosaurs -- the violence stays firmly within a formal combat arena, and it stays firmly in the fantasy/nature realm. Dragons and dinosaurs tear each because it's in their nature to fight, and there's no question of extending this aggressive behavior towards humans. Also, both games encourage critical and strategic thinking when they allow the boys to customize their dragons or dinosaurs to emphasize certain traits that will help them win battles. Based on the 3Po and Jammy's limited experience with these games (they played for just over an hour, and most of that time was spent finding their way around since they have next to no experience playing with the Nintendo DS), I think it's a level of violence I'm comfortable with at this age.

One last point: I'm glad that Ubisoft understands that I'm not the only parent with these concerns. They're trying to get parents informed and engaged on their new Parent's Corner, a website where parents can find all kinds of information related to Ubisoft's games and video gaming in general. For example, parents can ask questions , learn about gaming safety, share experiences, and get age-appropriate recommendations for videogames for their kids. All in all, we had a lot of fun trying out Ubisoft's latest games, and I left feeling more comfortable about easing my kids (and myself) into the world of video gaming knowing that there are games out there that I feel comfortable letting my kids play.

We received sample videogames to try out, but no monetary compensation. The views and opinions expressed here are my own. Stay tuned for more Bonggamom Finds reviews of Ubisoft's lineup of Nintendo DS games for the holidays, featuring games from their Imagine, Petz and StyleLab lines.

Happy HArrrrr-lloween from the Pirate Family

Here's a treat for all you landlubbers: some Halloween pirate jokes!

What's a pirate's favorite Halloween candy? MaArrrrrs BaArrrrrrrrs and StaArrrrrrburst.

A little boy is trick or treating on Halloween by himself. He is dressed as a pirate. At one house, a friendly man asks him, "Where are your buccaneers?" The little boy responds, "On either side o' me 'buccan' head!"

What do a pirate and a gangster have in common? They both say, "Yo Ho" (okay, that wasn't Halloween-themed, but I couldn't resist).

Happy HArrrrr-lloween!

Anyone want $100?

And you don't even have to be a buff, tanned poolboy to win it....... In case you haven't entered yet, my Wonder Bread giveaway ends November 4 -- you've only got a few days left to enter to win a $100 Visa gift card and a year's supply of Wonder bread!

Click here to get to the Wonder Bread review and giveaway post, and to enter......

Wordless Wednesday: Arrrrr!

3Po and Jammy have been set on their Power Rangers Halloween costumes for months, so I was taken by surprise when they decided they wanted to dress up as pirates for last weekend's Halloween party. But I quickly rallied.

I simply opened up my "old clothes" bin and took out a couple of shirts and trousers that the boys had outgrown. I cut up the ends of the pantlegs and shirtsleeves into zigzags, and pieced together the cut-up sleeves to make headrags. Then I threaded some beads onto elastic bands and looped that over their ears to make dangling earrings. I got creative with Jammy's shirt by slitting the front, poking some holes on either side of the slit, and threading through some black string to make a lace-up front. Slip on an eyepatch, wrap a black scarf around their waists, and Avast! A wondaArrrrrrrful homemade pirate costume!

Visit the Wordless Wednesday site for more entries. And don't forget to leave your links below so I can visit your entries as well!

5 Things I didn't Know about the Grand Canyon

When I go on vacation, I don't like to wing it. I like to plan and be prepared. I'm all for experiencing little surprises along the way, but for the most part, I like knowing where we're going before we go, and what we're doing before we do it. So before every vacation we take, I try to spend some time reading about our destination, what it's like, what to see, and what to do.

I've returned from our trip to the Grand Canyon with a sense of awe, happiness, satisfaction -- and humility. Despite all my research, I was unprepared for many of the things we saw and did. Here are five things that surprised me:

It's BIG.
I knew the Grand Canyon would be grand, but I was unprepared for the vastness of it all. We couldn't see the canyon at all when we were driving to it. We kept looking around and everything around us for miles and miles was just flat. And then all of a sudden, the ground ended in front of us, and we realized we were actually up on the edge. The earth opened up, and it was like a huge hole had been dug out of the planet.

Can you see itty-bitty Alfie on the edge of that cliff? See the bottom edge of the photo? That's not even halfway down.

For some reason I thought the canyon would be narrower. Instead, it's a huge chasm that's miles across. When you stand on the edge and look out, you truly feel insignificant. My words and photos just don't do it justice. I'm not sure anyone else's can.

It's cold (and wet)
In my mind, Arizona = desert. Boy, was I wrong. I didn't expect to see pine forests, but both the northern and southern rim are covered with pine trees. When you look out at the Grand Canyon, the whole top part is covered by a thin, deep green carpet of trees (and it really does look like a carpet, not like individual trees, because they are so far away). I didn't expect it to rain, either, but it did. Yup, it rains. And hails. And snows.

It's wild
When you look out over the canyon, it's not uncommon to see birds soaring, drifting on the curents like the magnificent, free creatures they are. We also saw tons of elk and deer on the roadside, crossing the roads at night, even grazing on the lawn in front of our hotel room! Frankly, I'm amazed that these animals venture so close, what with all the headlights and the camera flashes. That must be one sweet lawn.

It's wired
It seems like there's no such thing as wilderness these days. Some people might find that sad, but I'm all for it. We had cellphone coverage the whole time, and our hotel had excellent wireless internet access in the lobby. Don't worry, it's not totally developed: I did have to change my route to the lobby because there were a bunch of elk blocking my path.

It's Grand
We were at the Grand Canyon from about noon on Monday till about 4PM on Wednesday. Alfie wondered whether we'd sit around with nothing to after we got to the Grand Canyon and took a few photos. But afterwards, we both agreed that our vacation could have lasted a week without running out of things to do. Granted, you could hit all the most famous landmarks of the South Rim in a day (a very looong day), and indeed, many people do. But it's a tight squeeze, because each place you stop at has a different view of the Canyon, and each time you stop you want to take a whole new set of photos.

Besides, the Grand Canyon is more than a series of photo opps connected by bus or car drives. I'd have liked to hike the Rim Trail and Grand View Trail for more than 10 minutes. I'd have loved to bike on trails that wind through miles of forest. If we had even more time, I'd have loved to get all the way to the bottom (although I don't know whether I'd trust the mules to take me down, or trust myself to hike all the way back up). I'd have loved to get on a raft and ride the rapids (just the small ones). I'd have loved to make side trips to Sedona, Havasu Falls, and the Sunset Crater Volcano. I'd have loved to hang out in Flagstaff and get my kicks on Route 66.

But we can't really complain. We saw the Grand Canyon.