Gratitude Challenge, Day 15: I'm the most awesome-est, bestest mutha eva

Gratitude Challenge

This week, I think, is going to be the most challenging one of the Gratitude Challenge. Be Grateful for Who You Are. Focus on yourself, the instructions say. Appreciate and give thanks for your unique personality, skills and talents.

But nice girls don't do that. We're supposed to be humble, not go on about how great we are, let alone blog about it. No wonder girls have problems with self esteem.

Today I'm going so say To Hell with Humility, give a shout out to myself and force you all to watch a video of ME doing something I'm proud of. No, I didn't promote world peace or reform health care or land a six-figure salary. I stayed up on a Shred Sled long enough for Alfie to videotape me. And when you consider that I couldn't even last two seconds the first time I tried it, and that I was too afraid to try, I think it's a pretty darn awesome feat.

Okay, I won't be seeking out any halfpipes anytime soon. But at least my kids can be proud that their old lady ain't no wuss.

Want to try the Shred Sled yourself? Click here to enter my Shred Sled giveaway on Bonggamom Finds!

"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." --Buddha

Gratitude Challenge: Day 12

It's funny that I just recently blogged about my teachers' old "hotter than hell" lectures, because this weekend, it is hotter than hell.   And I've got my period, which means I'm ache-y and cranky and not in the least inclined to see the glass half full.  But just tonight, as I was tucking The Pea in bed, I mentioned that I was feeling bad because I was less than nice to my sister when I spoke to her on the phone just a few hours before.  I said, more to myself than The Pea, "I hope she's not mad at me".  The Pea looked at me and said, "Oh, no, mama.  She's your sister.  That what families do, they look out for each other." 
That's my girl.  She's living the Gratitude Challenge every day of her life, and she doesn't even need instructions.

Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it's a cha-cha. ~Robert Brault,

Gratitude Challenge: Day 13

One family member I'm really close to is my sister.  After a decade of living far away, I'm now close to her in the literal sense as well -- she and her family moved to San Ramon last year.  We're 18 months apart and grew up fighting like cats. It's kind of hard to see a person's "inner nobility" when you're trying to scratch her eyes out, and even when we were on good terms I never really reflected on the kind of person she is.  But as I've come to know her as an adult and a woman and a mother, I can see that she's one of the kindest, most generous people I know.    I'm so grateful to be her "little sister" (I'm actually 6 inches taller than she is) and grateful that she's so close by.

Gratitude Challenge: Day 10

I must confess that I kind of cheated with this post.  I don't have any photos to post along with my words -- but in my defense, a camera would have been kind of awkward.  I went for a run along the Stanford Dish Trail today -- okay, it was more like a walk, but if you've ever gasped your way up that steep, steep trail you'd slow down too.  Unless you're Lance Armstrong.  Except everyone who does The Dish must end up feeling like Lance Armstrong, because for me, at least, when those exercise-induced endorphins kick in, I feel like I could run forever.

The Dish on a spring day or a summer morning is possibly one of the nicest places to be in the whole Bay Area.  You feel the warm sun on your face and the cool air on your skin.  You see the blue sky above you and the green fields around you (In the summer it's more like brown, but hey, golden wheat-colored grass can be pretty too.  I tell you, those endorphins make everything good.).   Sometimes all of this passes without notice because you're sweating and struggling.  But once you get to the top of the hill and turn around to look, your breath is taken away by the amazing view of Stanford and Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay.  On a clear day, you can almost see all the way to San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. 

Whenever I do The Dish, I sometimes start out reluctantly and painfully, but I always end up feeling happy to be alive.  

Gratitude Challenge: Day 11

“Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted–a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” — Rabbi Harold Kushner

I never take paved roads for granted.  I lived too long in a country where a good road was one where the potholes were the size of soccer balls instead of beach balls.  When Alfie complains about the state of the roads in the Bay Area, I nod and agree with him -- and really, I do agree with him, of course the roads ought to be fixed, where are our tax dollars going! -- but I can't seem to sum up the indignation that he feels.  One of the nicest things about having lived in a third-world country is that you will never, ever take things like infrastructure for granted.  Or hot showers.  Or showers, period.  I've lived in the US for 15 years, and even now, every time I step into a shower I revel in the wonderful sensation of hot, strong spray of water, and I feel blessed to be me.

When I was in grade school and we would complain about the incessant heat, our teachers loved to scold us with, "It's hotter in hell" (obviously I studied at a Catholic school).  My dislike for instilling fear of hellfire and brimstone in impressionable young minds aside, those teachers did have a point. 

Gratitude Challenge: Day 9

Today's challenge is to enjoy and appreciate the people around you -- which proved to be quite a challenge, because today was 3Po's and Jammy's first day of kindergarten. With my two constant appendages safely tucked away in their classroomsI felt free as a bird and lonesome as a hermit. Awesome!

Of course, in true mom fashion, I actually found myself thinking more about them than ever, worrying about how they would do. I'm not about to underestimate that twin bond, and this is the first time we've really cut the cord between the two of them (yes, they are in separate classes -- watch this video to find out why!), Jammy is such a hardy, independent little soul, but even he might crumble at this first experience of being away from his twin. To say nothing of sensitive, emotional 3Po.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about. They had a great first day and can't wait to go back to school tomorrow. They don't need me so much anymore, which is a good thing, but maybe not Awesome with a Capital A. Good Lord, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I'm going to miss my boys being with me all the time.

Oh well. The winter break is coming up in four months, and I'll have more than enough time with my kids to appreciate them up close!

“Let's be grateful for those who give us happiness; they are the charming gardeners who make our soul bloom.” -Marcel Proust

Gratitude Challenge: Day 8

Wow, one week down and I'm already on the second week of the Gratitude Challenge! As the button says, I feel happier already -- although that might be because 3Po and Jammy are entering kindergarten. In any case, I'm certainly more mindful about cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude, and I'm constantly looking out for little things to be grateful for.

Speaking of kindergarten, today's challenge is to send thank you notes to five people who deserve recognition. Is it any surprise that three of those notes went to my kids' teachers? Next to parents and family, teachers are one of the strongest influences in a child's life -- and I'm grateful that each day I get to leave my babies in good hands.
(On a side note, even though the Gratitude Challenge is the brainchild of premium stationary company Tiny Prints, they did not ask any of the participants for any mention of their company or products whatsoever. But gift #3, a set of personalized notecards to write the thank-you notes on, was so cute that I just had to give a shout out to their kickass quality).

“Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.” -Alfred Painter

Gratitude Challenge: Day 7

What a great way to end the weekend! After coming home from a weekend in Napa Valley, all dusty and disheveled from two nights in a campground, it was a nice surprise to open the second present in our Gratitude Kit -- and see a Flip video camera underneath the wrapping paper! Thanks, Tiny Prints -- you rock, and this brand spanking new camera is just one of the things I'm grateful for today.

I feel a very unusual sensation - if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude. ~Benjamin Disraeli

Pardon the Dust!

If this blog looks a little funky over the next couple of days, I apologize in advance. I'm playing around with templates, widgets, and all that fun stuff. Hopefully I'll end up with a layout that's fresh, fun and fabulous!

Gratitude Challenge: Day 6

Manhattan is one of my favorite cities in the entire world. I love the energy and vibrancy of the city; when I walk along Manhattan's streets, I truly feel alive. I used to travel to Manhattan fairly often on business, but I haven't been there in ten years. I miss it dearly.

Part of my Manhattan experience has always been spending time with my aunt. She's my dad's younger sister, 17 years younger than my dad, so she's more like a fun older sister than a stodgy old aunt. She lives with her husband on the upper West Side, and a visit to New York is never complete without visiting her. They always know the best places to eat, the best shows to watch, the best places to spot celebrities. My uncle and aunt are just like the rest of Manhattan, just brimming with energy. I don't get to see them much anymore, and just like Manhattan, I miss them dearly.

This October I'll be visiting Manhattan again, so yesterday I called my aunt to tell her the good news. I'm really not much of a phone person, which is why I haven't talked to her in quite a while, but this is not the kind of news that should be delivered via email. It was great to hear her voice! She immediately invited me to spend a night or two with her, so even though I haven't bought my plane tickets yet, as far as I'm concerned my plans are set. Grateful? I'm beyond grateful for the chance to see New York and my aunt again!


The ripples on the surface of a swimming pool look so refreshing, and on a hot summer's day they can prove too tempting to resist. Certainly 3Po didn't hesitate to take the plunge!
For more ripples, click here. And for everyone stopping by via the Gratitude Challenge, I'm away on a camping trip. I don't really consider a wifi/3G-enabled laptop to be quite the proper equipment in the middle of a redwood forest, so I'll catch up with you guys again on Monday!

Gratitude Challenge: Day 5

This is actually Friday's entry; I'm belatedly posting it today, Monday, because I spent the weekend camping with my family, and laptops were not invited. Fortunately, one does not need a power outlet to write in a journal, and today's challenge involved writing a five-minute entry in our journal about all the wonderful things I already have in my life, as opposed to what I don't possess.

Here's what I wrote in my journal on Friday evening:

1) The connection from our camping stove to the tank of stove fuel.
2) A cooler for the salami that needs to be refrigerated after it's opened.
3) Bug spray that doesn't make my daughter break out in hives.
4) A hat for Alfie to wear in our badly-insulated tent to keep his hair-challenged head from freezing at night.

1) husband
2) daughter
3) son
4) son
5) Chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers for s'mores, even though we don't have the fuel to roast the marshmallows with.

'Nuff said.

Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.--Oprah Winfrey

Gratitude Challenge: Day 4

Today we're supposed to write in that beautiful journal they gave us on Day 2. It seemed almost sinful to write on the crisp, clear pages -- which actually gave me the inspiration for a little something "negative" in my life that has actually helped me grow and develop.

My kids love to draw. That's not the negative I was talking about, of course; they can amuse themselved for hours on end putting their imaginations on paper. It's the paper that used to cause me grief. They use reams and reams of paper. Perfectly good printer paper. New paper. And don't even have the decency to draw on both sides!

I guess it's my upbringing. My siblings and I always had a pile of scratch paper that my mom brought home from the office, so we were always told to use it for drawing or writing. When I see my kids drawing on new printer paper, my inner child says Wasteful! Bad! And now there's a little green voice that adds, Eco-unfriendly! And until recently, I've been scolding my kids for it.

It took Alfie to help me put things in perspective -- for goodness sakes, it's $5 for 500 sheets of paper! That's 500 precious drawings that my kids can create. And the way they go into detail, it's almost 500 hours spent occupied doing something great. For all that, $5 is looking pretty darn cheap right now!

Of course, I still pay attention to that little green voice. I'm much better at putting paper into the scrap paper pile instead of the recycling bin so that the kids can use the other side. And I've been trying harder to encourage the kids to use that other side. But I no longer give them the evil eye when I catch them reaching into the printer for paper to draw on. Now I reach over and hand them a whole bunch with a smile.

Go to foreign countries and you will get to know the good things one possesses at home. - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Gratitude Challenge: Day 3

Today's Gratitude post is about Play-Doh. No, it's not a post about how grateful I am that Play-Doh was invented. Actually, I have a love-hate relationship with the stuff. Basically, I can't stand the mess it makes. Alfie tells me to calm down, it can always be vacuumed up later when it dries. But I can't help it, all those bits stress me out.

Today the kids and their cousins had a major Play-Doh session. They made every kind of burger, pasta, and ice-cream creation you can think of, and some you couldn't. It lasted almost 2 hours. On any other day, I'd be a nervous wreck at the sight of all that Play-Doh crumbling to bits underneath their little feet, all ready to be stepped on and spread throughout the house.

But today it didn't affect me. Why? Because my sister was there. No, she's not an oasis of calm either. Play-Doh affects her in exactly the same way it affects me. But that's precisely why I wasn't stressed out -- I was reveling in the company of someone who gets me, someone who feels exactly the same way. We cleaned up that darn Play-Doh together and complained the whole time. We smiled knowingly at each other as we swept away half of it into the trash can when the kids' backs were turned (the sooner the Play-Doh runs out, the better). I've never had more fun with Play-Doh since I was a kid myself. So that's where the Gratitude comes in -- I'm grateful that my sister was there to help me.

And come to think of it, I was grateful for Play-Doh today as well. After all, it did keep the kids occupied for almost two hours.

Gratitude Challenge, Day 2; The Gratitude Alphabet

It's Day 2 of the Gratitude Challenge, and already I tried to cheat involve the rest of the family. Today's instructions were to make an A-to-Z list of things to be grateful for, and I thought it might be fun if the kids helped. Unfortunately, they were too busy playing with their cousins to take much notice.

Fortunately, inspiration came in the form of a beautiful Gratitude Journal that came as part of our Gratitude Kit. It has pages and pages of blank space -- over a hundred, in fact -- just waiting to be filled. Each page has a quote on gratitude, and if whoever compiled all these quotes could find over 100 things to say about gratitude, then so can I. So here's my Gratitude Alphabet:

A -- How convenient is it that my husband Alfie is first on this list?
B -- Blogging saved my sanity, and I wouldn't be here today without it.
C -- Chocolate keeps Alfie in a good mood.
D -- Okay, I admit it: I'm one of those women who's ecstatic that she has a daughter. Not that having sons isn't wonderful. But you know what I mean.
E -- I've experienced a big earthquake -- and gotten through it safely.
F -- I've got friends who care about me, what more can I ask for?
G -- My latest breakfast obsession, Greek yogurt and honey, is healthy and yummy.
H -- With the recent furor over healthcare, I'm so glad we have health insurance.
I -- I've got the best in-laws ever; you'll get no monster-in-law stories from me!
J -- I love how my son Jammy hums without realizing it, every second of the day.
K -- I'm amazed at the kindness that random strangers have shown me time and again.
L -- We didn't have much of a library when I was a child, so I'm happy that my kids have such a wonderful Children's Library nearby.
M -- I wouldn't mind more of it, but I'm grateful that we have never suffered for lack of money.
N -- Our little computer nook on the upstairs landing has the best view in the whole house, and it's my favorite place to be.
O -- I'm still so grateful that I was given the opportunity to appear in the Office Max back-to-school blogcast!
P -- The Pea can be a bossy big sister, but she actually plays with her brothers more often than she fights with them, and whenever we go out, she really has their back.
Q -- I treasure my quiet time whenever I manage to find it.
R -- I've got a big, noisy, interfering, caring bunch of relatives -- and I love them all.
S -- The public school system in Palo Alto is blessed with dedicated teachers and involved parents (the fact that so many of them are also internet millionaires with big hearts and big checkbooks is an added bonus!)
T -- My son ThreePo needs constant love and affection, but gives it in return.
U -- I have to mention Alfie again, because he's so understanding and supportive of my blogging (his only complaint is that I don't blog enough about motorcycles more, so I don't get invited to try out the latest bikes).
V -- My trusty van carries all my kids, their gear and even a playmate or two.
W -- The Bay Area has the best weather ever!
X -- Having an Xtra sink in the bathroom has been a marriage saver.
Y -- I don't have my youth anymore, but the memories are great!
Z -- Any time I get to catch a whole night of zzzzz's is a good night.

Keep a grateful journal. Every night, list five things that you are grateful for. What it will begin to do is change our perspective of your day and your life.--Oprah Winfrey

An Attitude of Gratitude -- Are YOU Up to the Challenge?

I'm very honored to have been asked by Tiny Prints to join in their 21-day Gratitude Challenge, a wonderful initiative designed to help everyone slow down and take note of all of life's blessings. I'm in the company of some of my favorite bloggers, including Jane, Jessica, Justice Fergie, Kim and Sheila. Last week we received a gratitude kit (more on that tomorrow) along with a gratitude pledge and instructions for each day of the challenge.

Signing the gratitude pledge induced the slightest of *gulp*'s in my throat, because, well, they don't call it a challenge for nothing. First off, there's the challenge of stopping myself from opening everything in that juicy-looking box, even though we were specifically told NOT to open anything unless instructed to for that day. Fortunately, my 8-year-old has more self-restraint than I, and she's keeping me honest.

More significantly, there's the challenge of posting every day, for 21 days on a specific topic. Every November I join the NaBloPoMo challenge to keep me on my blogging toes, but I usually pre-schedule a good many of those posts... and I can write about anything I want (or just post a cute photo of my kids when I'm all blogged out).

You ungrateful wretch! You have so much to be thankful for!, you might say. Aye, there's the rub. It's one thing to know you should be grateful, but actually taking the time to acknowledge these blessings -- to recognize them, to actually feel that gratitude, and thank those responsible, if you can -- is something else.

So yes, it's a challenge. But it's one that I find myself inspired to take on. Because so often I find myself complaining about this and that, in a bad mood about something that didn't go my way. And when I'm in a really bad mood, everyone in the house suffers for it. Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude sounds like a great way to improve anyone's quality of life -- when you're thinking about how lucky you are instead of how rotten everything is, how can you not be happier? As parents, we know that to get a child to eat a new food, we have to keep introducing it to them time and time again. Hence, this 21-day challenge.

So here is my signed pledge, posted up for the blogosphere to see. I'm glad y'all are here to keep me honest. If you decide, come back here every day for the next 21 days. I'll be posting the same instructions they gave me, so we can do it together. If I had a photo of myself pointing at the camera, I'd insert it here. Instead, I'm asking everyone --what are YOU grateful for?

Gratitude is the best attitude. ~Author Unknown

The Road Trip from Hell

I've been asked by Shell and BlogHer to share one of my most memorable roadtrip stories. I'm happy to be included in their review program (Who doesn't love a compensated review where you don't even review the product?), and I don't need to be asked twice to talk about the time we drove up to Tahoe in a snowstorm. Alfie loves to use this story as a testament to my pigheadedness, but every time he tells it the snowstorm gets worse and worse (it has become the Mother of All Blizzards at this point), so I'm taking this as a chance to set the record straight. Here's what really happened:

One of our most memorable road trips happened in the dead of winter, during our annual trip to Lake Tahoe. The closest town to Hwy. 80, Truckee, is only about 215 miles from Palo Alto, which means we can get to our favorite Soda Springs Resort in about 3.5 hours (and just over 3 hours if we're lucky with traffic, and ignore all bathroom and snack stop requests).

The day before our trip we checked the weather forecasts, only to be greeted with snowstorm warnings. We had already rescheduled this trip twice because of bad weather, and I was absolutely crushed. I refused to believe Tahoe could have three straight weekends with hellish weather, and I pulled a mini tantrum. We won't have any winter weekends left! I'll have rebook the hotel again! We're going! All those skiers and snowboarders go every weekend, don't they? It'll be fine, it's just a warning...... Against his better judgment, Alfie agreed to go ahead with it.

Behind the Scenes from A Byte out of Life

The Silicon Valley Moms Group and Yahoo! Video have come up with another Byte out of Life segment. This week's topic is all about Who's Following You on Twitter. It's a hilarious video featuring two of my favorite SV Mom bloggers, Jane and Beth. They look so natural on camera!

Speaking of natural, as you know from my recent Office Max experience, when it comes to the camera, nothing is as it seems. Watching this latest video reminded of me of the one I filmed with Linda and Akemi about twins and kindergarten (it debuted last week; you can still watch it here on A Byte Out of Life). I never did get around to doing posting on that here (I did do a post about it on Bonggamom Finds), so I thought I'd take a cue from my Office Max posts and give everyone a Byte of Out of Life, Behind the Camera.

First up, here's Sheila, Linsey and Myrna dishing up about kids and technology on another Byte out of Life video. When I saw how pretty they looked, I immediately wished I had put on anything other than my pair of jeans (Yes, they are my best pair, but they're still jeans. Oh well, I am a mom and that's what moms wear). They taped their segment immediately before we taped ours, so I was able to catch them on the set. Except in this case, we didn't have an actual set. We filmed at SV Mom co-founder Jill's mother's house, which is so beautiful, indoors and out, that nothing needed to be added to make it camera-ready.

I mean, come on, just look at that bougainvillea! It's like a team of gardeners worked for weeks to get it blooming just in time for the taping. The pink flowers make the perfect accent to the stucco arch, and the perfect frame for Akemi's lovely face.

Just like with Office Max, we didn't have a formal script, but we each had our own talking points and we more or less knew what we were going to say. Occasionally we had to do a retake because we flubbed our lines, or our mikes needed readjusting, or we had to cut taping while a plane flew overhead, but on the whole things moved pretty smoothly.

The series is produced by The Go-To Mom, Kimberley Clayton Blaine, who's an SV Mom herself. Here she is holding up something that looks like a car sunshade (I'm sure anyone who's into photography will have a more technical name for it) to diffuse the afternoon sunshine.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Our final segment was completely impromptu; Kimberly had us talk about anything and everything we wanted. We ended up talking about "twin skin", of all things. That's the bit of loose skin that hangs over our bellybutton -- a souvenir from our twin pregnancy that will never ever go away. Jill took this cute photo of the three of us and posted it on Twitpic. We all look great, especially since our twin skin isn't showing at all. It was a great experience and I feel really lucky that I was selected to be a part of it!

Birth Story, Part Two (and Three)

Reading Mark Sloan's wonderful book, Birth Day (this month's pick for the SV Moms Book Club)reminded me that I still haven't gotten around to writing out 3Po and Jammy's birth story. That's the curse of the younger child, I suppose; I remember giving birth to The Pea in great detail because she was the first, and it was such a life-transforming experience. In my defense, I only posted The Pea's birth story when she turned 6, so I'm actually ahead in posting this second -- and third -- birth story.

I have to admit that my memories are much hazier with my second labor and delivery. Thank goodness I wrote down some brief notes in the boys' baby books, so I do have a timeline:

December 30, 2003
09:00 AM-- Admitted to the hospital for induction of labor. I was 2 cm dilated.
10:00 AM-- Rupture of waters. I was put on a pitocin drip.
01:20 PM-- 3 cm dilated.
02:15 PM-- 4 cm dilated, epidural administered.
03:15 PM-- 5 cm dilated.
04:30 PM-- 10 cm dilated. I was wheeled into an operating room for the delivery.
05:25 PM-- Baby A (Jammy) arrives.
05:45 PM-- Baby B (3Po) arrives.

Beyond that, I have a bag of memories interspersed through different points in that timeline. First and foremost was the impression of how different this labor and delivery was from my first one. I didn't particularly enjoy my first pregnancy, but the were so many other factors. I was exhausted, working full time with a toddler at home and a husband out of work. There were the inherent added risk of a multiple pregnancy and the prospect of premature delivery. And there was the scare of a series of abnormal ultrasounds (that's the subject for another post) and worried of how we would cope with twin boys. So we checked into the hospital for our scheduled induction already pretty exhausted from the last 38 weeks.

With all that, I'm so happy that everything went so much quicker this time around -- 8 hours instead of 27! The labor part was so much more pleasant. Uneventful, even. I basically sat or laid in bed and waited, and as soon as my labor pains started getting bad, they got the epidural in. The decision to have an epidural was an easy one; I decided not to use up my strength getting through labor and save it for all the future sleepless nights. With the pitocin drip and all those fetal monitors strapped to me, it sure wasn't going to be a natural birth anyway. I do remember feeling slightly sad at having to be hooked up to so many machines and having to lie flat on my back, like a sick patient instead of a laboring woman, but I felt it was what I had to do to make sure that my babies were born healthy.

Once I was fully dilated, I was wheeled to an operating room instead of having the delivery right in my room. Instead of just a doctor and nurse, there was a whole team of medical professionals assembled: three labor and delivery nurses, the anethesiologist, two neonatal nurses, and the obstetrician. By the way, that's Alfie in the photo, not the obstetrician. Again, the high-risk twin thing; once Baby A is born, there's no telling what Baby B will do with all that newfound space. Baby B could have suddenly turned breech, or gone into distress halfway thru Baby A's delivery, or whatever. All the extra precautions were there to make sure they could perform an emergency C-section to deliver one or both babies. It's not uncommon; in fact, I'm the only twin mom I know who delivered both babies vaginally.

Looking at that timeline, I'm amazed that there was a whole hour between entering the operating room and actually delivering Jammy. Time seemed to go by so quickly. I remember feeling silly being asked to bear down and push, because that epidural had really deadened me below the waist. I remember lifting my leg with my hands and watching it flop down uselessly. I kept pinching my thigh but couldn't feel a thing. They must not have used as much anesthetic with The Pea, because I could move and feel my legs (and let me tell you, I felt the Pea travelling each and every one of those last few inches of my birth canal, down to the crowning and the tearing). I just pretended I needed to poop, and lo and behold, Jammy came out after 3 pushes.

One down, one to go. 3Po took his sweet time and eventually had to be coaxed out with a vacuum extractor. He came out twenty minutes later, and just like that, we were a family of five.

Isn't it weird how different they looked at birth? 3Po (on the left) was rosy and plump at 7 lb. 5 oz., with very light, wispy brown hair. Jammy (on the right) was tiny (6 lbs. 10 oz.) and wrinkled and pale, with very dark, tufty hair (we nicknamed him Gollum in his first three weeks of life). We thought the ultrasound technicians must have made a mistake when they said these were identical twins.

*Warning*!! Scroll down at your own risk -- the photo you are about to see is Yuccky with a capital Y. If it totally grosses you out and convinces you never to return to this blog again, well, just be glad I didn't post the close-up.

Sorry, guys. It isn't a birth story unless you've got a disgusting birth photo. Alfie took this photo of the placenta while our obstetrician was checking it to confirm zygosity. The boys did share a single placenta, which made it almost certain they were monozygotic (identical), despite the difference in size and appearance. And we did a DNA test later on, which confirmed it.
(On a side note, upon checking the placenta, our obstetrician realized that Jammy's umbilical cord had been attached to the fetal membrane rather than to the placenta itself, which is supposedly a risky thing. I'm sure Mark Sloan, the author of Birth Day, could explain in his clear, humorous way what exactly a fetal membrane is, and why the umbilical cord shouldn't be attaching itself to it, but I like to think of Jammy hanging on by his fingernails for 38 weeks. Maybe that's why Jammy ended up so much smaller and shivelled-looking than 3Po).

Of course, three months later, we realized we could have saved ourselves the $150 for the DNA test. As countless relatives, friends and strangers will attest, they are identical. In fact, to this day I have no idea which boy is which in the photo below.

And I'm happy to say that their looks have improved somewhat in the five years since.

When I look at them today, so robust and healthy, I feel truly blessed that everything went so smoothly and we ended up with two happy, healthy boys. They have truly completed our family and I couldn't imagine life without them.

Click here to read more posts inspired by Birth Day.

New Blog Button


I've been toying around with the idea for a blog button for a long time now, but I'm too cheap to hire someone to design it for me, and I stubbornly cling to the notion that I'm creative enough to do it myself. Unfortunately, the spirit is willing but the tools are weak; I don't have Adobe Photoshop so my arsenal of graphic tools is limited to Microsoft Paint and Microsoft PictureIt Premium. Some of Alfie's graphic designer friends have recommended free vector illustration tools on the web but they've just been way too intimidating, and I've always gone back to good ol' Paint and PictureIt.

Last week someone showed me the twitter icon they had created from The likeness was uncanny, so I decided to check it out. I thought it was one of those sites which turn your photo into a cartoon, but you actually create your avatar from a selection of head shapes, skin tones, body types, facial features, etc.. I'm not convinced it looks anything like me, but I suppose it's as good a cartoon of me as anything else I've seen out there. At least I don't look like a teenage Japanese mangga heroine.

So I used the MadMen avatar I created to make this new blog button. For consistency, I used the color scheme and font that I came up with for my BlogHer business cards. What do you think?

Update: After Alfie told me my nose looks nothing like that and my chin definintely isn't that huge I received some feedback, I went back and changed my avatar's face shape and nose. It doesn't look any more or less like me than the first button, but hey, it's all about finding my inner Bonggamom anyway -- and if I want my inner Bonggamom to have a smaller face, no double chin and a perpetually-lipstick'ed mouth, then so be it. So, which one should it be? A or B?

Behind the Scenes at the OfficeMax Back to School Blogcast

Last week, my friend Kim saw from my tweets that I was attending the OfficeMax Back-to-School blogcast. After the blogcast, she tweeted me with:

@bonggamom When you said you were going to be on the Office Max thing, I thought you meant, like me, watching from the web!

Yup, that was me. Thanks to OfficeMax and Elm Publicity's Beth Cleveland, I got the incredible opportunity to appear alongside organizational guru Peter Walsh in an OfficeMax webcast, similar to the workspace organization blogcast he did a couple of months back, but for back-to-school organization. I was part of a panel of "experts" on organization (dis-organization is more like, at least on my part!) that included Peter, award-winning teacher Heather, and two local students Megan and Keaton. We had a great time talking about the challenges that parents, teachers and kids face when school starts (you can watch the whole blogcast here).

After the blogcast, Twitter was filled with tweets from bloggers who had attended, and everyone had such nice things to say to me (@bonggamom) Heather (@tweenteacher) and Peter (@Peter_Walsh). I really appreciated all those supportive tweets -- thanks, everyone!! -- but one thing I took home from my experience is that the people in front of the camera actually play a very small part in a production like this. Everyone sitting in front of their laptops saw Peter, Heather, Megan, Keaton and me chatting in front of the camera for 40 minutes:

... but the reality is that it took a lot longer than 40 minutes and involved a lot more than five people. There is an army of people behind the camera, from the director to the cameramen to the sound technicians to the set designers to the scriptwriters to the stylist to the makeup artist to the PR liasons to the caterers, all dedicated to getting this ol' blogcast on the internet! So to highlight their great work, I'm giving you all a behind-the-scenes look at the OfficeMax blogcast. Think of this post as the stuff that you'd see in the Special Features section if the blogcast ever makes it to DVD (hey, you never know......)

It's no secret that everyone in front of the camera, man, woman and child, gets their hair and makeup done, and that it takes ages. Fortunately our roles didn't require prosthetic limbs or fish faces, so ours didn't take that long, but even then, no detail was overlooked. I had to go back to Karen, the hair and makeup artist, multiple times because my hair kept covering my face and needed to be pinned back. In fact, a lot about me was pinned back that day. My sweater had to be pinned back to make sure it didn't open up while I bent over to pick up a prop in one scene. My undershirt had to be pinned way back to make sure my cleavage didn't spill all over the place, small as it is. And my mike had to be pinned higher to my mouth to make sure my voice was loud enough. So I was pinned up like Elizabeth Hurley in her Versace gown -- but no one saw any of it (cleavage or pins).

Speaking of mikes, boy did I have trouble with mine! First of all, they clipped it to my jeans, which I thought made my ass look way humongous (which is why I covered it up with the sweater). Then I forgot all about it when I went to the bathroom, and it almost fell into the toilet when I unzipped my jeans. And I realize now that I should probably have turned the mike OFF when I went to pee! It was lunchtime so I'm hoping the sound guys were eating lunch, far away from their earphones.

Enough potty stories. I took this photo because I loved Karen's trick of transfering all her lipstick into pillboxes. Now she doesn't have to keep opening and closing tube after tube after tube.

There were only five people onscreen but we kept Karen pretty busy. She had to do touchups throughout the day, because, man, are those lights hot!

They couldn't find anyone my height to stand-in while they tested out the lighting and the background, so I stood in for myself. Peter's stand-in kept me entertained while people rushed back and forth trying out different background props. Again, no detail escapes their attention: they moved the wall map so that it wouldn't look like half of Chicago's suburbs were sprouting from my head. And that vase of flowers behind me had to be placed in juuuust the right position so that viewers could see it excatly between Peter and me when Camera Two was on. They even stress about the color of the drapes and whether they're wrinkled or not.

Twitter obviously played a big role in this blogcast, given that 200 bloggers viewed it live, and many of them tweeted it live. People were working furiously to make sure we all had access to Twitter on set, and people were working just as furiously to keep up with the stream of tweets and questions that ensued. Office Max's publicity department and PR consultants tweeted during the blogcast, and Peter, Heather and I tweeted for 30 minutes afterwards. It was such fun, Heather and I joked to the production crew that unless we were tethered to the set, we would inevitably drift back to our laptops. And it was so gratifying to see #Omx_Blogcast trend to #4 on Twitter that day! Great job, Twitter Brigade!

See the room we're in? That's the library of Beebe Elementary School in Naperville, IL. Books were stacked and shelves were moved in order to make room for all the equipment the production crew brought in (the sets were in an adjoining room). And afterwards, they cleaned up so well that you'd never know it had every been anything other than a library.

One last note: I know I said that the on-screen talent is only a small portion of the whole production, but I can't minimize the role that Peter Walsh played. He doesn't just waltz in on the set five minutes before filming. He puts in a lot of work developing and rehearsing his lines (actually, the script had no real lines, just talking points so that everything was natural and conversational, not over-rehearsed). He was great at keeping that live conversation flowing, and he really helped us novices relax. Peter's a great guy to work with (and I'm not just saying that because he was kind enough to autograph my rolling case)!

All told, we spent the better part of two days doing rehearsal and filming. And that's not even including the time spent developing the script, and all the pre-production meetings we attended (and there were probably twice as many held where my presence wasn't required). But they kept us well fed with sandwiches, fruit and the yummiest cupcakes ever. And the result was worth it. It's certainly a far cry from my YouTube vlogs with me or my kids parked in front of our 8-year old digital camera, shooting a couple of minutes of blurry, impromptu footage!

So thanks to Elise, Greg, Tom, Kathleen, Karen, Jules, Marie, Bill, Jennifer, Beth, Bo, Peter's stand-in, the sound guy, the cupcake gal, and everyone else whose names I couldn't remember. I'm going to say what everyone on Twitter should have said (and would have, if they had known the role you all played): Well Done, Guys.

How Low Can You Go?

This photo was taken by Alfie while I was away at BlogHer and he took the kids to Infineon Raceway to watch some drag racing. Those drivers are certainly low to the ground!

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Here's another kind of low that was also in abundance at the Infineon Raceway track. This was in the set of photos taken while I was away at BlogHer and Alfie took the kids to the Infineon Raceway to watch some drag racing. And obviously something else. Do you think maybe one of the kids got hold of the camera and accidentally took this photo? Hmmm.....

Now, see, I'm smarter than that. I've got some photos from my trip to Chicago, but I would never record on camera what really went on at BlogHer ;)

It ain't home until the wifi's working.

Today the boys dug out their pop-up play tents and connecting tunnel from the black hole that is our garage. They set the things up and decided to play House. The first thing they decided to make? Not chairs. Not beds. Not toychests or cooking stoves.


Behind the Scenes at a Webcast Production Set

I think it's pretty obvious by now that I'm hopeless at live blogging. I went to BlogHer with high hopes of live blogging some of the sessions there, or at least updating this blog daily with fun photos and lively tales of my misadventures at BlogHer. But it has been two weeks, and I have yet to finish up all my BlogHer posts. I even have another post about last week's Intel Classmate PC event at the California Academy of Sciences that I've been meaning to put up, so I'm way overdue.

But tonight I find myself in my hotel room in Naperville, IL, with a 2-hour jetlag and a camera full of images from today's OfficeMax webcast rehearsal, and I figured, this is as live-bloggy as I'm ever gonna get. It's like that 30-second rule with food; if I post about an event within 3 hours of it happening, that's live-blogging. So I decided to "live blog" this behind-the-scenes look at the OfficeMax webcast.

Whoa, whoa, whoa... rewind! To make a long story short, I was invited to be a panelist on a Back-to-School webcast, starring organization guy Peter Walsh (who appears on Oprah and TLC's Clean Sweep) and sponsored by Office Max. I'm joining Peter, Heather (a schoolteacher), and Keaton and Megan (two school-aged children) in talking about challenges and tips for back to school organization.

The webcast lasts just 30 minutes, but you wouldn't believe the amount of preparation that goes into this thing. We've got a team of scriptwriters and production crew and set designers and props people and location liasons and PR folk, all working to get the webcast together!

Here's Tom, the director, peering into a bunch of display-thingies (note my precise technical terminology).

Here's Peter Walsh (center, in dark jeans and a long sleeved shirt) on set. Peter's a great guy who's really easy to work with and wonderful at bringing out the best in his inexperienced co-stars. I took this from far away so he wouldn't think I was stalking him like a deranged fan. But I'm totally planning to ask him to autograph my Office Max Peter Walsh rolling case file, and I don't care how cheesy that seems.

Here I am on set #2, reliving my grade school days. The girl in the background wearing denim shorts is Megan, our 7th-grader panelist. She's almost 6 feet tall -- I bring that up because everyone who works for Office Max seems to be tall and gorgeous. Seriously! I'm 5'8" and one of the shortest people there. It's like they have one of those height boards that kids have to clear before getting onto a roller coaster ride.

It has been a pretty exhausting afternoon, but they rewarded us with a bunch of Office Max rubber band balls. And who can resist rubber band balls? Doesn't just looking at them make you want to bounce them and/or roll them around and/or take them apart?

I hope everyone enjoyed my groundbreaking live blogging session, but now I've got to get my beauty sleep before tomorrow's webcast. If I don't, I'll need Peter Walsh's advice on how to organize the zits on my face. The webcast is going to be fun; maybe I'll "live blog" that, too.

Learning with Leapfrog

Several weeks ago I made like Oprah and set to work distributing the Summer Reading Kits that I had received at the beginning of the summer for Leapfrog's Ambassadors of Summer Reading program. Last weekend we went to the East Palo Alto Library (we donated one of the reading kits to them) and interviewed Darwin Eustaquio, Director of the library's Quest Learning Center. I was delighted to hear that they've been able to integrate the Leapfrog Tag into their program in just a couple of short weeks! Here's a snippet of our conversation:

The Pea did a pretty good job of being my cameraman, don't you agree? Unfortunately the audio was a wee bit low (we were in a library, after all, and we didn't exactly want to shout) so I've attempted to transcribe the key points on the video:

Bonggamom: What does the Quest Learning Center do?

Darwin: We are a free program with the East Palo Alto Library for kids in grades 3-5, from nearby Ravenswood School District. For the summer, to prepare for the upcoming schoolyear, we're working on decoding skills, sight word skills, and fluency skills, and we've been doing this through repeated reading. The Leapfrog Tag fits right in with the literacy program.

Bonggamom: How are the students enjoying the Tag? Do they like it?

Darwin: They definitely do! We have tutors on-site that can help kids with reading and practicing their fluency skills, but when they go home, oftentimes, especially with English Language Learners, they don't have someone at home who can help them with pronounciation.

Bonggamom: So they can check these books out?

Darwin: Yes, they can take these home*.

Bonggamom: So which books have been popular?

Darwin: Fancy Nancy and Dr. Seuss have been very popular. The other thing I love about these books is, since we are working on sight words, we actually went through and circled how many words in the books are sight words. For example, Miss Spider's Tea Party has 31% of actual sight words**, and some are even higher. The Little Engine that Could has 54% of the sight words included in it. We have volunteers actually go through the books and circle all the words that are sight words, and we're going to be putting a nice little card on the back so that when we have a student who has certain sight words that he still needs to memorize, we know what book to give him to take home.

* The Leapfrog Summer Reading kits came with carrying cases, so a child in the Quest program can easily check out a Tag and a couple of Tag books, pack them into the Tag carrycase and take it all home. Talk about nice and neat! Apparently the included headphones are also a nice touch; kids can listen to the books at home (or in the library) without disturbing anyone else.

** Darwin is referring to the percentage of words in Miss Spider's Tea Party that appear on Edward Dolch's list of 220 frequently-used words, commonly known as the
Dolch Word List. Many of the words on the Dolch Word List cannot be "sounded out" using basic phonics skills and must be learned by sight, so mastering (or sight-reading) the words on the Dolch Word List is an important component of learning how to read.

It looks like the Quest Learning Center and the Leapfrog Kits are a perfect fit! Initially I was worried that the age range for the Tag (4 thru 8) didn't exactly match the age range for the Quest Learning Center (grades 3 thru 5). But Darwin told me that many of the kids in the program are still reading at the first grade level, and there are over 30 kids in the program, so I know those 5 Tag readers are being put to good use. In fact, I wish I could give them more. Now I know where our own Tags are going after 3Po and Jammy have outgrown them.

I can't even begin to describe the satisfaction I'm feeling about this experience, which is weird considering I didn't really do anything. I mean, Leapfrog did all the donating, and Darwin and his crew are the ones who'll be helping those kids. But being able to play matchmaker for these two organizations really makes me happy, knowing that I've helped in a small way. This is a great example of how bloggers and brands can work together in a positive way, and if there's any other company out there looking to involve bloggers in their community services efforts, you know where to find me. Gawd, I love this "job"!

I did not receive product samples or financial compensation for this post. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

Now That's Entertainment!

I know a lot has been said about the excess of swag at BlogHer '09. Hey, I'm as much of a swag whore as the next person, so I'm not passing judgement on bloggers who want swag, or blog for swag. Hey, it's fun! When you're a small-time blogger, it's a nice feeling when companies seek you out and ask you to review their products.

But when people start getting trampled and babies start getting elbowed and hostesses need the help of bouncers to guard swag bags, then it's time to take a step back and ask ourselves how much we really need that swag. Do I really want to pay $25 to check in that extra suitcase or $30 to ship that box if all I'm going to put in it is chips and crackers and Play-Doh cans that I can buy at your local Walgreens for less than a buck? So yes, I did come out of BlogHer with lots of swag, but it was stuff I would have bought anyway, and I didn't collect swag for the sake of it. As with everything in life, it's all about moderation. And anything in moderation is fine... even swag.

In any case, some of the best parties at BlogHer '09 were not about the swag. Take the Blogalicious Party, held at the Chicago Macy's Lush Cosmetics counter. Sure, there was swag, but it wasn't over the top, just some beauty samples. There must be something in those heavenly-smelling Lush products that relaxes people and puts them in a good mood, because people were actually chatting to each other like they were people, not just competitors for swag.

There were yummy desserts, foot massages, hand massages and facials for all to enjoy. And who can resist a party with such entertaining staff?

Hats off to the Lush staff and the lovely ladies of Blogalicious for such an entertaining party!

This was my PhotoHunters post for the weekend! For more entertainment, click here.