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.