Christmas in the Park

Christmas in the Park
I know Christmas is over, but if you're in the Bay Area, you can still catch a bit of the holiday spirit before New Year's Eve (and give your kids something to do before they burn their eyes out playing video games or drive you crazy before school finally starts again). You can pay $$ at Global Winter Wonderland or $ driving through the Los Gatos Fantasy of Lights -- or you could take your kids to Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown San Jose and enjoy a fun afternoon out for just the cost of parking. I'm talking about Christmas in the Park, San Jose's annual holiday diorama and tree display. I took 3Po and Jammy there last week, and they really had a great time!

Global Winter Wonderland

Like many families, we love looking at holiday decorations and light displays. There are several great places around the Bay Area that are known for their light displays; our favorites are Eucalyptus Street in San Carlos and the Los Gatos Fantasy of Lights, but for one reason or another we didn't get to see either one this year. This year we got our fill of twinkling lights at an entirely new place: Global Winter Wonderland, a holiday display in Santa Clara.

Happy Holidays from The Pea's American Girls!

Merry Christmas from Natalia (The Pea's Just Like Me Doll)! She's wearing her new holiday outfit (courtesy of Santa) and toasting the season with a cute handpainted glass ornament from Lolita Designs.

Merry Christmas from the newest addition to The Pea's American Girl doll family, Marie-Grace! She's wearing the American Girl holiday outfit.

'Tis better to wrap than to receive

Let's be honest: Kids get greedy during the holidays. Despite all the heartwarming Christmas specials about being all together for the holidays, kids are all thinking about what presents they're going to get or what to ask for from Santa.

We can't really blame them -- they're just following what the grownups do. Everywhere: on tv, in magazines, at the mall, it's all about sales and shopping and presents. Even us mom bloggers, with our holiday gift guides and giveaways, are perpetuating the materialistic focus.

All I want for Christmas is....

If only this fellow were the real Santa, I'd get everything on my Christmas wish list for sure!

Alfie and I have decided not to get each other Christmas presents this year. After all, we've already got each other new kitchen cabinets, a new front door, a new computer desk and a new armoire. So this year, I'll have to rely on Santa to get me all the other stuff I want for Christmas. Given what I'm asking for, I think I might need all of Santa's magical powers to make my wishes come true!

Here's what I'm asking from Santa this year:

Seven Days of Dinner, Dec. 18-31

Woo-hoo, the holiday break has started! The kids are out of school and Alfie's office has given everyone the whole of next week off, so I've decided to give Seven Days of dinner a holiday break as well.

Happy holidays!

Our winter break activity list

Today was the kids' final day of school before winter break, and as usual it has been a mad rush all day. I had to get the kids' teacher presents ready, make food for their class potluck parties, and prepare a craft for Jammy's classmates to do during their party -- all before 10:30am. For once, 3Po's and Jammy's class parties actually did not clash, so I was able to attend both of them, which of course meant that I spent twice the amount of time at school, manning the craft tables at one party, then going off to do the same thing at his brother's party. Every parent at school today said how much they are looking forward to the winter break and the chance for some downtime.

Except I'm not sure how much downtime we'll be enjoying.

Parties and sawdust do not mix

I like to think of myself as an optimistic and determined person: When I want to do something, I tend to ignore any obstacles standing in the way. Certain people (*cough*! Alfie! *cough*) might interpret that as being stubborn, leading to situations like driving for hours in a snowstorm. It's true that my enthusiasm often gets in the way of my good judgement -- but I'm hoping my kids see it as never letting a few inconveniences and a bit of hard work get in the way of accomplishing a goal.

My latest act of blind determination perseverance? Hosting a party without a kitchen.

Spreading joy, hope... and Zhu Zhu Pets

Over the years I've had lots of fun working with MomSelect and Cepia to promote their line of Zhu Zhu Pets toys, doing product reviews, hosting giveaways and even throwing parties where my kids and their friends get to take Zhu Zhu pets home! Despite all these fun opportunities, I think the most rewarding aspect of my partnership with Zhu Zhu pets has been my participation in their holiday charity initiative, the Random Acts of Zhu program.

Seven Days of Dinner, Dec. 11-17

I'm atoning for last week's meat extravaganza with a week composed of entirely vegetarian dishes. Not that it's going to be a huge hardship; meat is no longer an indispensible ingredient in our household, and I have a sizeable collection of meatless dishes that the whole family loves. In fact, Alfie insists that he would switch to a 100% vegetarian lifestyle tomorrow; all I have to do is say the word. Of course, he says that knowing full well that I love my In-N-Out burgers and fish and chips and pulled pork sandwiches too much to pull the plug on meat. Personally, given his own passion for fish and chips, I think he's just a teensy bit relieved.

Here's this week's meatless menu:
* Veggie burgers
* Tofu and boy choy stir-fried with Thai basil, over rice
* Spinach and cheese omelet
* Spaghetti with marinara sauce
* Lentil and spinach soup
* Eggs and beans on toast
* Fetuccine with cream sauce and peas

Bon appetit!

Apple Crumble

Apple crumble is one of our favorite comfort foods. Actually, it doesn't really have to be apple crumble; any fruit underneath a crumb topping will do. I've been using the crumb topping recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook -- you know, the one with the red plaid cover, the one that's been around since the 40's -- for years, but I think I've found a better one.

Seven Days of Dinner, Dec. 4-10

I've decided to give week's menu has a Hispanic theme. Maybe it's the weather, but I find myself craving hearty dishes with lots of onions and garlic. Filipino cuisine is heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine, and foods with Spanish names like adobo, menudo and empanada are very common. This week I'm breaking my 3 meat dishes per week rule, but these dishes are so yummy, I don't care.

Forty before Forty Item #18: discovering Jammy

When I made the resolution to spend some quality time with each of my 3 kids, I knew it would be difficult. I spend lots of time with them, but it's mostly with all 3 of them. On the rare occasions that Alfie and I get our parents to babysit, or when do splurge for a babysitter, we use the time as a couple. My plan for one-on-one kid time was was to ask Alfie to watch 2 kids on some weekend, and take the 3rd one on a solo excursion, which is great in theory, but hasn't worked out too well.

Family Game Night Giveaway

None of my kids are born performers; they're never comfortable being the center of attention, and even The Pea, who participates in several dance recitals and shows each year, always confesses to feeling butterflies in the pit of her stomach whenever she gets up and thinks of all those pairs of eyes on her.

A bit too much detail, don't you think?

You know those floor plans/directories they have at malls and airports and big buildings to show you where everything is? You expect them to have signs and symbols to show you where to find emergency exits, elevators, and restrooms -- but this is the first diagram I've seen posted up in a public area (Napa's Oxbow Public Market) that actually shows you where to find things inside the restroom. For the record, the layout and number of stalls and washbasins is actually incorrect (both men's and women's -- I asked Alfie to check), so don't rely on this diagram to navigate your way around the restroom!

Seven Days of Dinner, Nov. 27- Dec. 3

I don't know if you've noticed, but I've managed to go over 6 weeks (not counting the time my mom did the cooking) without repeating a single dish for dinner! Last week was the first time I repeated a dish (the better-for-you egg salad). The variety is great, but we're starting to miss some of our favorites, so from now on you'll be seeing some repeat dishes along with some new dishes I want to try.

Here's what's on this week's menu:
* Caprese quesadilla
* Curried butternut squash soup
* Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato-cucumber salad
* Mushroom bhaji over rice
* Chicken curry over rice
* Chicken chow mein
* Veggie burgers

Bon appetit!

Future U.S. President (and other delusions of grandeur)

Last week, while stuck in traffic on San Francisco's Bay Bridge, we found ourselves beside a tour bus with the words "John Davis for". The side of the bus pictured a man shouldering a giant plumbing wrench, painted like the American flag, beside the words, "Let's fix America". In the background was a gigantic American flag, a section of the U.S. constitution showing the words "We the People". The bus also had a giant bald eagle on the sides and back (and I do mean giant -- the eagle was bigger than John Davis).

Hmmm.. I've been following the Republican debates, and I'm pretty sure the only John I've seen is John Huntsman.

So who is John Davis?

Seven Days of Dinner, Nov. 20-26

Now that my parents have left, I'm back in the kitchen and back to planning our weekly dinner menus. It has been a delicious two weeks, but I must admit, it will be nice to lay off the meat for a bit! Of course, that's a funny thing to say given that this is Thanksgiving week. No way I'm substituting veggie turkey slices for the real thing.

When the dead come to life

I love it when someone says something that is totally funny, but is so serious about it that he doesn't even realize what he said. This latest gem comes courtesy of my dad. We were driving along the highway when I spotted a sign for free cremation....

Me: Wow, free cremation! That's a great way to spare your family the expense of a burial. But thee billboard also said something about donating your body to science, so I guess the medical schools around here need cadavers for students and research, so they use your body for anatomy classes and cremate it afterwards.

Dad: Yes, that's right! They're so short of cadavers these days. When I was a med student, our class had 40 cadavers! That's just 4 students to a cadaver, which is pretty rare today.

Me: So what do med students do now?

Dad: Oh, many schools use plastic cadavers. They're really great. It's so much easier to identify veins and other parts of the anatomy with these plastic cadavers. They're so lifelike!

Forty Before Forty Item #12: Sky High

Growing up in the Philippines, I towered over all the kids my age. Heck, I towered over kids older than me. From 1st grade until my senior year of high school, I was always the one at the back of the line, in the back row. I was always the girl who played Prince Charming in our all-girls' school plays. I was glad I wasn't short, but I felt that people who told me I was lucky to be tall had no idea what it was like. I slouched as much as I could. Heels? Hah!

Our 2011 photo session

We had our 2009 holiday photos taken by ErinLeigh Photography, and they came out so beautifully that I knew we would be using her again in the future. Two years later, we decided it was time, so we scheduled another family photo session. Erin met us as San Francisco's Crissy field and we spent a leisurely afternoon walking around, catching up on each other's lives, and snapping photos.

Halloween, the day after

I know it's November already, but I can't quite let October go without reliving some of the best moments of the month. We've had so much fun this past month that I wanted to do an October recap post last night, but after two hours of trick or treating with a two week-old cough that just won't go away, I was ready to guzzle down some alcoholic cough syrup and call it a night. I decided to savor the memories (and the Halloween candy) in the morning, so without further ado, here are the highlights of our October:

Seven Days of Dinner, Oct. 30-Nov. 5

My parents have come to visit, which is a real treat for the whole family. The kids get doting grandparents, Alfie and I get trusted (and free) babysitters -- and I get a cook. While she's here, my mother usually takes over kitchen duty, which I love, because her food is awesome, and which she loves, because she's usually too busy to cook in the Philippines, and she likes to cook. So my Seven Days for Dinner posts will be taking a temporary hiatus while my mom plans the meals. I may decide to do some posts listing the dishes she actually prepared, but for now, I'll leave you with several mouthwatering dishes I'm hoping she will prepare:

* Arroz a la Cubana with rice (actually, we'll probably have rice with every meal since that's how people do it in the Philippines!)
* Roast chicken
* Paella Valenciana
* Sauteed cabbage and mushrooms with garlic
* Salmon Teriyaki
* Chicken adobo
* Chicken fetuccine
* Chicken chuletas
* Chicken chow mein
* Chicken croquettes
* Pork fried rice
* Pork chorizo and garlic fried rice
* Spanish omelette
* Menudo
* Pork lumpia
* Spaghetti bolognese

Ahhh... my happiness levels (and cholesterol levels) are rising already. This is bonggamom, signing off kitchen duty for the next few weeks. See you soon!

Halloween Costumewatch 2011: The Pea

This year, The Pea and her best friend decided to wear matching costumes for Halloween. After lots of flipping through catalogs and flip-flopping over choices (the most notable being the one that left me with two yards of leopard-print cloth and cemented my own decision to be a cavewoman this year), they chose characters from Alice in Wonderland: the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat. Sort of. Here's what the costumes look like:

Halloween Costumewatch 2011: Alfie

Alfie is the only one in the family who is somewhat grumpy indifferent less than enthusiastic about dressing up for Halloween. He does it because he knows the kids like it; once they leave home I doubt if I'll be able to persuade him to go anywhere near a costume. Oh well, just like childhood, I have to enjoy Alfie's costume era while it lasts.

Since the kids were born, Alfie has only had two costumes: a skeleton and Jack Sparrow. Every year he's either one or the other, so this is quite an unusual year in that Alfie has three Halloween costumes to choose from. First is a werewolf costume from Pottery Barn Teen:

It was given to us to review, and I chose it for Alfie because I thought he'd enjoy the warmth it would provide as we went trick-or-treating on Halloween night. It's just a headpiece and gloves, so he can wear it with regular clothing and take it off really easily.

Alfie's second choice is a devil bathrobe costume that I bought for the annual PTA auction party. The theme was a pajama party, and Alfie didn't want to go in just any old boring pair of pajamas. We thought of Wee Willie Winkie, in his nightcap and gown, so I went on eBay and found one from a UK site. I bid and won.... but horror of horrors, when it arrived, it was just the cap! No gown. Apparently the term "Fancy Dress" in the phrase "Wee Willie Winkie Night Cap Fancy Dress" meant "Costume", not "and gown". I should have known it was too good to be true, but with just one week left, I had to move on to Plan B. I found a devil smoking jacket and convinced Alfie he'd look cool if we left the horns off and cut the tail out and he could go as Hugh Hefner.

(By the way, that is not my husband. I don't have a photo of him wearing the costume, because if he decides not to wear it then I can try to resell it as "New, Never Worn").

But Alfie still wasn't sure about the Hugh Hefner thing, so in the end he decided to wear his own pajamas, along with the nightcap, and take along his very own Teddy. Except he never got to wear it, because 3Po got sick and Alfie had to stay home with him.

Which costume will Alfie ultimately pick for Halloween night? Who knows?

Halloween Costumewatch 2011: Bonggamom

I've had many Halloween costumes over the years (many in a single year, even), and I've enjoyed wearing them all, but I must confess that I'm really looking forward to wearing this year's costume. I've always loved cavewoman costumes; in fact, the first Halloween costume I wore as an adult was a cavewoman costume. I wore it to a grad school costume party and I paid $60 to rent it for the week. Every Halloween since then, I've looked around for cavewoman costumes, but couldn't really find one that I liked. There's not much variation in the cut (I don't think there were many fashion designers in the stone age), but all the materials looked thin and cheap.

Halloween Costumewatch 2011: 3Po

Next up on Halloween Costumewatch is 3Po. He decided to be a ninja this year, which is awesome, because a couple of years ago my sister gave us her kids' old ninja outfits. It has been many years since I have been able to force convince my kids to wear the Halloween costumes I want them to wear, so these ninja outfits have been sitting in storage, just in case, and I was about to give them away. Fortunately I didn't, and one of them fit 3Po just right.

Halloween Costumewatch 2011: Jammy

In past years I've done blog posts about how I've decorated the house up for Halloween, but this year, for the first time in almost 10 years, I haven't done much decorating inside the house. Other than a few candles, tablecloth runners and wall hangings, I decided to focus on the front yard. Okay, it's a lot more than most households ever do, but if you've seen the inside of our home in past years you'll agree it's looking pretty bare. Since I don't have anything photo-worthy inside the house to blog about (I'll post photos of our front yard soon), I've decided to showcase what each of us is wearing for Halloween, starting with Jammy.

31 Days osf Pink: Week 2 & Week 3 Recap

I said it last year, and I'll say it again: Where did the time go? October has just flown by! I can't believe we're in the last week of October already. I've got blog commitment, work projects and volunteer assignments piling up, three Halloween parties to plan, home remodeling projects to manage..... I'm having palpitations just thinking about it all. No, wait -- those palpitations are because I'm all clogged up and can't breathe. Of all the times to come down with a cold.

Seven Days of Dinner, Oct. 23-29

When you're planning the week's dinner menu, it really helps if you're not sick with a cold and the thought of slaving away over a hot stove is enough to make your heart palpitate even more than it's palpitating already. This week I think I'm going to take it easy, get some takeout, and rely on simmering pots of soup to get me through. No doubt my kids will be excited at the prospect of school pizza, PBJ and cereal for lunch this week! I've deliberately left off three nights this week because my parents are arriving for a visit this Friday, and I look forward to relinquishing control of the kitchen and letting my mom take over.

How to Dress for a Pajama Party

Last night our PTA hosted an auction party to raise funds for the kids' school. It's an annual, adults-only event, and every year the party has a different theme. This year's theme was PJ Party, so more people than usual came in costume. Dressing for a pajama party has got to be the easiest thing ever: just put on your regular PJ's, or a tshirt and sweatpants, and you're good to go. You don't even have to get undressed after the party; just kick off your shoes and fall into bed.

Is anybody left out there?

Remember Harold Camping? He predicted the end of the world would come on May 21, 2011. Obviously, it didn't happen. So Harold Camping backtracked and said what he meant was, the spiritual end of the world happened on May 21. The real, true, pinky-swear end end of the world would happen on October 21, 2011.

Just so you know, I scheduled this post in advance. I scheduled it to post at 1 minute past midnight on October 22, 2011. I wanted to give old Harold's prophecy a chance to come true, all through October 21, down to the last second. Right now my family and I are sleeping peacefully in our beds. Or we've just been snuffed out, along with the rest of the universe. Then again, if this posted and you're reading this, then we definitely are sleeping peacefully in our beds.

Hmmmm... Harold, whaddup? Since you didn't put up The Bible Guarantees It billboards all over the place this time, perhaps you'll escape some ridicule. Or perhaps you meant Oct. 21, 2011 on the Ethiopian calendar? That would mean the next real, true, pinky-swear end end of the world is actually on June 28, 2019 according to the Gregorian calendar.

Perhaps I'll schedule another Doomsday Predictions Are Stupid post on June 28, 2019.

Starting the day right

I'm generally an upbeat, glass-half-full person, but occasionally I get those days when I feel like getting back into bed with a box of chocolates and staying there all day. You know: Those Days. Days when I went to bed too late. Or when I'm running late. When the kids start tiptoeing around me and whispering to themselves, Mama is crabbers, I know I have to get out of my funk. Here are three things I like to do to get my day started on the right foot:

Seven Days of Dinner, Oct. 16-22

For the past several weeks, most of the dishes I've cooked have been from a cookbook. I don't have much patience with following recipes, and I'm usually a throw-everything-together-and-see-how-it-turns-out kind of cook, so I've probably used recipes more in these past three weeks than I have all year. But this week, I'm going back to my usual modus operandi and using some of my tried-and-true "recipes". I've loved everything I've tried, but my cookbooks need a rest.

The worst road in the world

This is a photo of a street that Alfie takes every single day to go to work. When I used to work in an office, I also drove down this street every day. I still use this road quite a bit; it's the most direct route from our home to the highway (the southbound direction, at least).

We hate this road.

October 13 is National Metatstatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day

Last week I blogged about how people dislike the way companies are jumping on the breast cancer bandwagon and exploiting the pink ribbon to increase sales. Personally, I think cause marketing, done right, is a great way to raise money for breast cancer research, as well as money to fund treatment for women who can't afford it.

But there's another reason people for "pink fatigue".

Yup, that's my dad

3Po: Mama, why did you buy a devil bathrobe costume for daddy?

Forty before Forty Item #14: Where's the Party?

Ever since I first heard about Perry Mann's Exotic Erotic ball, I've wanted to attend it. I love Halloween, I love dressing up, and I love being around folks who love to dress up as much as I do. I love a party, and it has been ages since I attended a really wild one. I love outrageous people who are true to themselves and don't care what anyone else thinks of them -- their confidence and energy are infectious! Besides, after being closeted and sheltered for so long in my life, the thought of releasing a bit of my wild and naughty side in a fun and harmless way is so appealing.

For at least a decade, I've been working up the nerve to buy tickets, but every year I found some excuse not to go:

Seven Days of Dinner, Oct. 9-15

Tomatoes and basil

I've broken one of my Seven Days of Dinner rules this week. I said vegetables have to be part of each and every meal, yet here I am, putting pancakes on the menu. It is October, so I guess I could make pumpkin pancakes. Or I could sneak some beets into the pancake batter like Jessica Seinfeld does in her Deceptively Delicious cookbook. Or I could just serve the pancakes with blueberries and change the rule to Veggies or Fruit must be part of every meal. Yeah, I like the last option better.

Help is just a click away

I get it. You agree that breast cancer research is an important cause, and you want to help. You want to donate money, but money is tight. There are so many important causes, and it's hard to choose. Believe me, I get it. That's why I'm willing to jump through hoops for sponsors who are willing to donate money to the cause. Fortunately, many sponsors don't require an arm and a leg-- just eyeballs. Many companies will make a donation to a good cause -- in this case, breast cancer research -- in exchange for a Facebook "like", a tweet, or a click on a link.

Making a teacher's day better

One of the nicest things about being a blogger is getting the opportunity to participate in some really great programs and attend some really cool events. I'm not talking about product launches or blogger parties (although those are really cool too!), I'm talking about getting to make a difference in the community and in people's lives.

A Day Made Better with OfficeMax

I've wanted to participate in OfficeMax's A Day Made Better program ever since I heard about it, 3 years ago. Surprising a deserving teacher with $1000 in school supplies so she focuses less on equipping her classroom and more on teaching her kids -- who wouldn't want to be a part of that? With more and more funding being cut from classrooms, with teachers actually having to spend their own money to purchase supplies for their kids (an average of $1000 annually!), A Day Made Better is really making a difference.

Today was OfficeMax's fifth annual A Day Made Better, and they surprised 1,000 teachers across the nation with $1000 in school supplies. This year I had the pleasure of joining a team of OfficeMax associates at a local school, where we awarded Liz, a third-grade teacher, with $1000 in school supplies.

Join the Army of Women

For those of you suffering from Pink Fatigue, here's a meaningful way to help in the fight against breast cancer without having to buy pink spatulas or pink boxer shorts or pink rubber duckies: join the Army of Women. As an Army of Women member, you're joining a database of women volunteering to take part in breast cancer research studies. You'll receive emails announcing new research studies; if you qualify for any, you can volunteer to take part in the study.

Too much pink?

October's colors are traditionally red, yellow, gold and brown, the warm tones of fall. But pink?

There are many people who dislike the wave of pink that engulfs the world in October. The pink ribbon is everywhere, from cat litter to bagels to g-strings. Many people feel that all these Pink Products for sale are an overcommercialization of a serious issue and a desperate attempt for companies to get on the cause marketing bandwagon.

Seven Days of Dinner, Oct. 2-8


We've got eggs on the menu two times this week. No, make that three: Filipinos traditionally eat arroz a la cubana with a fried egg on top. We love eggs -- scrambled, fried, boiled, poached, baked, whatever. Without eggs, I doubt if I could maintain our resolution to limit meat-based meals to three days a week. In fact, eggs and cheese are really the only things that stop us from adopting a vegan-based diet. Here's to the incredible, edible egg!

Avoiding Tooth Decay this Halloween season

Now that October is here, I just know my kids are going to be eating candy. Yes, I know that as the parent, I'm get the final say ... and for this month, at least, I'm going to let them. Halloween comes once a year, and candy is part of the fun. Now that their school has instituted a no-treats policy, their Halloween parties won't be filled with cupcakes and other sugary treats, and we won't be going to so many Halloween parties or pre-Halloween trick-or-treat fests, so they won't be gorging on candy the whole month long.

31 Days of Pink

One year ago I walked 60 miles in 3 days for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. It was an amazing journey, physically exhausting but mentally exhiliarating. I met some amazing, dedicated people and heard some amazing stories. It was an experience I will always cherish, and hope to repeat someday in the future.

This year I did not sign up to do the walk, but my commitment to raise awareness for breast cancer remains as strong as ever. No, stronger. About 4 months ago my doctor found two lumps on my breasts, I found myself wondering whether I'd be joining my dozens of female relatives who had fought breast cancer. To make a long story short, I don't have breast cancer, but that experience has made this cause even more personal for me than it already way. I will never forget those feelings of disbelief, fear and relief, and I'm hoping that one day no woman will ever have to feel the way I did.

Forty before Forty Item #30: Back in the land of the smartphone

Late last year I lost my smartphone. It literally disappeared from the face of the earth. We looked everywhere, but couldn't find it anywhere. The best theory we could come up with is that I threw it into the recycling bin one day when I was cleaning out the van. It was dark, my hands were full, I must have been holding the phone in one hand., and I guess I let go of everything in one fell swoop, and didn't realize that the phone had gone along with all the papers and pieces of cardboard and plastic. It's probably rotting in the local landfill right now, and will probably stay there for the next 99 years.

Join the Lunch Wars

Yesterday I blogged about what school lunches used to look like when I went to school, and compared them to the school lunches being served in my kids' elementary school today. As far as I can tell, these school lunches aren't making the grade, in my kids' school and in schools across the country. Fortunately, parents and people in many communities are banding together to do something about it. We've all heard of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, the tv series chronicling Naked Chef Jamie Oliver's efforts to introduce healthier food into the school lunch system. Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard program have made the Berkeley school district a model for healthy school lunches nationwide. There's even a documentary called Two Angry Moms, chronicling two mothers' year-long crusade to improve school lunches in Texas.

School lunches of my childhood

Whenever I read books or watch tv shows or movies where schoolkids insult the cafeteria food, I can never relate. When I was a schoolgirl, the cafeteria food was always wonderful. It was always cooked on-site, from scratch, and piping hot, featuring basic but delicious Filipino or American favorites. Here are some dishes I remember from my schooldays:

Seven Days of Dinner, Sept. 25-Oct. 1

This is actually Brie, not Camembert.

When I get started with an idea, I really like to flesh it out. Take this Seven Days of Dinner thing, for instance. I'm happy with it. It's working for me. It's working so well, I've already listed down about 3 weeks' worth of dishes that I want to try. But in typical Type-A personality style, I've decided to set some criteria for the dishes I pick:

Boo to Republican audience for booing gay soldier Stephen Hill

I knew there was a Republican debate last night, and deliberately did not tune in to watch it. I dislike presidential debates in general; the candidates seem to treat it as a campaign platform, never answering the questions, always sidestepping and going off on some other tangent, either to highlight their own successes or insult their opponents. Also, the previous Republican debate really disturbed me. It wasn't so much the candidates that bothered me so much as the audience. I didn't like the way they cheered like a bloodthirsty mob when Rick Perry spoke out in favor of the death penalty, nor the way they booed Ron Paul when he said that the US's high-handed foreign policy leads to unrest in the Middle East and was party responsible for the actions that the terrorists took on 9/11 (they like to think that the US was attacked "because they envy our freedom").

Seven Days of Dinner

Here's some of the bounty from our local farmer's market that I plan to use to cook our dinners this week. Needless to say, the flowers are for decoration only.

Several years ago, drawing inspiration from two of my favorite foodie blogs, CityMama and This Week for Dinner, I did a month-long, weekly series of posts about what I was planning to cook for the week. I stopped writing the meal-planning posts, but I haven't stopped cooking. In fact, I've been cooking more than ever.

This year, I've made three food-related goals that I want to accomplish this year: to eat less processed foods, to get my kids to like Indian food, and to get my kids to like eggplant. Since all three goals involve a lot more cooking, and since I have less time than ever to cook (thanks to the kids' late afternoon schedules), I've had to spend more time planning our meals in advance. Last week I planned dinner for all 7 days:

Cream of Almond and Wild Mushroom Soup

I love Cream of Mushroom soup. It's my childhood comfort food. Forget macaroni and cheese or chicken pot pie -- to this day, nothing brings back memories of childhood like cream of mushroom soup, rice and Spam (hey, I grew up in the Philippines).

Mommy Brain goes Back to School

One of the easiest ways to tell whether I'm feeling stressed and overworked is my level of absentmindedness. It has caused me to do a lot of stupid brainless funny things in the past. But it has been a good summer. I've been very relaxed. I haven't had any incidents since the time I thought aliens had vaporized my father-in-law from the back of my van. It has been nine months since I threw my smartphone into the trash, and since I thought I had finally left those absentminded days behind, it might actually be safe to buy a new phone.

No-Sew Halter Top

I've wanted to make my own halter-top tshirt ever since I saw Leila from Don't Speak Whinese rock her awesome handmade outfit at last month's Clever Girls' Party. But alas, it involves a teensy bit of machine sewing, and even though I have a perfectly good Singer sewing machine in the garage, the thought of winding bobbins and threading needles in order to make something I'm going to wear in public is so unappealing, it makes me want to do laundry.

Forty before Forty Item #13: Bonggamom bares it all (well, almost)

We've just come home from an amazing Labor Day weekend trip to Reno and Tahoe. For four glorious days, we basked in the sun and had a great time. We swam in the gorgeous, Tuscan-inspired pools of the Peppermill Resort in Reno as well as the pool and hot tub at the Hampton Inn in Truckee. We rafted down the Truckee river. We splashed on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and paddled a kayak in the lake.

And I finally wore a bikini. On the last official weekend of summer!

Candy Cigarettes -- Playing with Fire

Do you remember those bubble gum cigarettes that you chewed as a kid? No, I'm not talking about the sticks of gum that came in a pack made to look like a pack of cigarettes. I'm talking about the bubble gum that actually looked like a cigarette. It was shaped into a slim, cylindrical tube and wrapped in white paper with a slim tan band at one end. I remember how much my siblings and I loved those bubble gum cigarettes. Getting a pack in a party goody bag or being given one by an aunt or grandparent was an extremely rare treat, to be savored and enjoyed.

Back to School, Back to Soccer

Woo-hoo, soccer season is starting up again! 3Po and Jammy have spiffy new soccer cleats and a couple of weeks of soccer camp under their belt, and they're ready for their first team practice on Wednesday. I know many parents are groaning at the thought of all the carpool schedules and snack rotations ahead of them, but I couldn't be happier.

Are you Happy with the New Happy Meal?

By now, everyone knows that McDonald's will be changing their Happy Meals to make them healthier for kids. Starting in just a few days, here's what a Happy Meal is going to look like:

I know what we did this summer

Tomorrow the kids will start school, and as soon class starts they'll be asked, as they always are, the question:

What did you do over the summer?

The beginning of a new school year, the end of an era

Most years I look forward to the new school year with a sense of relief (at last, I'm getting the kids out of my hair!) and anticipation (I get to unleash my inner shopaholic and buy all the school supplies the kids need), but this year I have mixed feelings about sending the kids off to school. This year will be the last year that all three will be in the same school together. This year, The Pea starts fifth grade and the boys start second grade. Next year The Pea will start sixth grade at a new middle school. By the time 3Po and Jammy are in sixth grade, The Pea will be in ninth grade, at a totally different high school.

A Recipe for One Perfect Day

Whether you're a city dweller who's starved for something green, or you've been eating too many couch potatoes lately or you're just tired of asphalt and concrete, have I got some soul food for you. Here's a recipe that's chock-full of 2 healthy ingredients, fresh air and nature. Try it and enjoy!

View of the GG Bridge from Fort Point