Tuesday, December 28, 2010


STOP!  Think twice before you throw away that gift box styrofoam!  To your child's vast imagination, it's essentially ...another toy!!!

In fact, in my house, styrofoam, shrink wrap, bubble wrap, and cardboard casings are considered goldmines.  More often than not, my boys focus on these protective shells more than the actual toy they came with.

Just look at how Kenji made three awesome new toys out of these simple, almost discardable styro sleeves.

With a little paint and inspiration, the styros have become the secret headquarters for his Lego guys.

One easy flip of the two pieces exposes the hub's swanky interiors.

Another flip (and more paint and inventiveness) gives Teddy and Rodney a ride on the Styro Express.

More flipping (and more paint-and-brain-squeezeing) takes Super Mario and the gang to the Foam Theater for a blockbuster movie night.

All that, and all Kenji needed were these 2 styrofoam casings that almost met the trashcan.
*Mother's face, meet mother's palm

Kids are born resourceful recyclers --and us parents have absolutely no right to curb their bold display of creativity.  Do as I do --hoard, amass, stockpile.  Then, wait and watch.  You'd be surprised.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Surviving the Sick Season

Sadly, the holiday season also spells a season of coughs, colds, flu, and some darn complications that come along for the ride.  Usually, this is a short battle you can win hands down at home.  But for an unlucky few, this can lead to a stressful trip to the ER.  Ok, scratch that.  When I say FEW, this can also mean half the neighborhood.  So you best come prepared.

ER trips are never planned... obviously.  But, as a parent, you must have that gift of forward-thinking (or in my case, paranoia) to be able to gear up physically and mentally on such short notice.

1.  As soon as you've breezed through the forms and have undergone a quick interview with the doctor,  shift your focus back to your child.  He could be scared as hell!  Make him feel a little comfortable about the place by bringing some interesting hospital stuff to his attention.  "Let's count ambulances!" or "Wait for the supply canister to zoom out of the chute." have helped me a lot.

2.  Quickly after that, tests will have to be made.  And this would naturally produce a bit of pain on your child's part.  Be prepared with water, tissues, baby wipes, a soft towel, and comfort food for an emotional outburst that could very well ensue.
Don't forget to bring a plastic barf bag, too.  Anything can happen in a nerve-racking situation.

3.  Waiting for the results is the killer part of the deal.  Specially when the hospital is packed for the holidays.  A great help is to bring some quiet toys to keep your child preoccupied.  If his distraction is a video game, keep the sound on mute.  It's a hospital after all.

4.  Be considerate.  Chances are, other patients in the ER have it worse than your child.  So if you're just waiting for results and your child can walk, move to a waiting area that's far from the panic area.  I was lucky to find secluded seats where we even got to watch a movie. 

5.  When the results are finally in --whether good or bad-- reward your child. 

ER trips --no matter what the reason, no matter what the season-- will always be filled with dread.  But with a dash of level-headedness and a smidgen of grace under pressure, you can still make it somewhat less of a traumatic experience for your child.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Vroom Vroom Balloon!

This toy was made for Miro!
But since he's been out of creative commission due to a temporary setback in health, Kenji and Jing took over.  Okay, mostly Jing took over.

Up on the toy review log, it's the Balloon Powered Cosmic Jet Robot!
Another stroke of genius from Kidz Labs --our favorite fun science experiments provider for many years now.

Like all Kidz Labs science kits, this bad boy came with the oddest ingredients for mass destruction:  plastic gears, cardboard cut-outs, party balloons, and --uh-huh-- bendy straws!

The construction is the funnest part of the activity.  Jing took it seriously though. :P  Kenji was there to 'correct' Jing every step of the way.

Folded, taped, and ballooned, we were ready to see some action.

Here's the test run (which Jing enjoyed but wouldn't admit at gunpoint, lol!).  The balloon propulsion worked fine! 

A little more adjustment here and there, and... PRESTO! ... We got robot!

Designed for 2, the kit comes with 2 robot construction pieces and a race track obstacle course.

To get the race started, my boys will have to blow through their respective robots' butts to get their balloons powered for death-defying speed.  (What!  I did tell you it was odd, right?)

Or... in Kenji's case, it's playing solo with a robot duel to the death until his big brother can play with him again. :(

If you've got a pair of kids who loves races, balloons, and bendy straws in the name of science, then the Balloon-powered Cosmic Jet Robot is just what the doctor ordered.

This Christmas...

You don't usually spend Christmas Eve in the ER or at home panicking to get your child's temperature to go down.  But we did.  What can I say --we're rebels.

Both boys were sick so Jing and I had to divide our responsibilities.  Although I was the one who saw Miro gripped with massive chills and a temperature that almost catapulted the mercury out of its thermometer casing (with his eyes rolling to the back of his head, for good measure), it was Jing who had to rush him to the ER.  I had to stay home because Kenji's rollercoaster temp went up again as soon as he saw his big brother being half-carried/half-dragged out of the house.  Can you even begin to imagine how cruel that Christmas Eve was?! 

Half an hour before midnight, Jing and Miro came home. 

We didn't have Noche Buena because I didn't get to cook anything.  While everyone partied around us, we spent the whole night monitoring our children's health vitals as they slept uncomfortably.  Sleep,  for us parents, never happened --like it hasn't happened all week.

Early Christmas morning, the boys --both still feverish-- did get to open a handful of Christmas presents from their godparents.  In the middle of it all, I felt bad that we couldn't have bought more presents before all this sickness happened!  I felt bad that I allowed my children to have the suckiest Christmas ever!

But then, my boys' faces beamed with happiness as they unwrapped those 5 gifts.  Those smiles were their first smiles in days! Those smiles simply washed away all the stress and kept the insanity that has been itching to consume us both at bay.

It may have been short lived and we may not be out of the woods yet.  But Jing and I agreed --those smiles were the best presents us parents got this Christmas.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Goodness Graham!

Behold the Graham Cake!
It goes by monikers like Refrigerator Cake and Upside Down Cake --which are all too generic-sounding.  I would rather call it by its prime ingredient:  graham.  And Graham sounds like the name of a nice grandpa who owns a cozy house with a fireplace, so I like it.
This is part of my Dump and Dive Dish Recipes and a mainstay at our Noche Buena Feast.  It's so easy to make. Literally, you just dump everything in and then dive into the munching.

The items you dump:

1 medium-sized pack of Graham Crackers

1 medium-sized can of fruit cocktail, or if you're a minimalist, solo fruits like mangoes or peaches will do

2 packs of Premium Cream (All-Purpose can work but I find the Premium kind to hold better)

1 to 2 cans of condensed milk (depends on how much of a sweet tooth you are)

1/4 shredded or itsy-bitsy cubed cheese

2 tablespoons of choco or mocha powder (optional)

Dumping time:

1.  First off, you beat those Graham Crackers to powdery submission.

2.  Drain the fruit cocktail of its juice and let it stand for 5-10 minutes.

3.  In a bowl, mix the cream and milk together.  And then fold the cheese along with the mixture.  Stir until the ingredients form one pasty concoction.

4.  Get a 2-inch high plastic dish with a lid.  Set it on a level surface.  Here is where all the dumping action happens.

5.  Now, its time for layering --the key to the whole Graham Cake creation.  You can do it in any order you want, but I want to start the first layer with the cream mixture.  It's like the glue that holds everything together.  Pour about a centimeter or 2 of this in the plastic dish.  Make sure the whole bottom of the container is covered.

6.  Follow this up with the same amount of Graham powder, then the fruit cocktail.  Repeat the process --cream, Graham, fruit cocktail.  Just make sure that for every layer, you have good coverage.  You don't want a piece of cherry peeping out from under your layer of Graham.

7.  Top it off with a final layer of cream and fruit slices and maybe a sprinkling of choco or mocha powder.

8.  Cover the container and refrigerate.  Better yet, stick it in the freezer.  And make sure the container still sits on a level surface while in deep freeze.

You can start diving your choppers into this delectable sweetie as soon as the mixture hardens to cake consistency.  I usually start serving after 10 hours of freeze time.  So if you're planning to serve this as an after Christmas dinner dessert, you better get a move on.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have Yourself A Merry Money Management

Here's a holiday idea!
Why not this year, give your child the gift ...of maturity.

Too steep?  Let me explain.
Every Christmas, your child gets tons of boxes to unwrap.  So the Christmas element of excitement and surprise is well covered.  They get cash gifts, too.  This handles the Christmas prosperity angle.  And these bills automatically make a beeline for your kid's bank account or little piggy bank.

Why not add a little lesson to the mix?  Money Management!  This Christmas, give him money and take him toy shopping.  Make him decide what he wants to buy within that particular price range.  Make him realize that with that amount, he can either buy one huge thing or a lot of little things.  Make him know that it's all in his hands.

This will make him feel all 'big boy' (or big girl).  A child loves the feeling of being trusted, specially with a very huge, usually impossible financial responsibility.

This will also make him feel independent.  As much as you can, try not to question his toy choices.  It's his money now and his shopping time.  So if he wants to buy a singing lampshade, as long as it's within budget, so be it.

This will make him learn to choose wisely between the qualities of one toy and another.  Practicality is one trait that's nice to have your child grow up on.  Before you know it, you'll have a tiny smart shopper in your hands.

This will make him realize the importance of money.  If he used to think that you can buy just about anything for him with your presumed deep well of cash, this little exercise will open his eyes to reality.  If you're lucky, this will automatically tame his inner brat.

And on an educational note, this will teach him math.  Nothing sharpens your mathematical skills quite like counting money. 

Try it!  We've been doing this for 2 years now and my boys look forward to this coming-of-age Christmas activity.  Pride and joy... check.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Moms Don't Get Sick

It all started on the day you became a mother.  Your body still aching from post-labor and fresh stitches,  you insist on being the one who gets up from bed to carry your newborn baby whenever he cries in the dead of the night.  Pain has nothing on the joys of motherhood.

And from then on --for the sake of your child-- you've decided sickness would never overcome you.

The whole household's got the flu bug (including you), but you'll still be the one staying up late, running around to monitor your kids' conditions, taking vitals as methodically as Florence Nightingale. and doing sponge baths and med administrations in between.  You forget that you're sick, too.  And the bug --bored of your indifference-- leaves you.

You're somehow immune to muscle pains, sprains, toothaches, and tiny cuts.  If the kids need to be prepared for school, you dive on that mother!  The pain will hit you for a while but you cast it aside like an old dish rag.  Things have to be done and you will have none of this sicky-sicky feeling nonsense.

Likewise, insomnia to you is a wuss.  If you have work to do but you need to give your kids full attention in the day ...then you hit that laptop when they've gone to bed.  Right about the time when you should be sleeping.  Headache schmedache!

Before you finally have the time to digest any of these (supposedly) crippling states you've willingly subjected yourself into, the shunned culprit of agony would have long gone.  In my opinion, illnesses don't stay long in a person who refuses to acknowledge its presence.  Mind over matter.

Or should I say Mom over matter.

*written by a mother who's running a fever herself, waiting for her kids' 3AM Paracetamol schedule

It's... ALIIIVE!!!!

Am I the only one who's slightly creeped out by Hasbro's brilliant Christmas gift idea: the Baby Alive Doll series?

I'm not one to slink away from disturbing play things.  I do have the Jane-in-the-Box bride of Chuckie doll after all.  But Baby Alive is different.  It's the kind that comes off as something innocent ... and then, when you least expect it... it shocks you to pants-peeing heights!  It's kinda like Damien of The Omen.  Evil lurking beneath those angelic eyes.

Overdrama aside, Hasbro says that the Baby Alive dolls are meant to teach young girls how to be responsible and caring with absolute realism.  True.  I get that.  Nothing teaches quite like an actual experience.  But if I'm ever left alone in a room with these dollies, I swear, I will get a heart attack!

Baby Alive Baby All Gone is deemed the crowd favorite.  She comes with baby food which your child will have to mix with water and then feed the 'baby' with.  And a sippy cup which your child will really have to fill with water and have the 'baby' drink from.  Now don't forget to keep the 'baby' in a diaper --because she WILL pee and poo after.  Really!  And you don't want the mess, do you?

Baby Alive Better Now Baby is the perfect Let's Play Doctor companion.  Because the 'baby' really gets sick.  Your child will have to take her temperature, and listen to her heart with a stethoscope.  Uh-huh, the doll really HAS a heartbeat --EGAD!  Now, your child can give the 'baby' her medicine.  Don't forget the diaper though.  This doll pushes out everything she takes in.

Baby Alive Bouncing Babbles is by far the freakiest of the bunch.  This 'baby' will bounce on her legs while your child holds her hands.  And, with the technological ingenuity of actual mouth movement, she will --and by God, she will-- move her lips as she coos and calls your child 'Mama'.  THIS is the true-to-life Chuckie doll!  All it needs is a knife and it will bounce all the way to your bedside!

Baby Alive is a novel idea in doll love.  Seriously.  And I'm not holding back my two-thumbs up because of that work of genius.  I'm pretty sure daughters everywhere will want one Baby Alive this Christmas and Hasbro will make a killing in sales.
But if it were up to me, I would've taken this doll on an elaborate 2-and-half-month launch --crossing Halloween and Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

On Top With Origami

Oh joy, oh joy!  Time to wrap those Christmas presents in those garish Christmas wrappers and top them off with those hideous, sparkly ribbons!

Aww, maaaan... do I have to?
Not really.  I just found a fun and totally unique way to spruce up those boxes of delight.  Are your fingers ready?

This is what we're gunning for:  Origami Gift Toppers!

I spent the whole night basking in the tutelage of YouTube's How-To videos hellbent on learning the ancient art of paper-folding.  There were quite a lot.  But I went for the simpler ones.  I practiced with the Blossom Brooch, the Tulip Topper, and the Rose-in-Bloom Gift Bow.

Of the three, I chose the study that won my lack of patience and lack of mad folding skills --the Rose-in-Bloom Gift Bow.

Being a non-purist (and a certified cheapskate), I used colored paper cut into squares instead of authentic origami paper. 

It was all easy construction from there.  Just like folding an envelope.

And then like folding a paper napkin.

And then like folding a paper napkin with... uh... ears.

When I got the hang of it, I didn't even realize I've created an entire over-the-top puh-reeeeety flower farm!

For this kind of topper, I went for pristine white boxes to house my gifts.  Just to push the zen feel a little more.  This minimalistic look will definitely stand out in the mound of busy, insanely colorful Christmas gift boxes from here to Timbuktu.  I think the adage 'Less is More' comes to mind.

Another thing I like about the Origami Rose-In-Bloom Gift Bow is that a 'gift tag' is readily revealed underneath its folds when unraveled to create the bloom.  So there's absolutely no need for those gift tags that have the usual snowman and Santa ensemble.  Well, whaddaya know ...beautiful and practical! 

It may not be your usual Christmas gift-wrapping routine.  But what's life without risks, eh? 
This Christmas and beyond, dip your fingers into Origami Gift Toppers.  Live on the papercut-ing edge.  Hah!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Alphabet Band Bargain

I absolutely love educational, fashionable, affordable gifts!  Even better if we're talking about all those in one single item.

And here it is --the Alphabet Band!

Available in almost all bookstores and toy shops,  it's a simple package of three rubber wristbands and a bunch of plastic letters with skinny slots on each side.

There are also some random slotted blocks thrown in with engravings of hearts, flowers, lightning, spiders, etc.

Why is something as 'lame' as this exciting me so?  It teaches little kids to spell.  It hones their fine motor skills as they carefully push each letter through the band.  It plays long as long as words never run out.  It's a fine and funky accessory for either boy or girl when the work is done.  And it's so easy on the pocket, you can buy in bulk and spread Christmas gifts to children like wildfire.

Sure, it's not Nerf.  But if you're a smart bargain hunter, the Alphabet Band works on so many levels.

Ah, I see the learning has already begun.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Customizing Christmas

My first tips-for-Christmas post!  Yay!
Motivated by the fact that, again, 'tis the season to think of neat Christmas gifts for your children's teachers.  To spread good tidings as well as thank yous to these wonderful educators for having the skill and patience to handle my boys for years.  Lol!

Now I know how easy it is to bake Christmas cookies for them, or get them some festive-looking school supply, or lovely, colorful doodads off a supermarket shelf.  But you know me, I'm not a big fan of easy. 

So for 3 years running, I've been customizing my boys' holiday tokens for their gurus.  It's fun, creative, and downright personal.  Oh and did I mention cheap? :)

A few Christmases back, I had statement caps made specifying the class each teacher heads.  You can do it embroidered (expensive) or silk screened (cheap) --guess which option I went for?  It's the message that gives this almost-ordinary gift the oomph!

Last year, I went for a more personal approach and did school logos on key chains and teacher initials on bag tags.  These are ridiculously affordable.  It's just photo printing inserted in acrylic slots.  But the design and usefulness of the gift will take it far.

Another idea is to look into the school's mission statement and tweak it in such a way that it gives a double meaning for the school and the teacher.  If the school's slogan is 'Letting your child reach his full potential', then it's a great idea to have acrylic tumblers dressed with the line '100% enREACHed'.  Hmm... interesting, eh?

Aha!  I can see the words 'Kiss up!' floating in your thought bubbles.  Yeah, maybe so.  But that's what customizing is all about --giving a regular thing a deeper, heartfelt meaning.
And believe me when I say that long after the fruit cakes have all gone ...these gifts will live on and still remind the teachers of your darling kids.

 *pats self on the back and makes the 'rock on!' hand signal*

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Christmas Wish This Year: A Nokia C7!!!

When you're a stay-at-home mom who's also a soccer mom, an ultra-faithful school volunteer, a DIY warrior, a party planning fanatic, a research geek, a trigger-happy photographer, a rabid blogger, a freelance workaholic writer, a part time creative consultant, a Facebook addict, a Twitter twit, an oversharer, and a 'Cellphone!  Where's my cellphone??!!' dependent ... you'd want gadgets that are just as good at multitasking as you.

This is how my heart instantly fell for the new Nokia C7.

Sweet mother, it's a match made in heaven!  With its Social Networking Integrated feature, I can easily get and give live updates on Facebook and Twitter, post pics, and calendar events all at the same time.  I can go around scoping for places I can write about and take high-quality pictures while I'm at it.  I can simultaneously do research for my clients while my kids and I listen to their favorite tunes (which they would most likely upload on the phone).

Can you believe all this multitasking mastery!  It's EXACTLY like me --albeit in a slimmer and sleeker package.  Uh...eherm.

Seriously, it would be an un-Santa thing to keep us apart.  This Christmas, I'm keeping my fingers and all appendages crossed that the Nokia C7 would knock on my door come Christmas morning.  We're peas in a pod, lovers on the moon, we're meant to be.

Santa won't let such perfect compatibility crumble...would he?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How to get the stage fright out of... mommy

When your kids go up on stage for school shows, piano recitals, for any big crowd performances --don't you ever feel that grip of terror as soon as the theater curtains open?

Well, I'm a living testament to this.  I'm a bundle of nerves.  What if Miro makes a wrong step in his group dance and everyone laughs at him?  What if during the bow, Kenji accidentally rips his costume, or worse, falls off the platform?! 

It's a given.  Moms are natural empaths when it comes to their children.  This is great.  This is support.  But, without you knowing it, you can make things worse by showing how terrified you are for your child.

Good thing I've devised a simple list of rules to abide by whenever school shows are in season.

Rule 1:  Never rehearse the kids before the big show.   Chances are, they're scared enough as it is.  If you try and get them to 'do better' by practicing, they'll think it's some kind of chore they need to perfect.  It's a kids' show, for chrissakes!  Not the Grammys.

Rule 2:  Never make a big deal about the performance.  "Oh my God!  Today's the big show!  Where are your costumes?!! Do you remember the words to your song?  How's your dancing feet?  Imagine the audience naked!"  Going into this rambling state will prove to be contagious.  Don't be a germ.

Rule 3:  When stress during rehearsals mounts and your child decides to back out, don't immediately agree.  Pre-performance jitters are normal.  But pulling him out every time he gets them won't be helping him any in the future.  Talk to his teacher, see what's up, and then tell him that he should at least try because you believe he'll do a damn good job.

Rule 4:  Make your presence felt when he's onstage.  My boys always make me promise that they should see me in the audience.  And I keep that promise.  So I come to the theater early to score a good front seat.  When the lights dim and my boys come on and start to survey the area -- I wave.  No, I make some obnoxiously huge arm signals so they're sure to see me.  You have no idea how big a pressure is lifted off their shoulders as soon as they see their parents in that throng of people.  Your presence --it's an instant self-assurance boost. 

Rule 4, subsection a:  Be obnoxious for ONLY a split second.  The objective is just to make sure your kid sees where you are.  If you keep on waving, hooting, and cheering for your kid right in the middle of the performance, that's just annoying.

Rule 5:  Be a bubbling fountain of positive reinforcement!  SMILE!  When my boys make a mistake on stage, the first thing they do is look in my direction.  Like they want to jump off and run to me.  What I do is smile my biggest, do a silent clap of utmost glee, and pretend I didn't see the mistake at all.  Remember that your kids are performing for YOU.  They'll want your approval every step of the way.  If you gasp or show equal worry to their fumble, they'll feel they've let you down. 

Stage fright happens --even to moms. But just as your child feeds on your fear, he feeds on your confidence, too.  It's your choice where you want to take it.

So far, I've mastered everything on my list.  Except for the 'being obnoxious' part.  Sometimes I glitch. :P