An American Girl Christmas Greeting

American Girl Holiday Card 2013

It has become something of a tradition for me to post an American Girl holiday photo on Christmas Day.  If you're not into AG dolls, it might seem like a weird tradition, but as you know, I'm all about the non-traditional traditions.  This year, I enjoyed creating the photo so much that I ended up with two versions.  Feel free to send either of these cards to the American Girl doll lover in your life!

Merry Christmas to one and all, including (and especially) all you American Girls!

American Girl Holiday Card 2013

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How to Cure Affluenza

Family Giving Tree

There's no denying the difficulties of raising a child in a privileged environment without giving him a, well, sense of privilege. Money can buy many things, including knowledge and confidence and a sense that everything will work out for you, because it almost always does.

How to decorate an American Girl Holiday room

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You know you're an American Girl fan when your family Christmas tree isn't up yet, it's mid-December, and yet you still prefer to spend hours decorating your American Girl Christmas tree!  And you know you're a Superfan when you do it all without the help of your daughter.  Guess which kind I am....

The good thing is, I can always justify the effort I spend by saying that an American Girl holiday scene is actually a great way to decorate a corner shelf, side table or end table.  Hey, people like to set up entire holiday villages, why not a room?  Here's how I put together this year's American Girl holiday scene:

Lessons I learned after decorating cookies for a bake sale

royal icing sugar cookies

My rolling pin has been working overtime lately; we always seem to do a lot of cookie decorating over the holidays, what with all the holiday parties and classmate presents (and of course, cookies for Santa).  Today The Pea's school band had a winter concert with a bake sale table, so of course I volunteered to bake cookies.  I already had a couple of batches of cookie dough in the freezer, and I was itching to try a new cookie icing technique that I had discovered on the web.  I found cookie cutters shaped like a guitar, treble clef and eighth note, and got to work.

royal icing sugar cookies

After five hours of painstaking labor, spread out over two days, I had four dozen beautifully decorated sugar cookies -- and more than a few lessons learned about making cookies for a bake sale.  Here's what I learned:

Royal icing keeps for up to a month!  To keep it from drying out, cover your icing bowl with a damp kitchen towel and put a plate on top of it.  If you have icing left over in piping bags, stick them in a ziploc plastic bag.

Toothpicks are your friend.  They are perfect for transferring gel food coloring to icing and for unclogging icing tips, so keeps lots of them handy.

Air bubbles are your enemy.  If you're piping icing from a bag, make sure you've pushed out all excess air before you start to pipe.

Save a few cookies for your kids -- they'll be so busy decorating their own cookies to "help" you decorate yours (unless you want fanged demon snowmen).

Practice truly does make perfect.  Warm up by piping your design on parchment paper, and expect to get better as you go along (you'll probably perfect your technique just as you're decorating your very last cookie).

Kids love it when you (or they) make mistakes, because they get to eat the rejects.

Leave your cookies to dry overnight before packing them into plastic bags.

Don't plan on factoring labor costs when pricing your cookies.  Even at $20 per hour, I'd have to charge $2 per cookie to break even!  When you factor in production costs -- especially pricey ingredients like butter, powdered sugar, meringue powder and gel food coloring -- you realize you're much better off buying cookies at the supermarket.

And finally...

Be prepared to have your kids ask you to buy your cookies at the bake sale -- even though you've already kept a few extra cookies at home.
royal icing sugar cookies

royal icing sugar cookies

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Cooking for picky eaters with Campbell's

Campbell's broccoli cheese casserole
I am blessed to have kids with adventurous palates, but occasionally one of them will revert to a toddler-like pickiness that can be really frustrating.  For example, broccoli was Jammy's favorite vegetable for the longest time.  Then he decided he was broccoli's worst enemy.  Nowadays, he'll tolerate it as long as it's smothered in soy sauce or cheese.  That's okay.  I'm happy to help him and my other kids out by preparing foods they don't like in ways that they do like.  For example, my kids love creamy casseroles (anything that reminds them of macaroni and cheese!), so why not serve a broccoli with cheese sauce baked into a casserole?

To guarantee clean plates after dinner, I've taken inspiration from the classic Campbell's Green Bean Casserole, which my kids love.  Instead of green beans, I use frozen broccoli.  Instead of Campbell's Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup, I use Campbell's Condensed Broccoli Cheese soup.  It gives my broccoli casserole exactly the right flavor and creaminess!

Broccoli Cheese Casserole 

1 can Campbell's Condensed Broccoli Cheese soup
1 package (16 oz.) frozen chooped broccoli
1/2 cup reduced fat (2%) milk
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter
Campbell's broccoli cheese casserole

1) Empty 1 can of Campbell's Broccoli Cheese soup into a medium sized casserole.
2) Pour in 1/2 cup reduced fat milk and whisk together with the soup until well blended.
3) Add a 16-oz. package of frozen chopped broccoli, and stir until the broccoli is well coated in the mixture. 4) Bake the casserole for 30 minutes in a 350-degree (F) oven.
5) After 30 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle 1/4 cup breadcrumbs over the top.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter, then return the casserole to the oven and broil for 5 minutes, or until the top is browned.

Campbell's broccoli cheese casserole
Just a few notes: First, I doubled the recipe because it turned out so delicious, I wanted to have leftovers (it turned out so delicious, we ended up with far fewer leftovers than I thought!).  Since it was a double recipe, I increased the breadcrumbs slightly to 1/3 cup.  Second, if you want to be a bit naughtier, you can mix in a bit of grated parmesan cheese with the breadcrumbs.  It will make the crust cheesier -- but if you decide not to go that route, don't worry.  It's still going to be great.

Campbell's has a similar recipe for a Broccoli Cheese casserole on their website, which adds grated cheese and mustard, as well as other recipes that picky kids love.  They all use Campbell's cooking soups, so what's not to love?  Check out their fun, quick, kid-friendly meal ideas at!

A White Christmas or a Tropical One? How Our Family Blends Cultures During the Holidays

Growing up on opposite sides of the world, Alfie and I have very different ideas of what a traditional holiday celebration looks like. We both celebrate Christmas in the Western tradition. We both grew up with Santa Claus, Christmas trees and stockings. But that's where the similarities end. From the weather (white Christmas versus a tropical one) to the decorations (holiday cards versus Nativity scenes), our holiday traditions are literally worlds apart!

When we first got married, we alternated Christmases between his parents in England, and mine in the Philippines, so we each got to experience the holidays in our partner's culture. Later on, we began spending the holidays in the US, taking the traditions we loved best and adding a few of our own. Here are some of the ways we celebrate the holidays:

Our house is decorated like many other houses in the neighborhood: a Christmas tree in the living room, stocking by the chimney, a wreath on the door, white lights outlining the roof, garish plastic candy canes on the lawn, holiday cards on the mantelpiece. Unlike most houses, holiday cards are a big part of our holiday decor. Giving, receiving, and displaying holiday cards is a big deal in England, and we've continued that tradition in our home. Cards are displayed the traditional English way, hung on walls, doorways and windows with a plain white string. Last year I even made my own ribbon card holder to showcase our most special cards.

Also, unlike most houses, ours also has Filipino parols, or star-shaped lanterns, hanging from our porch. Symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem, these parols consist of a bamboo frame covered with tissue paper, with two hanging tissue paper tassels. I bought the frames in the Philippines, and decorating the parols is a fun holiday tradition the kids look forward to every year.

In England, as in most Western countries, Santa Claus is The Man, and Alfie received a big present from Santa every year. Santa Claus also left presents for me and my siblings, but they weren't the ones we looked forward to. Santa usually limited his presents to a few bars of candy or some other inexpensive stocking stuffer. Actually, we didn't even have Christmas stockings. Or a fireplace.  Hey, it's the tropics!

No, the big present givers in our house were the Three Kings, Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar, the wise men who followed the star to the stable in Bethlehem and gave gifts of gold, frankinsense and myrhh for Baby Jesus. On the night of January 5, we filled our shoes with grass so that the camels would lead the Three Kings to our house and have something to munch on while the Three Kings left presents. We weren't hoping for frankincense or myrhh, but we did get the special toys that we had been wishing for all year. Nowadays, Santa and the Three Kings stop by our house to leave cool presents -- boy, are our kids lucky!

We have fun decorating a gingerbread house with the kids every year. Also, Alfie's parents send the kids a chocolate Advent calendar from England, a special reminder of his childhood.

I don't think we've ever had a roast turkey for Christmas dinner. The kids are more accustomed to feasting on lechon (Filipino roast suckling pig), ensaymada (Filipino brioche), and fresh mangoes! Food items that grace our table from the other side of the world include glazed ham, mince pies and flaming Christmas pudding.  Santa Claus, however, always gets an American treat: cookies and milk.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was just as important as Christmas Day itself. My family always went to midnight mass, then trooped to my Grandmother's house for a midnight feast, or Media Noche, as they call it in the Philippines. Alfie, on the other hand, grew up in a country where the celebrations spill over into Boxing Day, December 26. Whereas Christmas Day is all about family, Boxing Day is all about friends: watching soccer on TV, hitting the after-Christmas shopping sales with girlfriends, drinking at the pub with the mates. We both love our respective pre and post Christmas celebrations, so we do both. The kids certainly love it -- Christmas ends up being a three-day party, with gift opening starting on the 24th and good food lasting till the 26th -- but by the end of it, Alfie and I are wrecked. Happy, but wrecked.

Our holiday celebrations may not look like everyone else's, but we love everything about it.  In fact, our holidays have become just like our family:  a blend of East and West, with some good old-fashioned American traditions thrown into the mix.  Our holidays are unique, special, and totally our own.

Disclosure: This post is part of the Favorite Holiday Traditions series, sponsored by Betty Crocker Cookies.

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Another non-traditional Thanksgiving

Ever since my sister and her sister-in-law moved out of the Bay Area, we've found ourselves without family to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Since Thanksgiving has never been a tradition for either Alfie or me, it hasn't been a huge loss, and we've managed to find fun, non-traditional ways to celebrate the holiday with the kids.  This year, with just the five of us, cooking a huge turkey seemed like too much of an effort, so we headed to Boston Market like we usually do when we celebrate Thanksgiving on our own (like I said, it's not a solemn occasion for us!).  Alas, the Boston Market near us had closed down (I guess we missed the closure because last year we spent Thanksgiving in Reno), so we ended up having lunch at Starbucks (the only restaurant we could find that was open on Thanksgiving that didn't require a reservation or hundreds of dollars).  And since the Starbucks was right beside a movie theater, instead of watching a football game, we watched Catching Fire.

If you're starting to feel a bit sorry for us, don't.  We had a wonderful time.  We even had our extravagant feast --we just had it the night before, on Thanksgiving Eve, at a Filipino restaurant that was hosting a benefit dinner for Typhoon Haiyan victims.  Instead of roast turkey, we had roast suckling pig (lechon).  And stuffed chicken.  And pork. And dozens of other amazing Filipino dishes.  What better way to celebrate family, togetherness, and giving than by feasting on foods from my homeland -- and knowing that the proceeds from the dinner were going to benefit the people of my homeland?

Besides, we ended up having turkey on Thanksgiving after all.  It wasn't quite the turkey that most other families were enjoying -- ours was made of ice cream and cake, and we had it for dessert.

I think we're going to make this non-traditional Thanksgiving a tradition!

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Wild nights: kissing and telling in the age of Facebook and social media

champagne tasting party

As a blogger, my life is pretty much an open book.  But there are times when my sense of discretion overrides my desire to tell a good story.   For instance, let's say that a blogger friend of mine went to a cocktail party thrown by some fellow PTA moms.  Let's suppose that it was a ladies-only cocktail party, with champagne and desserts.  Let's further suppose that there was an additional item on the dessert menu -- man candy, in the form of attractive, well-muscled bodybuilders serving drinks.

Theoretically, the aforementioned blogger would waste no time whipping out her camera and snapping photo after photo of these divinely muscled hunks, right?  And who could blame the aforementioned blogger and her friends for wanting to pose with aforementioned hunks?  With all that champagne coursing through everyone's body, one can imagine that most of the moms would be more than happy to let go of their inhibitions and enjoy a night of slightly naughty, but harmless fun.  Everyone would have a great time, and it would quickly become known as the Best Party Ever.

But what would happen the morning after?  Naturally, my blogger friend would never embarrass her friends by posting any of the photos she took that night.  In fact, she'd probably send all photos to her friends (along with a promise never to let the photos see the light of Facebook) and delete them from her own phone.  No, the issue my blogger friend would have would be what to do with her own photos.  Should she blog about them or post them on Instagram as she does with practically every event in her life?

I can totally relate with this hypothetical situation.  Alfie says that I look at every event in my life as blog fodder, every photo as an opportunity to post to social media, and I suppose there's some truth to that.  But the events I share are usually have to do with Bonggamom the mom, or Bonggamom the wife.  Rarely do I write about Bonggamom the woman -- which is ironic, since "Finding Bonggamom" is about rediscovering my identity as an individual.  But if there's one thing I've learned since starting this blog, it's that being a mom is a part of who I am, and I couldn't let it go even if I wanted to.  And as a mom, I wonder if photos of me with a shirtless hunk on Instagram (if they existed -- we're talking about a friend, remember) might embarrass my kids, make me look like some kind of cougar so desperate to recapture her youth that she just had to tweet and Facebook the moment she got within 2 feet of an amazing male chest.  No matter how amazing that chest was.

I would struggle with my decision, go back and forth with my finger hovering on the Post to Facebook button, long after the champagne giddiness and euphoria had ended.  But in the end, I would probably choose to keep the photos on my hard drive, and decline to share them with the world -- even the most innocent photos where the guy had his shirt on.  Even though I'd love to share my story of how, just for a night, I ditched my boring old PTA mom image, I'd keep the details of this slightly amusing story to myself (and Alfie, of course -- we have no secrets).  It's not the kind of thing my daughter would want floating around the internet when she becomes President of the United States or wins a Nobel Prize.

Fortunately, I don't have to face any such dilemma, because all of it happened to a friend, not to me, and it's all theoretical.  At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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It's Beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Disneyland Resort

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Although Halloween is my favorite time at the Disneyland Resort, the winter holidays do give it quite a run for first place! I love how Disney goes all out with the decor for every holiday; it's' sort of how I would decorate my own house if I had a million-dollar budget and lots of cast members to help me :)  Every area is festooned with holiday decor, but not just any old garland, mind you:  every piece of decor is reflects the themes and the character of the land it decorates.  Here are some of my favorite areas:

American Girl San Francisco: Opening Weekend recap

It was a big weekend for American Girl!  Their 16th store, American Girl San Francisco, held their Grand Opening Ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, with a ribbon cutting, free gifts, crafts, entertainment, and fun perks throughout the mall.  The Pea and I were at the Stanford Shopping Center all weekend to join in the celebrations, and we had a great time!  Here's a recap of events:

How to take good holiday photos without a professional photographer

Last year I had all our holiday cards printed and ready by the end of October.  This year, the time flew by, and ten days ago I hadn't even decided on a holiday card photo.  We like to splurge on gorgeous professional family photos every few years, but we didn't have the budget for it this year.  So I decided to take the photos of the kids myself.

Now, I'm a mediocre photographer at best: even with the best equipment in the world, I could never take photos like the professionals do. I did use a DSLR, but, it's the lowest of the Canon models (an EOS Rebel T3), it's 5 years old, and I used the kit lens that the camera came with (the one that all the photography blogs say to throw away because it sucks so badly).  To make matters worse, after a month of my badgering to pose for photos for our Disneyland visit, road trip, and various other product reviews, the kids had reached the end of their posing patience.  I had mid-quality equipment, low-level talent and little to no time... but somehow I ended up with gorgeous photos!  Here are some tips I came up with to help other DIY photographers achieve the same:

Inside the American Girl Store at Stanford Shopping Center

American Girl San Francisco

The wait is finally over!  American Girl's 16th store -- American Girl San Francisco -- is now open!   I've been so excited since I first discovered the big news in March -- but the truth is, I've been waiting a lot longer than that.  I've been waiting since 2008, when I first fell in love with American Girl.  Over the years, I've visited the stores in other locations -- New York, LA, Chicago -- and always wondered why San Francisco didn't have its own store.  Columbus, Kansas City, Minneapolis... no offense to those cities, but why them and not San Francisco???  Now that the injustice has been corrected, I can rest easy :)

How Typhoon Haiyan affects us

Philippines Typhoon Haiyan Appeal
photo credit: CAFOD on Flickr

In the Philippines, typhoons are a way of life.  Every June, classes started.  Every June, the rains came.  Every June, my classmates and I would start hoping for typhoons.  We were too young to understand the implications.  Rain just meant relief from the scorching summer heat (frankly, I don't know any Filipino who doesn't love hearing the sound of raindrops falling on the roof, and every kid I know loved standing outside and taking a shower in the rain).  Rain meant the chance to skip school.  Midwestern US schoolchildren have their snow days, Manila schoolchildren have Typhoon Signal #2.  Signal #1 was always met with groans because we still had to go to school (and possibly had to face some flooding along the way).  Signal #2 was great, because we got to stay home for the day.  Signal #3 was even better because it meant school would be out for several days.  Like I said, we were just kids.

LA or bust: traveling on I-5 with the kids (and no husband)

Bonggamom and kids test drive the Kia Sorento

Last month's road trip to Disneyland was a trip of many firsts: our first time attending Mickey's Halloween party, our first time in a Kia Sorento, the first time the kids have been to Disneyland without Alfie... and the first time i've driven with the kids to LA without Alfie.  He had tickets to a motorcycle race in Laguna Seca which he didn't want to miss, but when Mickey Mouse invites me to a party, I don't say no.  I'm wasn't about to let 400 miles get between me and the Happiest Place on Earth! So I drove all by myself.

I've driven the Bay Area-LA trip the whole way before, but I did have my mom with me as a backup driver.  Much as the boys would have loved to drive the Kia Sorento, and even though The Pea is big enough to sit in the front seat and act as my navigator, I was essentially alone.  So I planned our road trip like I was planning a military campaign:  thoroughly and obsessively.

Halloween, the day after (2013)

Where did the time go?  Halloween 2013 was the busiest season ever.  Between PTA duties and conferences and parties and playdates and home remodeling and doctor visits and soccer tournaments and dance rehearsals, I could barely catch my breath, let alone blog about it.   So I've combined all my October blog posts into one giant, supersized, mega recap post!   Here's what went on in the Bongga family last month:

How to make a Hogwarts student costume

Hufflepuff Halloween costume

After our visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the boys' subsequent discovery of the Harry Potter series, how could we not dress up as Hogwarts students for Halloween?  To make things even more perfect, we took the Sorting Hat quiz on Pottermore, and we each got sorted into a different house -- 3Po to Slytherin, Jammy to Gryffindor, The Pea and Alfie to Ravenclaw, and yours truly to Hufflepuff.  Houses of Howarts, represent! Assembling your own Hogwarts costume couldn't be easier.  Here's how to do it:

Halloween Costume Watch 2013: Students from The Four Houses of Hogwarts

I'm so excited to be doing a family group costume once again for Halloween 2013! The first and last time I managed to pull it off was in 2007, when we all dressed as pirates.  Then the kids got older and started decided for themselves what costumes they wanted (so inconvenient!).  Fortunately, this year the boys have discovered Harry Potter, and I was only too happy to join them as a Hogwarts student!  

How to make a Toy Story Alien costume

This year, The Pea and her 2 BFFs decided they wanted to be Toy Story Aliens for Halloween.  We found ready-to-wear costumes, but they all looked hideous, so the gals decided they would make their own.

Ideas for No-Carve Halloween Pumpkins

This has been the busiest Halloween season ever!  Usually my decorations are up and ready by October 1 (okay, by the first week of October), but this year we were halfway through the month before I even opened my Halloween box.  We like to carve our jack-o-lanterns at least a week before Halloween night (okay, by the weekend before Halloween night), but this weekend we had so many things going on -- a conference, a party, a school fundraiser, Nutcracker rehearsals, a soccer tournament -- that I barely had time to buy pumpkins, much less decorate them.

Right now it looks like the only time we'll get to carve our Halloween pumpkins is the night before Halloween.... but that doesn't mean we can't transform those pumpkins into fun and cute Halloween decorations!  I decided to turn two of our pumpkins into Mickey Mouse pumpkin and a voodoo man while they're waiting to be carved.

Will you boycott Ender's Game?

I recently finished reading the sci-fi novel Ender's Game, and it was one of those books that I just could not put down.  After reading it, I immediately bought two more books in the series, and went online to find out when the movie would start showing in theatres.  I was sure the movie would be a certified hit; after all, Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, won back-to-back Hugo and Nebula awards, and the series has entered the realm of science fiction/ young adult classics.

So I when I Googled "Ender's Game Movie", I was shocked and disappointed to discover the controversy surrounding the book's author, Orson Scott Card -- there's a big movement to boycott the Ender's Game movie because of his position on LGBT rights.

Well, that was a certainly a surprise. It's quite ironic that an author who writes about life in the future would hold such prehistoric views.  I certainly couldn't tell from the book.  In fact,some of the themes of the book include tolerance for people who are different from you, empathizing with others, finding a way to communicate, and working together.  Discovering Orson Scott Card's hateful anti-LGBT views after reading Ender's Game was like devouring a Death By Chocolate cake... then discovering that the molten chocolate part in the middle had been riddled with maggots.

Nutty HOWLoween Cookies

It's funny how my blog somehow morphs into a craft and food blog when October rolls around!  There's just something about my favorite holiday that inspires me to create.  Today's Halloween treat is so easy, anyone can do it.  I wanted to make something with the mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups I received from Hershey's, and I thought they would make cute owl eyes.  Most of the owl cookies I see on Pinterest are beautifully frosted, cut-out creations that would intimidate anyone .  This owl cookie recipe is perfect for beginning, busy, or lazy bakers who still have a crafty monster inside who wants to come out!  You can use refrigerated cookie dough or make your own.

Kooky Spooky Kit Kat Cookie

I love to bake any time of the year, but there's something about fall's crisp, cool weather that makes me crave warm baked goods.  I received a boxload of Halloween candies from Hershey's that we can't (or shouldn't) eat all on our own, so I've decided to use them in my baking and share them with friends.   First up: special Halloween Kit Kat bars coated with orange colored white chocolate! I took my inspiration from the Kit Kat Cookie recipe from Life with the Crust Cut Off, and created my own Kooky Spooky Kit Kat Cookie.

See you at BlogHer PRO 2013!

I'm speaking at BlogHerPRO '13!

Having missed all the excitement of BlogHer '13, I've resolved to end my 2-year BlogHer conference hiatus and attend BlogHer '14.  But with two international trips already looming on the summer 2014 horizon, I can't say I'm attending BlogHer '14 for sure until I figure out when and where it will be.

I've been so fixated on stalking BlogHer's twitter feed for conference updates that I almost missed the news about a great BlogHer conference being held right here in Silicon Valley: BlogHer PRO 2013.  In many ways, BlogHer PRO is actually a better fit for me because I've been blogging for such a long time now that I'm more interested in conferences that deal with taking blogging to the next step rather than introducing the basics. I also missed out on BlogHer PRO 2012 because we were in the Philippines (my timing sucks!), so I was determined to catch this year's conference, at least.

Well, there's no missing BlogHer PRO 2013 now, because I've been invited to join the keynote panel discussion on the final conference day!  I'll be in the company of some great bloggers, including Beth Blecherman from, Jim Lin from Ketchum PR and Busy Dad Blog, and Sarah Penna from Big Frame.  We'll be talking about something near and dear to my heart: how brands and bloggers can work together.  If you want to join us, (I might need a cheering section, or at least a few people to wave and signal from the audience in case I have spinach stuck between my teeth), check out the BlogHer PRO registration page for all the deets.  Or enter my giveaway for a BlogHer PRO conference pass. Either way, I hope to see you there!

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Throwback Thursday: Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort, 2010

Giant Mickey Pumpkin
It's difficult to believe that the last time we visited the Disneyland Resort during the Halloween season was just 3 years ago.  It seems like a lifetime away!  Then again, for a 10 year-old, 3 years is an eternity, a third of their life.  So classifying these photos under #ThrowbackThursday is entirely appropriate, even though 3 years for us oldies is nothing.

Wordless Wednesday: Guess where we're going?

In front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Haven't quite gotten it?  Okay, I'll give you another clue....
With Snow White's stepmother

Don't know who she is? Okay, last hint. Surely you'll know this character!
Hello Mickey!

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Date Night? What's That?

Last Friday Alfie and I went to San Francisco to watch the San Francisco Opera's performance of Mephistopheles.  It was truly a magical night.  Mephistopheles is Alfie's favorite opera; he has been waiting over 15 years for it to come back to the West Coast, so it was truly a Must-See.  I'm not the world's biggest opera fan (the very first time Alfie invited me to the Opera, I tried to get out of it with the lame excuse of: "I have to do laundry".  Alfie still can't believe we ended up together after that.), but I thought it was brilliant.  The Opera House was beautiful, the production was lavish, the music was stirring.  I enjoyed everything about that night -- and I enjoyed the opportunity to go on a date with my husband most of all.

Disney's new Disability Access Service Card (DASC): yay or nay?

I do not have a child or other family member requiring special needs assistance, but like everyone I was outraged when the story of disabled tour guides for hire came out last May. I was disappointed that there were people who would "pimp" out their disability, and even more disgusted that there were rich people who think themselves so above the rest of the world that they would pay disabled people to help them skip the lines.

From a public relations perspective and from an ethical perspective I'm not surprised that Disney would have to take some kind of action to eliminate, or at least minimize, the abuse.  Last week I heard rumors about a new Disability Access card that would replace the current Guest Assistance card, and this Saturday I received information about the new system straight from Disney.

If you don't want to read through the whole thing, here's my takeaway, in a nutshell:  Previously, guests unable to wait in a queue were given Guest Assistance Cards that allowed them to enter an attraction from the exit side -- thereby eliminating all the queues and all the wait.  The new system requires eligible guests to get a FastPass style card with a return time -- which eliminates the queues, but not the wait.

How to Make a Homemade Harry Potter Wand

Homemade Harry Potter wands by Bonggamom
Can you tell which of the four wands are real and which ones are fake?

Sheet of printer paper: $0.01
Bottle of Elmer's glue: $2.50
Pack of glue sticks for hot glue gun: $2.50
Acrylic craft paint: $1.20

Giving your kid a wand to swish and flick and stupefy friends with, without having to worry about them losing or breaking their $30 Harry Potter wand:  Priceless.

Creativity is Universal: Restroom signs (and more) at the Universal Orlando Resort

Restroom signs at Seuss Landing

If you've read my blog over the years you'll know that I have a peculiar obsession with theme park restroom signs. I've always said the devil is in the details, and nothing says detail to me more than restroom signs that are consistent with a themed area.  Any old theme park can buy generic restroom signs, but it takes a special kind of theme park to realize that the immersive experience continues even when nature calls.

So whenever I visit a theme park, I like to keep an eye on the restroom signs.  If any strike me as particularly cute or clever, I'll snap a photo (you have no idea how many weird looks I've gotten while doing that, especially when snapping the one of the male signs!  And half of the time, those weird looks come from my own family!).

A walk through The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Castle
I used to think that no other theme park in the world could rival a Disney theme park.  Their imaginative themes, entertaining attractions and attention to detail transport visitors into another world, in a way unlike any other.

But that was before I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The year my sons fell in love with reading

“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.” -- Diane Duane

You can't stop at just one.  Unless you don't really care for potato chips.  Strange as it may seem, there are people in this world who don't like potato chips.  Or maybe they just haven't found the right flavor....

How to make a Recorder Case from Duck Tape

Duck Tape recorder case, a craft by Bonggamom

3Po and Jammy start music lessons today!  3Po has decided he wants to play the cello, while Jammy has opted for saxophone. For some reason, while strings players learn on their instrument from day 1, woodwind players are required to learn the recorder in 4th grade, and move up to their chosen instruments in 5th and 6th grade.  So Jammy is stuck with his sister's old recorder this year.

The Pea's recorder is in excellent condition, but she lost the recorder case probably 2 weeks after she got it, and Jammy is full of anxiety at the thought of being the only kid in 4th grade without a recorder case (the things kids worry about!).  My skill with a sewing machine is below beginner level, so I decided to take inspiration from the Duck Tape craft session we attended last week at the Family Forward retreat, and make a recorder case out of Duck Tape!   I hope Jammy likes it....