Monday, November 21, 2016

Ideas for Family Activities for Christmas

Christmas always brings warm feelings to my heart. No matter how busy I am and no matter I "decide" sometime in August that I won't be as affected with the Christmas rush, there's always some kind of a switch that automatically turns on inside of me come November. Besides, me and my husband can't help it - we have a daughter who loves Christmas and we can't of course disappoint her by being Mr. and Mrs. Scrooge of the year.

So anyway, I am still in the will-not-be-as-stressed-mood-for-Christmas this year, but I'm gonna have to give in with regards to making the holidays fun and memorable for our daughter.

Which brings me to want to help you parents out there who are looking for activities with your children which will not put a hole in your pockets. Here are some suggestions we've tried and might do again this year.

1. Start a Christmas Tradition. There a lot of interesting traditions out there but ours include the following:

a. Decorating the house by early November. We make sure we don't spend too much on decors. In fact, most of the decors we are using now were the same batch we bought around 3 years ago. I just try to give variety in the manner we decorate and in the color combinations. Last year I placed garlands with red and silver balls and poinsettias outside our gate and fence. This year I opted to let the gate and fence go bare but instead I placed a garland on our window with blue and silver balls. We also didn't put up our usual Christmas tree but placed 3 times more Christmas lights instead this year outside the house. Our Christmas village, which is an investment, since each Christmas house costs quite an amount have rested for a couple of years but this time we put them out to be displayed and enjoyed.

2. Let the Three Wise Men Travel. We do have a Belen, but the three wise men figures aren't there yet. From November till the morning of December 24, we make them travel by putting them around the house - on the stairs, under the dining table, on the kitchen, to make them look like they're still finding their way to the manger. As Christmas Day approaches, we place them nearer and nearer to the site of our Belen. On Christmas Eve, that's the time we let them make it to baby Jesus's side.

3. Display our Christmas books. One of the things we've collected over the years are Christmas books I've bought from Book Sales. Most of them cost as low as P20, while the most expensive is around P175. Aliya and I love reading those stories and looking at the pictures.

4. Visit the Christmas House. Every year, my daughter's school holds their Christmas program/Family Day in a mall in the east. Nearby is the subdivision with the famous Christmas house, called as such because of the lights that adorn it as well as their gigantic Santa figures. This year, we plan to visit it again after the Family Day with one of my daughter's best friend's family.

5. Visit the Casa Santa. Located in Antipolo City, Rizal, this house is full of the owner's collection of Santa Clauses of all shapes, sizes and kinds. I think they're open all year round but you have to call up first for an appointment in case you want to visit and have a photoshoot there. It's quite off the Metro so I suggest dropping by on a Sunday to avoid the usual Ortigas Ave Extension traffic.

5. Make Christmas crafts. Pinterest and youtube have a lot of wonderful ideas you can make with your kids.

6. DIY decors, cards and wrappers. A lot of age-appropriate suggestions can be found online.

7. To teach the value of sharing and generosity, why not declutter your closet and give away/donate old clothes, toys and books. You'd be amazed at how much stuff you actually have.

8. Read the Christmas Story. To remind our children what Christmas really is about, this one is strongly, highly suggested. Besides, it's the best story ever!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Family Vacation in Macau, China

For summer of 2016, we wanted to explore this one place we've never given a chance of visiting even during our trips to neighboring Hongkong: Macau. Most of the time, the first thing that comes to mind about Macau is the casinos and the gondola ride in Venetian Macau. Quite a lot of people don't know that kids can also enjoy a trip to this destination that's quite close to the Philippines. Because I was in between projects the past couple months, I was able to research about things to do and places to go in Macau. So let me give you a rundown of some of the highlights of our trip with our 8 year old daughter.

1. When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, my daughter would always say it was SHREKFAST. It's a character breakfast with the characters of Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. It takes place in the Holiday Inn Cotai Central. Each ticket costs MOP 238++ for adults, and MOP138++ for child.

Breakfast was buffet style and we enjoyed everything.

2. My daughter's next favorite memory of Macau was the gondola ride in The Venetian Macau. The experience was lovely and relaxing. We loved that our Italian gondolier sang a familiar Taiwanese love song that my father loved. They sell your photos after to you but because we didn't avail of them, I forgot how much they cost. But the gondola ride costs MOP128 for adults and MOP98 for kids. The whole ride takes about 15 minutes and the gondolier sings 2 songs.

3. If toys and candies are what your children are looking for, then check out KIDS CAVERN. It's in the Sands in Cotai Central. They have the largest candy selection I've ever seen and they have all kinds and brands of toys for both boys and girls. My daughter was so overwhelmed it took her a long time to decide what to buy!

4. QUBE. One is in Venetian Hotel and the other one is in Sands Cotai Central. The one inside the Venetian Hotel is an 838 sq m indoor playground that's both innovative and interactive. Entry price is MOP90 for two hours. If your older kids are no longer into hitting the slides and jumping around, there are computer games around as well.

5. DreamWorks All Star Parade. Since you're already in the area, there's a parade of DreamWorks characters that happen every 4-4:20pm in the Shoppes in Sands Cotai Central. Admission is free.

6. Macau Science Museum. Although we have not visited this place, I have heard nice reviews about their Science Museum and the entry price is as follows: Exhibition Galleries MOP25, Planetarium, Dome/SKY Shows MOP 35, Planetarium 3D Dome/3D Sky Shows MOP 45, Free admission for children under age 2.

7. Panda Pavilion. This one's sort of out of the way as it is not in the Macau Peninsula nor in the Taipa side, but it's in Coloane. Though it is reachable both by public bus and cab, we haven't the time to go visit this place. Admission is only MOP10 and free for kids under 12 and for senior citizens. However, remember that they are closed on Mondays and admission is at 6 intervals per day.

8. Food and shopping Senado Square, Rua de Mercadores, Taipa Village and New Yaohan Department Store. I think it's the 5th floor of New Yaohan that has the kids stuff like toys, clothes and stationery.

9. Wave pools in Galaxy Hotel. Reviews of their pools are all thumbs up and when you check out youtube videos of their swimming pools, you'd maybe consider checking in Galaxy Hotel as non-staying guests are not allowed in their swimming pools.

10. Kids City in City of Dreams. Be sure you dress up your kids in long sleeves, trousers/long pants and socks if you want them to play in this fun 17,000sq ft interactive playground. They have all kinds of slides, inflatables, arts and crafts areas for your little girls as well as interactive corners!

So there. With all these fun and exciting activities, isn't Macau family friendly after all? :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hundred Islands Tour Part 2

In connection to my previous post about our family trip to Alaminos, Pangasinan, particularly in Hundred Islands, I will be sharing with you now the contents of the official flyer/price list of the amenities and activities available in the said tourist attraction. So here goes:

All entries are in Philippine Peso.

Environmental Fee P40.00 / person for Day Tour P80.00 /person for Overnight Tour
Entrance Fee/IPAF P30.00 / person

Note: Free 5 years old and below
Senior Citizen/ PWD Discount: 20%

Insurance (Effective for 24 hours) P10.00 / person


Zipline (546 m) in Governor's Island 250/jump
Zipline (120m) in Quezon Island 100/jump
Wall Climbing 50/pax
Rapeling 50/pax
3 in 1 package 175
Banana Boat (max 7 pax) 1,500 per ride
Helmet Diving 400/dive (20 mins)
Kayaking (max 2 pax) 250/hour
Snorkeling 250/set gear rental

Motorboat Rates

TOUR TYPE (boat size) One Day Tour with Service Boat Two Day Tour with Service Boat
Small (1-5 passengers) 1,400.00 3,000.00
Medium (10 passengers) 1,800.00 3,800.00
Large (11-15 passengers) 2,000.00 4,500.00

*Rates are subject to change without prior notice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Embracing One's Season

One of the realities of a freelancer’s life is that there is no long-lasting routine.

Just as when you’re getting into the groove of waking up late in the morning, here comes a project with a deadline that’s due the next day so you will have to sleep late at night and wake up early to finish and polish and beat the deadline. Another extreme would be when you are in between projects, (in my case, scripts or shows), and things can get really unharried. And these times are the times that I look forward to because this would mean more time for my daughter, time to experiment on cooking, on crafts, catch up on movies, more time on facebook, on the internet, cleaning and organizing the house, playdates, waking up late and the list goes on and on. But don’t get me wrong, these are “free” times but it doesn’t mean that I have nothing to do on these days. Tons of errands and personal projects await, like photobooks, compiling files, DIY projects and putting labels on just about anything! These are also the days that I pray for better and nicer writing assignments, time to recharge and read up on improving my craft. I call this my “relaxed season.”

I can’t remember a relaxed season for me last year. God has blessed me with projects, one after the other. There were months when I had 4 shows at the same time. This year, 2016, my “relaxed season” started about three weeks ago. Had I been younger and less mature in my walk with God, I would already be feeling restless, worried and scared for my savings and future. But God has taught me that there is a season for everything, He has proven to me time and time again that He is always cooking up something better for me even during these weeks that I have no writing assignments.

I know for a fact that writing is my life work and I am called to do this for life. Down times should not be viewed as panic times because God will surely, certainly provide something new in His perfect time. So as for me, I embrace this time of my life and I am grateful for having a life such as this. I enjoy every minute of being at home with my daughter, getting the house ready for my husband’s going home after work in the afternoon, having more time to read and study and do crafts, fellowship with my cyber sisters in my online group of wives and moms, and spending time getting to know more about God and His Word.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Day I Was Transported To The Past

As part of his work in education, my husband has had the privilege of being part of the Araw ng Kagitingan Celebrations for the past three years. This time, he thought my daughter and I might want to join the annual tour to Corregidor. Because I wanted to pack my daughter’s summer vacation with enriching activities and because she couldn’t attend the Me and My Dad Camp (again) because my husband’s field word will cover the dates the camp is being held, we thought we might just join the tour. Besides, I was curious about the Sun Cruises and we know my daughter’s now old enough to somehow understand what the tour is all about – Japanese and Americans fighting each other during the World War II.

We started the day at 3:30 am, left the house an hour after, and we’re already at the Esplanade Ferry Terminal at around 5am. There were already a lot of War Veterans in the terminal, also waiting for boarding. The cruise started at the exact time we were supposed to leave – at 7am. The yatch isn’t exactly impressive, but it’s “pwede na.” Not spic and span clean, but not really dirty. Maybe a little old. The staff was friendly and very accommodating.

There was a documentary in the WWII that was shown during the whole trip. By the time the Corregidor Island’s top can be seen, a few passengers started standing up to take photos. The excitement was growing especially for my daughter.

We arrived at 8:30am, then transferred to the Sun Cruise bus for the Bus Tour. This I think is what my daughter loved the most. She said she likes the bus and the fact that it’s open on both sides, she liked the tour guide whom she finds funny, and the loved the scenery – caves and mountains and really pristine ocean! I must say the ocean was really breath-taking! Too bad the sun was glaring I wasn’t able to relax and take time to view the beauty of the water. Its blue-ness was exhilarating! If there is one thing I’d like to come back for in Corregidor, it would be the ocean! As I write this article, I’m feeling bad that I wasn’t able to take more photos, haaargh!

The tour ran from 9am till 2pm, including lunch. Our first stop was the War Heroes Memorial where a statue of President Manuel Quezon and his VP Sergio Osmena can be found. The Araw ng Kagitingan Ceremonies was being held when we got there. Veterans, Navy and Army soldiers are everywhere. Everything is grand, but again, the hot climate limits our ability to explore the area. I bought a huge hat for my daughter at the tiangge. They sell shirts from P150-P250, drinks (an 8oz soda costs P20), keychains at P50 and up, chips, ref magnets, wallets and abanikos. My daughter’s hat costs P150.

After about an hour, the ceremony was all done and so we boarded the bus again. We headed for the different areas in Corregidor. We watched a Navy Seals show at the South Beach (wonderful, beautiful, amazing body of water!). My daughter collected a few bloodstones. Urban legend has it that the red stains on the white stones are actually the blood of the soldiers who died during the war. But scientifically, it is because the sun’s heat reacting with the water that causes the discoloration of the stones.

The map of Corregidor actually looks like a tadpole. We started at the tail part, then the middle part, then the bottom part and then at the top hill. We toured the barracks, the Cine Corregidor, their then hospitals, swimming pools, 9-holed golf course, etc. It’s amazing to think how glorious this place used to be during the American times!

We also spent some time inside the Corregidor Museum, in the Battery Way (where they used to keep their guns, cannonballs, bullets and mortars), in the Eternal Flame of Freedom, etc. My daughter was giddy because she got to see the replica of Gen. Douglas McArthur and she saw how different Philippine Money looked like during the olden times. “Look, mom, Jose Rizal used to be in a two-peso bill! And hey, two pesos used to be a bill!”

At 12 noon, it was time for lunch! We were all very excited because it is a BUFFET LUNCH! The area where they set our lunch was nicely decorated though it’s not in an airconditioned room. Oh well. I especially loved the paella and the pandan juice, while my daughter liked the carbonara. My husband who’s into healthy eating had second servings of the fresh fruits. Other viands were a chicken dish, a fish fillet dish and steamed veggies. For dessert we had macaroni salad.

After lunch we headed to the watch tower thought we didn’t brave to climb up the stairs, plus we were already pressed for time.

We toured some more then went to the Malinta Tunnel, where a Lights and Sounds Show is to be held. Built in 1913, the tunnel looked creepy and is of course, dark. We had no choice but to all watch since this is the highlight of the tour. My daughter was really brave to go through the tunnel and watch the show though she wasn’t expecting the bomb simulation thus she got a bit scared.

At the end of the show, and of the tunnel, as the Philippines was declared free from the conquerors, the spotlight showed a really tall Philippine Flag as we all sang the Philippine National Anthem. I got goosebumps as we were singing not because of the creepiness of the tunnel, but because of the thought that had not the early Filipinos fought for our country, we would’ve been a colony of either Spain, or Japan, or America up to this day.

After the song, as we exited the tunnel, we were so happy to see the sky again. Whew! It was hot inside the tunnel that I kept on hoping there’s no one in the crowd who’s got claustrophobia.

By 2:15, we again boarded the Sun Cruise. We left Corregidor Island at 2:30pm. An hour and a half after, we once again saw Manila, particularly the Mall of Asia, and the MOA Eye. Wonderful how in less than a couple of hours we were transported from the busy city life to an island rich in history and back to the cosmopolitan again. How different the atmosphere, the feel and the experience actually is. I felt like I’ve been in a time capsule and back to the present in just the blink of an eye.

Thankful for the experience. Thankful for history. Thankful for the reminder to love our country and respect the past.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hundred Islands Adventure in Pangasinan

For Holy Week 2016, me and my husband wanted to go someplace that's close to nature. Summer last year was a bit boring for us as we only stayed home, mainly because I had so many work deadlines and he was scheduled for a surgery last May. Our helper also went on a month-long vacation and we both felt overwhelmed by the tasks at hand.

Anyway, this year our helper had left for good but surprisingly, we felt more able to do more. Haha! Going on an out of town trip including. I first considered Puerto Galera while my husband suggested the Hundred Islands. It's been years since I last went to Galera; and the same goes for him with regards to Hundred Islands. To cut my usual long introduction short, I researched on Alaminos hotels and found Casa Del Camba. I immediately liked what I saw and read, though I was close to booking another place that's a bit cheaper yet less enticing in the photos.

Anyway, here are my personal tips/take-aways about our 3 day Pangasinan trip:

1. Don't go during the Holy Week. Traffic in NLEX is horrible. SCTEX and TPLEX are amazingly fast though.
2. Have your private vehicle checked-up for the long drive.
3. If commuting, check the schedules of major bus companies like Victory Liner. If I'm not mistaken, they have hourly trips to Alaminos.
4. Take the Camiling, Tarlac route. It's a lot easier to get to Alaminos if you take this route. We had to pass by my husband's ancestral home and visit my in laws in Calasiao, thus making our travel time a lot longer.
5. If taking private vehicle, make sure you have allocation for toll fees. Ours was around P500+ one way!
6. Gas up while in Manila. We noticed the diesel price were more expensive in Pangasinan.
7. As much as possible, book a room in Casa Del Camba. The hospitality of the staff and the owners are amazing. They just opened in December last year thus the rooms are all very clean and without the usual foul smell of old and dusty lodges and inns.

8. Sit back, relax and just have Casa Del Camba arrange your Island Tour for you. Their staff will be the one to line up and register for you.

9. Food in Hundred Islands are expensive so better arrange for take-out food in Casa Del Camba's restaurant. We realized this too late, that's why we had to buy groceries down town as baon for our boat tour on Day 2.

10. If you have kids, the Children's Island, they say, is more kid-friendly when it comes to shoreline and depth of the water.

11. We stayed in Quezon Island as we wanted to be "where the crowd and the activities are," thus it took us quite a while to find a spot to spread our mat and our stuff. Cottages and tables for rent are limited.

12. Since we are only a group of three (our family driver opted to rest on Day 2 so he didn't join the Island Tour), we got the small boat which costs P1,400.00 plus P80 (per pax) for insurance and entrance and environmental fees.
13. There are other islands where you can stay, like the Governor's Island, Braganza Island, Cuenco Island, among others. You may ask your boat man for the differences between these islands. Though a lot would agree with me when I say that they're all just the same.
14. Souvenirs are a bit more expensive in Quezon Island than on Lucap Wharf (where you will be starting and ending your boat tour). I got a set of 5 keychains in Quezon island which costs P100.00 but when we docked in Lucap Wharf, the same kind and design was only P70.00. A shell paper weight costs P150 but I was able to haggle to P100, and a set of 3 ref magnets cost me P150 though original price was P200.
15. On our way home, we took the Dagupan route again as it is really part of our itinerary to buy boneless Bangus, fresh oysters, shrimps and crabs. Since my husband is from Calasiao and he missed the Puto Calasiao so much, he also bought bags of those as well and packs of sampaloc candies (P10 each) and bukayo (P12 each).

16. All in all, it was a fun and blessed trip. Everything, except for the NLEX traffic was smooth. We will always cherish this memory of our Pangasinan trip, as much as we do our other travels as a family.