What I’m Getting My Family for Christmas

We’ve been in the US for just over a month now. We haven’t done much except for eat all the foods we missed and go to various stores (Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s) — which is still a lot of fun for me! But I have been busy planning Charlie’s 12th birthday and shopping for Christmas presents for eight family members. My shopping muscles haven’t been used in two years, so it’s taken a lot of thinking and research to come up with so many gifts. I’m still tweaking this list, but this is what I have so far!

Olive (10-years-old) – Olive’s ipad mini is 6 years old, and she’s in need of a new one because she uses it for her online homeschool as well as coding. Which ipad we get will be determined by compatibility with an Apple Pencil that she will use for drawing and programs like Procreate. It’s a splurge, but something that she needs and will use every day. Books are always part of our gifts, so we will add a neck reading light, as well as books from the Warriors series.


Charlie (12-years-old) – It’s Charlie’s birthday next week and we got him a Lenovo Thinkpad, which is like a laptop/tablet hybrid. The Thinkpad will enable him to use more programming languages than his ipad, and take his programming to the next level. There isn’t much to do on a remote island in pandemic times, so coding is the perfect activity to do at home! Since the Thinkpad was such a big splurge, I only have a couple of small things for him, including the same reading light as Olive, a Swiss army knife, a Hydroflask, and an encyclopedia on mythology.


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Warriors – A Series to Get Your Tween Reading

Reading is such a big part of my kids’ daily lives, and being in the US is like being a candy store with so many options available to us. It’s hard to live on an island with no bookstores! Lately both my kids have really been into a series called Warriors, and talking to other parents of tweens, many of their kids name this as their favorite series!


Reading Age: 8-12
Our Recommended Age: 9+

Warriors is a popular fantasy series about groups of feral anthropomorphic cats (clans) who often come into conflict with one another. The intricately designed cat world explores themes like war, prejudice, politics, religion, and forbidden love that have many parallels to modern society. Because there is a fair amount of violence and many characters to keep track of, I think this series is better suited to kids 9+. My cat-loving daughter and son both love it equally. Luckily there are many books in the Warriors Universe written by several authors under the pseudonym Erin Hunter (including Tui. T Sutherland of Wings of Fire fame). A box set would make a great Christmas gift as it’s $5 off right now!

There are 83 books in the Warriors Universe! The main series consists of 36 books divided into 7 arcs.

  • Warriors: The Prophecy Begins (6 books)
  • Warriors: The New Prophecy (5 books)
  • Warriors: Power of Three (5 books)
  • Warriors: Omen of the Stars (5 books)
  • Warriors: Dawn of the Clans (5 books)
  • Warriors: A Vision of Shadows (5 books)
  • Warriors: The Broken Code (5 books)

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Link Roundup – November 29, 2021

Charlie and Olive got their second doze of Pfizer yesterday! We had been looking forward to this day for so long and can all breathe a little sigh of relief. We couldn’t have had a better experience at CVS, and I am so grateful for free and easy access to covid vaccines that we wouldn’t have had in the Philippines.


Today is Giving Tuesday, and I’d love to hear about any organizations you’re supporting this year!

These are some interesting parenting links from around the web this week!


The Vaccine Rollout Failed Pregnant People via Jezebel

Is It OK to Claim a Religious Exemption to the Covid Vaccine? via New York Times

The brain sensor discovery behind humans getting taller via BBC

Cannabis Use in Pregnancy May Lead to a More Anxious, Aggressive Child via New York Times

A woman revealed a hospital billed her $50,000 for her baby’s birth in a viral TikTok video via Insider

Disney Cruise Line will require all passengers ages 5 and older to be fully vaccinated via New York Times


100 Notable Books of 2021 via New York Times

5 Things That Undermine Achievement in Gifted Boys via Psychology Today

Colleges are walking away from remote education – and that’s a good thing via Salon

The 2021 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books via New York Times


Is the Western way of raising kids weird? via BBC

COVID Parenting Is Reaching a Breaking Point via The Atlantic

Ten Unexpected Areas of Life Impacted by Minimalism via Becoming Minimalist

One Personality Trait Distinguishes Gifted People via Psychology Today

Why Little Boys Are More Fragile Than Little Girls via Rasied Good

I Grew Up Poor. How Am I Supposed to Raise My Middle-Class Kids? via New York Times

Dr. Becky Doesn’t Think the Goal of Parenting Is to Make Your Kid Happy via New York Times

How a Mother’s Choices Can Make Their Daughters Feel Inauthentic via Psychology Today

4 Gifts for Christmas: How to Make Your Family Happy With Less via Happy You Happy Family

You’re Allowed to Complain About Your Kids, Even After Infertility via New York Times

Phew! It’s Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids & Teens – And What They Need From Us via Hey Sigmund

In defense of “onlies”: A growing share of American moms are having only one child — I’m one of them via Salon

Advent Calendars for Tweens

Do you do advent calendars with your kids?

Advent calendars are a fun little surprise every morning leading up to Christmas day that my kids really love. We typically do the Christmas book advent, but we’re visiting family for the holidays this year so I had to come up with something different. My kids are getting older, 10 and 12, so I didn’t want to do toys, and I didn’t want to do sweets because we still have a lot of Halloween candy left. I saw this set of 200+ Rocks and Fossils from National Geographic, and thought it would be perfect for my geology loving kids. I also bought these advent burlap bags to package about 8 rocks or fossils per day. The rock set includes:

  • Fossils from prehistoric sea life like Clams, Ammonites, Brachiopods, and Gastropods
  • Polished gemstones & minerals like Red Jasper, Desert Rose, Blue Quartz, Red Quartz, Pumice, Snowflake Obsidian, and Aventurine
  • 3 genuine geodes, one broken and ready for display, 2 unbroken specimens for you to crack open yourself!
  • A full-color learning guide


Are you doing an advent calendar for your kids?

Bird to the Last Drop

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving! I cooked Alton Brown’s brined turkey recipe yesterday, and it came out perfectly. I have a lot of leftover turkey, so I might make Alton Brown’s bird to the last drop soup. What do you typically do with leftover turkey?


The Last Year of Being Little.

I recently realized that this is Charlie’s last year of being little, and it was a bittersweet realization. On the one hand, I’m so proud of the human that he has become; he has matured so much the past couple years. On the other hand, the days of him relying on me for everything are increasingly behind him, and I will miss them. Charlie is turning 12 next month, the last year before he officially becomes a teenager. The physical changes the past year are apparent as he’s shot up in height, his shoe size is almost the same as mine, and he has a little mustache! His baby face has long been gone, but I find myself a bit in shock by how big he looks almost every time I look at him lately. It didn’t happen overnight, but I feel like I realized it overnight.


Many years ago in New York we were at a playground where we met someone that told us we only had until 12 at the latest to bond with our kids; after that it would be too late. Mr. Bee and I never forgot that conversation. My friends definitely became the center of my universe when I was in junior high after all. We tried not to take the precious little years of childhood for granted, filling it with many family memories and traditions. But the pandemic put life on hold, and I blinked and Charlie was no longer a little kid.

You know how kids come back after summer vacation and have seemingly grown overnight? I think that’s what happened during the pandemic with my kids. Kids grow when they get a lot of sleep, eat well, and have less stress. I prepared every meal for the kids so they always ate well, without having to wake up for school or any extracurricular activities the kids got a lot more sleep, and staying home every day meant no stress. That resulted in the big growth spurt that was hard for me to see because I was with the kids 24/7.

Beyond physical growth, Charlie has matured so much. He has grown to be such a kind, generous, helpful and intellectually curious human being. He helps with animal rescue, does the dishes, and helps with anything that we ask him to without complaint. He is always looking out for his younger sister and shares everything with her. He is still a voracious reader. He stays on top of his online homeschooling. He is very self-motivated, teaching himself how to code by taking online classes, googling and watching youtube videos. He’s not all grown up, but he’s definitely not a little kid anymore. I never thought about the day that I’d want time to slow down because my kids were growing up too fast. But that day is here.

Modern World Wonders

We’ve been living on an island in the Philippines for 6 years, and my kids have visited the US every year since we left (except 2020), but they still marvel at all the ways things are different in the US. They love to point them out so I wrote up a list. These are some things that are different about our island lives!

The Grove, Los Angeles, CA

Blackouts – One of the hardest aspects of island life is the regular blackouts. We never know when they will happen or how long they will last. We could have 5 in a day or none for weeks at a time. But blackouts are a constant in our lives. Most of the time they last about an hour. But they can last an entire day too, so we always have a freezer full of blue ice that we can put in our refrigerators and freezers. Honestly we’re used to blackouts and don’t mind them when they’re short. If they happen in the evenings, we light some candles and play family games. But the downside is that the constant power surges have destroyed many electronics and inflated our electricity bills. This is probably the #1 complaint of our fellow islanders.

Credit Cards – There are probably two businesses in our entire town that accept credit cards, so we use cash for everything. I was at Daiso last week and made a $2 purchase, but they didn’t have change for a large bill. I didn’t know what to do until the cashier suggested I use a credit card. The thought didn’t even cross my mind because it’s been so long since I used a credit or debit card!

Efficiency of everything – When you live in a developing country, many things are inefficient and you have to do a lot of things yourself that would typically fall under the purview of the government. Mr. Bee hadn’t left the Philippines since we moved there six years ago, so he asked his friends what would be the biggest shock when he returned to the US. Our expat friends said it was the efficiency of everything. For instance getting the kids signed up for covid vaccines was such a simple and seamless process with CVS online. It was amazing to us! We actually purchased our own Moderna vaccines with a group of businesses, but there were so many delays getting them to our island. We were able to get AstraZeneca, but only through connections, since we were not in any priority groups for covid vaccines through the government at the time. So many things just function well in the US.

The sheer overwhelming variety and abundance of everything – This is a pro and a con. Of course it sucks at times not to have access to so many things in the Philippines, especially foods we miss, medicines, and educational items. But having access to literally anything and everything we could want or need in the US is overwhelming for all of us. There are over 100 kinds of cereal and ice cream and bread and it takes me forever to make decisions while grocery shopping. We are here for Christmas so deciding on Christmas presents for my entire family is mind boggling. We have access to anything we want to eat, but Charlie and Olive actually eat better when we have less options, and certain foods that are hard to get like strawberries are special and appreciated treats. I think I’d like a life somewhere in between almost no options and all the options.

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