Birthday Gifts for a 7 Year Old Boy During a Pandemic

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Has anyone else had to completely rethink birthdays and gifts during this pandemic?

We have been slowly transitioning to gifting more experiences as gifts, but this current pandemic has thrown me for a loop with my soon to be seven year old son's birthday.

I was gearing up to throw a big party for him, one where he could invite his whole class, and we had already talked themes and activities because there is nothing my six year old loves more than a celebration. Once we realized that a birthday party wasn't in the cards, we pivoted to contemplating an overnight stay at a fancy hotel here, he also loves the hotel life. Then we went into lockdown, which will last until midnight on June 1st here in Singapore, so we had to adjust the plan once more. Now, we are celebrating at home with a movie marathon and all his favorite junk food.

If we had done a party or the hotel stay that would have been the bulk of his gift, with something smaller from us, but since those plans changed he'll be getting more gifts than experiences and here's where we ended up.

I should add a disclaimer, I am one of those people who wants to feel like I'm spending my money on things that have some longevity and offer hours of play. One of my least favorite things is buying toys that never get used, or that are only used once and then never looked at again, so I try to be more thoughtful in the gifts we give our kids. We also have grandparents who love to give gifts, so some of these will be given by them.

1- Playmobil Furnished School Building- Playmobil has been the most played with toy at our house during lockdown. We have this Police Headquarters with Prison and it has led to so much imaginative play. The school and airports sets have been on his wish list, so wishes granted!

**If you've never played with Playmobil before I would say there are a couple of things to note- 1) set up requires some time- it comes with a lot of pieces and instructions to build which I actually like because you are getting a building situation as well as play after the fact but it will require some parental assistance and a chunk of time 2) Save the instructions so that you can rebuild sets and be prepared with a bin to corral the small pieces when they are not in use. We like these clear IKEA bins. 3) The Playmobil website often has deals on bundles and special exclusive sets. 4) These toys are really well made and last for years- my mom still has sets from our childhood.

2- Anatomicum - The newest addition in the Welcome to the Museum series is as well done as its predecessors, it's oversized, gorgeously illustrated and chock full of information. I love giving bigger books as gifts because they are little bit out of the ordinary and invite curiosity.

3- Harry Potter Lego Night Bus- I am such a Playmobil fan that Legos aren't always on my radar, but we have a few other Harry Potter Sets and I like that this one can be played with more after it is built.

4- Playmobil School Bus- I had to get the bus to go with the school, because it opens up that many more play scenarios and how else are the students going to get to their building?

5- Mr. Sketch Markers- will scented markers ever get old? I still have a soft spot in my heart for these and could barely resist the urge to open them and smell all the scents before wrapping them up. I also think these are an excellent thing to have on hand to give as gifts since they are such a universal hit.

6- Micro Sprite Scooter- a two wheeled scooter has been on my son's wish list since he was 5 but he wasn't quite big enough last year for this one. This year he had a big growth spurt and was definitely ready for an upgrade. We got him the version with light up wheels, but all of the Sprites come with a kick stand and adjustable height. They are also foldable which means we can take it on public transport if we need to.

7- Magformer Carnival Set- I think Magformers and Magna-tiles are totally worth the investment, they are another one of our frequently played with toys and I feel like this carnival set will be a welcome addition to the basic sets we have.

8- If I Built A Car- this series of books is so fun. They are cleverly done with rhyming verse and they inspire a lot of imaginative discussion. If you love books that lend themselves to supplemental activities then this this is a series to look at. My son has If I Built A School so this one and If I Built a House are both on his book wish list.

If you've been following us for a while you know that balloons and some happy decor are always part of how we celebrate, I also like to keep banners on hand, as well as a collection of birthday decorating ideas. I've collected some favorite inspiration on our pinterest board if you're interested.


Mother's Day Gift Guide

Sunday, May 3, 2020

We're excited to share our Mother's Day Gift Guide with you all and even more excited to have it curated by our friend Jayne Eyre of Tabletop Shop. Jayne is multitalented, she has a background in marketing but has recently delved into floral design, as well as started an online boutique that specializes in handcrafted goods for your tabletop. We love the items she's pulled together in this guide and hope you will too.

1- Owl Dessert Plates- I love the colours in these beautiful melamine plates designed by Nathalie Lete and that they make a statement, but most of all I love that they can be used inside or outside, by people of all ages, because melamine is so sturdy and takes some effort to break. A great addition to any mom's hosting arsenal.

2- Glossier Boy Brow- We all know the perfectly groomed eyebrow can be a game changer, and Boy Brow is my go to product. All it takes is a quick, brisk upward stroke across the brows and you're done. No residue, and the colour and hold last all day. Your mom's brows will be ready for whatever the day holds.

3- Nordstrom Lingerie Moonlight Pyjamas- I am convinced that these pyjamas are manufactured in heaven. They are lightweight, soft and smooth as chocolate. They make you look and feel classy as you spend the night (or let's be honest, the day) in their embrace.

4- Millie Marotta Coloring Book- Colouring has been my favourite pastime since I was a little girl. I like to say that I was colouring before it became trendy. All that aside, I am a big believer in it. I spent my entire flight from Mexico to San Francisco, several months ago, colouring to calm my nerves after hearing that my husband's work might not allow us to return to Singapore because of the coronavirus outbreak. Luckily, we made it back and it further solidified my belief in colouring as a form of relaxation-and these colouring books by Millie Marotta are some of my favourites. What mom doesn't need a little relaxation?

5- Tony's Chocolonely Rainbow Bundle- If your mom loves sweets, send this chocolate rainbow her way. The packaging is gorgeous, and the chocolate tastes even better than it looks. With a mix of dark  and milk chocolate, plus a white chocolate popping candy bar, you are sure to please all palates. And bonus, this company has a mission to make chocolate slave free, so your purchase will support that worthy cause as well.

6 Houseplant Puzzle- Puzzles have seemingly taken the world by storm as of late- but as an avid puzzler pre-pandemic, I have two favourite puzzle brands Galison, (who makes the puzzle picture above) because their colours and designs make puzzling even more fun and Dowdle. Eric Dowdle paints each of his puzzles as he travels to different cities, making them fun and personal gifts to give.

7- Picking Posies Apron- Who else is finding themselves in the kitchen a lot more lately? Whether its because of bread making or cooking up some comfort foods, this cheery apron is sure to endow the wearer with some of its feel good energy.

8- Mother of Pearl Love Token- Catbird NYC makes beautifully delicate pieces- this love token seems especially perfect for the mothers in our lives. You can gift it as is for her to slip on a favourite chain. 


5 Favorite Memoirs

Monday, February 25, 2019

This may just be my favorite genre.  When someone asks for a book recommendation, my mind almost always goes here first.  I love memoirs for many reasons.  They're an intimate look into a life and way of living that is often so different than my own, they broaden my perspective, the stories are often inspiring and always thought provoking.  And they're true; fiction can't hold a handle to reality.  Here are a few of my favorites.

1.  All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg.  This is a tribute to the power of motherly love and selflessness, the burdens of poverty and hate, hardship and  achieving success.  Part memoir and part confession, this book has it all.  Bragg is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who tells the story of his life, the mother who sacrificed everything to give it to him, and how he finally thanks her.

2.  When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  This is one of the most reflective, moving and beautifully written memoirs I have ever read.   A brilliant neurosurgeon with the world at his feet, Kalanithi is unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  After a life of moving relentlessly forward, with clear and single purpose, he is forced to stop and question what makes life worth living in the face of death.  His observations are poignant and inspiring, this book is a wonder.

3.  Educated by Tara Westover.  I have recommended this book dozens of times and it is universally loved.  Westover has such a compelling story to share and a true gift for sharing it.  A must read.

4.  The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride.  The son of a black minister father and white Polish immigrant mother and one of 12 children, McBride had anything but a typical childhood.  While grappling with his race and identify, his mother taught him that "God is the color of water."   McBride doesn't sugarcoat the struggles and shortcomings of his life, and his honesty makes you cheer for him all the more as he achieves personal and professional success. Another stunning tribute to the strength and impact of mothers.

5. Expecting Adam by Martha Beck.  When Beck unexpectedly becomes pregnant with her second child, in the midst of her grueling academic endeavors at Harvard, her well planned life is thrown into chaos.  When she and her husband discover that their future son has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, the core of who they are and what they believe is shaken as they struggle to come to terms and move forward.  Equal parts heart wrenching and hilarious, Beck is a gifted writer and I love this story.


Expats in Singapore

Monday, February 18, 2019

If you've ever wondered what compels someone to become an expat, this post is for you.

I'm going to preface this by saying that I love traveling and adventures; I have wanted to travel near and far since I can remember. For me, traveling is like reading, it's a way to learn about the world and the incredibly varied experiences people can have.

So when the opportunity arose for our family to move to Singapore for several years (for my husband's job), we decided to go for it. When I say go for it, I mean we said yes but still had a plethora of details to sort out before actually moving ourselves and our two kids around the world.

We've moved pretty frequently, but getting all of our affairs together before leaving the country was such a PROCESS. We were renting a home in Texas, owned a home in Oregon, and so had two houses to sort out, one house to sell, 3 cars to sell, international school applications to complete, and tons of packing to be done. This was happening all while my husband was commuting to Singapore from Texas. It was a serious undertaking, with quite a few ups and downs- 2018 ended up being an incredibly busy and exhausting year in a lot of ways but I'm so happy we decided to go for it.

For those of you that care about details, saying yes, wasn't the result of one simple conversation. We had a series of conversations about what we thought would be best for our family, what kind of opportunities we would get from living abroad, and what sacrifices we would make. Ultimately, we decided that the opportunities would outweigh the stress and the perceived sacrifices.

Our list of pros and cons looked a little like this:


Have an adventure
Opportunity to travel around Asia
Amazing school for the kids
Bring our family unit closer together 
Get to have a new cultural experience
Expand our comfort zones
Opportunity for all of us to stretch and grow a lot
Singapore has great healthcare and English is an official language
The weather (for my husband)


Uprooting our kids
Leaving behind friends and family
Figuring out all the details of a new country
Singapore can be expensive
The weather (for me)

We are a little over six months into our expat life, we anticipate being here for at least four years, and we are loving it! Of course we've had some highs and lows, like kids feeling homesick, us feeling homesick or frustrated by the logistics of figuring out our new home, but overall, I know we are all growing so much more than we would have if we had stayed in the states.  This growth, the incredible school our kids are attending, plus the travel opportunities we have are what excite me the most.  

We explored northern Vietnam in the fall, journeyed over the border to Malaysia for a trip to Legoland at Christmas and just spent a long weekend in Bangkok.  In the coming months we'll be going to Tokyo/Kyoto/Hakone, Japan, Bali, Indonesia and the Golden Triangle in India. It still seems a bit surreal that this is our life- but we want to embrace all of it while we are here and do and see as much as we can.

Since our life has changed so much in the last six months, I think it's only natural that what we share here on Tee & Penguin is going to change a bit too. We will still be sharing amazing books, but we're broadening our scope to include some of our personal favorite books in addition to picture books and we'll be sharing more about travel and food, and some of our other interests.

Taryn also has some exciting changes on the horizon, but I'll let here share those with you. In the meantime, if there is anything you have been curious about or questions you have about our life in Singapore let me know. 




8 Favourite Travel Books for Kids

Thursday, January 31, 2019

We are so excited to team up with Elise at www.3kidstravel.com and share some of our favourite travel themed books for kids. One of the ways we get our kids excited about our next destination, or upcoming trips is through books. We've tried to include books that will appeal to a variety of age ranges, that are interactive, and wonderful for visual learners as well. We're always adding to our collection and would love to know your go to travel books!

1. This is Series by M. Sasek- We love this colourful and playful book series. The author incorporates beautiful illustrations of architecture, historic monuments, parks etc. and also adds lively text to keep kids' attention. We love how colourful the books are and the attention to detail about the various
aspects of each city he covers. Some favourites are the London and Paris books. -Elise

2. My Little City series- We are always on the look out for book that will help our youngest daughter get excited about the places we visit. These books cover the highlights of major cities and the illustrations are adorable and baby-friendly. The text is simple and perfectly complements the beautiful images. -Elise

And how darling is this supplemental matching game? Such a fun way to reinforce the books. -Sarah

3. National Parks of the U.S.A.- this oversized guide is perfect for budding National Parks enthusiasts- it takes a lot information about specific parks, including facts about flora and fauna, and distills it into smaller packages that are easily and delightfully digested. The illustrations are reminiscent of vintage travel posters which we find oh so charming. -Sarah

4. City Trails Series by Lonely Planet - as a kid I loved looking through my parent's Fodors travel guides and now I'm a huge fan of Lonely Planet guides so I think these City Trails guides for kids are awesome. They highlight various trails throughout different cities and have two characters, Marco & Amelia, who will help your kids discover some off the beaten path activities. While younger kids will have fun looking at the pages, this one is best for ages 8+ -Sarah

5. Richard Scarry's A Day at the Aiport- We are obsessed with Richard Scarry books because of the intricate details he includes. This book focuses specifically on the airport and helps kids see the terminal, runway, tower, etc. Kids and parents will love how interactive this book is, it comes with stickers and will keep kids entertained for a long time. -Elise

6. Not For Parents Series by Lonely Planet- This book series is great for younger and older kids (ideal age is 8+) and puts a fun spin on travel that helps kids take ownership of their travel experience by learning on their own. The books include all the cool information for kids to know about a country and they are jam packed with fun facts and colourful pictures. -Elise

7.- Everything & Everywhere- this book is beautifully illustrated and serves as a whimsical introduction to a smattering of cities around the world. We love that there are so many clever details to be found and discussed in relation to each city; we think this book serves as a wonderful way to spark excitement about world travel, especially for the aesthetically discerning.

8. The 50 States- another oversized guide, but this time for the 50 states. We love to get this book out before we travel around the US to learn fun facts about the states we will be visiting. This one is colourful, graphic, and makes me excited for road trips (which are possibly my least favourite form of travel, so that's quite a feat). We also like to pair it will this puzzle for birthdays and more fun learning opportunities. -Sarah


5 Favorite Classic Fiction Books

Saturday, January 26, 2019

I recently co-hosted a dinner party built around a literary theme and, in reference to Hemingway's memoir, we called is  "A Moveable Feast."  Once we decided to work with this idea, the inspiration came pouring out.  We started by listing books that we loved: books from our childhood, books that shaped our views of the world, books that helped us through difficult times, books that made us laugh out loud, books so beautifully written we forgot we were even reading.  I was amazed at how quickly we filled an entire page, dozens of titles.  We built the menu and decor around some of our favorite and, at the end of the evening, sent each guest home with a curated list of 10 of our favorite reads and an Amazon gift card.

Creating the initial list was such a fun exercise, we decided to expand and share more of our favorites, the books that we've read over and over again and have become part of our story.  Here are five of our very favorite works of classic fiction.

1. East of Eden.  John Steinbeck is an astounding writer, reading Grapes of Wrath was probably the first time I recognized the difference between a good story and a brilliant one.  He is unparalleled. I love how East of Eden both captures and illuminates the quintessential struggle of human existence, the battle between good and evil, in our world and within ourselves.  -'Thou mayest'-

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  One of the best coming-of-age novels ever written.  Francie Nolan is irresistible. "Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere-be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."

3.  My Antonia by Willa Cather.  This is just a beautiful story.  Jim Burden, an orphan sent to live with his grandparents in rural and desolate Nebraska, he tells the story of his life through his one constant, deep love, the free spirited immigrant girl from Bohemia, Antonia.  I don't think there's another novel that captures the American immigrant experience with such heart and life.

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  This book was one of my grandmother's favorites and it immediately became one of mine.  Jane was a thoroughly original and, for her time, revolutionary heroine.  I love her strength and her weakness. It's a novel with everything; grief, hope, love, betrayal and even a good dose of insanity.  Also, if you have not learned about the lives of the Bronte sisters, you should. The entire family is absolutely fascinating.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  This book is so close to my heart that I haven't read Go Set a Watchman because I can't bear to think less of any of the characters that I love so much.  This is a book that I've appreciated in different ways at different times in my life.  When I was younger, it was a formative discussion of racial justice, respect, and humanity. As a parent, I have developed a profound appreciation for Atticus Finch and what, and how, he taught his children.  Possibly my favorite book of all time.


5 Essential Books for Baby's 1st Library

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

We love celebrating and welcoming new babies just as much as the next person and are always on the look out for fabulous baby shower book gifts. Today, we wanted to share five favorites that have been our go to gifts lately. These are books that we both love and that are sure to delight both parents and children and help kick start the building of a first library.

best books for baby shower gifts

1. The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin. Emily's whimsical illustrations are the perfect fit for this sweet book that presents both parents and children a world of wonderful possibilities for the future. The details are to die for and the sentiment strikes just the right balance of being sentimental but not overly saccharine.

2. Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers. This book serves as both an introduction and a welcome to the world, and its all packaged up by the inimitable illustrations and wry hand of Mr. Jeffers. He wrote this book for his infant son, and the overwhelming message is an oh so lovely call for kindness and understanding for our planet and the people on it.

3. Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Graphic, funny, and fast paced! We love this cheeky board book that introduces us to Triangle and Square, and their friendship. This is the first in a shape trilogy by one of our favorite author illustrator pairings. Square is out May 8th and sure to delight as well. Perfect gifts for your design loving friends or minimalist leaning parents. 

4. Touch Think Learn: ABC by Xavier Deneux. We think a wonderful ABC book is essential for a first library. We love that this one provides a tactile as well as visual experience for little ones and the design is superb!

5. AB See by Elizabeth Doyle. This ABC book also doubles as a clever seek and find. Each letter is embedded with objects that help you start conversations that will help with letter recognition and vocabulary building as well as provide a fun way to look beyond the basics of the alphabet.


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