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.


Surviving Arsenic Hour: Part 4 Sanity Saving Play Materials

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Some nights it's all I can do to plop something in front of my kids and ask them to play, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.  Thankfully, we've got a pretty well stocked arsenal of materials to keep them busy.

Note: to contain the inevitable mess, I own several of these IKEA trays.  They are fantastic and create a designated, easily washable space to keep the materials on.  And for $2, you'll have no problem stocking up.

1. Kinetic Sand
I know, I know.  So messy.  But still so fun.  I host a rotating play date for my 3 year old daughter and a few of her friends every other week and I usually start by setting out a tray for each of them with one of these materials on.  I got a bulk package of pink kinetic sand (and these toys for them to play with in it- HUGELY popular) and the girls will play for an hour or more.  (My son loves his blue sand and having battles with his army figures- and they'll mix and match their toys or trade sand, depending on the afternoon)

2. Aaron's Thinking Putty
This is another item that we ONLY play with on our IKEA trays, a huge caveat here is that this stuff sticks to everything and stains fabrics if you leave it there.  I am militant about this being kept in the kitchen.  But we have it because my kids absolutely love it.  It is stretchy, squishy, perfectly malleable, and never dries out.  I love watching them incorporate this into their play and all the different scenarios that unfold.

3.  Play-Doh
I don't feel like a lot needs to be said about this.  Fantastic fun for the under 5 or so crowd.  These are a few of our Play Doh sets that get the most use:

4. Waterbeads
As a mom who doesn't enjoy stepping on slimy balls and cleaning them off the floor for days, I kind of hate these.  As a mom who is desperate for my kids to be engaged with an activity so I can cook dinner and put my screaming baby down for a nap, I'm a big fan.  These are sensory wonder.  Inexpensive and easy to set up, these are a great toy for completely open ended play.

5. Magnatiles
If you don't own these yet, you should.  You really should.  All of my children, from 1 year old to the 6 year old play, and play, and play with these.  Definitely start with the 100 piece set and add on from with different types (glow-in-the dark, clear, black),  bases with wheelsexpansion packs.  If I'm feeling a little extra superstar Mom, I'll throw out a building challenge or prompt to see what they come up with.


Surviving Arsenic Hour: Part 3 Storybook Endings

Sunday, March 11, 2018

This is a recent development in our home, and an idea that I got while visiting with my nephews.  They have a stack of simple, homemade books and an array of fun art materials and they will spend hours creating their own storybooks.  The results were inspiring, and inspired me to implement the activity in my own home.  My 6 year old has no interest in writing, he seems to actively dislike it.  We struggle to get him to write anything- except letters to his cousins and these books.  He's taking ideas and story lines he's already telling me about, or playing out with his toys, and putting them down on paper.  It's wonderful for writing practice, spelling, understanding story elements and so much more. Sometimes the best ideas are, blessedly, also the easiest.

Step 1: Pre-make the books.  Construction paper on the outside and a few sheets of blank, lined or otherwise prepared white paper, stapled or taped together.  Viola.  Magic waiting to happen.

Step 2: Stock up on writing materials. Kids love exciting writing supplies, think sparkles, invisible ink, etc. The supplies we've had good luck with are colorful, fun and good for writing. Here are some of our favorites:

Step 3: Have some writing prompts ready.  Just in case your little writers need a boost getting started. Here are some great sources and already developed prompts to help you along:


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