A Penny for Mommy's Thoughts Life in CA

A #TrailingSpouse’s Village

Welcome to the 4th run of the #TrailingSpouseStories.  This love month is not only for expressing our love for our expat partners. There are other people and objects of our affection like our home countries. This month we trailing spouses talk about our homesickness, our longing for our home countries, which we do love in more ways than one.


In light of this month’s #TrailingSpouseStories theme, I’d like to share my personal theory on homesickness (or the lack thereof).  And for all intents and purposes, the only basis this theory has —  is me. 😉

We are all born into a “village”.  Apart from our immediate family, it’s all the relatives, friends and help that we get to raise children into the best kinds of human beings we possibly can be.  Hence the well-known African proverb:

... or some e-card funnier version of it. ;)
… or some e-card funnier version of it. 😉

When you’re born and/or raised into your “village”, the tendency is to accept everything that comes with it, without question.  All the personalities, the weird and odd things, the relationships in all states and stages and the social skills, or lack thereof.  It’s the whole package.  It’s what you know, how you were raised, and what you believe to be right and true.  And the village stays together and is very close-knit because everyone follows the same culture and belief system (How very M Night Shyamalan of me!).  This therefore makes a member of the village loyal; and as an effect, builds attachment and interdependency amongst its members.   Really, what’s wrong with that?
The problem comes when life happens and you have to leave the cozy confines of your village to create your own, start anew, and well… trail your spouse.  And everything that is new and different takes some getting used to.  Admittedly, it’s just harder.

That’s when the homesickness sets in.  It hits hard especially if a person had the most positive experiences of their lives in this village.  It’s very hard to let go of those.

When I'm feeling blue, all I have to do...
When I’m feeling blue, all I have to do…

But here’s what I realized, all thanks to my wise mentor and slightly balding Godfather  (aka “Ninong”, but The Godfather kinda gives him a more regal ring to it, no? ;)).  During one of our “life” discussions, he once told me I’d survive anywhere if only because I knew how to “create” my own village.

Like everyone, I too was born and raised in a village.  But some thing, some circumstance or event(s) along the way of it all made me realize:  The entire system I was raised into wasn’t all for me.  And somewhere along the way, I learned to customize:  I take those that I want, and leave out those I feel don’t fit.  It could’ve been a coping mechanism on my part, but all I know is that it’s what works for me (and now for how I raise the girls).

It’s not that I’m unattached.  On the contrary, I’m big on staying in touch and keeping strong ties.  Many that know me and are close to me can vouch for that, no matter where in the world we are (literally).  Thanks to social media and all our gizmos and gadgets, it’s been easier to keep tabs on everyone too.

And I think because of this “trait” of mine, my attachment becomes fluid.  Instead of a whole village, I miss parts of it.  I miss specific people.  Though I miss their physical presence, I’m still genuinely happy to connect whenever we can, physically or virtually (I guess it helps that my Language of Love is “Words”).

When people ask me if I miss the Philippines, I can never give a straight answer.  The Philippines will of course always be a home to come back to.  And everything that happens to it, the good and the bad, I go through it too.  But if I’m being honest, I’ve also had so many positive, life changing experiences outside of Manila, it’s become easy to leave without an urgent longing to come back.  The birth of my two children in Chapel Hill can’t beat any other experience I’ve had anywhere else.  And I think it’s also paved the open-mindedness  towards living away from home.  Maybe that’s why with this move to California, we quickly adjusted to our new life, as some have observed.

Also, it’s hard to be homesick when you see that Jamie is significantly better here.  Not once since our move, has she had to take antihistamine for her allergy.  Her topical creams and ointments?  We apply once a week; and maybe twice when the weather shifts drastically.

Ironically enough, it all comes down to the little unit of two little girls and a husband that is my village.  With all this moving and trailing and what have you, they have become my home.  We’ve developed our own belief systems, social skills and little culture.  It has parts of the villages my husband and I originally came from, but it’s essentially its own ecosystem.

My village.
My village.

And if you follow the logic,  it’s this village that I’ve become attached to.  We are interdependent of each other.  So no matter where in the world I am, it is without them when I am most homesick.

Read more about other trailing spouses’ experiences with homesickness:

Elizabeth of Secrets of a Trailing Spouse shares how homesickness wasn’t what she expected
Clara of The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide tells how she has been homesick all her trailing spouse life
Tala Ocampo writes about the Life that Was in the Philippines and how she would still say yes to the trailing spouse life
 Yuliya of Tiny Expats relives the sensory experience of being back home
Didi of D for Delicious talks about her love-hate relationship with her home country

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#TrailingSpouseStories: Christmas “Firsts”

Welcome to the second run of the #TrailingSpouseStories blog crawl hosted by Tala Ocampo and Didi of D for Delicious.  This December we talk about our Christmases around the World and the similarities and differences the holidays bring.  Please see the end of the post for other #TrailingSpouseStories.


My memory of the Holidays and Christmas is marked by the kids.  “BK” (Before Kids), my husband and I would go on a 24-hour food binge with our four Christmases:  His dad’s side for Christmas eve, my mom’s side for Christmas morning, my dad’s side for Christmas lunch, and his mom’s side for a late Christmas lunch all through the evening.  It was like that even when we were still dating.  I don’t know how we managed to keep all that food down.

But after the kids came, suddenly I found something totally different about my Christmas, each and every year.

2008 was our first Christmas as parents, and our first Christmas in Chapel Hill.  Sam was three weeks old, and so we didn’t fly home for the Holidays.  Christmas mass was Sam’s first trip out of the house, and my husband got her a Christmas dress — which she only wore once.

Our first Christmas as a family of three.
Our first Christmas as a family of three.

It was the quietest, simplest Christmas I ever had.

In 2009, we flew back to Manila for the holidays for Sam’s very first Manila Christmas.  And though the 4-Christmas spectacle was in full swing, Sam and I were severely jetlagged, so we slept through most of the festivities.

I didn’t know it then, but it was also my  Mama Mia’s last Christmas on this earth.  Thankfully we got to capture our “four generations of women” in a photo.

Four generations of women in my family. :)
Four generations of women in my family. 🙂  Photo credit: Ku Manahan

2010 was the year of Christmas weddings where Sam was asked to be a flower girl at least five times (Gasp!  Dreams do come true! ;)).  However, we couldn’t make it to any of them!  I was pregnant with Jamie — which also meant, it was my first Christmas pregnant.  Can you imagine the maternity winter clothes I had to buy.  Can you imagine the layers I had to put on when I could barely see my feet on a regular basis!

I was too pregnant to fly, so instead my husband treated us all to the beautifully breathtaking Biltmore estate for Christmas Eve.  This was the first Christmas I spent traveling.

I'd forgotten how pregnant I was!
I’d forgotten how pregnant I was!

The next day we drove up to Virginia to see family, and experienced our first Christmas snow day.  Sam was already two at the time, and was happy to be the recipient of all the presents under the tree.

In 2011 we flew back to Manila once more, this time for Jamie’s first ever Christmas.

Their first Christmas as "sisters"! :)
Their first Christmas as “sisters”! 🙂

As you can see, the photos stopped being photos of us, and more of the two sisters (in matching outfits no less!).

That was quite the stressful holiday too because we rushed Sam to the hospital days before Christmas due to an upper respiratory tract infection.

My heart stopped beating.
Dec 20:  The day I thought my heart stopped beating.

In 2012, we flew home to Manila “for good” and spent our first Christmas in our new apartment.    Sam and Jamie performed their first Christmas programs in their respective schools, and I learned just what a stage mom I was.

I never thought I'd be such a sap watching their performances.  Now I know.
I never thought I’d be such a sap watching their performances. Now I know.

2013 is what I like to call the “adjustment year”, when things were slowly falling into place here and there.  For the first time in forever (cue Frozen), we were FINALLY adjusting to a Manila routine.  The Christmas programs ran as expected in both schools.  The kids were older so they could better handle the “four Christmases”.  They still got a ton of presents, and were finally able to maximize their Christmas outfits.

Thank you, Ines Moda Infantil (left) and Tita Kisa (right).
Thank you, Ines Moda Infantil (left) and Tita Kisa (right).

The “new” this year was the holiday cheer brought about by Two Tots.   It was crazy fun buried under all those stockings, what can I say.

This 2014, just as I thought I was getting the hang of a Manila Christmas routine, I find myself again with another first:  Christmas in LA.

For someone like me who looks forward to predictability and routine, these last six Christmases have been a lot to take in.  I spent almost three decades of my life with the same kind of Christmas rituals and the same kind of routine.  Then each year after that, something stark and all too new just threw off the balance.  Ninety-seven percent of the time,it was great and wonderful and I’m indeed thankful.  But it doesn’t change the fact that it was all new and unexpected.  So what else is there to do but re-build traditions and holiday preparations, and to learn from each thing every step of the way.

Like getting the kids involved in the Holiday preparations.

As you can see, our tree is bottom heavy.  Take a guess why.
Santa Sacks are ready!  And as you can see, our tree is bottom heavy. Take a guess why.

And bringing something to remind us of home.

All by Two Tots!  How can you not have them for Christmas?!
All by Two Tots! How can you not have them for Christmas?!

And then of course, teaching the girls the true meaning of Christmas.

My beautiful Belen, a gift from my Mom!
My beautiful Belen, a gift from my Mom!

And maybe it’s because the last six years have each been so different that they’ve all stuck to me more than the Christmases of previous decades. It feels like parenting with a holiday flair, where no two days are the same, and no two children are the same!  Each year brings about many surprises that, like children, teach you a life lesson.  Learning to run with the new as well as holding on to a little bit of the old.

Somewhere in all that chaos, there is a certain familiarity and a semblance of knowing that each year will be just the same.  It doesn’t matter how many firsts each year brings your way. 🙂


Check out the other #TrailingSpousesstories by clicking on the links here:

Didi’s story on D for Delicious :  How Christmas abroad started out tearful, but turned tearless after some time.
Yuliya’s story on Tiny Expats:   Their journey and experience of the winter holidays in 6 countries.
Abigail’s story on Cuddles & Crumbs :  A look back at Christmas and family traditions.
Tala’s story on Tala Ocampo: Their first Christmas abroad in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with the birth of their first child.
Marie’s story on D is for Delicious:  How Christmas celebrations change with the times, and the one thing that keeps it the same.
Glendale’s story on G’s Kandy Krush:  Her first Christmas in Sri Lanka with her husband and 2 sons.
Third’s story on Pinoy in America:  How Pinoys have successfully brought the Philippines’ best-loved Christmas customs and traditions to America.
Marc’s story on Fatherland, explaining how Christmas is different this year compared to past Christmases; and
Kristine’s story on Tala Ocampo where Mac shares her reflections on spending Christmas away from home for 15 years.

Mommy Anecdotes Mommy Discoveries My Mommyology's Manila Chapter

A Wicked Saturday

My grandparents were the people who introduced me to musicals.  We were always in Repertory Philippines.  On a trip into New York my grandpa took me to see pretty much everything there was on Broadway (except maybe Cats).  Even the musicals like Fiddler on the Roof — which weren’t running on any stage either weren’t foreign to me.

I feel I’ve gained so much from this Broadway appreciation that I want my girls to appreciate musicals as well.  We’ve taken them to see a few of the ones staged locally like Aladdin and Cinderella.  So when I saw that Wicked was coming to Manila, I immediately purchased two tickets — for me and for Sam.  The rest of my family decided to come along too; except for my husband and Jamie, who we thought would be too young still (and the dark parts of the plot and production might be too much for her gentle soul at this age).

Heading up to our seats!
Heading up to our seats!

I’d seen Wicked on Broadway with my husband years ago (now that I think about it, I was pregnant with Sam then!), so I had a vague memory of the plot.  And I was a fan of the Wizard of Oz back in the day, so I appreciated how the story somehow tied questions that had been percolating in my head throughout my childhood.  I was confident it wouldn’t be too much for my adventurous little Sam.

The days leading up to our show, I had Sam listen to the music and view some popular clips off You Tube.  With her I’ve learned that it helps to build interest by giving her a taste of what’s to come.  We even had a quick synopsis of the story on the way to Kumon one day.  Needless to say she was excited on so many levels.  By the time Saturday rolled around, she was already humming “One Short Day” and “Defying Gravity”.
It helped to say that the voice of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen was also the first person to play Elphaba — Idina Menzel.

Of course, an added bonus was that she had me all to herself on a date.  We hadn’t done this in a while since I fired the yaya (and since Jamie’s allergies had started flaring up — it’s been extra hard to get time away with Sam).  The show’s venue had some very positive memories for her too; it was where she performed last year for her ballet recital.

We got to CCP early enough to look around and view the set-up on display.  Another good teaser for Sam to be able to appreciate what she might see.

When we finally got to our seats, Sam couldn’t wait for the musical to start.  We had seats up in the balcony area (budget purposes!), but she didn’t mind because of the make-shift telescopes they were selling outside.  These were actually pretty clear and they gave you a good view of the stage.

Testing out our binoculars.  They sell them for P75 oustide the balcony area!
Testing out our binoculars. They sell them for P75 outside the balcony area!

And she loved the production values — from the red-eyed dragon to the glowing emerald city… to all the colors of the lights and where they shown and when.

I'd forgotten about the red-eyed dragon.
I’d forgotten about the red-eyed dragon.

Throughout the entire show Sam had questions and demanded answers.  It was quite tiring really, but I tried to stay patient since I knew she was really trying to understand everything transpiring in front of her.  In a way it kept me on my toes because I was also trying to anticipate what was coming next.  It also gave me a deeper understanding of the whole story and the little details that I’d forgotten or had missed out the first time around.

My husband will be happy to know that during the more adult, romantic scene (When Fiyero and Elphaba sing together in the second half), Sam had tuned out and asked for a lollipop so we busied ourselves trying to open it at just the right moments.  I didn’t bother re-capping that portion to her either.  And on that note, while the story of Wicked is more adult than it is child-friendly, it still wasn’t hard to downplay the adult-portions into something more wholesome and age appropriate.  It just took a little bit of creativity! 😉

When we exited the theater I had to go back to the wall exhibit they had and take a photo of it.  I knew it would come in handy when we’d relive the story of Wicked.

Some elements of the play!
Some elements of the play!

At the end of the end of the show as we walked out, Sam proclaimed to everyone, “I liked it!” — like a critic making her final review.

What’s not to like about Wicked anyway.  It’s witty, it’s relevant, and it’s touching all at the same time.  The songs are fantastic, and the actors who play the roles are all top-quality.  And of course I had the most awesome date. 😉

Me and my Wicked date.
Me and my Wicked date.
Mommy Discoveries Mommyology at Work My Mommyology Blog Give-Away My Mommyology's Manila Chapter

My Mommyology Review: Babies to Toddlers (+ Give-Away!)

It’s funny how Manila is really so small.

I’d been hearing about this online shopping site for quite a while called  I was quite curious, because the site claims to have “hard-to-find items for babies and toddlers”, which to me reads: things that were available to me in Chapel Hill that aren’t available locally.  Online shopping makes me happy.  It’s easy, there’s no traffic and it’s done from wherever I am.  So I am all for it.

Then one morning, I got to my exercise class earlier than usual (I usually make a photo-finish entrance just as the teacher is about to close the door) and sat down with a few of the other women for a quick chat.  We’d see each other before and after class and exchange a few words, but I think our solidarity started when we’d collectively groan about certain positions our instructor would make us do (but we’d do them anyway).  Somehow the conversation went to online shopping and social media and that’s how Teresa and I “formally” met.

Teresa Rufino is the owner of Babies to Toddlers.  She’s actually had the site up since 2009 and has been adding to the variety of items since then.  Teresa  sources the products herself and makes regular trips out of the country to check out the latest things that Filipino parents would want for their kids.  “Each product is pre-selected for innovation, excellence, social consciousness, development appropriateness and styles,” she said.  I do remember her being away from class for about three weeks and when she came back she told me about a recent pregnancy pop she found.

I hadn’t bought anything yet, but I’d been back and forth into the site made mental notes of some things I wanted.  It’s quite tempting since shipping is free over a reasonable amount of P1,200.  With the way I shop for my kids I’m sure to meet this (and hurray for free shipping I say!).

The Temporal Thermometer was the first thing that caught my eye (and the price of this alone meets the minimum requirement!).  I’ve had our current ear thermometer since 2008 and no matter how many times I change the battery, it seems like it’s lived out its useful life and I’ve been meaning to replace it.  I like it that this one is non-intrusive .  The girls don’t mind the ear poke, but when they’re sick and asleep sometimes it also wakes them up, and I’d do anything to keep that from happening, like buying a new thermometer.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

The other cute item I saw was the wrap-around hair towel.  It’s called a hairbib.  I smiled when I saw it because it’s a very relevant need for me.  Sam usually rushes out of the bathroom before I can get her hair dry.  Often times when I catch her, the top back portion of her shirt is wet since her hair is still dripping with water.  It’s the first time I saw this hairbib, but it makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s something I’d definitely buy.

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of


Then there’s the Aqueduck faucet extender for my petite Jamie.  Pre-aqueduck days, Jamie still needed to be carried to wash her hands, negating the need for the step stool I stuck into our luggage on our way back home.  But once installed it, Jamie now happily sticks her hands under the flow of water and washes to her heart’s content.  I’m all for products and gadgets that help make a child a little bit more independent.

She still tiptoes, but she's happier this way too.
She still tiptoes, but she’s happier this way too.

I also love love love – Potty Cover seats!  I tell you with these girls and the public bathrooms around Metro Manila, there is no way I will enter without one.  The ones on are quite nice because they’re big and long.  Sam can actually hold on to the seat comfortably when we use it without her fingers or any part of her body ever ever (EVER!) touching any part of the toilet.  Of course, I still disinfect the whole bloody thing.  It’s also quite handy when we travel.  Trust me, I know!  I can never have enough potty covers.  Jamie will soon make use of them too.

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

And because Teresa is a generous mompreneur, she has asked me to help her giveaway a few of the products on their site!  Rafflecopter here we go! 🙂
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you Teresa and Babies to Toddlers for making shopping in Manila much easier for us!

Mommy Anecdotes Mommy Discoveries My Mommyology's Manila Chapter What's the Difference?

What I Learned About Pediatric Dentists (In Manila)

There is a happy ending to this post, I promise.
There is a happy ending to this post, I promise.

Finding a pediatric dentist in Manila is like a fairy tale come true.  I wasn’t expecting it — coming from wonderful previous experiences with Sam’s Pediatric Dentist in Chapel Hill, I had high hopes and expectations for a good one here.  I was a bit nervous, having heard a few horror stories here and there, but I do have friends and family who take their kids to pediatric dentists, so I was certain there was one out there.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to look very far because there is one practice at the ground floor of the condominium we stay in.   How convenient is that!  It’s such a plus that there’s zero travel time and we can literally walk down a minute before our appointment.  I did make an appointment right around the time of Sam’s 6th month visit.  And historical data in hand, the girls and I walked downstairs and met with the doctor.

I have to say, my first impression of him wasn’t very good, but I decided to give it a chance.  Why didn’t I like him?  He seemed very impersonal.  There was no warmth in the way he interacted with me or with Sam.  He went straight down to business, he didn’t really care about our background either, or he just brushed it aside.  Sam wasn’t afraid of him so I ignored my momtuition and we proceeded.

I suppose momtuition is there for a reason, right?  And there’s a reason we should always listen to it.  Just keep reading.

So the appointment went on with the dentist pointing out things that Sam’s lovely pedia dentist showed me in our visits abroad.  Sam’s milk teeth were crowding and she had a slight under bite, making her a possible candidate for braces.  Mr Pedia Dentist probed into her drinking and eating habits (like they normally do), but was quick to point out that I make her drink from a straw too much, and that habit further pushes the lower teeth back and makes the crowding worse.  I initially frowned upon this because it’s the first I’d heard of it (In the states, our dentist was proud I hardly made Sam drink from a bottle, which is the same sucking motion) but he was quite insistent I had to change this habit.  The appointment ended and I got his calling card, with an assurance we could text or call anytime in case we had concerns.  I felt even more bothered than when we’d initially walked in, but I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly.

Found this so cute, it just had to go in for comedic pleasure. :)
Found this so cute, it just had to go in for comedic pleasure. 🙂

A few days later Sam complained of pain in her upper teeth.  At first I couldn’t figure out what it was but  she’d cry each time we’d brush.  The warning bells went off that he may have put something on her teeth that made it sensitive.    I kept calling and texting this dentist (he did say, “call anytime”, right?), but there was no reply.  FOR. THREE. DAYS.

Finally we got a call from his office.  They’d gotten a voice mail from me ( I’d left this during office hours days before — now why someone wasn’t picking up, I don’t understand!) and could we come and see the dentist to determine what’s wrong?  Oh I’m so glad you asked.

I kid you not.  This was his costume.
I kid you not. He looked like this.

I will never forget this date because it was October 31, and Mr Dentist was dressed in a Count Dracula outfit.  I don’t know how he expected us to take him seriously.  He checked Sam, and as I’d told him, I couldn’t spot anything wrong, but she would complain each time I’d brush that portion.  And I know my daughter, she doesn’t cry when we brush her teeth out of the blue.  So something was up.

Mr Dracula — errr, Dentist — looked at me quite impatiently (I felt), and explained that our next step would be to take extensive x-rays which would cost an arm and a leg, when “obviously what you need to learn is how to communicate with your child better.  Arte lang yan (translate: she’s only playing up the drama)”.

I was quite taken aback with that statement.  And admittedly, very offended.  Here is a stranger I’d only known for a total of 10 minutes and he was telling me I don’t know how to communicate or brush my child’s teeth?  How could he pass judgement like that?  He didn’t offer any other bit of information or theory; he just dismissed ours as a case of drama.  I know Sam, and I know when she’s just being dramatic.  I KNOW.

Deciding he wasn’t worth my rage, I got Sam up to say goodbye.  And then, the clincher.  As a going away gift to Sam, he handed her A BAG OF CANDY.

What is a dentist doing giving kids CANDY?!  HARD candy at that?  It’s Halloween he said looking at my aghast expression.

At that point I knew:  We were never coming back here.  I didn’t care anymore if he was one minute away.

Thankfully, my very helpful trusted group of mom friends responded to my crowdsourcing on Facebook and sent us in the direction of the Pediatric Dentist we’re seeing now.  And this is why I like him worlds better than the first one:

  • He told us that we didn’t need to change any drinking habits.  It wasn’t going to do much damage as Sam’s teeth situation is structural.  It’s different if she thumb-sucked and ate a lot of candy which she didn’t do;
  • His treatment of the kids (Jamie too it being her first time) was very similar to how they did it with us in the states;
  • He had a TV on the ceiling and let them watch whatever they wanted.  He addressed them personally and did not talk over their heads;
  • He was still very straightforward with me, and honest and factual, but at no point in time did I feel like my parenting style was being judged.  In fact he was so willing to work around with the routine we’d set for the girls.  He gave me a few useful tips about giving my girls good brushing habits regardless of the lifestyle they lead;
  • He did not give out candy, and said they never do; and
  • When Sam had a tooth emergency a couple of days ago, he responded the next morning for us to come into the clinic.  His staff said that they got my text the night before, but upon assessing the urgency, he told them it could wait until morning.  So the response time was a lot quicker.  He also gave me all the possible scenarios that could happen and watch out points, but at the same time, he reassured me that these little accidents are all part and parcel of kids growing up.  Again, I didn’t feel judged.

The girls love this dentist.  They want to go back, even without an appointment.  He has a long list of patients (5 moms from different circles all responded to my Facebook message and all 5 told me to go see him), so it’s important to schedule way in advance.  He’s that good and that reliable.

And the morale of the story is:  Trust your Momtuition.  And don’t trust dentists who dress like Dracula.