Thanks to some foresight (we purchased the airplane tickets back in March), we were able to head to the Philippines for a whole month for an extended Christmas holiday.  My parents and one of my brothers live in the Philippines and, although I haven’t lived there myself for over 15 years, I’ve visited enough times that it still feels like home.
My parents live in a high-rise apartment just outside Makati, in the heart of Metro Manila.  There’s a fancy mall just down the elevator and two other malls within walking distance.  We ate out every day and popped down for coffee, a haircut, etc. without a second thought.  The apartment building had a “clubhouse” with a rooftop pool and a playroom, so the girls were in heaven.  It was SUCH a contrast to life here–but such a nice break!
We were also fortunate enough to be able to take a few short trips outside the city.  I always forget how utterly gorgeous the Philippines is.  We took a couple of day trips outside Manila but also spent a week in Samar, where my grandmother lives.  We went hiking, zip-lining, kayaking, and white-water rafting (well, I didn’t get to do the last two because I was on kid duty!).  It was quite the adventure.  I just loved driving down coastal roads and marveling over how the mountains lead straight to the water.
Full disclosure: the girls had a bit of a rough time with the not exactly kid-friendly pace of life… we often ate dinners out hours past their bedtime, which means we spent countless meals taking turns pacing outside restaurants.  Mei hated being restrained in the airplane and on car rides, which was obviously stressful. And we weren’t able to do all that we would’ve wanted because of the kids’ limitations.  
THAT said, it was a wonderful time.  I loved being able to travel as a family and it meant a lot to me that my girls were able to experience one of my home countries.  Best of all was the fact that my family was together for the first time in five years–my older brother flew in from Taiwan to join us.  It was a very happy Christmas, indeed.

Clockwise from top L: Catbalogan beach, Manila skyline, San Juanico bridge, countryside outside Subic, downtown Catbalogan, view from my parents’ balcony


Sunday drive

After a couple of months (!) of health, our girls have finally succumbed to the horrid sickness that has been going around.  We decided to skip church since both girls are hacking and Mei had a mild fever.  Instead, we slept in, lounged around on the couch, and then piled into the car for a Sunday drive.

We headed towards one of our all-time favorite restaurants–the Elk Creek Cafe in Millheim for brunch.  I ordered the eggs benedict and it, along with the crispy potatoes that come as a side, was glorious.  The girls were remarkably well-behaved (notable after the nightmare of eating out in the Philippines), the sun was shining in through the giant panes of windows… it was just perfect.
After brunch, we took the “long” way home; i.e. we went on a joyride.  This is one of our favorite things to do (see here) and the perfect activity when we are too sick to go on a hike in 15 degree weather but still want to get out of the house.
We are so, so lucky to live where we are.  Countless state parks and gorgeous country side surround our area.  We drove through a hemlock forest and imagined what it was like when the entire state was forest.  It was just a nice day.
L- R: Lazy morning, brunch at the Elk Creek, blue skies, snowy beach path, hemlock forest