Perks of Working With Your Spouse

I never, ever thought that my husband and I would work in the same place. This is largely due to the fact that I married a nurse, and, on principle, I avoid hospitals at all costs.

But then, last August, we both ended up in a job that we never could have envisioned at the beginning of our marriage: we both became ESL teachers, teaching different grades at the same school. The coworkers who settled us into the office said that maybe it would be more convenient for us if our desks were right next to each other, and they set us up with two computers at two desks in the same room. We work very closely!

Arriving on campus together, bright and early! You can see the "school bus" in the background, behind the hedge.
In reality, because the actual work involved requires teaching classes in all of our different classrooms, we spend good chunks of the work day in our separate teaching buildings--him with his Senior 2 students and me with my Senior 1 students.

Here are the benefits we've found from this lifestyle:

1. Transportation is so efficient! In Michigan, when we first got married, we had two cars--he had a half-hour drive to work, and I had a 40 minute drive to university. We spent so much time in our separate vehicles just commuting! Here, we wait at the bus stop together, and hop onto the school bus for teachers along with our coworkers. If we did have a car, we could get away with owning 1 instead of 2, because we don't have to be in far-distant places at the same time!

2. We wake up for work at the same time and work on the same days. Well, sort of. I wake up a bit earlier than he does, but we leave at the same time. When we first got married, Angel worked 7 pm-7am. After a year and a half, he switched to day shift, but when he was on days, I was in school Tuesday-Saturday, while he had frequent Sunday shifts, so our schedules never meshed well. It's pretty amazing to have the same days off, all the time.

3. It's really easy to line up a substitute teacher when you're married to one. Two times this past year, I've asked Angel to pick up a class for me because I was feeling miserably ill. Technically, we are allowed to have sick days, but I never want to take one, because my students have so few opportunities to interact with English speakers as it is. Most of our classes don't overlap, so it's easy for Angel to take over one of my periods, or me to take over one of his, and that way, students don't miss out on having Conversational English Class and I don't stress about missing work, so I can actually rest and get better.

4. We divide and conquer. Our coworkers notice that we have very different personalities and skills. Angel is the one they ask when they want to gather players for a basketball game after work. Sometimes he joins in on teacher vs. student soccer games, and has even been helping with coaching/drilling some of the students in soccer skills after school. I don't have the ability to make friends via sports, but his affinity for athletics have opened up a lot of doors for great relationships for us. His team won all of the teachers' tug-of-war competitions, and now, a hilarious picture of Angel pulling furiously on a rope is displayed prominently on a school bulletin board. I, on the other hand, as the resident nerd, am the one that teachers know to pull aside if they want someone to proofread their PowerPoint slides, or brainstorm class activities and homework assignments with. The two of us have very different skills, and I think we both benefit from presenting a united front at work and contributing our best talents to the entire teaching team. Angel's better at sportsmanship and normal camaraderie, while I'm quieter and non-athletic, but extremely useful on the academic side of things.

5. We get to help each other get our work done. Teaching English at two different grade levels that are so close together involves a lot of overlap. There's plenty of times when we've built off the same basic lesson plans to save on busy work, and have just altered activities to fit our own classes' abilities and personalities. We jointly led after-school English corner last semester--and let me tell you, when you're getting 50-100 teenagers to participate in organized games outdoors, having an extra pair of hands helps immensely. I love that my closest partner at work is a man I can trust to do an excellent job and never let me down on doing his part of the preparations.

6. We have the same friends. We've always told each other stories from work, I'm sure that's normal! But I met Angel's coworkers 2, maybe 3 times at most, during his 4 years at the hospital, and I never got great at keeping names straight. "Wait, who's having a baby? I thought she just had one? Oh, that was someone totally different? Okay, never mind." He also rarely came into contact with anyone I was in beauty school with. By contrast, here, we find it fun that we work with the same people and can give updates on friends that our spouse actually knows: "Hey, I went to Coco's office today to chat with her..." "I ate lunch with Snow today and I asked her how common C-sections are for pregnant women in China." {Poll: Please, please guess which one of us, Angel or Rachel, was asking questions about C-sections at lunch. I have a feeling you'll be right.}

I love working with my husband. It's fun to be in a position where we can help each other be excellent in our everyday jobs. I'm glad that we have come to love the same school--we're proud to be teachers at our school, and we're privileged to spend more time together than we ever have before.

Life Itself Demands Celebration

Lately, I've noticed an increasing number of folks turning to the internet to condemn people who throw excessive numbers of parties or who take too many pictures or who otherwise get excited about the apparently small things of life.

People say stuff like, "Humans have been having babies since the beginning of time. Why does the ability to procreate deserve photographic announcements, gender reveal parties, professional maternity photo shoots, and the like?"

They say, "Graduating from high school is the norm. You shouldn't be celebrating it with senior pictures and huge grad parties. Why should we celebrate something that's so expected?"

Birthday parties for adults, and all manner of other celebrations, also get a bad rap. The argument, by and large, is that having big parties and inviting the extended family over just for a gender reveal is overkill. That elaborate photo-shoots for "small" occasions are narcissistic. That people who frequently post on social media about how happy they are and the cool little things that make their day are making big deals about nothing and are merely selfishly trying to rub their happiness in the faces of those who aren't quite so happy.


If you know me, you'll already know that I happen to disagree that all of the "excessive" celebrating  going on is a mark that this generation is ridiculously self-absorbed. I say, bring on the celebrating, and the photos, and the statuses about what makes you happy, because it gives me a chance to participate in your life more than I could otherwise. To me, your life is a big deal, and I want to celebrate with you.

If you're grouching about how many family photos so-and-so is posting on Facebook, do them a favor and unfriend them. When it comes to the people I love, I look forward to seeing their little ones--even when they're doing the most not-amazing things. You'll never hear a sarcastic, "They're acting like he's the first baby who ever turned 1." from me. Angel regularly messages his brother to let him know that we haven't seen enough of our nephew lately. Just last year, I hosted this graduation party for my cousin and celebrated the fact that she was done with high school and was going on to spend some time abroad. A few years before that, I broke all manner of etiquette rules and hosted a joint high school and college graduation party for myself and my little sister. She had just recently arrived in the USA and we got to see all sorts of old family friends--it was an absolute blast.

 Chinese character bedecked cookies in honor of my Mandarin degree. Because my guests didn't know Mandarin, I wrote random characters like dog, cat, old, fat, fur, wash, etc. I had a blast!

To me, celebrating doesn't mean I'm some sort of special, unique, princess. Celebrating means I realize that the gift of life is awesome--celebration is my natural response. My personality isn't one that demands Pinterest-perfect parties, or even insists on waiting till I have a pretty home or yard to have one. I've never had a particularly pretty home. I mostly likely never will. But I will always have parties.

I remember being asked what the occasion was when I invited some friends to a bonfire party a few years back. I couldn't think of one at first--but then I answered, "It's not snowing!" I swear, every day it's not snowing in Michigan, that's a good enough reason for a party. To some, that's selfish, narcissistic, and wasteful. I do not know why. Money I spend on feeding my friends and family is never money wasted, and Saturdays I've spent getting ready for a party are some of the most enjoyable Saturdays in my memory.

I, like every adult, grew up during the days of film cameras. My first birthday photos? Three pictures of me sitting in a kiddie pool at home. The 4x6 pictures are half black because something was wrong with the camera that day. Now, professional photography and DSLRs are expensive, but I'm glad that photography has advanced so much that we can have better photos of little events throughout life. True, there aren't great photos of my childhood, and if we go back a little further--almost no pictures of my dad as a kid even exist. The lack of great photographic evidence didn't hurt us any, but nice photos of what life is like are fun! A 1st birthday party may not be a world-shaking event, but high quality photos of it can mean a lot to a mom whose kids are turning into adults before her eyes. I don't have a DSLR, and the last time we hired a professional photographer was for our wedding. I'm so glad we did. I love our wedding photos. The last time my parents brought our family to a professional photo studio for family pictures was after my freshman year of college. To this day, I still see my mom looking through the photo album we bought from the studio. I know that those photos (and yes, they cost money, and yes, there was no special reason to photograph the family) bring her so much joy. I love those photos, too, even when the photographers finagled us into rather silly poses with bubble backdrops...


There's plenty in life that heart-breaking. Some days I get the kind of news that feels like it shakes the very ground I stand on. The ability to celebrate is a privilege that I don't take lightly. I will persist in celebrating the big and the small in my own life and the lives of people I love--with photos, with parties, with whatever means I have at any given moment, because to me, it's worth it. Celebrating with others is how I show I love them. I'm already planning goodbye parties for a few special individuals who are moving to the USA this summer--that in itself is not entirely a happy event, but we're going to celebrate together while we can.

My sister Rebekah is turning 16 tomorrow. I hear she has an epic non-birthday party planned. I didn't get the full story on why the party is themed as a "non-birthday" party, or what exactly that means, but I'll find out sometime. I did find out that the party is intended to be a heavy feast followed by an all-nighter devoted to board games and party games. How I wish I could be there, because Rebekah's life demands celebration.

If I Were a Niche Blogger...

What kind of niche blogger would I be?

This sounds like an absolutely ridiculous sort of musing, coming from Ms. Random over here. I mean, this blog is probably even less focused than the average lifestyle blog, and I like it that way. Most of the time I can't imagine running a niche blog, however, I have a few ideas about what kind of blogs I might have been the author of in a parallel blogging universe...



1) A Sewing Blogger. With a focus on dressmaking and themed/quirky outfits that aren't quite costumes, so that they can be worn in real life. I'd love to learn advanced seamstress skills and design clothing for myself. There's a secret side of me that wants a sewing room filled with all my equipment and tons of material and the skills to be able to make the things I imagine.

2) Theme Park Blogger. I would make a list of all the theme parks I wanted to conquer, and then conquer them. I tend to research vacations pretty heavily before going, so I'd put together resources with park information and strategies to get the most park out of each day, as well as rate parks on a value-for-money scale and choose my favorite rides in every park. This blog would be a combination of Pinteresty resource posts with practical information on parks along with not-so-pinteresty colorful tales of adventures and misadventures while on trips. I would travel the world going to theme parks, and people would mock my obviously skewed priorities.

3) A Dollhouse Blogger. I would spend limitless amounts of money (after all, this is my imagination) creating elaborate dollhouses to fit every sort of theme and time period in existence. I'd have the cutest mini-rooms out there and people would read my blog purely for the entertainment value of seeing a grown woman so unabashedly committed to dollhouses. I'd probably delve a little into small-scale model building as well, another pricey but fascinating hobby.

4) A Prank Blogger. This would be a joint blog with Angel, of course, as he'd be the source of most of the pranks. I tend to be pretty picky about pranks and could probably chat endlessly about the importance of elegant, clever pranking as opposed to the sort of pranking that is vulgar, common, and mean. I love the kinds of pranks that end up putting a smile on someone's face. (Speaking of smiling faces, 9 months after he left the hospital, Angel's former coworkers are still finding the pictures of his face that he taped to obscure locations all over the unit). I think this would be a really fun blog to create and find content for, but it probably wouldn't appear, at first glance, to be a highly professional endeavor.

It's probably equally obvious that these niche blogs of mine would be awesome, and that they are completely impractical. Sewing rooms? Dollhouses? Endless pranking? Inconceivable!

What realistic or unrealistic niche blog do you secretly think would be fun to write?

Wardrobe Variety (Or Lack of It)




While we were walking home from the mall the other day, Angel told me that his end goal, as far as clothing goes, it to only own short-sleeved baby blue shirts, and dark-colored pants and shorts. He claims that his long-term plan, which will take years to enact, is to replace all clothing that wears out with only baby blue, short-sleeved shirts, and dark-colored bottoms.

This statement helped me understand why he was recently looking at a baby blue t-shirt at Wal-mart when he already owns three. It also made me laugh, because anyone who knows my family knows that my beloved grandfather has a wardrobe consisting solely of baby blue, long-sleeved collared shirts, and black dress pants, so Angel's wardrobe aspirations sounded startlingly familiar.

I still find this desire rather odd. Angel went on to tell me that ever since we've moved to China, he hasn't been stressed about choosing clothes for the day, because he now owns only a mere fraction of his former wardrobe. Like me, Angel hasn't grown since middle school, which meant that before we left America, he'd acquired a large wardrobe over the past 15 years or so. I used to flop myself down on the bed and tease him as he tried on a variety of different shirt and jeans or shirt and tie combos while getting ready for church or a date.

I hate changing clothes, and can never be prevailed upon to do it unless absolutely necessary, so once I'm dressed, I'm not changing till I go to bed at night. I used to joke about how much longer Angel took to get ready than I did, because he had to change into 4 or 5 different outfits before he had come up with something he liked for the day.

In China, we don't have the luxury of owning clothes other than clothes that fit great, look good, and wear well. Angel's small clothes collection gives him much fewer choices when getting dressed than he ever had before, and he's found that he likes it that way.

On the other hand...I can't imagine ever wanting more than one of anything in my closet. I will not be filling my wardrobe with baby blue t-shirts, thank you very much. I enjoy variety. I enjoy picking out drastically different colors and outfits to wear from day to day. I've always liked my wardrobe--when it was bigger, and now that it's small too, because I only buy clothes that I love, and I get a kick out of mixing and matching things in my closet. I've never felt wardrobe stress, and I've never taken off an outfit that I put on before bed, unless I have a really, really pressing reason to change clothes. For example: I'm going swimming, someone spilled ketchup on me, or I was suddenly informed that I'm going out to a fancy restaurant for dinner. I really, really detest changing clothes, so it has to be a good reason.

I'm one of those people who find a silly sort of joy in opening the closet and seeing a rainbow of much-loved, well-worn items just begging to be worn in non-scientific, mis-matched ensembles. My husband prefers a closet with little to no choices. What about you?

Getting Educated...For Free!

Let me start by saying that in my opinion, education is a worthwhile investment of money. I believe that teachers and tutors should be paid well, and that it's worth it to pay good money for high-quality educational curricula, textbooks, and computer programs. My absolute favorite homeschool curriculum is a very pricey one, and I think the education it provides is worth every penny.

But!

I have a preK-12th grade private home education, a B.A. from a private university, a cosmetology license from a 10-month course, and a TEFL certificate.

Thousands upon thousands of dollars have already been invested in my education, and at some point, I just want to be able to continue learning on my own without having to continually pay for more courses.


Here are a few of the resources I've found helpful in my studies recently:

Khan Academy

I heard about this through my almost 16 year old sister, who is using it for SAT prep.  I decided that with a brother working on his computer engineering degree and a long-standing history as a writer on the internet, it wouldn't be a bad idea for me to get more comfortable with the world of computers, so I've already worked my way through their intro to computer programming course and have started on the second, with plans to work my way through all of their computer courses. This website seems strongly math-focused, with math courses from kindergarten level all the way up to college-level, so if I ever decide to regret that I only took one math course in college, I know exactly where to go.

DuoLingo

I think this program is really cool, but I'll admit that I don't really make use of it. It's all about language learning, but currently, the only available languages are European in origin, and I tend to not be interested in learning European languages. But I'm keeping it in mind for when I want to polish up my Spanish.

Memrise

I've used this solely for Mandarin Chinese, but that's not what it's all about. There are many, many different courses available--my parents have used a few of their Bahasa Indonesia courses. They have non-language courses, too. This program works a lot like digital flashcards, so it's great for memorizing vocabulary words, but not so great for learning how to put sentences together.

WolframAlpha

This site is an incredibly detailed data-providing search engine. You know how whenever you want to quick learn some facts about a random person or historical event, you'll go to Wikipedia? I think the best way to describe this site is a little like Wikipedia, only with a much better looking design, and with the ability to answer far more questions. The site is heavily loaded with data, so if you're looking for numerical facts, or answers to scientific or mathematical problems, it's fantastic!

Popup Chinese

This is an amazing, free audio resource. Thousands of podcasts and accompanying dialogue transcripts are available at every level from beginner Mandarin to very advanced, and they are free to listen to online, although a premium membership (with a fee) will allow you to download them all. The nature of these podcasts means that they provide far more listening practice and grammar instruction than Memrise ever could. I've been faithfully listening to intermediate-level podcasts from the archives every day, and I've come to really appreciate the slightly twisted sense of humor which appears to be their trademark.

Yoyo Chinese

This is not really free, or, at least the number of free video lessons is very small compared to the number of lessons available for paid students. Video lessons from Yoyo Chinese are loaded onto Youtube by the user Yang Yang Cheng, and although comparatively few of them are actually free, I am extremely impressed by the design of the videos as well as by her teaching style. I would consider paying for this program except that from the sample videos, what's available is a bit below my level. Still, the videos available on Youtube are very fun to watch and provide great listening practice, so I've tried to convince Angel to watch these Youtube videos as our evening entertainment. I'm signed up for her weekly emails, which sometimes have cool resources--recently she sent out one with a link to the Youtube video of a Mandarin pop song that's actually understandable at my level, and I thought that was a lot of fun--I tend to find songs pretty difficult to understand (it's not like I can understand all English pop songs, after all....). If you're interested, check out Lao Shu Ai Da Mi ("Mice Love Rice"). It's silly, but I can understand the song and even sing it and write the lyrics so I'm impressed with myself. Are we allowed to say things like that?

Growing Up with Chinese

Apparently, I'm really into internet-based language learning tools. This is a 100 episode series produced in conjunction with CCTV. The early episodes are very basic, but I started watching somewhere in the middle of the series, and have enjoyed the listening practice they offer, as well as the introduction to various Chinese idioms (my knowledge of idioms is regrettably lacking). I'm finding myself getting weirdly invested into the continuing stories surrounding Xiao Ming and Lan Lan. Maybe I need a break from watching educational videos...

edX

University courses in which lecture materials have been uploaded online. You can choose which courses you're interested in and work your way through them at your own pace (usually). I think there are some options for paying for a "Verified Certificate" that you have completed the course, but I'm skeptical of that service as I don't see a huge value in Certificates purchased via the internet. Still, the courses are very interesting--it's fun to hear actual college lectures again without the pressure of looming exams. I enrolled myself in a few, including one on the Art of Teaching, which doesn't start till next week. I love my job, and it can't be a bad idea to learn more about it, right?

Obviously, these websites are skewed toward my particular interests, which are, perennially, Mandarin Chinese and other languages, and lately, computer stuff. What sites have you found useful in your own educational pursuits?