The Random Writings of Rachel

Unpopular Opinions on DIY Tutorials + a Beginner Sewing Tutorial (ha!)

How do you feel about tutorials?

I don't really have a very tutorial-based learning style. I'm more the sort of person who looks at recipes on Pinterest, doesn't bother to actually look up the recipe, but just looks at the photos of finished meals, decides, "Yes, I want my soup to look like that!" and then makes my own invented soup that looks like that while never clicking through to the recipe.

When I want to make a craft, I may get an idea for a project based off a photo, but rarely will I actually watch a video or read a post on how to create it. I just figure out how to make it my own way. I'm not sure why. Laziness? Or tutorials just don't really fit my learning style? I've shown off a number of DIYs on this blog while never making any sort of tutorial for them.

It's more my style to say: look, I painted my shoes! Or look, I painted a window and stuck photos to it! Or, I have no idea how to quilt properly but I made a tiny dollhouse quilt anyways!

I pretty much assume that if you are at all interested in painting your own shoes you can do it without needing a tutorial to tell you how. Also...I also assume that most people would not want to paint their shoes in the first place.

For more complex tasks like learning how to insert an invisible zipper for the first time, I might actually look at a tutorial, but other than that, they're just not really the way I learn how to do things. I wonder if this is the result of being homeschooled and being more accustomed to teaching myself how to do things rather than learning from a teacher. Yeah, let's blame this on homeschool. The rest of the world wants to blame my awkwardness and lack of athletic skills on being homeschooled, so what's one more thing?

After reading this, you will be really wondering why in the world I decided to make a sewing tutorial for beginners and put in on our Youtube channel.

I'm still wondering that, myself, really.

I think a few factors contributed to my decision:

1) We hadn't made a video for a few weeks, so it felt like we ought to make a video about something

2) I sometimes get asked where the bows that I wear all to often came from.

3) I also get asked how I tie my bows to get them to turn out just right.



MaryGrace had asked for her own bow belt for her birthday, so I grabbed Sarah one free morning so I could accomplish the triple purpose of making the birthday present, teaching her a little bit of basic sewing skills, and create the video at the same time.

I think my favorite part of the video is that I never know what Sarah might say while on camera. Somehow, pizza and sharks and who knows what else work their way into the conversation about sewing. At the very end of the video, I show just how I tie the bow perfectly (and yes, that took a 2nd take since the first time, I forgot how I tie the bow. Something I do automatically probably once a week or so. awkward....).

So, even if you're not interested in sewing at all, you should at least watch a little bit of the beginning to see how cute biggest sister and littlest sister are together, to hear Sarah's random comments, and if you're just interested in my bow tying technique, just watch the last minute of the video.


What are your feelings on DIY tutorials?

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Birthday Party

This past weekend, we celebrated the 15th birthday of my sister, MaryGrace!

She requested a birthday party themed to Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and I was glad to oblige.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Birthday Party

Life is a little busy right now, which means that we didn't prepare in advance as much as I normally do for a party...nearly everything was prepped and decorated on the day of the party itself, which added a nice sense of urgency to the preparations. ;) Nothing like procrastination to motivate you...



The most important piece of decor was the gigantic candy tree on the wall. Mom and Dad have had some sort of tree on their wall for months--first a Christmas tree, then a Chinese New Year-inspired tree, and now we re-used some parts of those trees, added new ones, and created a tree that looks good enough to eat!


Balloons hanging from every conceivable shelf or light fixture added the touch of whimsy and the "edible room" look we were going for.


"Whipped cream isn't whipped cream unless it's been whipped with whips, just as a poached egg isn't a poached egg unless it's been stolen from the woods in the middle of the night."

Best quote ever.



The food is, of course, the most important part of any party, and obviously we opted for a 3-course meal, in homage to Wonka's memorable gum! However, our entire family agrees that tomato soup is not delicious, so we made a hybridized "Wonka & Bucket" meal and had cabbage soup as the first course, since that is the only meal the Bucket family can eat on their tight budget. I happen to love cabbage soup, so to me that was a great choice!


In addition to the 3 "courses", we had a variety of other sweet available, including rice krispies, because rice krispies are awesome.


Pretzels were among the dippers for fondue, but, personally, I tend to think that anyone who ops for a dipper other than a strawberry when it's fondue time is a bit crazy...


MaryGrace wanted to give little gift bags of candy to her guests, so she did, and inside each gift bag she put a handlettered bookmark that she made herself and laminated. I mean, sure, gift bags are more natural for birthday parties for 5-year-olds, but when is it not cool to give someone a bag of treats? I sure wouldn't say no!


The infamous fizzy lifting drink! There are a number of versions of the chocolate factory, as you know. We borrowed from the book as well as both movies, but our party was most strongly influenced by the 1970s film. In fact, one of the party activities was watching that film, because MaryGrace, and most of the other guests, had never seen it. This was nearly inconceivable to me. When I was growing up, whenever my parents would go on a date, we would stay at my grandparents' house. My grandparents had only one movie for kids--a VHS tape of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory", which they had recorded off the television. The 90s, you know. :) I would watch that same movie every time we stayed at their house.


We started off the party with a game of "How well do you know your chocolate?" Guests were instructed to close their eyes and hold out their hands--I would give them a tiny piece of a chocolate bar, and they were instructed to eat the chocolate and then write down on their paper what brand they thought chocolate #1 was, and so on.


This is me telling them that they can trust me not to give them anything nasty to eat. I think it says a lot for my honest reputation that everyone was willing to eat whatever I handed to them without looking at it. If it had been Angel handing them something to eat blindfolded...I think we would have had a revolt on our hands...

Also, my dress choice for the evening was inspired by the Everlasting Gobstopper.


I taped all of the different candy bar labels to one sheet of paper so that guests would know which candy bars they might possibly be eating. Also, this had the added benefit of being a spelling reference sheet for the younger guests. :)



The birthday girl contemplates her answers seriously. Four people ended up guessing each candy bar correctly. The vast majority got about 3-4 correct. The lowest score was 1. It was very fun to watch people stress over which answer to write down after tasting their chocolates!

Our second game, played a little later in the evening, was a Candy Trivia Game, where two teams were pitted against each other to answer questions like: "What was the career of the man who invented cotton candy? a) a Hershey Executive b) a Doctor c) a Dentist d) a Mechanical Engineer"

My trivia questions were rather challenging, which made for a very intense games, with lots of questions where the opposing team would end up with a chance to "steal" the question after the first team guessed incorrectly.

We watched the film while we ate, with lots of commentary and laughter. As someone who's seen the movie countless times, my favorite part is all of Wonka's side remarks and deadpan "Stop. Don't. Come back." requests. For the kids who were seeing the movie for the first time, the spooky tunnel that the boat goes into was deemed the favorite scene.


MaryGrace loves art and coloring, and wanted to have a coloring sheet to give her guests. She couldn't find any she liked on the web, so, obviously, she drew her own coloring sheet and printed out copies on the printer. That's the sort of thing my family does. We believe that as long as we have pens, paper, and a working printer, we can take over the world. At the end of the evening, all the teens and kids sat around one big table with a bunch of colored pencils, coloring the edible room scene and telling stories--trying to figure out who had the best story of pulling a prank or getting in trouble. The adults washed dishes in the kitchen and we all agreed, another wonderful party completed.


MaryGrace feels that this was pretty much her best birthday ever, because besides the fantastic party, and her presents, when we went out for lunch on Sunday, we happened to be at the same restaurant with another family from our church. We were about finished with our meal and getting ready to leave when a waiter walked up to the table carrying a plate with four slices of cake and a lit candle. We were all confused and were saying, "Umm, I think you have the wrong table...this isn't for us..." Until he said, "This is for MaryGrace's birthday." The odds of there being two people named MaryGrace in the same small restaurant in Malaysia are not high, so then we accepted that the cake was for us. The waiter told us that it was from our friend, but when we turned to look for the other family we'd seen earlier, they were already gone! MaryGrace was glowing with happiness!! She felt so special. The restaurant, it turns out, didn't even serve cake, so the family we knew had gone to the nearby Starbucks, picked up a few slices of cake and a candle, had come back to the restaurant, and arranged with the waiter to serve the cake to MG and the rest of us. How sweet and thoughtful is that?

Did you watch the Willy Wonka film when you were a kid? What would be your ideal birthday party theme?

Continuing to Learn: Artistic Pursuits + An Announcement

One of my resolutions for this year was to learn well--and one of the areas I especially wanted to learn and gain skills in was the area of art. Not necessarily fine art or art history or color theory but, plain and simple, learning how to use a pen or a paintbrush to create pretty and funny things: decorations for parties I host, cards for special occasions, posters for my house.

Do not underestimate how difficult it is to take a pursuit like "learning about art" seriously when you come from a family of engineers and doctors. Guys, I took AP Physics, AP Chemistry, Trigonometry, and Calculus in high school. Those sound like natural preparatory courses for a girl who went on to get a B.A. in Mandarin Chinese and a cosmetology license, don't they? For someone like me from a family/culture that values science and math, it's easy to assume that art isn't something I 'ought' to invest a lot of time into...but really, should there be an 'ought' when it comes to creativity and art?

In addition, being left-handed, I always kind of assumed that the pen and pencil arts weren't a good field for me. Pretty handwriting doesn't come as naturally when you can't write in the direction and angle the language was designed to be written (BTW, shoutout to Beka, who has sent me SO many resources and links to left-handed artists. Thanks for making it your personal mission to show me that being left-handed is no excuse!).

 Personalized, and very non-traditional, Valentine's for my three siblings in the USA.



But enough excuses! Seriously. The first few months of this year have become, for me, an extraordinarily fun experiment in challenging myself to learn more about something that I never thought I ought to try learning before. I always watched the art students at my college sketching the library on gigantic drawing pads and thought that it was a good thing I wasn't in their class because I'd never be able to get an A. haha! Practical considerations, you know...

So, funny story...my sister joined a clown troupe. She goes by the clown name of "Pip Squeak" and her clown troupe visits schools and puts on shows and does anti-bullying campaigns. I drew her in her costume.

Formal art education isn't what I'm after right now, but rather, the practice of different techniques and creating--sometimes creating things I can display in real life or give away as little Valentine cards, but other times, just creating even if I know that page of my notebook will always stay inside the notebook. Youtube tutorials are a great resource for learning how to try out new things.

As we've heard many times, creativity begets creativity, and I've found that to be very true in my case. At the beginning of February, I wrote a story to entertain my youngest sisters, and was reading it to them at night while our parents were away. I found myself falling in love with the characters I'd created, and found myself writing a series of adventures involving the same main characters.



These new stories, together with my newfound interest in art...brought me into the dream of creating my own illustrated story book.

But how do you even do that? How can you draw, and then get the drawings to be part of a text document on a computer? That sounds very technical. Of course you can use a scanner, and I experimented with that at first, but wasn't too happy with the results, it wasn't quite the look I was imagining. In my research, I came across the idea of using drawing tablets (like Wacom's tablets) to create digital art using software...and then using Adobe InDesign to put text and images together to create the book.

Only I didn't have a drawing tablet and I don't have or know how to use InDesign.

Should I let that stop me?

Somewhere along the way...I decided that if 18-year-old Rachel was brave enough to self-publish The Random Writings of Rachel (a collection of short stories and sketches, in fact, the book that led to the creation of this blog some time later. I printed a very small run of 300 copies and sold nearly all of them, thereby making enough money to put gas in my car for my sophomore year of college), then how is it possible that 25-year-old Rachel might be too scared to attempt to publish an illustrated storybook?

In the past seven years, I hope that I have learned a great deal more about the art of writing, and about the necessary processes that go into publishing a book...but I also hope that I have not let age and wisdom make me too fearful to put the work into accomplishing a dream.

So, I let myself do it. I bought the drawing tablet. I've studied page size and pixels per inch and watched Adobe InDesign tutorials. I've got a goal of having the book ready to release by the end of April.

And I've got a lot of work to do before then. I haven't settled for sure on the title, so I won't share it here yet. The story is inspired by the jungle-meets-civilization way of life here in Malaysia. It's a picture book meant to be read aloud, peppered with visual and verbal jokes that only the adults or bigger people will get, but the stories are created with the child in mind.

It's not a beginner reader book. I use words like diminutive and world domination in the story. I don't enjoy the style of books that use small words for small children, so I didn't use that style. For independent readers, I'd say it would best target about a 7-11 year old age range, depending on their individual reading level. My 10-year-old sister is a very reluctant reader and this is the right reading level for her (perhaps not surprising, since she was my initial audience). I, on the other hand, was a voracious and young reader and read Little Women independently when I was 6...this is quite a few steps below the complexity (and length!) of Little Women. Little Women was not intended for 6-year-olds.

I'm excited. I'm working hard. In fact, I'm largely neglecting my pens and brushes because spare time is being devoted to the book for now. And I hope some of you will be just as excited when it's complete and you get to see it. It really is a fun story, and I'm not only saying that because I wrote it. I read children's books aloud to children every day--you need a good mix of fun for the child and fun for the grown-up in a book like that. And I love being able to set the story outside of the West, to give glimpses into the Malaysian environment. Here's to being brave and learning new skills!

What are you challenging yourself to learn this year? Any exciting projects in the works?

Saving Money on Travel with Klook

(This is not a sponsored post. I'm not sure why we bloggers always disclose when posts aren't sponsored...seeing as the law only says that you have to disclose when posts ARE sponsored. However, I am using my referral link for Klook in this post. It's the usual deal: you get a few dollars off your first purchase when you sign up through my link, and I get a few dollars off my next purchase.)

Save Money on Travel with Klook

I first discovered Klook last summer when my sister and I were going off on a short trip to explore Singapore for a few days. Like every other trip I've ever taken, one of my big priorities was saving money. We wanted to go to Universal Studios, so as I was looking up options for the best ticket deals for Universal Studios, I stumbled across Klook. Their ticket price was about $10 USD less than the standard price. On a ticket that's normally around $50 USD, that's a pretty steep discount! They had the best ticket deal, by far. They also had the best ticket price for a number of other places throughout Singapore, including the famously awesome Singapore Zoo.

I had never ever heard of Klook, though, and didn't know how legit or legal it was, so I started doing some background research. From what I could find, which wasn't a whole lot back then, they seemed rather new, but those who had used the site had found it reliable. I didn't know anyone in real life who had used it. We decided to take a risk and buy our tickets from there, although I will admit, I was very nervous walking up to Universal Studios on that day with our Klook tickets--hoping they wouldn't be rejected!


Best Travel Buddy ever. Unless Angel's in the competition. Can I have both? I can't decide.

They weren't! We went through the ticket gate smoothly, no problem at all, and even saw a lot of people with the same Klook print-outs (for most of their vouchers, you can either print out the voucher or display it on a mobile device, but be sure to read the details of the specific deal that you buy).

Our vouchers again worked very smoothly at the Singapore Zoo, and by then I was convinced--Klook was awesome! The next month, we used them to buy tickets for an experience in Kuala Lumpur.


Sentosa is rather awesome.

The basic Klook experience is that you can use the site to search for your intended destination, and then see what deals they offer in that destination. The best discounts are for more big-ticket experiences--theme parks, zoos, aquariums, museums, etc. But they also offer deals on transportation and tours in various destinations.

The company started out in Hong Kong,  and last summer, when I stumbled across them, most of the deals they offered were very much limited to Southeast Asia. But, in the last year, they have expanded their offerings quickly! Now, I notice that they are offering a lot more deals throughout countries beyond SE Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, and Australia! There's even just a few deals sprouting up in Europe and North America...which makes me think that in the future, there will probably be more.

Keep an eye on Klook, and sign up through my referral link if you like to pay less for tickets than the price at the gate!

What's the best strategy you use for saving money when traveling? Does $10 off of $50 sound like a pretty worthwhile discount to you?

Movie Theater Adventures

I often see suggestions along the lines of, "Why don't you get out of the rut of just going to dinner and a movie, and have a real-life adventure?"

or, "Going to a movie isn't a great choice for quality time, because you just sit in a dark room staring at the screen."

I appreciate the sentiment in the general idea of real life adventures > trips to the movie theater...but...

I've had a lot of movie theater-related adventures! I don't know who these people are who go to the movie theater and don't have a memorable experience, because I have a number of awesome memories related to movie theaters. Wanna hear some stories?

Can you believe this came out in 2010, y'all?


- I was 8 or 9 years old. My Mom decided to take the whole day off of school and took all of us kids out to a new mall that had recently opened up. She bought us "kids combos" that had popcorn, candy, and a drink--we thought that was the coolest thing ever! We watched The Emperor's New Groove. Ever since, I've had a soft spot for that movie, just because seeing it for the first time was such a fun experience.

- At 11, I saw my first movie at the theater without my parents. Mom dropped Lizzy, Isaac, and me off to see The Santa Clause 2 because Dad had seen it and thought it was really funny. We felt a lot of the weight of responsbility as we walked into the theater alone. This was serious business. Mom had said strictly that as soon as the film was done, we'd have to walk straight back to where she'd dropped us off (this was before cell phones and such, or at least before kids had cell phones, so we didn't have a way to contact her when the film was done). The most exciting part was that just as fake Santa Claus started to drink his hot chocolate...the film suddenly 'melted'. At first, we thought that maybe it was part of the movie, but then the projector shut off and we sat in silence for about 15 minutes while they fixed something in the projection room, and then the movie started playing again. Needless to say, we were a little late for our pick-up, which may have caused Mom some worry at the time.

- Once we moved to Malaysia, we found that going to the theater was less expensive than it was before, and we started going more frequently. I often saw movies with my friends, because they were older, had cars, and could drive. One one memorable occasion, I was sitting on one side of my friend, and a stranger was sitting on his other side (I would always make my friends sit next to strangers, I didn't want to sit next to strangers...and now you'll hear why). At one point during the movie, we both noticed that the stranger reached over for my friend's cup, sitting in the shared armrest, and took a sip, and then put it back! My friend and I were horrified over this development, and he whispered that he wouldn't drink from his cup again, and I whispered back that that was probably a good idea.

-When watching The Game Plan, I got so caught up in the emotion of the game that I stood and applauded after Duane Johnson's team won the football game. My embarrassed friends dragged me back into my seat.

- When watching The Spiderwick Chronicles, I spent so much time squeezing my brother's arm and cringing in fright that he declined to sit next to me at any future movie.

- My Grandpa took me to see Prince Caspian, and said after the movie that watching my reactions to everything happening on screen was just as entertaining at the movie itself. On a related note, Voyage of the Dawn Treader came out just after we got married, and Angel and I went to see it with a group of friends. Once of Angel's friends said to him, "Your wife...seems to watch movies pretty intensely, doesn't she?" Angel was only learning the beginning of that intensity.

-Angel and I randomly decided to go see The Hunger Games on opening night...even though we didn't really know anything about the books or the franchise in general. We lived in a small town so you could get last minute tickets on opening night. But walking into the theater alone was quite the unusual experience because there were so many people in costume or wearing elaborate makeup, and then as we sat in the theater, there were theater employees inside with a microphone, getting people hyped up by throwing t-shirts into the crowd and asking Hunger Games trivia questions. It was rather hilarious to be there and be like...hmmm...this is interesting...but I have no idea why people are so excited...

- We watched The Lego Movie with my entire family in an otherwise empty theater in the middle of the day (hey, cheaper prices!). Our large group was cracking up the whole time, and ever since, Mom and Dad have taken Wyld Style and Emmet as sort of symbols of their relationship...because they are just as opposite a pair.

- A few weeks ago, we went to see Hidden Figures. Awesome movie. Hours after we got home from the movie, I walked into the office and found Angel working on a Word Doc that said, in large letters "White Woman's Bathroom" and "Colored Man's Bathroom." I said, "What...are you doing?" He said, "Well you always use your bathroom and I always use my bathroom so I thought the signs from the movie would be a good idea." He's kind of right--for some reason, I always use the master bath and he always uses the tiny bathroom next to the washing machine (the bathroom of 'plumbing disaster' fame). But! I explained clearly that the lesson you are supposed to learn from Hidden Figures is that segregated facilities is a stupid idea. I think he thought it would be way more fun and 'rebellious' to take showers and brush his teeth in a bathroom labeled "White Woman's Bathroom," but I vetoed the segregated bathrooms in our own home idea. I'm gonna take a wild leap and guess that nobody else in the entire world...particularly nobody else in an interracial marriage...watched Hidden Figures and then decided that they ought to label their own bathrooms...this strange, strange person that I love...

Even just plain ol' going out to watch a movie can be a pretty fun adventure. What's the most memorable experience you've ever had in a theater?