The Random Writings of Rachel

How we Live Without Debt

I'll tell you one thing right off the bat: Angel and I had an extraordinarily good start in life. College debt is a key reason why many people our age start off their twenties in a very bad financial place, but though our circumstances were very different, we managed to get married at the ages of 26 and 19 with no debt whatsoever.

To give you a quick background, my college tuition  and books were covered by a variety of academic scholarships. I lived with my grandparents until I got married, in order to avoid paying for a dorm. I ate a breakfast of oatmeal, ate dinner with my grandparents, and carried a brown bag sandwich + apple + water bottle lunch to school everyday instead of eating in the dining halls or eating fast food. I worked as a tutor and as an 'ironing girl', and later, as a professor's assistant, which earned enough money to put gas in my car, which was pretty much all I needed to buy.

About 75% of Angel's college education was paid for by scholarships. He lived in a basement bedroom that had been offered to him by a lady who charged him low rent for the area, and he used her kitchen to cook meals at home. He worked on the cleaning crew and in the health center at college in order to pay for all of his living expenses, graduated with 25K in loans and a very marketable degree, immediately passed the NCLEX, moved to Texas which had a nursing shortage at the time, got hired as a nurse, moved in with his parents, worked overtime shifts (the nursing shortage helped with shift availability) and paid off all of the debt in a year and a half while also contributing to his parents' household. We got married weeks after he paid off his last loan.

That's the backstory on how we got married without debt--and with basically no material possessions, other than his car and my car. We moved into a rental house that had appliances and borrowed whatever of my parents' furniture that they'd left in storage in America, and bought the rest at thrift stores. Ever since, we have consistently lived on a percentage of our take-home income, which has allowed us to save the excess to fund occasional larger expenses that seemed worth it to us: a custom-made bed made of cherry wood; plane tickets for a trip to Malaysia; getting TEFL certificates and  moving to China to teach; buying a car after moving to Malaysia.

We live below our income level, and that habit has provided us with a sense of peace. True, we've never been faced with insurmountable expenses, but when surprising* things have some up (oh, like a car stopping and refusing to go any further on a country highway because the alternator is shot), we've always had more than enough to meet the costs (*side note: there's nothing surprising about unfortunate expenses, is there? Such is life.). Our income has gone down significantly since our most recent move last year, and adjustment to a job without health insurance or retirement benefits has been a growth experience. We're working with the smallest budget we've had in our marriage, but we're able to do so and have peace about our finances, and I'm grateful for that, because I know that financial problems have a special way of sucking the joy out of life when they get out of control.

I credit three factors with our ability to live well while spending much less that what we earn:

Cute young us on our Glasgow, KY honeymoon

1. We're happy whether or not we own awesome stuff.

Neither of us have the need to have the newest, brightest, and best. Between the two of us, I probably care slightly less about the quality of my worldly possessions. Angel has often said that he loves the fact that I didn't grow up "rich," because I'm easy to impress--I get giddy when he comes home with a Snickers bar, partially because I'm easily excited, and partially because it would never occur to me to buy myself a Snickers bar for no good reason.

The things I've purchased aren't very impressive. My sledding and snowboarding gear in Michigan were comprised of a 2-decade old set of coveralls that my mom wore when I was a baby, a pair of indestructible boots I got from the 2nd hand store for 50 cents, and a toboggan that had been handed down through a few generations of my family. Let me tell you, no one "oohs" and "aahs" when you tell them your honeymoon was a road trip in a '96 Chevy to tour caves in Kentucky. The most impressive thing I've ever owned was my beloved cherry wood bed, and seeing as that was stationed in my bedroom, few people saw it besides me. I drove that Chevy with a smashed up door right up until we left the country, because I didn't see the point in spending money just to make it pretty when the ugly door didn't affect the performance.

That bed though....

2. We're spoiled with family and friends who love generously--been given much more grace than we ought to have been given.

Oh man, guys, this is the thing. I can't even tell you all the ways that people have practically showed their care and love for us. We've never bought a TV--right when we got married, a relative of a relative was getting rid of an older 20'' box TV--they thought that we could use it, and we took it joyfully! A few years later, some relatives gave us a nearly-new, bigger TV as a belated wedding gift. My sister has given me plenty of dresses that she's decided are too short/not her style (being a few inches shorter than all of your sisters has an advantage...). Since moving to Malaysia we've hardly bought any of our furniture, since we were given so many nice 'hand-me-downs' from family and friends.

I mentioned in the intro that I lived with my grandparents for the first 5 semesters of college, from when I was 17-19, and Angel lived with his parents after graduation. There seems to be a big stigma in our American culture about living with family, but thankfully, our relatives welcomed us into their spare bedrooms, which ended up really helping us start out in life in a good financial situation. Our relatives have always looked out for us--offering us their own spare possessions, lending us tools for random home repairs, or even, on several occasions, rides, when one of our cars stranded us.

Some find it shameful to accept help from family members, but we've chosen not to. We're spoiled to have an extended family that makes a habit of looking out for each other--and we're happy to make that sort of generosity a part of our lifestyle. We're not doing life alone, we're doing it in the context of a bigger community. What a humbling and amazing truth that is. We hope to always be the kind of people who can, in return, help our families in whatever ways are available to us--that's why, when we made the big move, we chose to give most of what we owned away to our siblings/cousins who are also starting out in life instead of selling it all.

My darling Brother how I miss you...

3. We're comfortable without every comfort available...and also without some possessions others might consider 'normal.'

In Michigan, we heated our home to 60 degrees, and sealed off the top floor during the winter, resulting in a freakishly low gas bill. In China, we shared one Nokia phone between the two of us instead of having separate smart phones. When we go away for our anniversary, we rent oddball Airbnb apartments for a fraction of the price of hotel bedrooms. Since moving overseas, we go without a dryer or a microwave or oven or other little things that we've learned to live well without. I don't drink alcohol and Angel does only very rarely. Things like avocados or bubble tea drinks are luxurious treats, not something we think we 'deserve'. We don't have pets--and when we did, they were barn cats, not known for requiring large financial investment.

Angel's current favorite strategy for saving on groceries is: whenever he's hungry for a snack, he heads to my parents' place and eats some random leftovers...because they nearly always have leftovers. They've learned not to clean out the fridge of random stuff that no one wants to eat because Angel will eat it. We don't shop randomly, usually shopping expeditions are for birthdays or Christmas or to replace a worn-out item, or, in my case, to find a specific item of clothing that I've been dreaming about (i.e. perfect green skinnies, only I already own the perfect pair of green skinnies). Speaking of shopping, I recently noticed how frayed Angel's khaki shorts (he's had them as long as I've known him) are and decided I probably ought to get the man some new khaki shorts...

We also avoid expensive hobbies. Sewing is a favorite non-current hobby of mine that is pretty costly (considering buying a machine), but other than that, I stick to blogging, reading free books, and cross-stitch. Angel runs, which he assures me is the cheapest sport, requiring little equipment, although I admit I'm sometimes shocked by the cost of Asics Gel-Kayanos and the speed with which he runs through them...

Who needs a taqueria when you can eat like this at home?

4. We learn new skills, and proceed to DIY instead of hiring work out whenever possible.

 When you have old cars, they tend to break down often. Angel's knowledge of how to fix cars--gleaned from his dad and from watching Youtube tutorials, saved us thousands of dollars, as he was able to fix whatever was wrong with our vehicles for just the cost of parts from either the junkyard or Autozone.

When there was a hole in the wall of our house, Angel figured out how to fix it with a chunk of drywall, and I repainted the room--a fix far less expensive than it would have been if we'd had to call in professionals. When we had a pile of wood in the backyard that no one was planning on using, Angel made a picnic table out of it--a very ugly picnic table, that's something everyone will admit, but one we've sat on at plenty a family barbecue.

I cut Angel's hair (which wasn't a cheap skill to learn, in my case)...and the hair of everyone else in my family, and I color my own hair. I recklessly hand-wash the vast majority of "dry clean only" clothing, since I tend to view that tag as more of a guideline than actual rule (don't follow my advice). I can cook anything and everything I've ever attempted to cook, even when my only cooking implement is a small gas stove--I'm able to make large Easter or Thanksgiving feasts. When my parents sold the house we lived in, we packed and moved with a U-Haul instead of hiring movers. I've done my share of roofing and painting projects (and one time, I even painted a roof! That was fun.). We usually figure our own labor is always cheaper than everyone else's labor, so if it's a job we can do, we do it. Both of us, however, are not very good at plumbing. We call in my mom when the shower stops working...

5. Debt isn't an option.

Kind of like that whole old "divorce" principle, right? We won't put anything on a credit card unless we have the cash for it right now--in fact, we haven't bought anything with a credit card, other than airplane tickets, in a couple years, because all of our cards have international purchase fees...haha!

Like the 'divorce' rule...this is applying to normal circumstances. Abnormal circumstances can occur that would require abnormal behavior, but as far as everyday normal life goes--we don't consider spending money that we don't have a viable alternative. If we don't have the money for that trip or that dress or that lunch or that Master's Degree, we won't buy it.

We've had a very easy hand dealt to us. Having a place to sleep, food to eat, and a way to get to work has never been a question for us--instead, questions like, "Should we invest in a used Xbox 360 for Christmas?" or "Look, a two-story sample dollhouse is on clearance on Hobby Lobby! Don't you think we should buy it? How often is there going to be a deal like this?" have been the kind of questions we've asked. Angel has always been employed. We don't worry ourselves about retirement and long-term investing (that is to say....we don't 'do' either, haha..) and don't know anything at all about the stock market and don't own a home, but we have always had what we need. But we don't use our wages to the fullest extent by spending all that we earn right away--and thus far, that habit has served us well.

Family, Lunch, and the Fact That I Just Can't Win

(Most recent partial family photo, missing at least 3 of us. I'm the one totally ignoring the black-and-white dress code)

Pour drinks. Ice water spills. Run to the kitchen to grab a towel. Wipe it up.
Before we eat we have to pray. "Who wants to pray?"
Me! Me! Me! Dear Lord thank you for this food Amen.
Silence, blessed silence as food disappears.
"More rice and chicken?"
"Eat your vegetables first."
Ask what was learned in school this morning. 
She practiced long division. The other one read a book about the Killing Fields of Cambodia. The littles painted a picture of a zebra.
"Wanna hear a joke?"
Quick, grab a second helping of your favorite dish before the food runs out.
We tried to prevent it but the baby knocked over his bowl. Rice scattered. 
Get the broom.
"I had this crazy dream last night..."
Baby says, "I am SUPERMAN"
I don't know if superman spilled his bowl of rice instead of eating it.
Wait, make a plate for Dad, he's late. 
He'll be hungry when he gets home.
"I don't have to do dishes 'cuz I cooked."
Someone has to do them. If no one takes responsibility, they'll be crawling with ants on the kitchen counter within the hour.
"When are we going to the p-o-o-l?"
Spell so that baby doesn't cry if the answer is no.
Laugh because we finally let her tell that joke and it wasn't funny at all.
Jokes invented by small children never are.
But we laugh anyway.
The chicken and rice and vegetables satisfy the hole of hunger created by the passing of morning hours.
Family eats lunch. Family cleans up lunch. Someone washes dishes, because someone has to.
Imagine, just imagine, eating alone.
Maybe the silence isn't so blessed after all.


My parents are the kind of parents who run and organize....everything. From my youngest days, I can remember them telling that that if I wanted to, I could enter the coloring contests or the Bible verse memory contests or reading contests or whatever kind of contest or event that they were involved in organizing at the moment....but I wouldn't be allowed to win, because I was related to the organizers. This was kind of depressing when the prize for the local coloring contest was a 3-foot long candy bar.

Their most recent organizational endeavor has been a month-long statewide writing competition where young people, ages 9-25 (there are three different categories, so, no, there aren't elementary school students competing against university students for the big prize), were encouraged to submit an essay/1-page piece of creative writing on the topic of "family appreciation." This contest was a part of our country's celebration of the UN's International Day of Families in the middle of this month.

As usual, I knew I was disqualified from any possible chance to win, but since I wanted to show support for my parents' hard work and since I'm still young enough to enter in the "under 25" age category, I submitted an entry. Since I figured the typical contest entry will start with something like "I appreciate my family because..."....and since I didn't have to worry about sticking to the prompt too closely since I'm disqualified anyway, I went a little outside the box with my own take of a free-form poem about lunchtime. Lunch, with too many people huddled around that table and just-enough food piled on top of it, is one of my favorite family scenes.


On another note, I did win a contest once, because my parents didn't organize it. The factory my Dad worked at had a contest for children of employees to design a page for the annual safety calendar. 10-year-old me painted a landscape and wrote "The world is a beautiful place, make sure you can see it...wear your SAFETEY glasses!" It won, spelling error and all. I guess the bar wasn't set too high for those barely into double digits. My prize was a $200 gift card to Toys-R-Us--I planned the spending oh-so-carefully, created a budget about what I really wanted, and even made sure to include my 4 younger siblings, and buy some small toys for them to play with, too. Pure bliss is being 10 years old and wandering Toys-R-Us with $200 to spend!

Have you ever won a contest? Have you ever not been able to win contests regardless of talent simply because your relatives happen to organize every cool event ever?

The In-Law Relationship + Angelisms

It's a topic that comes up in conversation surprisingly frequently: Will any of the future sons/brothers-in-law become as loved by the rest of the family as Angel is?

 When "baby" Sarah was 3.

She's 9 now.

It's a rather ridiculous question. I mean, it's something along the lines of--will it be possible to love any future children quite as much as I may love my first-born, simply because the first-born has had the advantage of being around the longest?

What seems to have sparked the concern is the fact that Angel has fit so perfectly into our unique family for so long (my siblings were between the ages of 14 and 1 year old when I first met Angel) that he's long since ceased to be an outsider in any way and has simply become a fact of life--quirks and all. His vocabulary has influenced theirs--if it weren't for Angel, I don't think I would have ever heard my precious baby sisters randomly spouting "Your FACE is___(fill in the blank with whatever adjective was most recently used in conversation)___." as he is wont to do.


"Oh, those flowers Dad brought home from market this morning are beautiful!"
"Your FACE is beautiful."

"This cake is delicious!"
"Your FACE is delicious."

"Woah, that is a really old car!"
"Your FACE is old."

And so on.

He may be a little on the odd side, as far as in-laws go. The minute he walks into my parents' house, he either starts washing dishes (because dishes always need doing), or else makes a smoothie out of ingredients in their fridge and freezer, serves it to everyone, and then washes all the dishes (clean dishes are important). When he's not making smoothies, he's convincing my sisters to 1) make a 'horror' film for the youtube channel, 2) perform acrobatic tricks in the pool, 3) let him check their pulse/heart rate/veins.

And this doesn't even take into consideration the special connection Angel and my Mom have always had. Mom tells a story about how she was holding me in the hospital on the day I was born, and was given a need to pray for my future husband--not to pray that I would have a future husband, but to pray for the safety of a little boy somewhere out there in the world, to pray for wisdom, to pray for maturity and a loving family and all sorts of blessings upon him. She prayed for Angel for 18 years before she met him--and the first time she met him on Skype she said, after reading his introduction and application, she said, "I want to grow up to be just like Angel!" In my mom's eyes, everything Angel does is awesome,  and in Angel's eyes, the world would be a much better place if everyone would simply listen to my mom. They repeatedly find random similarities, like the fact that they share a childhood hobby of climbing on top of the roofs in their respective childhood neighborhoods and jumping from roof to roof, trying to get around the whole street without touching the ground.

???? I mean, seriously, isn't that a rather odd coincidence, that my husband and mother have memories of playing the exact same ultra-dangerous, not-child-friendly game as children? I know I didn't spend my childhood jumping from roof to roof...but is this otherwise a normal activity?

Life isn't a competition. My family is an odd-yet-inviting one and I'm sure we'll adopt any future brothers-in-law just as heartily as Angel was adopted, without even a glance backward. Other guys won't need to be scared. Angel's just as normal as a guy who buys a bear costume off of ebay and wears it riding in the backseat while his wife drives her Chevy down country highways could be.


And, since I promised you Angelisms, here's a recent one:

Scene: Mother's Day, at Mom's favorite restaurant, with a party of 12. We're just about to sit down and order.

Angel: "Mom, I know I can't be buried next to you, but when I die, I want to be buried at your feet. Because I know that with all these kids and all the future grandkids there's not going to be a lot of room. I'm reserving the place at your feet for me."

*Entire room of 11 other people: mouths drop open. Everyone thinks, "Wha? Huh? I thought this was just lunch, not burial arrangements."*


Scene: We're making lunch together.

Rachel: "Are we even married?"
Angel: "Yes"
Rachel: "Okay, just checking."


Scene: Dinner table conversation about how life changes over the years and lessons learned, all introspective and serious.

Angel: "Yeah, we've learned a lot in our 5 years of marriage. At first, it was tough. I mean, when we first got married, Rachel didn't even want to shower at the same time as me, and..."
Younger sisters: *dying/screaming/giggling/horrified/head-shaking/pretending they aren't even in the room/running away and hiding in the kitchen*
Rachel: *shouting at Angel* "You are not allowed to say any more words."


Sometimes, you just have to draw the line. Problem is, Angel's line is in an entirely different location than ours, and I'm not sure how that happened.

Lost and Found: The Tale of a Ring

And lost, and found, and lost, and found, and lost, and found...repeat ad infinitum.

I've mentioned my ring habit before, and was recently asked to do a 'ring update' post, which felt appropriate, since I've lost 1 and gained 3 rings since my last post about rings. Let's start by talking about the troublemaker on my right pinky.

Pinky, stainless steel: This was a Christmas present I picked out for myself, and I did a bad job picking out the right size, because although it seemed like it fit in the store, it's a rather loose fit and this ring has a habit of falling off regularly. It falls off while I'm sleeping almost every night--Angel always makes the bed in the morning and finds it somewhere in the sheets or on the floor and puts it on my dresser for me to put it back on. This ring has also fallen off in the car, at the mall, in the movie theater, at the bowling alley, at the park, and at the grocery store. Somehow, each of those times, I have felt or heard it in the course of its attempted escape and have found it and put it back on again. I'm impressed that it hasn't been permanently lost in the 5 months since Christmas. I know one of these days it probably will disappear forever, but so far I've always managed to find it, so it's a good thing I'm getting it documented before it's inevitable disappearance. I will be sad if and when it does leave me for good, but it won't be a devastating loss, since the ring cost less than $5.

Ring finger, sterling silver: A birthday gift from my sister Lizzy--18th or 19th birthday, I think? Purchased from a local Malaysian jewelers--a little shop where we've enjoyed getting to know the ladies who run it over the years.

Middle finger, both rings are sterling silver: The top one was a gift from Lizzy. She bought when she lived in Israel, and it says "Rachel and Anna" in Hebrew. The bottom ring I bought for myself in Cambodia last summer.

Index finger, stainless steel: My longest-worn ring, I bought it for myself summer 2009, because I had this friend, Angel, and his mom had given him a spinner ring for his college graduation and I thought it was really cool. So I bought one for myself. This was also really cheap, on the $5 level, a perfect fit, and has been really comfortable to wear all these years. Warning: spinner rings are addictive, purchase at your own risk.

Index finger, sterling silver: I purchased this one for myself in Cambodia last year.

Ring finger: Top, rose gold, a gift from my parents for my college graduation.
Middle, white gold, my engagement ring, purchased in 2011 when we'd been married 9 months. haha!
Bottom, white gold, my wedding band, 2010, Angel's parents gave us both of our wedding bands as their wedding gift.

Those are my rings at present. Am I done? Probably not. I'm never opposed to adding to the collection. I'm a little picky, though--my rings have to be tough, because I rarely take them off, so they have to be able to stand up to hard usage. I don't like stones (other than my milestone rings), or any other design that will catch on things. I generally prefer silver in color, which is why most of my rings are stainless steel or sterling silver. Rose gold is another favorite color, but then that makes for a much more expensive ring, so that's why I haven't acquired any more rose gold rings yet. I purposely don't wear rings on the finger next to my wedding set to avoid scratching or damaging those, but I'm thinking of stacking one or two more skinny bands on my right hand whenever I stumble across the right ring.

On another note, do you know how awkward it is to take photos of your own hands? I performed a scientific study, and found that on a photography awkwardness scale, it hasn't quite reached the level of 1) X-rays, 2) Kissing photos, or 3) Photos taken of you while you are giving a speech....but it's still pretty high up there. That's why I included every single one of the 4 photos I took of my rings in this post, even though just two could have gotten the job done, because I wanted you to have the same experience of awkwardness that I did. You're welcome.

Tell me about your rings!

25 Before 25

Sometime in the next week, I will be exactly two months from turning 25. That sounds like a remarkably grown-up sort of age to me. Then again...Angel turned 25 on the first birthday that I knew him so it couldn't be all that old...because that was a long time ago and he's still not ancient.

{Last Year's Birthday Dress}

Still, it's my last couple of months in the first quarter-century of my life--might as well use them well, if not wisely.

1. Travel to a country I've never been to before (hopefully that will be easy, since the Japan trip's already planned).
2. Eat churros. (5/21 at the Alley with Angel and Anna)
3. Go on a dinner date.
4. Write 2 more devotionals for QWC's monthly devo ebooks
5. Exercise regularly.
6. Go hiking.
7. Find a bridge I've never walked across before and walk across it. If you didn't know, bridges, any bridges, of any size or shape, are some of my favorite things in the whole world.
8. Make an awesome Youtube video.
9. Read 10 books.
 - read "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman (5/18)
 - read "The Penderwicks" by Jeanne Birdsall (5/21)
 - read "Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?" by Lemony Snicket (5/22)
 - read "The Tiger Rising" by Kate Dicamillo (5/29)
10. Write some fiction - vignette, short story, etc.
11. Go to Singapore.
12. Cross-stitch something new. Check it out on my instagram
13. Go swimming (my apartment complex has a pool and I think I've gone swimming twice in the last year because I am not a fan of changing clothes)  (5/30)
14. Write a goofy blog post.
15. Listen to Rich Mullins or Fernando Ortega while getting ready in the morning, at least 5 times. I like starting my day with good, peace-filled music...but that doesn't usually translate to actually remembering to turn on a playlist on my computer. Check (5/18). Check (5/20). Check (5/29).
16. Do at least two fancy hairstyles on sisters. Chignon on Anna (5/29)
17. Go on a church retreat.
18. Go somewhere in my city I've never been before. Chinese Town Hall (5/29)
19. Receive a birthday card.
20. Not forget our 6th engagement anniversary on July...1st or 2nd...I have to ask my Dad I know it's in his calendar for some reason (it counts as 'not forgetting' as long as I actually remember the anniversary during the day that it happened. Bonus points if I tell Angel "Hey, you proposed to me 6 years ago today!")
21. Go out for breakfast with sister Anna.  (5/20, at SAB)
22. Swing-dance. With my husband as a first choice, but other partners are fun, too.
23. Have a guest stay in my home.
24. Try out a currently unknown recipe.
25. Be content--or, if content's too easy, be overwhelmingly, earth-shakingly, thankful and joyful--with what I have and haven't achieved/accomplished/experienced in this first quarter century. These years have included a lot of good I've never expected, and other expectations have proved more elusive--either way, "Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul."


Got any recommendations of a recipe I absolutely must try? :)