19 November 2017

"Under the Sea" Birthday Party

Sarah's request for her 11th birthday party this year was a mermaid/under the sea-themed celebration. Our children's birthday parties tend to be a bit unusual in that we don't tend to have a very targeted guest list--this party had both boys and girls, guests as young as 4 and and some nearly 50, with a whole bunch of teenagers as well.

It can sometimes complicate things to try to plan a party that will have something for everyone. Of course, the one thing that appeals to everybody is food, so we started off with a whole bunch of on-theme dishes. Because most of the guests at this party were 17 and under, we erred more heavily on the side of fun snacks than on actual hearty cooked dishes.

Sand dollar inspired sugar cookies

Seaweed snacks are super popular here--these were the first to disappear!

Odds are, a good percentage of our guests would eat real octopi or squid if offered, but we took the easy route and cut up hot dogs to look like octopi

"Sea Foam Punch" out of blue Mountain Dew (the only blue drink we could find!), Sprite, crushed pineapple, and lime sherbet.

"Fisherman's Pie" was really Shepherd's Pie...with goldfish sprinkled on top.

And can't forget our veggies!

We also had popcorn, cupcakes, an assortment of fish-shaped candies and crackers, tunafish sandwiches (another extremely popular item that went fast--who would have thought?!), and apple cinnamon tea, which has nothing to do with the theme but is very delicious.

The house was an explosion of sea-related decor--on a low budget, as always. Fabric from bedsheets or old dresses covered up normal household items. The TV table was transformed into a treasure chest with scattered coins from Sarah's coin collection and pom-pom jellyfish hung from the walls. MaryGrace did most of the decor work and as always, I'm impressed with what you can accomplish with colorful paper and random stuff from around the house. Living on an island, the girls have amassed a collection of treasured shells, beach rocks, and sand dollars over the years, so those were scattered on various tables for atmosphere.

Of course, at any party, fashion matters. Angel wore his Ariel t-shirt in honor of the theme. I refashioned Sarah's dress out of an old skirt belonging to MaryGrace, by cutting and re-sewing the skirt to make it narrower, and adding straps made from the extra material. The real exciting fashionable addition were the hairstyles. I'm not sure what, if anything, glittery hair has to do with mermaids, but MaryGrace had seen glitter roots on the internet, and a birthday party is as good of a time as any to paint your hair with glitter. Angel's hair gel was donated to the cause, and I mixed in glitter and painted it on Sarah's roots after braiding her hair.

This was a first time experiment, but I was very impressed with how well the glitter application stays in and I'm sure these girls will find more reasons to need glittery hairstyles in the future.

Of course, no party is any party at all without games. First up, after eating, we played a game I'd heard of on the internet--a "Mermaid Race" of sorts where the racers have to step into trash bags, get their knees taped together, and then "swim" their way across the floor to reach a prize--in our case, a candy bar.

This was very hilarious. Pro trip: When you're the game master, always choose the games that will be funniest for you to watch.

Next up, was the game that no party is complete without (if you ask Angel, anyways): a piñata. 

I had told MaryGrace that I didn't think we had the time necessary to make one before the day of the party, but she took that as a challenge and whipped one up. Here, if you want a piñata, you have to go the old-fashioned route and get out your newspaper, flour and water, because there's no option to buy one. Look on the bright side, it saves money when you have no option other than to DIY.

All adults worked hard on enforcing the traditional rules:
1. Youngest player gets to hit first, oldest last.
2. Must be blindfolded.
3. Must stop swinging the wooden lightsaber when we say "stop"
4. All observers must stand FAR AWAY in order to be out of the danger zone

This is always a scary game for adults. This was one tough piñata. After each kid and teen had two turns for a go at the piñata, we let Angel get a turn and within 2 or 3 hits candy was raining down.

After that, the last game of the evening was Ocean-themed charades. Everyone got involved in this game--I had some more difficult cards and some easier ones so that all ages could be challenged to play. Everything from seahorse to shipwreck to pirate to pufferfish to sea cucumber (that one was possibly the funniest).

Cleaning up was a group effort--it takes the whole family to set up and take down these celebrations in the apartment, but the fun is well worth the effort. My little sister was talking not too long ago about how she sees the act of hosting a party as an opportunity to serve others generously--to give guests a chance to make memories and have an evening of fun and good food. That's what makes it worth the effort involved--the chance to see how much fun everyone gets to have spending time together. Our birthday parties are maybe a bit odd--we didn't even sing happy birthday or have a birthday cake at this one, but they're a tradition we really enjoy.

And now my baby sister is eleven. How could that possibly be?
14 November 2017

What Will Our Baby Look Like?

I mean, obviously that's the million dollar question. Perhaps there are more serious parenting questions that ought to arise at this time, questions regarding lifestyle choices and parental and family values and culture...

But you know it. You just want to know what your baby will look like. Angel's family shares a strong resemblance with each other and my family does as well. I'm going to assume that with our genes, dark eyes and dark hair that will grow into waves or curls are a given...but still, what exactly will the baby look like? I've been trying to find old baby photos of us to solve this mystery.

Angel's newborn photo:

So it looks like there's a chance baby won't be a baldy little baby. Here's me as a newborn, though I couldn't find my hospital photo:

So perhaps baby will be a sleepy type. I don't actually have access to most of our childhood photos, which are, of course, all stored back in the USA. But I did find one photo of Angel that made me aware that he hasn't changed all that much.

Looks like a very responsible big brother, no mischief indicated by that grin whatsoever, right? Right?

In fact, most of the baby photos I have access to are trapped in this slideshow of us growing up, which was played at our wedding. Practically required at weddings back in the day, though probably a bit out of fashion by now, I imagine. Watch the beginning to see photos alternating between us as infants--I'm the super pale one. ;)

How has family resemblance worked out in your family?
11 November 2017

Flood Damage

A heavy rainstorm that began during the day on Saturday, November 4th, and continued all throughout the following night caused some of the worst flooding our island has ever experienced.

Tropical rainstorms are a normal part of life during the rainy season here, and in this part of the world, low-lying areas are prone to flooding from time to time, but no one expected the far-reaching damage that this storm would cause.

{Taken the evening of the storm}

We slept through the storm, periodically waking to the sounds of heavy rain and wind. In the morning, Angel went out first thing to check on our car because he could see that branches were down in the parking lot. The car was fine--just weeks ago, trees around our apartment complex had gotten majorly trimmed down, and that probably was a big factor in how little tree damage we had here. We noticed some leaking in our storage room--an on-and-off problem when we have serious rainstorms, but still weren't aware of the extent of this particular storm.

My parents called to tell us that getting out on the local roads was difficult due to a number of downed trees on all major roads. We then started hearing updates from friends that low-lying areas of Penang had flooded, and we heard of one friend's home that had flooded, so about mid-morning I sent Angel out to see what he could do to help with clean-up efforts.

It felt like it took us a while to really find out the extent of the effects of the flooding, but more stories and situations and photos began to pour in and everything really started to hit home. Landslides had occurred around the island, a road within walking distance from our apartment collapsed, the car ferry had floated up and gotten itself grounded on the pier, and some area homes had already been submerged under water for hours.

This is a mountainous island--to some extent, everything is either built on a hill or in a valley, and in the neighborhoods in the valleys that are suffering most after this storm. Because this flood is so much more severe than any we've experienced before, some residents believe strongly that the constantly growing population and constantly growing building/development/skyscraper industry paired with a lack of growth in drainage infrastructure that has caused the island not to be able to handle this severe of a storm.

But at this point, in the short-term, we can't be most worried about what caused these effects or how to prevent them in the future. Instead, right now we need to find people dry places to sleep and food to eat and electrical appliances and clean homes so that they can return to normal life.

 {The flood level rose to about 4 feet high in this home}

One of the biggest casualties to the flood is vehicles. Hundreds of cars parked on streets and in parking lots were submerged up to their roofs, thousands of motorcycles were in the similar state. In a moment, you realize just how important a car is to life--it's a way to get to work, it's a means of transportation to anywhere else you might need to go, it's a big financial investment. Because flood damage is not typically covered by insurance, many of these cars will be marked a total loss and owners will be left to work with paying the amount still due on their car loans, or, if they owned their car in full, they'll still have to find a way to fund the purchase of a replacement vehicle.

Everyone here who remembers the tsunami of 2004 keeps bringing up how this time brings back so many memories of that disaster. Then, too, no one had any warning of the damage that was approaching, and it took at least a day for the knowledge of the full extent of the disaster that had occurred to find its way to us. For the second time in my life, I'm seeing friends--this time people I've known for literally half of my life--lose nearly everything they own to water damage. Irreplaceable things, like photo albums and journals are particularly vulnerable to floods. So are expensive purchases, like electronics and mattresses...and most things you own, when you think about it. Once again, we see the immense power of water, how the sheer force of it can flip heavy pieces of furniture and appliances upside down and leave a home looking like a tornado has gone through it.

Another thing that feels familiar is how the community responds. How quickly small groups of friends and neighbors and coworkers have mobilized to work together to find ways to meet immediate needs of those whose homes have been flooded. Even some local businesses are stepping up to the plate, offering special discounts on electrical appliances for flood victims. The local government and various groups of people around the state have organized themselves to bring whatever skills and resources they have to aid their neighbors in immediate needs--getting a safe place to stay and to sleep, getting homes cleaned, getting food to eat and necessities of life replaced.

It won't be an easy road for many. The thing about flooding and mud in a humid, tropical climate where mold and mildew grow easily is that it's practically a losing battle to try to clean and dry out these plaster and cement block homes that have been flooded before the naturally hot, moist climate causes unhealthy molds to grow in the walls and floors. My mom is one who has been fighting that battle, cleaning muddy residue off of walls and sanitizing them with a bleach rinse. We hope now for sunny, hot days that will help buildings to dry out, but so far the skies remain mostly overcast.

One thing that's different is my own role this time around. During the tsunami, I was in the homes, carrying garbage out to the dump trucks, elbow-deep in muddy water, trying to rinse the filth of the ocean out of saris. This time, with baby boy on board, it's advisable for me to avoid bacteria-carrying mud, strong fumes of cleaning chemicals, slippery floors, heavy lifting...basically anything and everything that's necessary and normal in flood clean-up. So I've stayed home and done babysitting and switched loads of laundry (from people whose houses had been flooded who at least needed a few day's worth of clean clothing) from the washer to the dryer. Everyone else is out doing the hardcore work, but I'm honest with myself that at this point I'd be more of a liability than a help. Being in this stage of life makes me think even more of the many pregnant women whose own homes were affected, who don't have a safe and clean and dry home to stay behind in while others do the harder work. As is so often the case, it's the most vulnerable in society--elderly folks, widows, single mothers, etc--who have been affected most dramatically by this disaster. I'm so glad that in this community I see bits of brightness, bits of love and light and grace in how so many come together to help whoever they can. But my heart hurts at all the stories of loss and desperation.
29 October 2017

Baby Update: Certainly Halfway

We're at least halfway there by now, ringing in at 22 weeks, which feels more like a legit middle-point to me if you find out about baby at 4 weeks along. 22 weeks is precisely 18 weeks from discovery and 18 weeks from 40. I have a new hobby of counting days and weeks in my head when I can't sleep (due to the recent cold that didn't let me breathe).

Weight gain: +7 pounds total. Bam. The ultrasound machine estimates that baby boy is 1.1 pounds. He's getting bigger!

Symptoms: Primary symptoms for the past week have been cold symptoms. I feel like I don't hardly notice any pregnancy symptoms, only plenty of coughing, sneezing, congestion, and not being able to breathe. I've learned to appreciate the wonder of Nyquil all the more now that I can't take it. But now I'm feeling far better as the cold fades away. I get tired out quite easily but that just seems normal now. I've mentioned before that my perception of "normal" is perhaps easily influenced. I feel like I feel "normal," but then I remember hiking and scrambling over rocks in Joshua Tree back in May (while jet-lagged) and not even getting slightly worn out or winded and I realize that I don't feel normal. I'm frequently getting scolded about my posture and have to remember to stand up straight and proper.

Eating: I've come to the conclusion I'd be eating a whole lot more if I lived in the USA. I think about Skinny Pop White Cheddar popcorn a lot. And Five Guys, ice cream sandwiches, hot chocolate, hot spiced cider, good Mexican restaurants, etc. In reality, what I actually eat is still pretty much green apples, oranges, cucumbers, carrots, and cereal, mixed in with occasional real meals. Soups are good, like chili or homemade stew. Still not eating much meat or rice. More frequently I've been waking up extra early, around 5, because I'm hungry, so I eat a quick breakfast and go back to sleep for a bit and then eat again.

Baby: We had another ultrasound, which showed he's consistently measuring about 5 days ahead (ambitious little boy!). Everything looks good at this point, but I'm always shocked by how much bigger he seems from one ultrasound to the next. So thankful to be able to see him growing! I've yet to ask my doctor anything like so...what am I supposed to do or where am I supposed to go at this hospital when he's going to be born? I assume the doctor will give me this information at some point. I had to get my blood drawn, and I fell in love with Angel all over again because he handed me his Nokia with "Snake" already queued up and ready to play before I even asked for a distraction. He's done blood draws and vaccinations with me before, you can tell! I'm starting to be able to feel baby move, but not consistently yet, only occasionally, and it's the coolest thing ever.

Wishlist: I do want a baby book. I'm that type of record-keeping, journaling sort of person (if that wasn't already blatantly obvious). I'm thinking an Ergo 360 carrier? I expect Angel will be doing most of the serious baby carrying due to my weird back. Baby will need something to sleep in. I want to find vitamins that don't make me throw up. I want to make some wall art for the baby room (wall art that can be washi-taped up, of course, due to my aversion to nail holes in rental apartments) and make curtains, but first we need to find curtain rods. Thinking about what a tropical climate baby needs...a whole lot less in the way of socks and shoes and blankets, that's for sure.

Emotions: Basically crazy happy all the time. Particularly after a good report from the ultrasound, I feel like I'm walking on rainbows. Angel and I have such fun talking about imaginary plans for this boy...I say we should try to make him a "nerd baby" who is obsessed with grammar and education but Angel is a bit more skeptical of this idea. We talk about funny stuff like the kind of music Angel plays in the car and what sort of music this baby ought to listen to while he grows up, because both of us realized we have a soft spot for the music played in the backgrounds of our childhoods.

Preparations: I don't think we've made any new preparations yet. Haven't bought clothes for him. Do cute baby boy clothes exist? Most of the clothes here seem to be covered in Spiderman, and as superheroes go, I'm sorry, but Spiderman is kind of lame. I've bought a couple loose tunic/dresses since I'm basically out of jeans and needed something I can wear with my leggings (new dress pictured above!). Not officially maternity clothes but not as structured or fitted as my usual style. My current idea is to clean the room for the baby over Christmas break and start setting it up, so that when he has some clothes, and some stuff, we will have a place to put them. Angel's finished reading Shepherding a Child's Heart.  He's been researching medical baby-related topics in order to make decisions. I have read nothing, well, nothing other than random novels from the library that have nothing to do with babies. I tend to still feel like it's still very early on in this pregnancy, too soon to start preparing much. But like I think I've mentioned before, after I was born, my parents had to stop at the grocery store on the way home from the hospital to buy diapers because they didn't have any as long as we're not quite THAT unprepared, I think we'll be okay. I have a slight feeling that baby boy may want to arrive a tiny bit sooner than the March 4 due date...based on not much in reality, except his measurements being consistently 5 days ahead and the fact that I and many of my siblings arrived 1-3 weeks early. But no one knows....

24 October 2017

My Unpopular Opinions

-Well, probably the biggest and most glaring unpopular opinion of mine is that I don't like pets. I'm okay with animals in an academic sort of way--looking at them from far away or spotting them in the wild is cool. I like seeing jellyfish in the ocean. But I don't like pets. The outdoor cats that Angel and I used to have are about the extent to which I can tolerate a pet. And those were half-wild barn cats that got into fights with possums...Angel fed them and played with them and I left them strictly alone. I particularly don't like dogs, and feel very uncomfortable around them. Thankfully, lots of the dog-lovers in my life still tolerate me and tell their dogs to leave me alone and go love on someone (like Angel) who actually appreciates them. Safe to say I'm not the right person to take care of your pets when you're on vacation. Again, that's what I keep Angel around for.

-I love it when people talk loudly, become overly affectionate with each other, or generally act strangely in public. Eavesdropping and staring at strangers is so amazingly entertaining. Life would be too boring if people acted normal and quiet all the time.

- Green apples are the best kind of apples (except for possible honeycrisp apples in the fall in Michigan. But that's very specific, so, generally speaking, green apples are the best accessible apples).

- Purple hair is better than normal hair.

- I fully and completely enjoy Facebook. Maybe part of this is related to my real-life enjoyment of eavesdropping. But I love seeing pictures of my friends' lives, I love hearing little status updates that I'd never get a chance to hear otherwise, and I love that Facebook makes it easy enough to stay in contact with people so that we can still get addresses and needed info to arrange real-life meetups on rare occasions when we're back in the same place. Keeping track of phone numbers and dialing international calls is too complicated. Plus, pictures. I love pictures. Angel says he only wishes his Facebook friends would post more photos of their pets. I'm more about the baby and vacation pictures, myself. :)

- I think kids are more fun than adults.

- TV isn't worth watching alone. I only watch TV as a social activity. There's almost no show or movie I would want to see badly enough to actually watch it by myself. I like plenty of movies and some shows but for me it's only an activity worth spending time on if I'm watching something with family and friends and doing something with my hands (like cross-stitch) at the same time.

- Sleeping in is the boring-est way to spend a free morning. I've tried. Not sure I've ever made it past 7:30 even if I try really hard to sleep in after a late night.

-I don't like beards. Or mustaches. Or any sort of manly facial hair. Maybe a couple of characters in a couple of movies have pulled off the look somewhat successfully, but I far prefer the clean-shaved look (and let's add nicely trimmed short hair and a three-piece suit while we're at it). Angel's favorite way to torture me is to only partially shave, leaving a goatee or mustache. This always disturbs me greatly and never lasts longer than a couple hours. Usually not longer than 15 minutes.

- Coffee is not worth drinking. Even the smell. Granted, I've only tried about one cup in my lifetime, but that's because I can't get past the smell in the first place. Also, anything coffee-flavored just tastes bad.

- Excessive complaining doesn't make people more relatable. I find courage in the face of adversity or even just viewing the normal ups-and-downs of life as no big deal a much more attractive trait. Side note: Angel's one of the few nursing students I've ever met who was like, "Eh, nursing school isn't bad. It's fine. It's just like any normal school. Being a nurse isn't hard, it's just heavy work. It's a good job." Yep. I like these kinds of people. I might myself be naturally more on the dramatic side but I find people who treat the tough stuff as NBD are my kind of people and they inspire me to be more like them. Not that I believe you have to be fake and act like things are fine when they're not...but the personality trait of never being fine, or of being easily flustered or offended by the bumpy roads of life instead of erring on the side of grace and good humor...that's not my type. Although it sure seems very popular in my own generation. I sometimes suspect that it's been harder for me to make friends as an adult because I just can't get into the complaint-fests about how tough "adulting" is with other folks my age. The people I know with the actual toughest lives tend to be those who whine the least about it.

- I don't like candles. Plain old fire is fine, and once in a while pretending the electricity is out and relying on candlelight might be fun, and I think they  have their uses...but I don't like them burning and scenting up the whole room. I would never purposely go out and buy a candle for my house. Angel really likes candles. Once, before we got married, I visited the house where he lived, and during my visit, I left to go to the bathroom, and when I came out, all of the lights were off and Angel was sitting in the center of the room with a whole circle of lit candles. It was the weirdest thing ever. It was at that point that I was calculating how near his landlady was in the living room and how many steps it would take to run to my car in the parking lot. Angel was just acting totally normal and saying, "Aren't candles so cool?" Apparently people like this really creep me out but I marry them anyway.

- Gilligan's Island is a better TV show than just about any other TV show ever, and inspired my life dream to become stranded on an idyllic tropical island with a bunch of quirky characters.

What are your unpopular opinions?