30 June 2014

Shopping Spree At the Arcade

This is what I wore for the momentous occasion.

Angel and I like to go to the arcade once in a while and spend $10 or so playing games and winning tickets. About two years ago, we decided to start saving up all our arcade tickets so that we could eventually go on a shopping spree at the arcade and win some prizes cooler than a bouncy ball.

If we'd kept living here, we probably would  have kept saving up our tickets for the rest of our lives, as it has become such a habit, but we finally decided that it was time to go to Craig's Cruisers for one last glorious day and cash in all our tickets and see what we could buy.

Of course, we wanted to play a few last games, too, and our arcade career ended on a high note when we finally managed to correctly strategize and won the 500 ticket jackpot on a game that involved throwing balls at little clowns. (How violent! But, oh! How ecstatic I was when we won that jackpot!)

We proudly handed over our ticket collection to the girl at the counter. Our grand total was: 6,885.

Upon hearing the number, Angel and I felt like I imagine a rich person feels when strolling around Banana Republic...we could buy anything we wanted!

Well, not really. The XBOX One that they had up for grabs cost 100,000 tickets, so there were still plenty of prizes outside of our price range, but we didn't focus on those. Instead, we gleefully grabbed all of these:

A Grand total of:
6 Skittles
6 Peanut M&Ms
4 bags of Jelly Bellys
4 Starburst
2 Snickers
2 Twix
1 Temporary Tattoo
1 Pink Leopard

It's a lot, I know. We were giggling uncontrollably as we dumped our armfuls of candybars onto the counter and I have no idea what the lady who scanned all of our candy thought. Maybe this sort of behavior is totally normal at arcades.

Notice the slight line dividing the left and right sides of the photo? That's denoting his (right) and hers (left). We don't often stoop to yours and mine, but candy is one area where it's necessary, because I'm a saver...Angel will eat all the candy before I get around to it unless it's specified that some candy belongs to me and others belongs to him.

With this humongous stash of candy--I think we are fully prepared for sweet snacks for the plane flight to China, so that's a good thing. We also were able to buy something else during our spree. In Angel's words, it was a "great deal!". And judging by weight-per-ticket, it was indeed a good deal. For the low low price of 750 tickets, we got this:

This 5 lb. 4 oz. box was plastic wrapped, so we weren't entirely sure what we were getting, other than the "World's Largest Gummy Snake!" until we got home and opened the intriguing good deal:

It was, indeed, filled with 12 very large gummy snakes. They look rather intimidating, and not particularly appetizing to Angel and I...but we bought this one for the surprise, not for the taste. I'm not much of a fan of gummy things if they're not sour. However, I've got a bunch of little cousins who aren't as picky as we are and so Angel's been distributing giant snakes at random...

What's the best prize you've ever won at an arcade?
27 June 2014

How We're Going to Hawaii


I feel like I say "Surprise" a lot in my blog posts.

Anyway, we're going to Hawaii. I'm pretty sure we are. At least that's what our plane tickets say. And that's not something I would have ever expected to be able to say in reference to myself. I always kind of figured that people like Angel and I don't go to Hawaii. Other people do. I envisioned for Angel and myself a lifetime of vacations that looked a lot more like road trips to national parks.

When I'm bored on road trips, I take pictures of Angel driving...we have a LOT of pictures that look just like this one...

So this is strange. We're going to Hawaii. We decided on a whim, found out it was possible, and bought the tickets.

This is the strategy we used: We're stopping in at Hawaii, and spending a couple days there, on the way to China.

Round trip tickets to Hawaii, what a normal vacation would require, would be well out of reach for us, but we had the idea to check out how much it would cost to buy separate plane tickets to fly first to Hawaii and then our destination in China, as compared to flying straight to China. It just so happened, after a little date-juggling (Google Flights is really helpful for comparing prices on different dates), that we could fly to Hawaii, stay there for a couple days, and then continue our journey to China for very close to the same price that we would pay if we were flew straight to China.

We also found that there were plenty of choices on the Airbnb website and that you could get a private room on Oahu near the airport for $60-$80 a night. Once we found that out, we were hooked.

{Ya'll, when you travel, try Airbnb. That link right there is our referral link. I didn't even know they had a referral program till now, which is too bad because I recommend it often. If you have never used Airbnb before, you can sign up at that link and you get credit toward your first stay, we also get credit, everybody wins!}

So, the combined appeal of really just paying for a plane ticket that we were already going to, once we get there, having quite affordable housing (the place we booked is $75 per night--considering that it's a private guest house, in Hawaii, I think that's pretty good!)...helped us decide on a once in a lifetime trip. It helps that our leave date is within a couple days of Angel's 30th and my 23rd birthdays, so with a little birthday money allocated it's even more doable.

Now I'm researching what we ought to do while we're there. We're not planning anything crazy--mostly hiking, visiting Pearl Harbor, and time by the beach. If you've been to Oahu, please give me your recommendations!

What are your strategies for being able to save money while traveling? I never thought we'd end up going on vacation en route to moving to China, but it just worked out that way. This does mean that we'll be packing a little heavier than the average couple on a 5-day vacation, but hey, what are muscles for? Carrying 50 lb. suitcases around, right?
26 June 2014

10 Random Lies About Me

I do my research about blogging. Through such research, I've found out that "10 Random Facts about Me"-type posts do very well in the blog world. I embarked to create such a post...but somehow ended up going another direction....

I felt that a blog post of this sort was just crying out for an emo picture. Is this one emo enough?
1. I LOVE puppies!!

2. My middle name is Marguerite.

3. I've broken one bone.

4. I'm decently good at sports in general, but my favorite one to play is basketball.

5. In my spare time, I like to knit--outdoors if the weather is nice, but indoors and watching a show if it isn't.

6. Once upon a time, I was on the show Jeopardy but I didn't win.

7. I just love coffee and have to limit myself to one cup every day!

8. My husband and I were high school sweethearts.

9. If I could have any job in the world, I would be a doctor.

10. My favorite flower is the Rafflesia.

Thank you for indulging my little venture into pathological lying. I realize that this post was probably slightly less informative than the more-common Facts post, but I hope that you enjoyed it nonetheless.
24 June 2014

Happy Spontaneous Birthday to Me!

It was a Thursday. The weather was nice--sunny, but slightly windy, and only heating up to about 80 at the hottest. Angel had the day off work, and there were no pressing engagements to interfere with whatever we decided to do that day.

We suddenly decided to celebrate my birthday!

My birthday isn't till the latter half of July. You might have noticed that we're spending the latter half of July this year doing something like moving to China. Because of our upcoming move and therefore the fact that actual presents like new dresses weren't really a possibility, I'd decided a while back that I really wanted to go to Michigan's Adventure, a local amusement/waterpark, for my birthday.

Life being as crazy as it is, we declared the most recent convenient day my "birthday" and had a blast.

Our strategy paid off. It was a weekday, and not very hot, which meant that the waterpark especially was abandoned, and lines for all the rides were short. My goal in going to any amusement park is to ride as many rides as humanly possible: we did 15 different rides. However, that number is lower than in might have been, because we rode our favorites more than once, and, notably, Angel rode the bumper cars 12 times (I only rode them 9 times before I was tired of getting bumped).

He was so, so, so happy on the bumper cars.

Second time ever trying Dippin' Dots. Apparently weird chewy ice cream fascinates me...
I accomplished something impressive, too. Using a combination tactic of long-sleeved swimwear plus sunscreen on any skin that was exposed, I successfully completed an entire day at the waterpark with only a 1''x4'' patch of sunburn on the back of my neck to show for it.

The day ended with take-out Panda Express eaten on some empty bleachers at a little softball field we found on the way home. It was an awesome 23rd birthday celebration, though I won't actually claim that age until my actual birthday comes. I mean, why get older before we have to?

I think fortune cookies taste bad, but I am highly amused by the fortunes inside them. So we have a system: I open both cookies to find out the fortunes and Angel eats both cookies. Too bad Panda Express doesn't have the "learn Chinese" feature on their fortune cookies, I couldn't have my usual fortune cookie rant about how faulty the translations/pronunciations guides are on those...
As far as reflections on growing up go, I'm not sure how appropriate those are given that my dream for celebrating my 23rd birthday was riding waterslides and roller coasters. However, as this is my only birthday blog post, I'll definitely say that looking back to last year, especially when I wrote my 22 while 22 list...I definitely did not expect the year that I've had. This time last year Angel and I were about to leave on one last trip to Malaysia before getting settled down in America for good. If things had gone as planned I'd be working in a salon right now and Angel would be nearly done with his Master's degree...all I can say when I think about those plans is that this, what we're actually doing, is so, so much better for us. Last year, I wasn't excited when I thought about my own life--this year I am. I'd say that's an improvement.

p.s. Umm, did you see how much I traveled this year on that 22 While 22 post? Craziness. I went a little overboard. Clearly, when I wrote the "At least 5 overnight trips" goal I did not expect the crazy year I've my parents returning to visit the USA for a couple months, that was a surprise! In addition to all the trips already recorded, I'm going away at least once more before my birthday. Some people are used to traveling a lot but that was a bit excessive for me!
23 June 2014

Little White Dress

When I was 16, I was a bridesmaid for a friend, and my bridesmaid dress was a knee-length, white dress with ribbon-like straps. 6 years later, I still have the dress. However, last time I wore it was in 2011 for a college banquet. See, this is what 2011 looks like:

However, like many a bridesmaid dress, this one hasn't been worn much. There were two main reasons:

1) There were some yellow stains on the fabric...possibly from hanging in the closet for years, and the tag said 'Dry Clean Only'. Who actually dry cleans?

2) It's actually too big. This doesn't always matter that much with clothing, but with this particular style of dress is kinda has to actually fit, you know?

So....I decided to experiment with the sewing machine and some of my leftover material to see if there was a way I could make this dress work. Because, you see, if I added a top to the dress, it would actually stay up!

I originally wanted to add sleeves as well, but there was not enough of this fabric left so I gave up on that little dream. You may recognize this fabric as the same used in this dress. I swear, this fabric is Rachel in pattern form. Speaking of patterns, I couldn't figure out how to use part of a pattern to make the top, so I just eyeballed it and tried the dress on a lot as I worked. The end result was pretty much exactly what I imagined so I'm happy!

I ended up going with an open back because I couldn't figure any other way to be able to get the dress on and off unless I took out the original zipper and put in a new one that was long enough for the new added fabric. I suppose I also could have taken in the dress to make it fit better--but both of those endeavors sounded far too complicated given my limited sewing experience.

What do you think?
20 June 2014

I'm Gonna Miss This

There's nothing like the prospect of moving to teach you to appreciate what you already have. I like to boldly claim that I'm not particularly attached to "things," that I don't need stuff to be happy (See: Must Have Items You Don't Need). But the truth is that the thought of slimming down our collection of possessions does leave me somewhat daunted. I'm 22. I don't actually own that much, not as much as a more settled-down adult, anyway, and for that I'm grateful. Most of what we do own was given to me for my wedding or college graduation. And it looks like I won't be owning it much longer--because there's not a whole lot you can pack into a couple 50 lb. suitcases.

Here's a few special items that I know will be left behind, and that I know equally well that I am going to miss:

1) Our Bed. This is the only non-thrift store piece of furniture we own. If you've been a long-time reader, you know I'm rather enthralled with our bed. We ordered it and had it custom-made for us from a local Amish furniture store. It's humongous and impractical and gorgeous and it's my favorite thing in this house.

2) My Car. I started driving my blue car when I was 17. It originally belonged to my great-grandma, and somewhere along the way it was decided that I should inherit it. When I first got it, it looked a little better than it does now. That was before my grandpa backed into it twice and I slipped off the road during a blizzard and then Angel slipped off the road during a blizzard.  It's named Jack. Full name: Captain Jack.

3) My Sewing Machine. My whole life I've had to skip all of the "requires a sewing machine" craft ideas in craft books because first my mom didn't have one, and then I didn't. As a girl who dreams up outfits that don't seem exist on a fairly regular basis, being able to make my own clothes seemed like a dream come true. I was able to buy the sewing machine as a graduation gift--and I've had so much fun with it.

4) My Dollhouse. The most impractical thing ever. I've always dreamed of having an elaborately decorated dollhouse. One time, my siblings and I build a pretty cool one out of a cardboard box. This is no cardboard box.

5) My Serving Dishes. I hate to admit it, but I got a little teary-eyed when going through the closet full of my kitchen stuff. All of my serving dishes are mismatched: handmedowns from family members, gifts from our wedding, or were picked out by me on sale with a particular occasion in mind. I envisioned countless parties where guests were fed from deviled eggs on my deviled egg tray, punch in the punchbowl and maybe even some turkey gravy in the gravy bowl. And all of my dishes have been used, and loved--ya'll know I don't skimp on having parties. But I am going to miss out on using them many more times.

6) My Library. Okay, I don't actually have one. I do have a lot of books. But I've always dreamed of one. Floor to ceiling books--old school library with dark wood and sliding ladders and luxurious red sofas with pillows and blankets to cuddle up on. That's a dream I'm giving up, too.

You know? That's probably it. Those are the only things that  are really going to sting. All the little mementos I'll sneak into my suitcases, and I have no love (though a great deal of appreciation!) for pots and pans and small kitchen appliances and bedsheets.

So that's it. Now I know for sure, that at one point in my life, I had all the little "things" I'd always wanted. And it wasn't a disappointment at all. Designing and sewing my own clothes was just as awesome as I'd always imagined it would be. I smiled up at that giant headboard every night when I went to sleep. It was really, really cool to have these things, and I'm grateful that I had them, but it just so happens that I've chosen a lifestyle which doesn't involve having cool things like these.

And I'm going to be okay with that.

But I just want to warn you--if you ever start to think that you have no materialistic tendencies at all, that you're not attached to stuff, decide to pack your life into 1 suitcase, 1 carry-on, and 1 backpack per person, and see what that teaches you. You may be a stronger person than I am, but if you're not, and if you too find yourself suddenly in tears as you pack up books that your husband bought you for your 1st Valentine's Day together into a bag for the thrift store--know that you're not the first to cry over the loss of paperback mysteries, and you won't be the last.
19 June 2014

No Cable? No Problem!

In case you didn't know, the World Cup started last week. I happen to know this only because Angel's love for the World Cup has been pretty obvious in the last week. This is our first married World Cup. It's been interesting.

Because we don't have cable/satellite/any type of fancy schmancy television like that, Angel's been quite creative in finding locations to watch all of the most important games. (Is it just me, or is every single game "important"?)

I amuse myself by photographing where he's been watching the World Cup this past week...

Some games are shown on ABC, but according to Angel, only a very tiny percentage. This was one. He may think he was paying attention but I'm pretty sure he slept through it...

The only game we had to pay to see...and since that particular restaurant has especially delicious nachos, there was no complaining from me!

This shot is particularly hilarious to me. You can see the extension cord and my Dad's 20 year old boombox on the picnic table. They were listening to the game on a Spanish language AM station because Angel thinks that the Spanish-speaking radio announcers are much more exciting to listen to than the English speaking announcers. I snapped this right when Italy scored a goal--you can tell because of our friend happily waving his Italian flag and Angel has his hand on his head in dismay...he was rooting for the other team.

At the park, listening to the game on his hand-crank-powered flashlight/radio. Angel always knew he'd need a gadget such as that for an emergency situation like this. Unfortunately, the radio didn't get AM channels so he had to listen to the game in English.

Our friend just moved into a new apartment where a cable hookup and service was included in the rent. However...he didn't have a TV. He did happen to find a TV on the side of the road on the day after the World Cup began. Between the three of them, the guys got it working and connected just in time to watch the game.

At our college's cafe, where he watched the Word Cup back in 2006 when he was actually in college. Nothing wrong with a couple of alumni visiting the old campus, right, especially when it means you can watch a football game for free?

As for me, my extent of "watching" these games usually involves asking Angel--"Which country is wearing the red uniforms?" and then getting back to studying Chinese or reading a book or whatever else I happen to be doing which is much more interesting than watching sports. While watching sports itself is not interesting to me, listening in on conversations between Angel and our friends or eavesdropping on all the phone calls he makes to his dad and brother during the games is highly entertaining.

Have you or anyone you love been following the World Cup? If not, do you have any sporting events you follow? Is it normal to be this creative in order to catch all the games when they aren't shown on broadcast tv?
18 June 2014

Don't Drive Distracted

Little known fact: I don't enjoy driving, and avoid it whenever I can.

My first, and as yet, only car.

However, just because I try to stay out of the driver's seat as much as possible doesn't mean that I can't have any impact on the choices that the person who is driving my car makes. Distracted driving is an all-too common factor in car crashes--these crashes could often be prevented if drivers are willing to decide to drive by keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

But what impact can you have on a driver's behavior when you're a passenger? Quite a bit, actually. When you're a passenger, you can use that opportunity to encourage the person driving the car to make good decisions, avoid multi-tasking, and pay attention to what's happening on the road.

When I was in high school, I got rides everywhere from my friends. This was pre-smartphones, but it wasn't pre-texting, and quite frequently my friends would get out their phones to text others while they drove. I was never ashamed to speak up when I saw them try to multitask this way: "You have precious cargo in this car," I'd say, "No text is worth endangering both of our lives." 

I made it clear early on that I wouldn't continue to get rides from people who persisted in texting while driving, and I'd offer to read and respond to texts for the driver so that they could pay attention to the road.

These days, my husband is the primary driver in our family, and I encourage him to stay focused on driving and not getting distracted by always reminding him when we're out and about that we're never in so much of a hurry that we don't have the time to stop in a parking lot and eat food from the drive-thru rather than have him eat while driving. When we're going places we don't know, I manage the GPS and play the role of navigator. If someone calls his cell while we're driving, I'll answer it and give him a message. If he wants to listen to a different cd, I'll change the cd for him.

Driving is a daily activity for most, but it's never worth it to let familiarity with our usual routes lull us into thinking that it's a good idea to multitask and allow ourselves to get distracted while driving. Also, remember, as a passenger, you are not powerless. If the person driving you is driving distracted, don't be afraid to speak up. Offer to take care of other tasks so that they can focus on driving.

The first car I ever rode in--on my way home after being born at the hospital!

I'm thankful for this opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of paying attention when on roads, courtesy of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Auto Alliance. The focus of the Decide to Drive campaign is on making sure both drivers and passengers are aware of what they can do to decrease distracted driving and its consequences.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
17 June 2014

Dates for Him. Dates for Me.

Angel and I like to date. And we don't only mean the free kind of dates, either. We're not the kind of people to go out and spend $40 on dinner and a movie, but we're also the type of people who would rather spend a little extra cash on some fun activities together than, say, small home appliances.

However, there are simply some activities he enjoys more than I do, and there are some activities I like a little better than he does. We participate in each other's preferred activities, but I also find it helpful to remember which activities are my husband's favorites, and which ones are the activities that Angel probably wouldn't do if it wasn't for me. For example, if I wanted to plan a fun evening for Angel, I probably wouldn't plan a night at our local swing dancing club. Instead, I might tell him to pick up take-out from Culvers (the man loves fast-food) and rent a movie from redbox.

Angel's not the most sentimental guy, and he doesn't like anything complicated or excessively labor-intensive. I've read plenty of date ideas online involving 'printables' and quests and multiple locations and thought, "I know for a fact that Angel would consider that 'date' as pure torture."

I don't think that this is the most romantic concept ever. I guess, ideally, each of you are equally excited about the activities you do together, and you have an easy time planning dates that you both think are fun. We're a little more on the practical side. There's no system, but I'd say that we roughly alternate dates catered to Angel's tastes and dates catered to my taste. Actually, I'm pretty sure that we lean rather heavily on Angel's side of the date spectrum, but that's largely because, as you'll read, my taste in dates tend to require a little more expenditure of both dollars and energy.

Our dates will probably look a bit different when we move--or, at least, the exact locations of our new favorite hangout spots will be different, but these are our regulars for now!

1. Playing Boggle
2. Action Movie at home
3. Arcade
4. Nap
5. Amusement Park
6. Steak Restaurant
7. Youtube videos
8. Xbox Kinect
9. Bonfire
10. Watch Jeopardy
11. Mini-golf
12. Indian restaurant
13. Dessert (i.e. homemade strawberry pies)
14. Kayaking
15. Playing Mancala

1. Botanical Gardens
2. Comedy Movie
3.  Mall
4. Do Errands
5. Ride Bikes
6. Surprise!!
7. Museum
8. Downtown Art Festival
9. Bookstore
10. Go out for Breakfast
11. Vacation to somewhere new and exotic
12. Swing/Ballroom dancing
13. The Beach
14. The Cemetery
15. A Restaurant with an unique name/unusual theme (i.e. The Electric Cheetah, Hash House A Go Go....I am endlessly intrigued by eating at places with weird names...)

Is this just us, or do most of you do things together for fun that you probably wouldn't do if you were single?

p.s. I feel very awkward about putting words on photos. I almost never feel awkward, so that's probably a bad sign. So how about, laugh with me instead of at me as far as the words on photos thing goes, okay?
16 June 2014

When Blogging Meets Real Life

This, or some variation of this, has long been one of my favorite outfits. I call it "The Flower". Get it? Green jeans make the stem, and a coral shirt makes the flower. Perfection.

I was dressed like this, attending Angel's 5K this weekend, when a lady walked up and introduced herself and said she read my blog. Now, bloggers, be honest--doesn't the prospect of being recognized by a blog reader while you're out and about give you a thrill? You hear of it happening to others, and you don't say it, but you kind of secretly wish it would happen to you someday? Either that or the prospect of being recognized as the author of what you write online completely freaks you out. There's two sides to the issue--I identify myself with the first side.

I never really expected to run into another blogger in West Michigan, though. It's not as if this region were a true hotbed of bloggers. So let me give a shoutout to Bernadette of Barefoot Hippie Girl who, even though focused on running 3.1 miles that morning, happened to spy me and had the guts to come up and say hi! I'm not great at recognizing people from pictures (something about 2D versus 3D)...if I thought I saw a blogger I would probably just assume it was someone else who bore a startling resemblance to said blogger. Bernadette said, "You have a pretty distinctive way of dressing!" so possibly it's easy to recognize someone who talks excessively about her beloved green jeans and sparkly pink shoes.

As for the husband, he ran 5Ks the past two Saturdays. In the first he ran 20:04 (75th place overall), so he didn't quite break 20 as he was hoping. However, on the race this weekend he ran 19:34. But this race had a lot more serious runners than the last one, so even though he was faster he only got 99th place out of 1,135. Still not close to his 16:35 personal record from years ago but he was happier about these times than he was at his last race! Love my speedy husband!

Post-race, ignoring my camera...

Have you ever randomly run into a blogger in real life? Do you think you could recognize someone offline if you weren't expecting to see them?

and Have you been running any races lately? 
13 June 2014

While They Last

With good reason, I've been on a 'make the most of every moment' kick for a while now. Angel and I have known since last fall that this season of life with just the two of us living alone in our farmhouse in the Michigan countryside wouldn't last much longer. I've been determined to enjoy this time for the little we have left of it.

I've been sewing because I don't know if I'll ever have a sewing machine again. I've been painting my nails regularly because there's no way I'm carting 15 bottles of nail polish to the other side of the world.

Sunday Afternoon: Hanging out at Calder Plaza listening to the Great Lake Chorus at the Festival of Arts--next year we won't be able to go, so we made sure to enjoy it this year!
I relish a little more the fact that I get to see my grandparents and aunts and uncles and sister and brother with semi-regularity...because once we move, that won't be a part of our lives anymore.

I make sure to smile and say a little "thank you!" every time I put a tray full of fish filets or cookies in the oven to cook, because I know I'm about to embark on the adventure of feeding Angel and I without the convenience of a home oven. I don't grumble about folding warm laundry from the dryer because I know soon I won't have one. I'm really starting to appreciate the fact that I can go just about everywhere within a 30 minute driving radius without getting lost...AND all the signs are in English and I don't have to wrack my brain to try to understand what they mean.

I've never moved to China before, obviously. I've never even set foot in the country. But I am experienced enough in the ways of this world to know that with this move I'm giving up a lot of little luxuries that I have occasionally taken for granted during these newlywed years in Michigan.

No more G-Rap for us! Side note: I'm wearing a jacket in mid-June. That I will not miss.
These little luxuries--dryers and ovens and proximity to grandparents, are just that--luxuries. I know they're not necessary for life, and I know that lots of people go their entire lives without ever having them. I've been blessed. I haven't always appreciated my temporary home in Michigan. Some of the years I've spent here have been very, very difficult. But I'm grateful for the things that are good about Michigan. For the adventures I've had, for the friends I've made, and for the fact that it was on this soil that I fell in love with Angel.

I'm ready to go, there's no doubt about that, but as our leaving date approaches, I seek to enjoy the little blessings we have right here in Michigan, while they last.
12 June 2014

Avoid Student Loan Debt!

My parents told me 3 things from when I was a very young age: 1. I was going to college. 2. They would not be able to pay for my college. 3. I would not go into debt while I was in college.

I'm not sure if you can tell how much I really, really, really hated wearing a cap and gown. I attempted to convince the people I sat with during graduation to join me in a protest against caps and gowns and take them off, but they thought we might not be allowed to graduate if we did that so I conformed.

It's possible that this was a brainwashing technique, and if so, it's one that worked well. I've heard too many of my friends say with resignation, "I already know I'll still be paying on my student loans when my own kids are in college!" and I've seen too many teens already setting themselves up for financial distress with reckless decisions regarding where they want to go to college--I want to say that if you are willing to compromise in other areas, that it IS possible, even in today's world of extremely high tuition, to go to college without incurring debt that will follow you the rest of your life.

These are the strategies that I think are the most helpful:

1. Go to a community college.

Or get as many college credits as you can in high school. Community colleges tend to be far less expensive than state or private universities. This is one of the strategies my brother and sister are using, they've already finished their first two years of college debt-free at a CC--it's true that the educational standards may not be as high as at an elite school--but your degree will be from whichever 4 year university you graduate from, and I'm sure future prospective employers will not be digging through your transcripts to see whether you took English 101 at a community college or at a state university. 

2. Get as many scholarships as you can.

As much as I try to hide it, it turns out that I'm a nerd. Not the wears-fake-glasses nerd, a real one. I scored in the 99th percentile on my SAT and ACT exams (yeah, I took both) and my tuition and books and college fees were completely paid for through a combination of several academic scholarships that required me to have a GPA above 3.75 throughout college (I graduated with a 3.989--because of one professor who said "I don't give As" and gave me an A- instead. I'm still a little bitter.).  I was blessed, and definitely hit the jackpot where scholarships were concerned, but you don't have to be a geek to earn valuable scholarships. There are scholarships for just about anything you could think of! Angel also had a significant portion of his education paid for with scholarships--none of which were academic, but were based on other factors such as his major (nursing) and the fact that he was a 1st generation college student. Many scholarships you have to apply for individually, and it takes time, but its worth it!

3. Work

As nice as it may sound, you do not need to devote all of your times to classes and socialization as a college student. Part-time jobs abound--and if you can work at your college, all the better! I put gas in my car working as an "ironing girl" (that's what my employer called me) and tutoring philosophy, religion, and business students. Angel cleaned on-campus apartments and worked as a receptionist in our college health center. My sister is paying her way through college right now working as a manager at a screen-printing shop. My brother is doing the same thing by working at a hat kiosk at the mall and tutoring math students. The jobs aren't glamorous, but they're experience to put on your resume and money for that tuition bill.

4. Cut living costs

When I attended my college, the cost of living in the dorms and eating in the dining halls was something crazy--$8,000 a year, I think. My scholarships didn't cover that, so my grandparents took me in for the first 5 semesters of college till I got married, and I brought turkey and cheese sandwiches to school every day for lunch (post-college: I no longer eat sandwiches). My younger brother and sister live with my other grandparents right now so that they are able to attend school--sure, their basement bedrooms with curtains for walls might not sound as cool as an apartment of their own...but they don't pay rent. It's amazing how much more money you can save or put toward tuition when you live with people who love and support you enough to not charge you fair-market rent price. This strategy can also work if you're trying to pay off loans you already have--Angel moved back in with his parents for a year and a half after college. Of course, you might PREFER to be independent...but if you're blessed with loved ones who are willing to host you, you need to consider how much your preference is worth...and let me tell you, it's not worth getting into debt for a preference.

5. Get a practical degree.

This is not the most popular opinion these days, but here it is--do NOT go 100K into debt to study an arts subject that you're really interested in when you know that factually, you'll be lucky to get a job making 30K a year in that area. If you can go through college without debt and know that you'll live just fine on a smaller income, go ahead, study what you love--but if that's not the case for you, read books in your spare time about the things you're interested in, and  go for a degree where you know jobs exist. I am immensely proud of Angel for choosing this option. He didn't choose nursing because he'd wanted to be a nurse since childhood and had lofty dreams and romantic visions of being a nurse....he chose nursing because he was pretty sure he wouldn't have the patience for anything more than a bachelor's degree, and he also knew that jobs in the healthcare industry are steadier than most and that he could support his family with that degree. (If Angel would have studied what most interested him, it would have been philosophy. See why I'm glad he chose to be practical?)

6. Don't go to college at all.

College IS a good idea for a lot of people, but not for everybody, and while it may seem like it, it's not the only way to get a steady job. There are much more inexpensive options which will provide you with skills: getting licensed as a cosmetologist or a CNA, apprenticing to become a mechanic  or electrician or plumber--those are just a few examples of practical jobs that don't require a 4 year bachelor's degree. You could get licensed in one of these professions and use the above-minimum-wage income to help you pay your way through college afterwards (many CNAs use this route). Or, if you like your job, are skilled at it, and earn enough to live on--realize that even though it may seem like it these days, college isn't the only option. Actually, when I think about it, quite a lot of my favorite people in the whole wide world don't have a college degree...that "piece of paper" can offer up job opportunities, but it doesn't automatically make you any more well-rounded of a person.

6. Make paying off loans a priority.

If you already have loans, obviously most of this advice doesn't apply to you. But simply know that the pay-back schedules that they give you don't mean that you can't pay off your loans faster if you so desire. Angel graduated from college about 23K in debt, even after scholarships and working, so he  promptly moved in with his parents, worked a lot of extra shifts and holidays, paid way more than the minimum monthly payments, and was out of debt in less than 1.5 years. Even though Angel had college loan debt, he says that he "got lucky" and was one of the few for whom taking college loans is better than not taking loans. Everything lined up right for him--if he hadn't taken loans, he wouldn't have been able to attend college at all. He did take the loans, actually finished college (many people with student loan debt don't actually finish their degrees but of course still have to pay), got hired right out of school into a job which paid a good salary, and, at the time, was a bachelor without family obligations and had parents who were very happy to have him living with them. Sometimes loans ARE the best or only option, but those cases are not as common as you might believe.
11 June 2014

Most Common Fashion Disaster

 I've always had a very loose definition of what counts as fashionable. I believe in allowing room for personal taste. I generally ignore rules and wear whatever clothes I enjoy, and I appreciate it when others do the same.

However...there's one article of clothing that is an unequivocal fashion disaster, universally unflattering to women--and generally speaking, not a good idea. Yet, somehow, many of us find ourselves with this item in our wardrobes:

The Unisex T-Shirt!!!
and its cousin:

The Unisex Polo T-Shirt!!!

Could an article of clothing, so regularly worn by so many women, be any more unflattering? I really don't think there's anything "unisex" about it. This is not a compromise between men's and women's clothing, this is a men's t-shirt, marketed to women who, for the most part, don't have nearly the muscle mass in their biceps to fill those gaping sleeve holes.

These t-shirts are bad. Yes, there may be appropriate times to use them. Putting new shingles on your house is probably an appropriate time to wear a unisex t-shirt. However, this post was inspired when I switched out my summer and winter wardrobes and counted up the huge stack of t-shirts that belong to me but would probably look more appropriate on Angel. The thing is, it seems like you never buy these t-shirts, but they simply come to you, through no fault of your own. And, unlike pretty party dresses that you love, they're practically indestructible. I have a collection of t-shirts from: church choir, Awana club, high school theater, college promotions, McDonald's handing out free t-shirts, youth group, mission trips, etc. None of them seem to be going anywhere, and, I'm proud to say, they don't get that much wear, either. Although, next time I need to get on a roof, I know I have the appropriate wardrobe.

Do you have any of these shirts, or are you going to claim complete innocence? What's your opinion on this fashion statement?
10 June 2014

My Dollhouse

It's finished.

Did I ever tell you the story of how my dollhouse came to be?

Victorian DIY Dollhouse

Nearly three years ago, Angel and I ywere newlyweds. And, as newlyweds sometimes do, we fought. I was sad. I'm not sure why, but we happened to stop at Hobby Lobby that day. I was wandering around some aisle when Angel came and found me and dragged me to the clearance section to show me his discovery: A dollhouse.

It was the display model for one of the kits that they sell, so it was pre-built and painted on the outside, but the inside was plain. Because it had been a display, it was marked down to 50% off the original price for that dollhouse kit.

Victorian DIY Dollhouse

Victorian DIY Dollhouse

I've long suspected that the reason Angel bought me a dollhouse that day was more because of the fact that he was feeling bad about fighting with me than the fact that it happened to be a really good deal, but either way, the circumstances aligned perfectly and I got a dollhouse, something I've been dreaming of my entire life.

Over the next three years I gradually worked on it, painting the walls, hanging wall paper and laying flooring. Indulging all of my little home decor dreams that can't be fulfilled in a real house because they are too ridiculous or too expensive. It's not perfect--painting an already-put-together dollhouse is extra challenging because of the aspect of having to stick your paintbrush into little nooks that you can barely see--but the imperfections make it look pretty realistic, to me, anyways. I have a few pieces of furniture for the dollhouse, too, but it had already been packed up by the time we took these pictures of my finished house.

Victorian DIY Dollhouse

Victorian DIY Dollhouse

Victorian DIY Dollhouse
Victorian DIY Dollhouse

The plan, the dream, was to gradually accumulate accessories for the house: a coffee table for Christmas, a stove for my birthday.

My dream changed, of course, and the dollhouse won't play its little role in my life anymore. I don't regret buying it or investing time into it, though. For three whole years, I had a dollhouse. Childhood dream fulfilled.

I think it's fair to say: Best. Fight. Ever.
09 June 2014

Husband's Opinions on Skirts

I've often heard it said that men generally aren't nearly as enamored with certain fashion trends as women seem to be, however, most men I've known don't seem to have any opinions on fashion in general. Angel, however, has strong opinions.

I've learned that the biggest area where I can go wrong (in his opinion) when getting dressed is in skirt style. Angel detests equally:

High-waisted pencil skirts (we've talked about this one before)

Skirts with high-low hems

Floor length skirts

That really leaves me with only straight or full-cut skirts slightly below knee-length or shorter on the the approved list. The skirt I'm wearing in the pictures I've had since I was 15, and I don't think it's coming to China because Angel audibly groans every time he sees me wear it (anyone wants to give him a basic lesson in "Things you don't say to your wife"?). If I really, really love something in my wardrobe, and if Angel doesn't like it purely because it does not match his particular sense of style, I'll generally still wear it but out of the kindness of my heart I try to avoid wearing it when we're hanging out together. However, this is fairly impossible when he's the one assigned to take my outfit photos.

This road goes both ways, though. There are certainly styles that I really don't like to see Angel wear and he does occasionally wear them--so I think there's balance in the relationship. My top three most-detested articles of men's clothing are:

Muscle Shirts



Have you ever discovered that your husband has a random aversion to very specific clothing styles or trends? Which ones? Are there any clothing items for men that you just aren't a fan of?

P.S. Tradition demands that I link up this rebelliously stylish post to Joanna and Deanna's blogs for "Sprummer Fashion Week". It's all the rage, so I'm sure you've heard of it.
06 June 2014

Two To-Do Lists

As we prepare to go, I find myself sketching out two totally different kinds of to-do lists that must be accomplished in the next (slightly less than) two months. The first kind is eminently practical, made up entirely of must-dos that have to be accomplished before leaving the country:

Before Getting on the Airplane:
-Get visas
-Buy air filtration masks
-Change address on everything...literally everything...
-Get bank accounts in order
-Renew cosmetology license
-Pack and store any extra-important mementos
-Get email addresses for all of my relatives 
-Make photocopies of all important documents and get them notarized
-Sell Angel's car.
-Get Rachel's college diploma (that awkward moment when your B.A. disappears...)
-Cancel cell phones, gas, electric.
-Make sure our suitcases are in good enough condition to make the trip and pack!
-Everything I've forgotten or don't yet know we have to do.

Last summer at the Drive-In Theater

That rather serious to-do list runs parallel in my master notebook alongside my "It would be really fun to do this one last time before we leave Michigan" to-do list.

Summer Bucket List:
- Go to the Drive-In Theater on $5 ticket day
- See a minor league baseball game on $5 ticket day (obviously that's our favorite day...)
- Eat at El Arriero (my favorite Mexican restaurant)
- Go to Hager Park
- Have a bonfire and make hobo pies
- Go to the beach
- Go swing dancing downtown
- Go for an extra-long bike adventure
- Pick strawberries and black raspberries
- Eat dinner on our picnic table in the backyard
- Go to the Riverbend Steam and Gas Engine Show
- Go to the 4th of July Parade

Like much of life, this season is for us one of balancing between the necessities, the stuff we have to get done no matter what, and the little extras, the fun stuff we'd like to enjoy while we still can!