29 November 2015

November Adventures (The Sad and The Happy)

Can I have a moment of silence, please? This month, my beautiful camera, pictured above, died a sudden and very unexpected death. As a blogger, this is somewhat upsetting, because how can I blog with no camera? This camera was given to us three years ago by my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and it has served us faithfully on all our adventures ever since. Honestly, a DSLR isn't in the works for people like Angel and I. We need a tough camera that can fit in a pocket and manages to take good, pretty pictures even though Angel doesn't really have a long enough attention span to actually wait for it to focus. I have never bought a camera in my life, my previous camera was given to me when I was 16, and after 5 years of using that one, this Sony was a huge upgrade. Any recommendations for a replacement model, or at least what features to look for? I'm borrowing my Mom's ultra-compact Canon at the moment, but so far it seems especially prone to taking blurry pictures if your hands aren't perfectly still, which isn't great for two non-photography experts like us. Or maybe we just have it on the wrong setting...

{Here's the part where everyone wonders how I've managed to blog for so long without learning the basics of took diligence and commitment, let me tell you...}

We took the kids on a field trip to an International Horse Show. There were show jumping and dressage competitions, but the most exciting part for the littles was that some of them got to ride a horse for the first time ever!

Josh wasn't entirely sure what to think about the whole ordeal.

On a whim, we decided to enter a bouldering competition (not because we are awesome rock climbers, but because the competition entry fee was cheaper than normal entry), and we had so much fun. My claim to fame of the day was that I was the only lady in our group (of 5) that successfully completed both the "easy" and "medium" courses. You only got three tries for the competition, though, and I fell off on my first time on the medium course, so I didn't even get to try the hard one.

I drove once this month. Pretty sure my face shows my feelings on that subject.

Some time ago, Kira posted on her blog that she'd made this dress, but it was too big for her, and wanted to have a giveaway for it. I knew it wouldn't be likely to fit me, but I thought it might fit Rebekah, so I entered, and lo and behold, Kira was actually willing the mail the dress all the way over here to Malaysia!

Rebekah loves the new dress! I asked her if any of her friends said anything to her about the dress on the day she wore it and she said, " one really got a chance to say anything, because I was running up to people and saying, 'Look at my new dress! It's so cool! And the skirt twirls!' as soon as I saw anyone I knew."

We also had a Thanksgiving dinner at our place. This is not a photo of that dinner, however, because we took no photos of Thanksgiving. However, there was a significant amount of overlap in guests between this dinner (earlier in November) and our Thanksgiving dinner, so I call it close enough. There were 13 of us for Thanksgiving, 3 of which were 4 and under, so it was a slightly more rambunctious crew.

Our Thanksgiving menu was chicken chili, lime sherbet punch, loaded mashed potatoes, chips with homemade dip, apples with homemade dip, no-bake chocolate cookies, and a loaf of french bread. What do all of these things have in common? You can make them without an oven. ;) Because, between two households, we are currently completely oven-less, as my parents' oven died this month. (It was a bad month for electronics)

Starting a Youtube channel was a highlight from the last week of our month. Thanks for all the support you guys! We're having fun chatting about video ideas every time we hang out. This is a picture Angel snapped from an as-yet unfinished skit, because we've already had our first filming error and will have to retake because the camera was out of focus. And this time I'll probably write the items on the board in bolder handwriting to make them more readable. What would you guess that hugs, the 4th of July, and casseroles have in common?

So, I'll do what every single Youtuber does and end with the word: Subscribe!
23 November 2015

Big News! From Blogger to...

One of my family's favorite things to do together is to watch funny Youtube videos from our favorite channels. After one evening of funny videos, I started lamenting about how it sounded like so much fun to just make all of these goofy videos with a group of your best friends and why couldn't we do something like that.

So, we got up the next morning and made a channel, Seven In All, and shot and uploaded our first video.

We already have plans for a few more. My general plan at the moment is that the theme of the channel will be to take grains of truth from our own lives--little bits of the experience of growing up overseas and living in such a gigantic family, and dramatize them and somehow turn them into not-very-serious skits.

Over my three years as a blogger, I've grown a lot, and I expect to see a great deal of growth and skill building as we work to create videos for our channel. Now that I'm working with other people, I may no longer get to be known as One-Take Vlogger Rachel. That video you just saw, took 3 whole takes to make! That's real patience, y'all.

Or maybe I'm just excessively dramatic. Or maybe Youtube will teach me what patience truly is.

Please subscribe, and add us to your list of goofy youtubers, if you're willing to watch us grow. Who knows, we might even get mildly educational from time to time.

What are your favorite youtube channels? Any recommendations for me? I prefer the clean funny ones, in case you couldn't tell by the type of youtuber I decided to be...
22 November 2015

Once Upon a Time Birthday Party

Sarah requested a Once Upon a Time-themed party for her birthday and I was happy to oblige.

The theme of this party could also be called, "How far will Rachel go to avoid printing stuff." You'll understand when you see the decor, which was all hand-sketched because printing stuff is really annoying. Our party budget generally goes all for the food, and for this party, we spent the equivalent of $1 on poster-sized sheets of paper for our decorations.

Entering Storybrooke Sign

Neverland Map Once Upon a Time

Storybrooke Clock Tower

Once Upon a Time Party Decor

Once Upon a Time Emma's Car

Dark One Dagger Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time Magic Mirror

We hung scarves around the walls on various objects and covered up bookshelves in striped blankets, going for an "otherworldly" feel--anything to make the house not seem like the normal house we do schoolwork in every day. It ended up as a sort-of mashup of Granny's Diner, Agrabah, the Enchanted Forest, Storybrooke, and Regina's Castle.

It was perfect.

We all decided to dress up for the occasion.

Evil Queen Once Upon a Time
 The Evil Queen felt like an odd choice for MaryGrace, who is the definition of sweetness and kindness, but I had fun doing her ultra-dramatic Evil Queen eyes.

 Predictable as ever, I was Captain Hook. I follow the whole, "If you can't be yourself, always be a pirate" rule for life. I remained true to character and wore my hook the whole night, which meant I needed help making my sandwich and I almost dropped my cake on the ground, but all was well.

Also, I do know that Hook's hook is on his left hand. However, since I'm left-handed and I assume that Hook is right-handed, I figured switching arms would create the most authentic Hook experience.

Robin Hood Once Upon a Time

Robin Hood isn't usually allowed to play with her crossbow and arrows so she enjoyed the opportunity this evening.

Once Upon a Time Party

The birthday girl was Belle, and Mom was Ruby. Dad was deemed "Prince Charming" and we also had an Emma and a Mulan show up at the party. Angel opted out of dressing up, so we decided he was Jiminy Cricket.

Our food matched the theme as well:

Lasagna was the obvious choice for a main course, but most of us really, really don't like lasagna, so we decided to have pulled pork sandwiches since they're the epitome of American diner food and they are very "exotic" here.

We didn't forget the whipped cream or the cinnamon!

 Yep, watermelon hearts, too.

We had even more ideas for food, like cookies in the shape of Hook's missing hand, and Apple Crisp because of Regina's fondness for apples, but those would have required an oven, and Mom and Dad's oven died a week before the party.

We played two Once Upon a Time games--the first was one I'd created with Powerpoint slides showing various obscure or not-so-obscure items from the show, and teams had to race to tell me what the item was and what it's significance was as well.

The second game was Taboo--except with characters from the television show instead of normal words.

And now the birthday girl is one year older. Next year, double digits!
20 November 2015

Why I Love Black Friday

'Tis the season...for lots of people to be excited about shopping and sales and on the other side, lots of people to complain about materialism and consumerism.

So I'm staking my claim in the ground and letting you know: I love Black Friday, and I love it for some of the same reasons that people wish it never existed.

2012 - Our last Christmas in our little yellow home, though we had no idea of that at the time. Some presents were definitely bought during Black Friday, like a headlamp that wasn't on sale but was perfect for my Angel. He still uses it.

My Black Friday memories involve waking up in the wee hours, bundling up for icy weather, and heading out with my parents and/or aunt in the van. Our typical stops included Kohl's, JoAnn's, Family Christian Bookstore, J.C. Penney's, or Target, depending on the list and what we were looking for that year. We'd proceed to shop until we'd finished our list as efficiently as possible and had found ourselves starving. Then we'd grab breakfast at a fast food joint and head back to my grandparents' house for Thanksgiving leftovers and other frivolity. Later, towards noon, we'd go to the annual arts and crafts show that happens every Black Friday near their house, and I'd fall in love with things like bracelets made out of forks. It was so much fun, and on years when I don't get to go Black Friday shopping, like this year and last year, I miss the experience. Granted, you have to actually like shopping to enjoy Black Friday, but I do like shopping, so that's why I have always found Black Friday to be an exciting adventure.

It probably also helps that it's not like we're trying to shop in a gigantic city. Flint, MI isn't a huge, bustling metropolis. The last few years, all the Black Friday sales and lines actually felt rather calm and laid back in comparison to the years before that.

People often claim that Black Friday shopping steals family time, but as far as I'm concerned, the hours between 12-8 p.m. would otherwise be spent sleeping, so Black Friday only means more family time for us. Angel always worked either Thanksgiving or Black Friday at the hospital while I traveled to spend the holiday with relatives a couple hours away, so I would have been sleeping alone anyways--might as well not sleep, right? We also tend to meet and start chatting with other folks waiting in the long lines and share grins over varied good deals and tips on where to find specific items, so it almost feels like a community event or party.

I think sometimes people are a little too quick to cry "consumerism" and lament over the irony of shopping immediately after being grateful for all we have, because, honestly, Black Friday prices are something to be thankful for, as they make needed items much more affordable than they generally are.

One year, our entire Black Friday shopping list consisted of undergarments and jeans. If you've ever talked to an American who lives in our part of the world, you've doubtless heard complaints about how impossible it is, when living here, to find undergarments and jeans that are 1) affordable and 2) of decent quality and 3) sized to fit typical American bodies. My parents still had 5 daughters at home at the time, so you can imagine that buying something that usually runs $35 each for $8 instead was an alluring deal (multiply that original price by 2 or 3 pieces for each lady of the family and you'll get heart palpitations). The "little girls" who run 5'7" and 5'8" can't find jeans actually long enough to be jeans in this country, so getting pants that covered their ankles at 50% off was amazing! My parents even picked up discounted clothes for my brother, because clothes for men of his intimidating stature are never cheap, and his college-student budget means he'll wear clothes with holes in them rather than buy new ones on his own. Sometimes Black Friday is a little less about materialism and a little more about a chance to wear clothes that fit appropriately and won't fall apart in the wash. Another time, we bought a couple of the infamous dirt-cheap Jansport backpacks from Kohl's to bring back here to some friends who Christmas wish had been a sturdy bag (Angel bought a work bag here back in July and it's already disintegrated so much that it's gone in the garbage. He's now using the Jansport backpack I bought for college and carried with me every day of school. They may be cheap, and I know they aren't top-notch backpacks, but they are miles better than what's available at our price range here).

If I'm ever in the USA for Thanksgiving again, I plan to go Black Friday shopping (and a mere 16 months abroad has taught me exactly what supplies I'd stock up on!).

As the day approaches, I thank all those who are working on that day, and I wish that your customers will be of the happy sort and not the sort who should have stayed in bed a few more hours. But even if you end up with a few battle stories of the crazy folks, that's okay. Boring stories never made for good conversation...or good blog posts. Happy shopping if you're going, happy sleeping if you're not!

Preschool at Home: Week 13

Week 13:
Major Themes: The Letter J and Color Theory

-Write in the number of the day on the calendar each day.
-Point out which day of the week it is.

-Sang the Sing, Spell, Read, & Write letter sounds song.
-Sing the short vowel sounds song.
-Practice writing names. 
-Practice writing upper and lowercase letters with workbooks.
-This week we focused on the letter J and had several associated activities:
  -Found things in the house that started with the J sound
  -Asked, "Does your name have the letter J in it?"
  -Listened to the Letter J song.
  -Looked at the J page in our picture dictionary
  -Practiced jumping.
  -We spread jam on slices of bread and then ate them. Verdict: The girls think jam is good. We also wrote the word jam on our writing worksheets because that is a readable word for them at this point.
  -Made the letter J with playdough
  -We tried on and modeled various jackets that I had stashed in the wardrobe.

-Number flashcards up to 20 
-Practiced writing numbers 1-15 on whiteboard
-Preschool math writing workbooks
-Counting blocks. Modeling simple adding and subtracting with blocks.

-Reading Sing, Spell, Read, and Write's Book 1.
-Teach Your Monster to Read for 5-10 minutes a day.
-Sightwords: to, has, is, the, his, her and I.

Bible and Storytime: Week 14 from Sonlight Core P4/5 Instructor's Guide.

Months of the Year: We use this song.

7 Continents of the World: Memorizing the seven continents with this song.

Telling Time: I use this song with a little clock that had movable hands.

Science: Basic Color Theory
-We mixed drops from our watercolor paints in clear cups to find out what color they made. This was so much fun. I loved the squeals as they poured the two colors in together. They had no idea what colors to expect, the idea of mixing colors to make new ones (that don't look like mud) is a totally new idea for them.
-We painted color-mixing charts for the three secondary colors: orange, purple, green.

Bahasa vocab this week is more colors:

Orange = Jingga
Gray = Kelabu
Purple = Ungu
Pink = Merah Muda
Brown = Perang

-I call out a color, they have to grab the right crayon and color with it. This is a really challenging activity for them!

Life skills: 
-Swept the floor after they cut up paper for a craft.

Crafts + Play:
-Went to the park.
-Read some "just for fun" books this week, books that the girls brought with them from home, one was about the movie Inside Out and the other one was about Beauty and the Beast.

Previous Weeks: 
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
17 November 2015

Moldy Things in My House Lately

In this post, please note that I'm using the terms "mold" or "moldy" in the colloquial sense--I have not actually done any type of specific analysis of what exact fungus it is that likes to grow on everything, I just clean it up when I see it.

This is intended as a humorous and honest look at what life in a typical tropical home here looks like (note: our home isn't 'sealed' and doesn't use air-con, so the inside climate is very similar to the outside climate). I clean constantly, and fight against the things that like to grow in this perfectly warm and moist climate as best as I can, but sometimes it's a losing battle.

Moving on.

Things that I've found with mold growing on them in my house lately:

- An electric cord belonging to my rice cooker. Hmm, never knew that electric cords were a favorite food for fungi.

- Angel's favorite pair of dress shoes. Real leather is obviously as a delicious food. No wonder most people don't wear leather shoes in this climate.

- The wall of our storage room that has been leaking for months. That's normal.

- Angel's Northface jacket. As you can imagine, it doesn't get worn often enough here. Clothes that hang in a closet for months are very susceptible to mold, even with the little dehumidifying packets we stuff in there.

- The tomatoes on the counter. That was my fault. I should have used them within three days of being purchased at market instead of playing things risky and waiting 5 days.

- A t-shirt I hadn't worn in a while. Straight from the drawer to the washing machine. I am very cautious about making sure clothes are 100% dry before I put them away (quite a feat considering we air-dry clothes indoors and the humidity never lets up). Good thing we wear and wash pretty much all of our clothes quite regularly here. This place isn't conducive to extensive wardrobes.

- The tiled wall of the bathroom. Even though it was cleaned with bleach less than a week ago.

- Bamboo cutting board. It molded. We cleaned it with bleach. It molded again. We threw it away. Only plastic or glass cutting boards from now on.

- Angel's Bible. haha! He has 3 Bibles at the moment, one of which is a Berkeley Version, which is very old and nearly falling apart to begin with. Usually he reads the NIV, so the Berkeley was kept in a zippered vinyl case. When we got it out because someone needed a spare Bible at Bible study, the cover was moldy.

Stay tuned for the next episode: Places Where I've Found Insect Nests in my Home Lately.

15 November 2015

Minnie Mouse Dress

Dress: I was on a Christmas shopping errand with my mom and little sister when I found this dress, on sale for 39RM (about $9 USD). I fell in love with it, thinking it looked just like Minnie Mouse's dress. Mom said she would buy it for me for Christmas, but I refused the offer, I didn't want to wait till the end of December for this dress, I wanted to wear it now, so I bought it for myself, breaking the fundamental rule of "don't buy anything for yourself during the 3 months before Christmas." It was worth it.

Necklace: Vintage costume jewelry, given to me by my great-grandma when I was 9. It stayed in a box until I started college, but now I love bringing it out with the appropriate outfit.

Bracelet: I bought it in Malaysia, back when I was in high school. I think I bought this one in Kuala Lumpur, though my memories are a little fuzzy. That's unusual, because as you can tell, I generally remember the exact stories behind everything in my wardrobe.

Bow: So predictable, Rachel. It's the bow I sewed for myself and wear all the time. It's the turquoise bow in my blog design header. If I get another sewing machine sometime I'm probably going to make myself bows like this in a dozen different colors and wear them all the time.

Leggings: From American Eagle. These actually were a Christmas present, from Angel in 2012. I thought they were kind of too expensive for leggings, but they're still going strong after three years, so I can't complain. They're my favorite leggings.

Shoes: The ubiquitous pastel polka-dot Keds. I blogged about how I fell in love with them and purchased them in March 2013. They've been a good buy, that's for sure. I thought that we didn't know of any places that sold Keds here, but then we ran into one store at the mall that had them, in a bunch of gorgeous patterns. That would be a cool Christmas present.

P.S. I also had to do a Minnie Mouse pose in my Minnie Mouse dress:

P.P.S This was the day that Angel wore a shirt with us on it on our date around town, just in case you missed it on instagram.

Can you tell I have Christmas shopping on the brain? This will be our first Christmas in several years that is in semi-normal conditions, and I'm excited!
13 November 2015

Preschool at Home: The Letter D and Dinosaurs

Week 12:
Major Themes: The Letter D and Dinosaurs

-Write in the number of the day on the calendar each day.
-Point out which day of the week it is.

-Sang the Sing, Spell, Read, & Write letter sounds song.
-Sing the short vowel sounds song.
-Practice writing names. 
-Practice writing upper and lowercase letters with workbooks.
-This week we focused on the letter D and had several associated activities:
  -Found things in the house that started with the D sound
  -Asked, "Does your name have the letter D in it?"
  -Listened to the Letter D song.
  -Looked at the D page in our picture dictionary
  -We made a dinosaur craft. They cut out a dino outline that I drew for them and then glued on textured foam pieces for the fun of it. My vague reasoning behind that step is that dino skin was rough, not smooth like ours.
  -We wrote the word dad.
  -Had a dance party to a variety of their favorite songs.
  -Made the letter D with play-doh.

-Number flashcards up to 20 
-Practiced writing numbers 1-15 on whiteboard
-Preschool math writing workbooks
-Counting blocks.
-Twice this week, I threw random number flashcards on the floor and had the girls put the appropriate number of blocks on each card. I found this to be a useful activity because we're working on careful counting right now--they sometimes give in to the temptation to just count as fast as they can regardless of the actual number of items they are supposed to count. This was good practice for them, and they did surprisingly well at putting the accurate number of blocks on each card.

-Reading Sing, Spell, Read, and Write's Book 1. We finished the whole of the first story and now we've started on the second!
-Consonant-vowel blend flashcards with the vowels a and i. 
-Teach Your Monster to Read for 5-10 minutes a day.
-Sightwords (flashcards: to, has, is, the, his, her and I.

Bible and Storytime: Week 13 from Sonlight Core P4/5 Instructor's Guide.

Curious George Rides a Bike by H.A. Rey
-We folded paper to make a paper boat the way Curious George does in the book.

Thidwick the Bighearted Moose by Dr. Seuss.

7 Continents of the World: Memorizing the seven continents with this song.

Telling Time: I use this song with a little clock that had movable hands.

-Talked about dinosaurs. What are they? What do dinosaurs eat? Are they still alive?
-Watched this cartoon educational video and a few others about dinos.
-We had exactly 0 books in our stash about dinosaurs so this was a slightly boring topic.

Bahasa vocab this week is colors:


-I read a little children's book which emphasizes the Bahasa words for colors to the girls every day.
-Since Angel has been using his flag collection to teach the girls to identify flags, we used flags and identified the different colors in Bahasa

Life skills: 
- Angel and Rebekah took the girls swimming and worked on various pool skills.

Crafts + Play:
- Played our "Fruit Ninja" card game.
- Visited the playroom.

Previous Weeks: 
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
12 November 2015

Unconditional Personal Regard

"You're awesome, just like Akka!" - What my 4 year olds told me the other day.

"Akka" is Rebekah, my 16 year old sister. The reason why the little ones might tell me I'm "awesome" just like her is because Rebekah says, "I'm so awesome!" about 6 times a day, always with a gleeful smirk on her face, and usually in the context of some accomplishment she's proud of--it could be anything from a lunchtime recipe invention to a 100% on a test to a prank she pulled on her baby sister. No one else quite understands Rebekah's awesomeness scale except for her, and I think that's cool.

You see, Rebekah suffers from a condition we've come to call Unconditional Personal Regard. It could also be termed Overwhelming Self-Confidence. Basically, no matter the condition of the world around her, she remains completely convinced of one eternal truth: she is awesome. And she's not alone in this condition--it's a gene that runs strong through several generations of my family.

It dawned on me recently that most human beings probably don't have the experience of growing up in a large family full of people who happily consider themselves the smartest and funniest and coolest and awesome-est people on earth. Empirical proof doesn't matter, not really. It's nice to have, occasionally. But for us, graduating from college with a 4.0 GPA doesn't prove your brilliance, it just happens as a natural result of being unbelievably brilliant.

As I've grown older, I've realized all the more how bizarre it is that when I look in the mirror, I think I'm gorgeous. From a purely objective standpoint, I realize that others might see a too-short, too-scrawny girl with too-frizzy hair--a cosmetologist who never learned to do her own makeup properly. In some sense, there is a logical part of me that recognizes I'm no Miss USA...but most of the time, I find that hard to believe, because I think I'm stunning. And a genius. And a really, really good cook and party planner. I'm an awesome blogger, too. And if there were prizes for knowing English grammar, I'd win them all.

Suffice to say, I suffer from the same thing Rebekah does, even if age has somewhat tempered me and I don't announce that I'm awesome 6 times a day. Maybe once or twice.

I do a lot of editing for family members--once, in desperation, I asked my mom to re-read something she wrote, but this time from the viewpoint of an objective reader, not from the viewpoint of an author who loves her own work because it's what she created. She did, and she told me that after reading her work from the viewpoint of an objective reader with no vested interest in the work, she came to the objective conclusion that the written word was utterly brilliant and she had a new favorite author. Herself.

Unconditional Personal Regard strikes again.

I'm not entirely sure this is the best way to live, though it's the only way I've ever lived. I hear a lot about combating low-self-esteem and the importance of avoiding negative self-talk, and I'm grateful that those aren't a struggle for me or for my family. But at the same time, I sometimes wonder if a little more balance--a little more recognition that there's always room for improvement--would be a good thing...

And how do I respond when my little ones tell me I'm "awesome just like Akka"? Graciously, of course.

"Honey, I've been being awesome since before Akka was born."
10 November 2015

How to Cope with Homesickness

Some people can make huge moves across the globe without even looking back. I, on the other hand, have suffered acute bouts of homesickness following some of my round-the-world moves, and because of that, have quite a bit of sympathy for those who respond to a change of home with many tears and a greater or lesser amount of dramatic depression.

A photo posted by Anna Spoelman (@aspoelman) on

The hardest move for me was when I moved back to the USA to start college. This same move has proven to be very tough on my two younger sisters as well. Here's the advice I offer on how to cope:

1. Cry.
And don't be embarrassed about it. In those early days, I cried at the airport, at college, in my bed, in the car at church....everywhere. There's nothing wrong with tears. Society tries to tells us that tears are something to be ashamed of. There's no need to pretend that everything's all right when all you really want to do is sleep in your own bed and eat familiar foods and hug your mom again.

2. Do Fun Stuff.
That's different for everybody. I bought an embroidery kit and borrowed DVDs of the Dick Van Dyke Show from the school library and shut myself in my bedroom on weekends and watched episodes while sewing. {Good thing I never pretended to be the popular, cool, type, or I would have lost all cred with that confession}. Maybe your fun stuff is something totally different. Don't be lazy. Do it.

3. Keep Records.
Journal, blog, take photos--whatever your thing is, make sure that you record and remember this time, the good and the bad. When tough seasons come, sometimes my first instinct is to stop writing and stop taking pictures. I've realized, though, that that's something I regret. I know good stuff happened during my freshman year of college, but I have next to no photos or diary entries recording any of it--and few recording any of the hard stuff, either, because during that year, I barely wrote and took only a tiny handful of pictures. Trust me on this, the hard seasons of life shape us, and it's worth being able to remember them as they really were, not through either the jaded or rose-colored memories that the years leave us with.

4. Find people.
Homesickness is often much less actual homesickness than it is peoplesickness. You miss your people. Obviously, you can't replace your people, but as much as you feel it might be impossible, find some additional people to call your own. It's possible. I ended up finding a group at my college containing mostly TCKs (Third Culture Kids) like me--sometimes it helps to find people who know what your background is like even if they weren't a part of it.

5. Stay in touch with the old people.
Write the emails. Comment on the Facebook photos. Schedule in Skype calls. One of the worst feelings is returning to your hometown after years of missing it only to find that all your old friends are gone, or that you have lost the friendships during the intervening time. So, you miss everybody back home. Better make sure they know that! No one in your hometown knows you cry yourself to sleep at least once a week--they might even feel you've forgotten them unless you take the time to send messages and stay in touch. Sure, at first every Skype call will make you tear up...but, remember, crying isn't so bad. Communicate with the people back home.

What do you do to handle homesickness when it threatens to take over?
08 November 2015

Gallery Wall for Renters + Awesome Prank Idea

These photos are taken from opposite ends of the gallery wall in my apartment. If you look closely at the photos in the pictures, you can see where the two photos overlap, but this is one loooong gallery wall.

At this point, having a wall with dozens of pictures taped to it wherever I live is becoming a signature move for me, although it takes slightly different forms in each of my homes. You can see my first renter's gallery wall here. When we moved to China, I took all the pictures with me and taped them to the wall in our apartment there. When we moved here, I made a few improvements by adding about 20 new photos, from Hawaii and China and Hong Kong, to the photo collection, thereby updating and expanding the wall. Also, this time I went with the system of having the photos span the entire length of the wall, and then built up from one solid line. This way, I can add more recent photos as I print them, easily.

I've found the photo walls to be a big hit with guests. Friends love finding themselves on the wall, and conversely, if they can't find themselves on the wall, they swear to print a picture and give it to me so that my wall can have their face on it. Some people have tried to propose the theory that a mathematical calculation of how many times a person's face appears on that wall is directly proportional to how much I love them. The clear "winners" of that calculation are Angel and myself, so maybe they're on to something.

Now. Here's what I have to tell you. I recently had an idea for a brilliant prank involving a gallery wall, and because gallery walls, whether the framed version or the tape version, are so popular, I had to share it with you. My preferred pranks are of the genuinely non-harmful, bizarrely amusing kind, and this fits in just right with my tastes.

Do this: Next time a friend is bringing someone you don't know over to the house, find out their name ahead of time. Search them on Facebook, find a picture--profile picture, or one buried deep in their albums, print it out on decent quality paper, and put it in your gallery wall.

When the friend of a friend arrives at your house, they will inevitably stop to admire your gallery wall, because it's a rather distinctive design feature. Because most of the people in the photos are strangers to them, their eyes will glance over all the unfamiliar faces until they find one they recognize--their own! Then they will be somewhat disturbed, but they might not want to say anything since they don't really know you, and the rest of the evening you will spend trying not to burst into laughter. Or else they will say something, and you'll all bond over the ridiculous awkwardness, and you'll become fast friends. Boom.

*Bonus points: You're a blogger, right? When you inevitably decide to blog about your gallery wall, download and print off a picture from one of your regular reader's blogs, and add it to the wall. When they happen to spot that extremely familiar photo in the pictures you post in your gallery wall tutorial, they will also be confused and possibly freaked out. The only downside is that in this situation you won't get to actually be present to see their reaction.

Do you have a gallery wall in your house? Permanent or Renter-style?
06 November 2015

Preschool at Home: The Letter C and Healthy Food

No, your eyes don't deceive you. Week 11 took us three weeks to accomplish due to absences of students and teacher. Happens sometimes.

Preschool at Home

Week 11:
Major Themes: The Letter C and Food

-Write in the number of the day on the calendar each day.
-Point out which day of the week it is.

-Sing the Sing, Spell, Read, & Write letter sounds song.
-Sing the short vowel sounds song.
-Practice writing names. 
-Practice writing upper and lowercase letters with workbooks.
-This week we focused on the letter C and had several associated activities:
  -Found things in the house that started with the short 'C' sound.
  -Asked, "Does your name have the letter C in it?"
  -Listened to the Letter C song.
  -Looked at the C page in our picture dictionary
  -We drew lunches made up of foods that started with the letter C on paper plates (Carrots, Cucumbers, Crackers, etc.)
  -We snacked on carrots.
  -We made a paper plate clock. (Probably the oldest craft in the book, right?)
  -When we practiced telling time, as we do everyday, we made special note of the fact that clock begins with a C.
  -Made the letter C with playdough

-Number flashcards up to 20 
-Practiced writing numbers 1-15 on whiteboard
-Preschool math writing workbooks
-Had the girls arrange their flashcards in order from 1-20 on the floor. This was very challenging for them, they couldn't do it completely independently, so we'll definitely be repeating this activity!
-Counting blocks.
-Floor Dominoes. First, we played them the way we are supposed to, and then we made interesting shapes, like this is the shape of Shiloh, which we built around her while she lay on the floor.

-Reading Sing, Spell, Read, and Write's Book 1.
-Teach Your Monster to Read for 5-10 minutes a day.
-Sightwords: to, has, is, the, his, her and I.

Bible and Storytime: Week 11 and 12 from Sonlight Core P4/5 Instructor's Guide. We did have a few more than 5 school days during this extra-long week, so we finished two weeks worth of stories.

Months of the Year: We use this song.

7 Continents of the World: Memorizing the seven continents with this song.

Telling Time: I use this song with a little clock that had movable hands.

-Talked about healthy foods versus unhealthy foods. They were very good at answering questions like "Which is healthier: Cookies, or tomatoes?"
-Talked about and sorted foods we can eat raw versus foods we have to cook first.
-They helped with washing vegetables. I always remind them of different aspects of food safety, like how only adults are allowed to use sharp knives, and how you always have to wash your fruits and veggies, when we prepare lunch together.

Gregory, the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat
-Such a fun book! We talked about what kinds of things they would and wouldn't eat that Gregory was eating in the book.
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
-Should I be embarrassed to admit that I teared up more than once while reading this to them?

Bahasa vocab this week is all edible:

Orange = oren
Potato = ubi kentang
Candy = gula-gula
Egg = telur
Vegetable = sayur
Cucumber = timun

We're trying to use Bahasa words for the foods we eat for lunch and when talking about foods we like and don't like. We listened to and sang along with some of our old favorite Didi and Friends songs on Youtube.

Life skills: 
-I prepped them before our walk to the park with a talk on the importance of walking carefully when walking down the street, and holding hands and not running away. Sometimes it's easy to forget that even safe walking habits are a learned skill, not something instinctive.

Crafts + Play:
-Park outing.
-Library outing.
-Used paper plates and watercolor to make the faces of Inside Out characters Sadness and Disgust.

Previous Weeks: 
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
03 November 2015

Tales from October

Well, because of my whole 31 Days thing, the blog spent the entirety of October buried deeply in the past, while I was living life very much in the present. Never fear, on the off chance that you missed out on anything, I shall now present to you highlights from our October in bullet point format.

-We chaperoned a sleepover party, at which I was hailed the grand champion of hula hooping after hula hooping for 15 minutes without dropping the hoop, outlasting 6 competitors in a row. It's good to know that even if I'm old enough to be a chaperon, I can still be cool because I've got hula-hooping skills.

-Dave and Beka from Sunshine to the Square Inch dropped by to stay with us for a few days during their SouthEast Asia travels. I don't meet a lot of bloggers on this side of the world, so that was rather remarkable. We took them hiking at a national park.

-On the hike, we saw an unprecedented number of monitor lizards (4 ft or 5 ft long!), but not a single monkey, even though our destination was Monkey Beach.

-We took my sisters to Lost World of Tambun waterpark for an early Christmas present (because December and November are busy, ya'll!).

-At the waterpark, Rebekah and this raccoon shared a Pocahontas/Meeko moment. I had no idea that happened outside of movies.

-During the two hour drive home from the waterpark, we had a "Who can name that song first" competition with Disney and Taylor Swift cds and I totally lost.

-Angel posted a photo of me on Facebook captioned, "My First Wife" and slight chaos ensued.

-Normal teaching and meetings and work and housecleaning.

- The hole in our ceiling got bigger. Which is a good thing, because that means eventually it will be fixed. At least that's what I'm choosing to believe that it means.

- We went to the Taiping Night Safari, which is basically a zoo that has opening hours between 8 and 11 pm. Someone had given my family free tickets that were expiring soon, so we wanted to use them up. I'd never been to a zoo in the dark before--it felt quite a bit like you were in the actual jungle at night. This is a zoo that I've been to in the daytime in the past, and last time I went, there were non-zoo monkeys, just the normal monkeys that are everywhere here, invading one of the bathrooms, so it already felt jungle-esque in the daytime, the darkness and lack of flashlights just made it a little more intense. They let us pet the giraffes, that was unexpected.

What adventures did you have in October?
01 November 2015

New Glasses {2015}

{Angel's preferred method of taking photos of me}

I figured, since the last glasses I bought, back in 2012, got a blog post all to themselves, that my new pair of glasses should at least get the same sort of treatment.

My lack of love for glasses is well-known, as is the fact that whenever I can get away with it, I simply skip wearing them. But sometimes, like when I actually drive or go to the movie theater, glasses are necessary. It was time for an update.

These glasses were chosen for two reasons:

1) They were the cheapest I could find after shopping around--total cost, 179RM or approx $41 USD at today's exchange rate.

2) The frames are purple. I've always thought purple glasses were the best glasses.

These frames feel like the kind of glasses that the main girl wears at the beginning of the movie, but then after she takes them off, she suddenly gets a promotion/turns into the most popular girl in school/becomes a princess.

But when I was wearing this outfit, glasses included, I walked past a couple of aunties in the hallway and I heard them murmuring "Cantiknya!" {"Pretty!"} in stage whispers so I'd say that's a good sign. Maybe I'll just be the kind of princess who wears glasses once in a while to remind herself that she is but a mortal.