27 December 2015


Maybe it's not entirely polite, but yes, I'm showing off my fabulous new Christmas present--this amazing necklace, the likes of which I've never seen before.

Angel asked me what it's called. You know, how most pieces of jewelry have names? Earring, bracelet, anklet, etc. He doesn't think "necklace" adequately describes whatever this is. I offered "armor jewelry" as a possible name. He typed that into google and found pictures of all manner of very interesting wrap-around chain jewelry similar to this, so maybe I'm on the right track...but seriously, is there an actual name for a piece like this?

It's actually surprisingly comfortable. During the one day I've worn this so far, I was at home, watching movies and wandering around the apartment complex. I just looked especially awesome while doing so. I spent the day claiming that I felt like Cleopatra, or a fairytale princess, or someone else associated in my mind with awesome and unusual bling. Maybe this kind of necklace isn't for everybody, but I think everybody ought to have something they wear that makes them feel the way I do when I wear this necklace.
20 December 2015

My Top 15 from 2015 (Year in Review)

Sure, it's cliche, but it's just so much fun to look back on all the awesomeness of the past year as it comes to an end! This year, I decided to do this and join in Chelsea's 15 photos from 2015 challenge, too. Because 15 photos is better than the traditional 12 photos, duh. Three extra pictures!!!

 This photo was taken in Hong Kong, but it reminds me of our life together in China in general. Just the two of us in a foreign place, figuring out the world together. It was awesome. China will always have a special place in my heart. Maybe we'll be back before long.

I discovered the fact that the tiny and obscure island Tung Ping Chau (belonging to Hong Kong) existed in early January 2015. From that point on, I was a woman on a mission. I had to visit that deserted island that I inexplicably fell in love with before I even met it. I had to wait till May before I made it there, but I did, in fact, get a chance to visit, and it was everything I'd imagined.

Working together at the same school was something I never would have imagined would be a part of our lives. When a Mandarin Chinese B.A. marries a nurse, you don't make any plans to work together, but it was awesome. Sharing an office--coolest thing ever.

We bought our first car! Funny milestone for a 30-something and a 20-something, but hey, milestone it is!

 My sisters surprised me with a dress I'd already fallen in love with for my 24th birthday.

We had a family Olympics competition in honor of Angel's birthday. I definitely did not win the long jump (that was Angel), but I did win one event, which was the jumproping competition. If there would have been a hula hooping competition, I would have won that too. I have hula hoop skills.

On a more serious note, this photo reminds me what a healthy year this was for me, and how grateful I am for that. I had the good health needed to travel to places I've never been before, and was able to go on long hikes and even partake in competitive events like a Olympics competition against my own family. I don't take health for granted, and this was a very good year. I'm so thankful!

From that time we visited the sea turtle conservation center and even got to watch baby sea turtles be released into the ocean, something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I guess this has been a year full of the kind of things that I never quite dreamed big enough to dream of.

This picture reminds me about how homeschooling has become once more an essential part of my day to day life this year, and I love it. Hey, who wouldn't love drawing the solar system on their bathroom floor?

Our life has included plenty of small people over the past year, and I love getting to watch them grow! They bring such joy. And watching them respond to Uncle Angel's pranks is fun, too. And then they try to prank him back. Did you see this photo on instagram?

Speaking of pranks, there was that time Angel hid Anna's mattress inside the bathroom and no one found it for hours. Still makes me laugh.

From the epic Valentine's Day cookie party that I put together. I just love the attitude in this picture. I spent an unprecedented amount of time with my sisters this year, and with cousin Shannon, too. Shannon even shared our apartment for about a month and half. It's cool getting to know your family again after a long separation.

He wore a shirt with us on it on our date. I want to remember that forever.

I made an awesome Captain Hook at Sarah's epic "Once Upon a Time" birthday party. I love costumes, but hardly get the chance to dress up, so the few times I do, it's memorable to me.

And let's just close with a glimpse at what last summer's family reunion/25th wedding anniversary celebration in Cambodia really felt like.

How was your 2015?
17 December 2015

An Expat Christmas

Today, I'm joining in with "The Expat Holidays" blog series, brought to you by MontgomeryFest!

We're heading into our 2nd Christmas abroad next week, and the first one in Malaysia (for Angel and I together).

I find that my childhood wasn't really one that left me with deeply ingrained holiday traditions, and my adult life thus far hasn't been one that clings tightly to tradition, either. I could say it was a Christmas tradition to go to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at my grandparents' church, and so it was, but of course, we've only actually made it there on years we were in town for the event.

Last Christmas, Angel and I took the train into Hong Kong with friends and watched the last installment of The Hobbit. The Christmas before that, we spent in Texas with Angel's family, and opened presents at midnight, during the first few minutes of Christmas morning. Christmas tends to look like something completely different from year to year, and I'm comfortable with that.

A few traditions 'stick' better than others. One of those is handmade Christmas cards, Nearly every year, I design and make simple cards for both my parents to send out and for Angel and I to send out. My parents include a family photo in their card. Angel and I don't. I figure everyone must know what we look like since I post dozens of photos on this blog every year.

The hibiscus, or bunga raya, is the state flower of Malaysia. I was pretty proud of my clever design this year, though perhaps it might not make much sense to those who don't know that the bunga raya is a symbol of Malaysia.

Angel and I didn't send out Christmas cards when we were in China last year because we never ended up figuring out the postal system. Oh well!

Stockings are also an awesome Christmas tradition that I intend to maintain from year to year. My grandma bought me a beautiful stocking with my name embroidered on it for my first Christmas, and ever since then, all the little toys and candies that my parents stuffed my stocking with became one of my favorite parts of Christmas. The big fluffy stocking did not make its way all the way over here to Malaysia, but nevertheless, Angel has certainly been charged with the responsibility of finding presents to fill a symbolic 'stocking' (which will probably be a plastic bag from the grocery store).

One thing I really, really don't miss about Christmas in Michigan is snow. White Christmases are overrated.

How do your Christmas traditions change from year to year along with big life changes that you face?
15 December 2015

The War of Misery

It seems to be a natural human reaction--responding to another person's complaint with a (far more dramatic) tale of your own woe. It's the proverbial "walked 10 miles to school barefoot, and in the snow" brought to life.

It's easy for any of us to get dragged into it. Say I hear someone talking about how they're finding their first year of college to be really rough.

I can jump in with my own tragic tale and say, "Rough? I know all about that. Try starting college at barely 17, all alone in a country which seems foreign, not having a driver's license, and freezing to death on top of it all because your tropical blood was not prepared for one of the snowiest Michigan winters they've had in years!"

Say a fellow ESL teacher says, "Sometimes, this job is hard."

Someone with the work history of, say, Angel, could easily the twist the topic to his own advantage, "You think teaching ESL is hard? No one's life depends on this job. At my old job, a normal day included providing medical care for patients with burns covering more than half their bodies. Try doing that for twelve-hour shifts."

And then the firemen....and the soldiers...and the policemen....and the EMTs (and all their spouses!) would all start chiming in about how tough their jobs are and everything would just turn into a mess.

A photo posted by Rachel G (@randomlyrachels) on
You think your bed is uncomfortable? Some people nap on the floor, okay? Try that!

I call it the War of Misery. Somehow, for all too many of us, our instinctive reaction to hearing about someone else's hardship is to change the topic by adding our own story of how we've overcome significantly harder times than those that they are facing. I'm not really sure what the motivation behind such talk is. Maybe, deep, deep down, we're hoping to inspire others to greatness by encouraging them with our own personal story of struggles triumphed over. Occasionally, we might even be able to tell our stories in a season in which they really are inspiring.

But too often, when we one-up another's tale of woe with a story of our own, it's just our inherent selfish streak wanting to change the topic to be about us and our own experiences. Because we care more about our stories than we care about someone else's.

Also, a touch of bitterness and lack of compassion for others can easily sneak in in these situations. What right has the other person to complain about such a small trial when I've survived such big ones? I'll give them some realistic perspective because they're living in a bubble world if they think what they're experiencing is a problem. I see this happening a lot with mothers. You have problems with one kid? I have four. Your baby weighed 7 lbs? Mine weighed 10.

And then, there's the good old competitive instinct. I've seen some misery one-uppers who are clearly in it only to win the medal for "most miserable." Why said medal is so desirable, I have no idea, but it's obvious that some are out to get it and won't give up short of reaching their goal.

The truth is, that sometimes people do complain about silly stuff. Often, we humans aren't fully capable of having a wider perspective on the suffering that the whole world has experienced when they are experiencing suffering themselves.

But I do not believe that topping one person's story of tough times with your own story is the way to give them a proper perspective. Have you ever tried to tell someone who just seriously stubbed their toe and is limping in pain about the statistics on how many people undergo medically necessary amputations each and every day so they should just appreciate having a toe? I haven't, but I have to imagine that it's not the best timing you could choose. It is not our universal responsibility to 'pop' all bubble worlds that we come across in our daily lives.

Next time you hear a complaint you could easily top (i.e. "I wish we had a bigger yard for the kids to play in!"...."Oh yeah? My family lives in a tiny apartment and THERE IS NO YARD.") ....don't top it. Instead, try listening, and when appropriate, showing compassion to someone who's hurting.

The fact that we've experienced pain does not mitigate the pain that others experience. Responding to, "I'm bummed out because I got in a big fight with my dad." with "Well, I wish my dad was still alive for me to get into a fight with!" isn't particularly helpful. Let's put up our white flags and resign ourselves to the truth that this is one war nobody will win, so we might as well stop digging around in our past for tragedies to top other people's tragedies with. I'd rather win at the competition for most joyful, anyways. Doesn't that sound like it's at least a little more fun?

"I'll see you your deceased goldfish and raise you my kitten who got run over."

13 December 2015

Going to Camp (When You're Not a Teenager Anymore)

This past week, we took a 5-day break from internet access as we traveled to Negeri Sembilan to attend TeenStreet, a camp which is, unsurprisingly, intended for teenagers. The entire theme of the camp was based around the idea that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (The "Fruit of the Spirit" for those of you who know Galations 5) should be fundamental aspects of our individual identities.

Note, I am no longer a teenager, and, in spite of appearances, neither is Angel, so we were attending the camp as coaches/small group leaders/chaperones instead of as participants. How did I ever end up old enough to chaperone at camp?

What I've learned this week is that camp is a totally different experience when you are a teenager versus when you're no longer a teenager and now have real-world responsibilities and have to make sure that everyone comes out the other side of camp safe and in one piece and having received the most from the experience.

 Auditoriums with aircon are really, really cold.

Rebekah was awesome at human bowling.

Some things are the same, though. Homeschooled me found the strict rules and timed schedule of camp a bit chafing when I was a teen, and I feel pretty much the same now about having to both follow and help enforce the guidelines...although perhaps as an adult I have at least some appreciation for why all the rules exist. Since we were all sleeping in girls' and guys' dorms, I missed my usual sleeping buddy. There were several times throughout the week, during the tougher moments of my time as a coach, when the responsibility of being a leader for these teens felt especially heavy on my shoulders, but it was a good "growing" experience, and a worthwhile one. I got to see teens I've known since they were barely more than toddlers get to experience something totally outside their comfort zone and thrive in that experience...and that made the whole week worthwhile.

The main speakers at the camp were "Duzie" Potter, and I thought they did an excellent job of challenging the teens in their faith and engaging them. The camp ended up raising about 35,000 RM to donate to aid efforts for Syrian refugees.

 Samuel was 'volunteered' to be part of a soft-boiled egg eating competition...and won it. Fastest soft-boiled egg eater in the whole camp!

 MaryGrace really enjoyed art class.

My tiny masterpiece.

This camp involved a lot of "firsts" for us and experiences that aren't a part of our normal everyday life. Angel had his first experience driving through Kuala Lumpur, and said that the traffic compared unfavorably with LA, Chicago, and Dallas, the three big cities that he previously thought were difficult to drive around in. He also managed to spy the famous Petronas Towers (his first time) from a distance, though we didn't stop to see them (remember the traffic?). There were a total of 350 people at the camp, and we were able to meet both teens and adults from all over Malaysia, which was especially fun, because, living on an island, we sometimes feel a little cut off from the rest of the country. I enjoyed the fact that, in the midst of the busy camp schedule, there were fun creative sessions planned. I mean, when else in adult life do you get a chance to sit down and paint for an hour without thinking that there's other, more useful, things you really ought to be doing?

This was the longest drive we've taken in our little car, and I must admit it felt especially 'compact' as we traveled hours with 5 adult-sized individuals in the car. In spite of (or is it because of?) the cramped quarters, we ended up filming a Youtube video all about our road trip hijinks. Enjoy, and enjoy the views of the Malaysian countryside along the way!

p.s. One more big difference: When I attended camp as a teenager, I didn't appreciate the "Lights Out" time. On this occasion...I thought that "Lights Out" at 11:30 was excessively late and was usually fast asleep well before the girls in my group.

Did you ever go to camp when you were growing up? Have you ever gone back to volunteer as an adult? What was your experience like?

Also, what do you do to keep road trips from getting too tedious?
06 December 2015

Sparkly Shoes

A photo posted by Rachel G (@randomlyrachels) on

When I was a kid, we would get two pairs of dressy shoes a year--white ones for the summer months, and black ones for the winter months (following some sort of fashion rule?).

New dress shoes approximately every 6 months was the average amount of time it took for our growing feet to need a new size, anyways, so this was a very practical system. Except for the occasional overnight growth spurt which required a sudden trip to buy yet another pair of shoes.

I distinctly remember one time our family went to Meijer--it was time to pick out a new pair of black MaryJanes for the winter.

However, I got sidetracked. I saw the most beautiful pair of sparkly red ballet flats, in my new size. They were the quintessential Dorothy shoes.

It was a family rule that we weren't allowed to ask for anything at the store, but I guess I figured it was safe to suggest this alternate pair of shoes, since I needed shoes anyways. I excitedly pointed out the shoes to Mom, suggesting that we replace last year's black with sparkly red, instead.

Mom said "No."

She had a couple of reasons, which I distinctly remember her explaining to me. One, red sparkles don't match everything, while black does. You only get one pair, so you have to make sure they match everything. Two, the red sparkles will eventually fall off and then the shoes will look ugly. Plain black shoes don't carry the risk of sparkles that fall off.

I knew there was no hope--it was fall, so I couldn't even 'suggest' a birthday present, as my birthday present would not be due for another 10 months. We left Meijer, leaving those pretty sparkly red shoes behind.


Now, it would be a good thing if I could say that I learned my lesson from this outing, and for the rest of my life consistently bought only practical shoes that would last a long time and would match everything I need to wear them with.

However, if you've seen any of the shoes I wear on a regular basis, you'll know that a practical color choice and sturdy materials are not why I choose my shoes. Angel picked out these purple sparkly Keds for my anniversary gift and gave them to me on Friday. Obviously I wore them on both Saturday and Sunday. They're awesome.

I understand why Mom didn't buy the sparkly red shoes when I was eight. Mom was at her practical best that day--it made a lot more sense to spend the shoe money on practical shoes that would last instead of pretty ones. How was she to know that I would turn out to be the kind of person who might cherish a pair of pretty shoes and remember them for the rest of my life? My mom isn't the kind of person who cherishes could she have guessed that her eldest daughter would be so shallow?

Parents aren't born perfect--neither do they suddenly morph into perfect parents with perfect knowledge when their first child is born. It takes them time to grow, too.

You know what the twist in this story is? About 5 years later, we were at Meijer for the same old routine. New winter dress shoes, this time for my little sister Anna. Her eyes were caught by a strikingly familiar pair of sparkly red ballet flats. "Mom!" she said, "What about these? They're beautiful!"

Mom bought her the red shoes.

It is the special right of oldest children to whine about how soft their parents have turned with the years--how the lives of younger children are much easier than theirs ever were. I, and siblings #2 and #3 certainly claim that right, and have a lot of fun with it...but at the same time, I respect the fact that my parents learn from their own experiences and grow and change as needed.

As for me--I'm probably going to be the mom who will offer a stern refusal to frivolous requests for a dog or for ballet lessons. But if we were going to buy shoes anyways...I'd let them pick the sparkly ones if they wanted them. Who cares if the sparkles will eventually rub off? The MaryJanes would eventually get scuffed, too. I have a soft spot for sparkles.
03 December 2015

I never thought... (5 years of marriage)

I had no idea.

Though it seems to happen in books a lot, whenever I've met someone for the first time, I've never had a foreshadowing feeling of whether they would be just a fleeting presence in my life, or whether they'd end up a lifer.

I've moved plenty. Many people have come and gone in my everyday life. I'm not the best at keeping in touch, but I'm not the worst, either. Sometimes you can stay in touch with old friends even if you go a decade without seeing them in person. Sometimes you can't.

I never could predict who would end up being part of my life for the long haul, and if I could have, I would have predicted it all wrong.

{Definitely not a wedding photo. If you saw my annual anniversary photos post, these are a couple extra shots from that day}

Because I never would have picked Angel for a lifer. A once-upon-a-time college buddy, yeah. The kind of person you might look up on Facebook every year or two to see what they're up to these days, sure. Of course, that's less likely when their last name is really hard to spell, as Angel's is.

We're from different worlds. Different generations. I started college with the idea that yeah, I had to get married someday, but I was 17 and not really interested in boys in general, and had been severely warned by my grandfather to stay away from all of them. But I needed friends, and I couldn't afford to be too standoffish, so I baked cookies, and went to Bible studies, and played board games.

Angel could have so easily been a fleeting presence. He could have been just that one guy who stalked me a little bit during freshman year and told me he didn't want me to leave...and then after I left, he could have moved away and disappeared and never been seen again.

He did move away. He had no reason to come back. I didn't expect him to come back. I expected that gigantic white smile and those fierce black eyebrows and the smell of CK One cologne and his habit of walking up behind you and saying, "Excuse me, Ma'am." in a scary deep voice to fade into distant memory.

That could have easily happened. All the stories I've told you of him through the years--they could have so easily never happened. Except for the fact that he didn't find the life of a bachelor living with his parents and eating all the Panda Express he could possibly hold quite as fulfilling as he'd always thought it would be. And a teenage me who when faced with a guy who started talking about marriage seemingly out of the blue...suddenly didn't find it so unthinkable.

And suddenly the guy who I thought would turn into a distant memory of a long-ago college friend turned into the guy who carried my baby sister on his shoulders when she was a toddler and the guy who tells her creepy stories now. He teases my other sisters about boys and talks about computers and bills and boring stuff like that with my dad.

I don't know what happened. I don't know what gave me the guts to say "Yes." I don't even really know what made my parents like Angel so much in that infamous Skype interview. When I think about it, I can't really figure out how we, of all people, ended up together--the awkward, gangly genius and the funny guy who gets along with everybody.

I don't often get all mushy, but I've been married 5 years today and I'm allowed to. What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that we make each other better. Both of us are more courageous and more diligent and more passionate than we would be without the other. To this day I miss him like crazy during the hours he's at work, and I run to kiss him the minute he gets home. I never thought I'd be the kind of girl to fall head over heels in love...but we've already established the fact that I'm pretty bad at predicting the future.
02 December 2015

5 Years {Anniversary Photos}


We packed up everything in my car after the reception, and drove 2 1/2 hours to our little yellow farmhouse. Someone suggested we stop for dinner, since we'd had a snacks and desserts reception, but we'd eaten so much that neither one was hungry. Angel unpacked the car and we sat on the livingroom floor (no furniture yet) and unwrapped and opened every gift and card.


I had class that morning, so Angel dropped me off, and opened my gift for him (a journal: Paper) while I was in class. After that, we went to Taco Bell and to the arcade--we were college students when we met, so as a throwback, I'd planned the kind of stuff we did when we were still on the college budget. We won so many tickets at the arcade that we picked out a stuffed bumblebee as a prize. At night, though, we dressed up in our wedding clothes and went out for steak at Logan's, shooting this quick picture by putting our camera on top of the bookshelf.


Decided we might as well continue the tradition of dressing up and taking photos, only this time, with a photographer.This year, Angel planned the celebrations. I took the day off of beauty school, and he took me up to Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City for a night, where we played in the waterpark and the arcade in the afternoon. We went out for Mexican food and then wandered the local mall, where I fell in love with a black trenchcoat. He bought it for me. I gave him two customized t-shirts (cotton).


My family was staying with us on our actual anniversary, so we postponed any big plans and went bowling. Angel had planned for us to go bowling at the place where we'd first gone bowling together with a friend before we were technically together, but it was closed. And I said there's another, cheaper, bowling rink, let's just go to that one instead. We did. I got him a wallet (leather). Angel got me pearl earrings and a necklace. In March, we had our postponed trip, a weekend in Chicago staying in an Airbnb apartment and walking everywhere.


First anniversary overseas. Photo taken in China. I got him a pewter rose (flowers). We spent two nights in Hong Kong, and one glorious, blissful day at Hong Kong Disneyland, where Angel bought me a tiara and I cried while watching the Lion King performance.

My wedding dress is now back in the land of its birth, but Angel's suit has finally traveled to its 3rd country. I don't know for sure how we're celebrating at the time of this post, though. ;)
01 December 2015

DIY Christmas Tree for Small Apartments

Rachel's answer to everything in life: tape it to the wall!

I do this a lot. See my gallery wall and advent calendar if, for some strange reason, you don't believe me.

My little sisters were once again lamenting the fact that my parents got rid of my family's 4 ft. tall Christmas tree 3 years ago (apparently it takes kids a long time to get over something like that), so, being the problem solver that I am, I went to the craft cupboard, grabbed two kinds of green paper and some gold-colored sparkly foam, along with the paper chopper and masking tape, and had this up on the wall in 20 minutes. The hardest part was cutting out a semi-decent star free hand. Stars and I never seem to get along.

The girls might make ornaments to "hang on" (aka tape to) its branches, but I like this simple design, which I modeled after the Christmas tree on the cards we made a few years ago.

My parents have no regrets about throwing the Christmas tree away. Certain lifestyle changes must be made if you want to fit your large family into one small apartment, and that was one of them. This wall tree  is a good compromise.

If you're looking for other "flat Christmas tree" ideas, Chelsea posted a cool one with a totally different look from mine on her blog last year.

p.s. Our flat Christmas tree makes a cameo appearance in our latest video, which is about the difference between Christmas traditions in Michigan vs. Christmas traditions in SE Asia. If you've ever celebrated Christmas in a tropical climate, you'll be able to relate to a lot of this. This video is a perfect fit for the December Vlog Challenge at the Murphmans, so I'm linking up there!


What does your tree look like this year?

Can you tell the difference between a fairy and an Angel? (Watch our Youtube video if you're confused by the question)