29 March 2016

My Shoe Collection

And now for an entirely frivolous post.

After all, I'm a self-titled fashion blogger (pretty sure all fashion bloggers are self-titled, anyways), and I'm sure the world is very curious about my shoes and the stories they could tell. So I photographed every pair of shoes that I own. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've probably already seen all of them on my feet. 

Side note: I actually highly recommend this blog post as an exercise for all bloggers. Because of this post, I actually cleaned all my shoes, which, since they're shoes, ought to happen more often than it does. Blogging can provide motivation for such onerous tasks. :)

First up:

Pink Sparkle Converse - You've heard about and seen these shoes way too much on this blog. No apologies for that, because they are both bright pink and sparkly and awesome. I added the black shoelaces because the white ones that came with them didn't do the shoes justice. Bought in 2011.

Blue Hightop Converse - With zippers, too. My most recent shoe acquisition, from earlier this year, at a 70% off Converse sale (can't pass something like that up)

Pastel Polka Dot Keds - I've had these for a few years, since 2013, and because they're white, they've been through the washing machine a few times, with success. I added the shoelaces since they didn't come with any.

Purple Sparkly Keds - My 5th anniversary present from Angel. I like the original ribbon shoelaces and am using them so far, although ribbon is not the most practical material for bows that stay tied while walking. Angel originally bought a size 7, the same as my previous pair of Keds, but I had to exchange them for a size 6--either Keds has changed their sizing in the last few years or the slight style difference is enough to mean I need a smaller size.

Turquoise Jelly Bunnies - Birthday present last year, on sale at Jelly Bunny for 50% off. They're cute but they rub on my heels something terrible so I can only wear them with a bandaid.

Black and Red Flats - Angel bought these for me, a Christmas surprise, I think, after he saw me magnetically drawn to them while walking through J.C. Penney. 2012, I think. They are more comfortable than the blue pair, but less comfortable than the two pairs of flats I wore through during the year we lived in China.

Brown Clarks - I decided I needed the perfect pair of nude pumps for my college graduation. After many scouting expeditions, I decided on these...which are not nude. But they can serve the same purpose, and they're quite adorable on. They've held up really well. Also, 2012. Apparently, that was a good year for shoes.

Red Heels - A spontaneous purchase when they were on sale at Kohl's. Probably my all-time most complimented shoes, and it's all I can do to respond with a polite "Thank you!" instead of an "I know, right? Aren't they the cutest? I feel like Dorothy!" when I'm wearing them.

Black and White - Christmas money 2013, at a department store at the mall, and with the help of family who knew how to make a deal, purchased for about $30, although they were about double that originally. I love these shoes are so distinct, not like anything else I own.

Orange Clarks - I wanted comfy, open-toed sandals that were a style I could wear with skirts and dresses. Enter this beauty of a pair, found in a mall in Hong Kong. We thought long and hard about the purchase, because Clarks aren't cheap, but we decided to go for it, and though I've had them less than a year, their cost-per-wear is already low since I wear them a minimum of 3 times a week.

Chacos - My other comfy, open-toed sandals, but a pair that doesn't look great with dresses. Purchased by Angel for me in 2012 when he was trying to win me over to the ways of Chacos. Told you 2012 was a good year for shoes!

Purple Keens - Bought for our 2011 honeymoon (we honeymooned at Mammoth Cave National Park). They are in pretty rough shape these days, so I mostly only wear them around the apartment complex or for anything I don't want to wear nicer shoes to.

Adidas Sneakers- Bought just after we were married, so late 2010, early 2011. The first pair of shoes Angel ever bought for me. He thought I really needed a pair of athletic shoes that fit well and that were of reasonable quality. He may not have known back then that a pair of athletic shoes belonging to me will look basically pristine after half a decade. That probably says a lot about me.

Not pictured: Red Doc Martens. I still consider them mine, even though they're being 'looked after' by my sister in Michigan right now. Because Docs aren't that practical in a country where highs regularly hit 40 degrees Celsius.

What your shoe collection like? 13 pairs sounds like a lot, but I know I had more in the USA before our sort-of-minimalist international lifestyle began. I love every pair I own, and the memories that went with them, and the fact that many of the pairs have been gifts from Angel.

What kinds of shoes are you drawn to? Do you prefer variety in your shoe collection, or just a few loyal pairs that stick with you through the years?
28 March 2016

Disney on Ice + Easter Happenings

 Two weeks ago, we finally spilled the big birthday secret to all the girls: We were taking them to go see Disney on Ice for their birthdays! It made perfect sense--the date of the show was right in between MaryGrace's March birthday and Rebekah's April birthday. The younger girls love Disney princesses and Rebekah, if not quite as enthusiastic about princesses, loves the art of ice skating. Sarah is a bit of an outlier, since her birthday isn't till November, but we couldn't very well skip her, now could we? She just gets an early taste of birthday fun this year.

We wouldn't be "us" if we didn't dress on-theme, which meant, for me, a casual "Ariel" inspired look with the signature green and purple and a red scarf instead of red hair. I think Pinterest would call this "Hipster Ariel," but those are just my glasses, which I had to wear if we actually wanted to see the show. At the last minute, I had to remind MaryGrace to run back in and get her glasses, too, because like me, she avoids the contraptions when she can get away with it.

We've got two Belles, Rebekah describing her outfit as a "Modern-Day Princess" (I thought it looked Maleficent-inspired, myself), along with little Anna and Shiloh, who christened themselves Elsa and Cinderella, respectively, for the evening.

Angel, characteristically, was happy to buy tickets for everybody and make sure everyone got an awesome birthday experience, and drive us to the show and pick us up...but he did not actually attend the show, because he was utterly convinced that "Disney on Ice" would be totally lame and he'd rather save his money and sit in a coffee shop and wait for us to get out than come with us. Ever practical.

Yes, it was a present for the birthday girls, but...I was there to enjoy the show, too, and therefore took only a paltry couple of pictures of the 2 hour performance. Because taking constant terrible pictures is not my method of enjoying awesome shows. This was quite a special event for us because actually buying tickets to watch any kind of live show is not a normal experience for us.

I am happy I took a few to remember it by. I teared up on multiple occasions, and the littlest girls would spontaneously jump out of their seats during songs to come and hug me and tell me how excited they were to be there. We loved the set details and special effects and ice skating tricks, and we gasped with the crowd when Princess Anna fell down (but got herself up again in less than a second!). It was not all idyllic, though, because certain littles were persistent in their questions about where Cinderella was (there was no Cinderella) and why we couldn't get popcorn (15RM for a teeny box that would feed one of us? No.). Popcorn questions were quieted with whispered promises to take them to McDonald's after the show for a snack--not the best technique if I were a parent, but I'm not, and it was a birthday outing, after all.

We've also been doing other things, actually somewhat related to Easter celebrations:

You may have seen it on instagram already, but Angel got baptized on Palm Sunday, following his own research of baptism and coming to the conclusion that he needed to be baptized with a solid understanding of what baptism means. A very happy event, indeed!

With some of our younger friends, we made crafts. The assignment was to make something out of clay that reminded them of Easter--this resulted in everything from an Easter egg to a crown of thorns to a teardrop to a kneeling man to a rose to a cross.

Because we no longer have a large extended family nearby to have a big Easter dinner with, we invited over local friends and had a big Easter dinner with them on Sunday evening. For some reason, we have no photos of the food, but we do have a photo of the shoes--a massive pile of shoes outside the front door is always the sign of a good party, right?

And, finally, in a land far, far away from here, my "big" little siblings took photos of themselves with my Grandpa on Easter Sunday, and I just had to share them because they're so painfully cute and I miss them so much. Besides, if you've been following this blog since I started, Isaac and Lizzy and Anna are recurring characters that you all ought to be updated on once in a while. As you can see, these characters remain alive and well, working hard, with the end of college coming into sight for the older ones. Anna's coming back in a month and I can't wait.

It was a holiday with and without family, as all of them are.
25 March 2016

Hot Air Balloons

Sometimes, instead of letting myself think, "Man, I wish I still had a sewing machine!" one more time, I get out my embroidery thread, needle, and fabric, and embroider tiny hot air balloons and stitch the patches onto the back of the ankles of my favorite pair of Levi's.

I miss being able to imagine my own clothing and bring my imagination to life through my sewing machine, but this is pretty cool too.

Maybe it's not that common to think "You know what my ankles need? They need hot air balloon patches!"

Or maybe it is.

But I kind of doubt it's a common thought, seeing the lack of hot air balloons on ankles. Because I'm sure if anyone had the thought, they'd act on it.

I kind of really, really like them. They're probably hardly noticeable in real life, all the way down near the ground. How often do you even look at the backs of people's ankles? But it just makes me happy knowing that they are there.

Now I want to embroider patches to sew onto lots of other clothing.

How do you feel about hot air balloons and/or patches on ankles?
22 March 2016

Questions I Get Asked

Here are some questions that people have asked Google. Google replied by directing them to my blog, so they must believe I have the necessary expertise to answer such queries. I'll try my best.

Question marks and capitalization added because I prefer to follow the conventions of the English language, but the questions themselves are taken directly from my Google Analytics:

"Are mermaids real say yes or no?"

At Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, yes. Everywhere else, probably not.

"Is wearing two necklaces tacky?"

No way. See this for proof. You can even wear three if you want. Or more. I'm pretty sure there's no rules about necklaces.

"What kind of noises do raccoons make?"

Scary noises. Especially if they are scratching on the foundation of your house at night and you're home alone.

"What do raspberries look like?" tiny hollow strawberries. p.s. How does one describe what a raspberry looks like? Did I do a good job?

"What to wear on parents 25th anniversary?"

A unisex t-shirt with the number "25" on it, obviously. Because it will make your mom really happy that for once, her whole family matches.

"Why do bees have stripes?"

Probably....camouflage? I think that's practically always the answer for stripes on animals. Do I look like a science teacher? Are you one of my preschoolers?

"How much time do I need for family photos?"

Add extra minutes based on number of family members and level of naughtiness/orneriness.

"Are suspenders in style 2016?"

Yes. See this for proof.

"What to do on Leap Day?"

Well...we shouldn't talk about that's gonna be another 4 years till the next one...

"Can you wear jeans to the gym?"

Yes. You can always wear jeans. I would wear them to the gym. But hey, jeans are pretty much universally useful. You can even wear them if you're taking a nap and have a kickball for a head.

"Why are thrift stores getting expensive?"

Probably because they are attached to the rest of the economic system and everything else is also getting progressively more expensive. Disappointing, right?

"Why are waffles better than pancakes?"

They aren't, pancakes are better because you don't have to figure out how to clean the waffle maker after you make them.

"Very mad in Spanish?"

bien enojada/o. Angel is the new Google translate.

"Are Chacos worth it?"

Do you like comfy shoes that will last for years? Do you want shoes that you can wear in mud and the ocean and other messy places? Then yes, they are definitely worth it.

"Is nursing school hard?"

I asked Angel the answer to this one, because I have never gone to nursing school, so I thought my answer would be inaccurate. He said, "No. It's just washing dishes." There we have it, ladies and gentlemen. Nursing school *squiggly equal sign* washing dishes. Kind of makes sense because sometimes washing dishes makes me gag, and I'm sure nursing school would, too. I don't like learning about bodies.

"So can I have your number?"


"Kodiak pancake mix where to buy?"

I always bought mine at Meijer. Maybe Target or Walmart?

"Should I go to beauty school?"

Only if you're as tough as nails. I barely made it. I had such a tough time in beauty school even my blog friends were happy for me when I graduated!
For more info, see: What Beauty School is Really Like, When Clients Make you Cry, A Rude Client, What Beauty School Taught Me.

"Why are homeschoolers so weird?"

Is your name Angel? Who else would ask such a question?


And my favorite non-question searches:

interrational dating (hahaha this a math thing?)

cute angel pictures (they probably didn't find the adorable cherubs they were expecting...)

i feel like a superhero (That's just awesome.)

pancake people (????)

stuff exploding (Also ????)

work locker pranks (I blame Angel)
20 March 2016

Alice in Wonderland 14th UnBirthday Tea Party

MaryGrace has a different kind of personality from most of the members of our family--she's a little quieter, a little less feisty, a little sweeter and more ladylike. We may not always understand our calmer, nicer sister, but we were determined that she'd get exactly what she wanted for her birthday, and what she wanted was a small tea party. We tend to go for larger groups of people at our parties, but this one only had 11 people in attendance in all, which made it a very small party indeed (given that there's already 4 of us with just the sisters who still live here).

The Alice in Wonderland theme was a late addition to the party design. She wanted a tea party, but about a week before the event, decided that making it an Alice in Wonderland themed party would make it even more fun.

And of course we all dressed on-theme, with MaryGrace as the Cheshire Cat, Rebekah as the Mad Hatter, and little Sarah as Alice herself. I was the Queen of Hearts, as you might notice in other photos.

We had our tea in the middle of the afternoon, meaning that a full meal was not a necessity. We made a chocolate and a cheese fondue, had a variety of dippers, as well as a few other treats like these rice krispie treats:

Our usual party philosophy can be seen clearly in the rice krispie treats above. We love themed parties and all the cute references that they allow...but we generally try to keep the party budget to be spent on actual food for our guests and when it comes to the cutesy themed things that we delight in--we make do with what we have. I would have preferred to create rice krispie treats in the suit of hearts, since that's the most important one in the Alice story, but that's a ridiculously small point and we already had black icing but not red spades, it was.

The red and white flowers were in homage to the white roses painted red.

We went all out, trying to make the table look as quirkily elegant as possible, using whatever table finery we had. Note that there's a plastic cover over the white tablecloth. This was a fondue party with teens and preteens--the plastic cover was definitely necessary. :) We had two kinds of tea, strawberry tea as well as jasmine green tea, and we also had sherbet punch.

And it wouldn't be an Alice party without some traditional "Eat Me" and "Drink Me" labels, now would it?

 For party activities, after we had had our fill of chocolate and tea, we retired to the table of craft supplies, where we used origami paper and followed MaryGrace's instructions to make an origami rose--a venture we were all more or less successful in. That was my first time ever trying origami and I now have a greater awe of the art of folded paper!

After the origami lesson, we had a coloring competition, in honor of MaryGrace's love of coloring. We put the DVD of the classic Disney cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland in the DVD player, and had a fun time coloring away while watching the movie. Watching the film at the party ended up being a good choice--several of the guests had never even heard of the story or seen the film, so the theme of the party certainly made much more sense to them as they saw details from the party showing up in the movie. And I enjoyed it because it's probably been 15 years or so since I've seen that movie!

Angel was the one to choose a winner for the coloring contest, and the winner went home with a t-shirt bearing the Mad Hatter's Tea Party scene from Wonderland, which we thought was perfect, given the party!

MaryGrace loved her UnBirthday (true, since the party didn't take place on her actual birthday), and was inspired to draw this in her sketchbook when it was all over.

I think my favorite part was the strawberries and chocolate fondue...

Another fun party down in the archives. What's your favorite party theme?
17 March 2016

My Best Life Isn't Now

I want to say, first of all, that I realize that this entire post will sound like utter lunacy to readers who don't share my faith. I encourage you to read anyways, as I wrote this with the intent of giving a glimpse into the thought process behind the sometimes odd life choices that Christ followers may make.

The apostle Paul wrote, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, then we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19). What he's saying here is that if Christians are wrong in our faith--if Christ was not indeed crucified and raised to life eternal--if there is no eternity waiting for us--then the rest of the world should feel great pity for us Christians because we have staked our entire earthly lives on the hope and faith in an eternal life.

I believe he is entirely correct.

This point in theology is sometimes lost in recent times, particularly with the onset of what's called "prosperity gospel" and the pursuit of a really awesome earthly life, but in the earlier days of the Christian church, one can see this mindset dramatically at play, particularly in the lives of those early martyred Christians who were lit on fire or fed to lions--people who didn't mind having their lives painfully cut short because of the hope of eternity they held so dear. Later on, there was a movement of monks and nuns to take vows of poverty and live simple lives focused on worship of God and service to others--lives that no one would consider fun or awesome or "best" in any sense of the word. This lack of concern for living an especially awesome life during our 70 or so years on this earth  has persisted in different forms throughout Christian history.

My faith is precisely the reason why I live the way I do. My entire lifestyle has been built around the conviction that this life isn't my best life--the conviction that there is  a best life, but one that will only come in God's eternal kingdom, and not today, not on this world. If I am wrong, then then you should feel pity for me, because I have wasted the one short life available to me by not ambitiously pursuing the best at all times.

On a variety of occasions, I've been accused of lack of ambition. That's probably an accurate accusation. I haven't achieved post-graduate degrees, I haven't worked my way into a powerful career, and I haven't reached financial independence. I'm not highly motivated by the drive to better my life.

If I believed that my best life was now, I'd feel much more pressure to "make something" of myself. I wouldn't be okay with my status and wealth and the comfort level at which I live. I'd feel greater despair over all the cool experiences that I miss out on due to lack of time or funds or opportunity. If I was living my best life now, comfort and fun would be of greater importance to me.

Because I believe with all my heart that this isn't my best life, I'm not bothered by any need to seek out a beautiful home with coordinated furniture. If my best and only life were this one, my blemish-prone skin and the fact that I'll never be a movie star would bother me a lot more than they do. I'd be more concerned about the money in the bank and I'd stress about calculating Angel's retirement age and trying to figure out how to fit in the maximum number of adventures into these short lives of ours.

 I'll be honest right now and say that if I believed this life was the best one, I'd be living in America--for me, since I'm an American, that's a more comfortable and more financially privileged life to live.

I love this life I've been given and am grateful for everything about it. I relish life and passionately experience every part of it. But I don't lie to myself and imagine it's my best. I actively choose not to pursue good things when they aren't part of the road I believe I've been asked to walk. I feel no rushed need to do and to have it all, because I believe there's eternity ahead.

Honestly, I see no "best" possible in this world wracked with tragedies. How could I  be happiest pursuing what's best for me in this world of sickness and death and lack and millions upon millions of people who, through no fault of their own, will never see anything remotely resembling "the best"? This world, to put it simply, just isn't the best. But someday, I believe, there will be a world without any more tears, and that's where the best will be.

The fact is--whether you believe that your best life is now or whether you believe that your best life is the one still to come--whichever one you choose, that will highly impact the decisions you make on a daily basis. Because I believe in an eternal future, my life right now is centered around preparing my heart for that future--serving the God who I believe created me and loving the people he made.

This is my "why" for everything I do. I've got my eyes on my best life, but during this life, I'm not interested in best. I'm just interested in doing whatever's worth doing until I die, and then I believe the best will come.
15 March 2016

Don't {Always} Blame the Adults

I'll admit it--on occasion, I blame the adults when kids are going a little crazy. And that's fair, because there's plenty of times when it is entirely the adults' fault--adults tend to have more freedom and control of their own situation, and should be able to be trusted to make good decision for their own little ones. But will just do whatever they want to anyway.

I had one such experience recently, when I took the 3 little girls to the library. They know the rules for the library--playing and reading quietly, picking up everything and putting it away properly before we leave to go home. They know the expectations for how to behave and look forward to our little library field trips.

Usually, our library is empty when we go, but on this occasion, there were three people having a meeting at one of the tables, so I gave the girls an extra warning to play quietly and be considerate of others, and we all settled in. All three of them were playing just fine. That is, until they decided it was time to go to bed. I never would have guessed that "bedtime" would end up being the game that caused all the trouble. Shiloh came over and curled up on the couch next to me for a good night's sleep, and approximately two minutes later, she burst upright and screamed "COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOOO!!!!!" at the top of her lungs. The three people in the meeting turned to look at us, and I was open-mouthed in shock. "Shiloh!" I said in a low tone, "Are you supposed to scream in the library?"

"Oh, sorry!" She lay back down, and whispered in a tiny voice: "cock-a-doodle-doooooo....."

At the signal, the other girls woke up and they all continued playing.

All this to say, you know, sometimes, when a kid screams "COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!" as loud as they possibly can in the's not necessarily true that they haven't been raised right. In kid logic, sometimes you just have to scream "COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!" in the library. Somewhere along the way, that kind of thinking gets squeezed out of us and we all start doing normal things like reading books in the library. Mortifying as it may be, I can appreciate kid logic. After all, what would we have to laugh about if it weren't for rooster calls in incongruous locations?
13 March 2016

Types of Books I Can't Stand Reading

2016 has been a great year for getting back to reading. I've always been the kind of person whose idea of bliss is to hide away in some corner with a snack and a book, but what usually curbs my reading appetite is the desire to not spend money. These days, we happen to have a library in our apartment complex. Isn't that just the most brilliant idea ever? To have your very own library, supplied by various residents of the apartment complex you live in? It's a very relaxed library, too, without strict 'return by' guidelines. I love it.

(I didn't want to bother taking a photo of books for this post, so I went looking for old photos involving books, and stumbled across this terrifying one, from when Angel really wanted to take a picture of me with his cow piƱata.) 

So, I've read 28 books in 2016 thus far, and I thought instead of talking about all the books I've read (how predictable!), I'd instead talk about all the sorts of books I don't like. I'm limiting this list to genres I've actually tried more than once. I'm sure there are other sorts of books I'm not a fan of, but I've never even bothered reading one, so I can't give much of a reason why.

Christian Romantic Novels

Yes, I'm looking at you, Love Inspired and Karen Kingsbury. I don't know why, but this particular genre of fiction tends to have the most formulaic and flattest and downright boring-est love stories of all time--with occasional twists of tragedy that you don't even care about because the heroine and hero have annoyed you so much. I've heard that women shouldn't read too many Christian romantic novels because they'll give you unrealistic ideas of romance and relationships and men. I also think they shouldn't be read, but for a completely different reason--because you'll get too annoyed at the silliness, stilted dialogue, and random Bible verses shoehorned in. There are probably outliers in this genre that are actually good. But none come to mind at the moment.

Gory/Supernatural/Spooky Novels

Gratuitous blood or vampires or, in general, stories designed to help you NOT get a good night's sleep--not my thing. I enjoy detective fiction, but more the classic Father Brown, Sherlock Holmes, or Hercule Poirot type where the story is more about personalities and psychology and mystery, and not so much about death and spooky things.

Dystopian Novels

Yeah, I had to read all the classic dystopian novels when I was still in school, but mostly these are too depressing to actually enjoy reading, even if they do contain interesting themes and insights about human nature. I haven't read much, if any, modern dystopias, just because they don't sound like a lot of fun. I watched The Hunger Games and had nightmares for months because the concept it's based on is so deeply horrifying, so yeah, I'm not reading the books.

Ultra-Complicated/Super-Serious Fantasy or Sci-Fi

I actually do like a good number of fantasy novels, or, generally, novels set in other worlds or outer space. But I tend to like the lighter-hearted type that don't take themselves too seriously and don't require the memorization of countless names and rules and regulations to understand what in the world is going on. I do enjoy Tolkien's Middle Earth, of course, and I think he tells incredible stories, but even in those it's easy to get bogged down in the details.

YA/Teens Romance

Occasionally fun to read, but mostly, such a book just makes me feel like yelling at everybody. You are 16. Don't waste your time, energy, or emotions on any boy. I don't care who he is, you're not married to him, so it's not worth it! Just have fun and be a kid! Adult responsibilities are coming all too soon!! Yeah, basically I have no patience whatsoever for teenage relationships. Come back when you have a financial budget plan for your future and then we'll talk. Other than that, stop stressing and have a fun life. I actually like quite a few YA/Teens books and will often read them to have books to recommend to the teens in my life, but when romance is a major factor/plot point in the book, I probably won't like it, because it turns me into an old grandma who thinks these love-struck teenagers are just making fools of themselves.

Non-Fiction Sports History 

There are probably other non-fiction genres I don't like (self-help, I'm looking at you...), but this one sprung to mind so I'll write about it. I was the nerd who read every word of every assigned reading and textbook in college. I had to take a sports history class in my senior year and the book I had to read about the history of cricket in India was so dry even I could hardly get through it. The book about football clubs in Europe wasn't much better. I did like the class, and the professor, just not those books.

Modern Rom-Coms by British Authors

There's just something about the modern British sense of doesn't meld very well with mine. Whatever they write that is supposed to be funny I typically don't think is funny. Culture does have a big influence on humor/comedy.

And maybe I just hate romance in general. But for some reason I like to think that I don't hate romance, and so I'll keep on trying books even if 'love' plays a role. I do love real-life love stories. I'll ask anybody "So tell me how you two met?" I'll re-tell funny love stories that I read in biographies to anyone who'll listen. That counts, right?


What are some popular genres that you just don't enjoy? Are there any books you could recommend in these genres that might make me change my mind or allow that there are a few outstanding specimens?
11 March 2016

Bold Jewelry or Bold Clothing?

When it comes to shopping and styling outfits, I'm regularly drawn more towards clothing that makes a statement, rather than accessories that make a statement. I could cite plenty of examples, such as my bright green jeans, cherry print skirt, purple jeans, green wiggle dress, batik tunic, etc. My jewelry collection is quite minimal--I have a small pouch of earrings, a couple little boxes that special necklaces are packed in so that they don't get tangled, and a small tupperware container with the rest of the bracelets and necklaces (hey, tupperware is just a reality of life when you've moved internationally a few times. No more investing in large jewelry cases for me.).

This outfit is an exception. I bought this dress for my college graduation. For some reason, I was thinking I ought to go with a really demure, understated look for that occasion. I don't really know why. If I had to do it again, I'd probably get something colorful and quirky and retro from Modcloth (I've never bought anything from them, but my sisters do and they always have the cutest dresses!). This dress is lovely, but very plain, and for that reason I haven't worn it frequently. It seemed to be an appropriate choice for the wedding we attended this weekend, though, so I brought it out again, this time, with the addition of a "statement" accessory, this network of gold chains. I liked that it worked well to spice up an outfit that otherwise feels a bit plain.

I also got some photos with the rest of the family, because it's practically a law that you have to take family photos when you're all dressed up at the same time:

Yeah, that's 'dressing up' for Angel. If there's anything he hates, it's being hot and wearing uncomfortable clothes, so in this climate, that's about as dressy as he gets.

What about you? Do you go more for the bold clothing with minimal jewelry, or neutral, practical clothing spiced up with jewelry?
09 March 2016

How I Plan Vacations

I come from a family that took regular vacations--probably at least once a year--when I was growing up, and I think that definitely influenced my attitude towards vacations as an adult. I don't consider myself much of a traveler, and I don't think travel and seeing the world makes for an especially awesome life goal, but I do look forward to a good vacation periodically. Once or twice a year, with maybe an extra weekend or two of fun, feels like a comfortable ratio to me.

(Hawaii 2014)

Angel did not take many vacations growing up, and doesn't tend to see them as a normal part of life. Hence, in our family, I tend to be the one who originates vacation destination ideas, convinces him that it'll be fun, and then plans everything. One notable exception is our Hawaii layover vacation, which was totally Angel's idea. I still planned it and worked out all the details, but it was his idea to add in a cool destination while we were en route to China in order to get a vacation without additional flight costs. It was an awesome idea.

When it comes to planning vacations, there's a huge range of strategies, from ultra-spur-of-the-moment vacationers to the years-in-advance planners. My parents tends to err on the side of being spur of the moment kinda folks. Usually, my mom is the person with the ideas and my dad is the one who does the booking and research and logistics. When I was 5, it was almost Christmas and Mom happened to have a dream one night that our family went on vacation to Florida. She asked Dad in the morning if they could go to Florida for Christmas--he initially said no, but by afternoon had changed his mind, decided it could work, and if I'm not mistaken, we left on the road trip (from Michigan) the next morning. We spent Christmas in Florida that year.

(Epcot, 2014) 

More recently, they decided to take a family trip to Singapore less than a week before they left (see posts from our trip with them over New Years). Also, in 2014, they spontaneously tacked on two extra nights to our Florida trip to visit Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to see the mermaids--all because Mom had fond memories of seeing the mermaids during a childhood vacation.

I don't have experience with it in real life, but I've heard in passing other people mentioning being in the beginning stages of planning trips that will take place in 2017 or 2018. I feel like I hardly even know what country I'll be living in in a few years, let alone what vacations I'll be wanting to take by then, so that's hard for me to imagine doing. I tend to always be setting aside savings for some trip, because I know we'll be going somewhere someday, but I rarely know where we'll go a long time in advance

(ShenZhen, China, 2014)

For me, a few months ahead of time is my comfort zone for planning a significant trip. A weekend or local getaway is fine for me to do last-minute, but for something bigger, I like some time ahead--it helps me figure out how to get the best deals and understand how to get around and what I want to see. That's where we're at right now, because last week, we committed and booked a trip to Tokyo to celebrate our birthdays this summer. It's a milestone for me (the freakishly mature-sounding 25), and Angel's 32nd, which we'll just have to claim is a milestone too (problems of being almost exactly 7 years apart instead of 5 years). We found a good flight deal and some affordable Airbnb rooms (we're talking $35-50 a night--in Tokyo!), so we're doing it!

Here's my vacation planning process:

Step 1: The Dreaming

I first heard of Tokyo Disney Resort around the time we moved to China. I went to DisneyWorld in 2014 and absolutely loved the experience, so having another Disney park relatively close by made it seem like we ought to visit someday (we did visit Hong Kong Disneyland for our 4th anniversary, but I knew Tokyo would have to be a bigger undertaking than a quick Saturday trip). 2015 was a big and busy year, with an expensive move and a big job change and getting new visas, but I thought we might be able to work the trip in sometime into the next couple of years.

Step 2: Sudden Revelation

I started looking at Fall 2016, but our work/responsibilities schedule for fall is already filling up so much that there was only one week in October we could conceivably get away for a vacation. However, according to my research, Tokyo Disney Resort is especially busy the last week of October, and has lots of special Halloween entertainment, and I don't even like Halloween, so the timing seemed like it wouldn't work. I put all thoughts of the trip aside. Sometime later, I was thinking that I wanted to do something special for my 25th birthday, and suddenly the idea clicked that maybe a Tokyo trip would work then. I did some quick checking--School will be out for the last day or two of our trip, but that shouldn't be the biggest deal. Plane tickets aren't astronomical right now. No can't-miss family or work responsibilities scheduled. Maybe this could work. I approach Angel with the idea.

Step 3: Strategic Booking

Angel agreed that it sounded like a great idea. We finalized the days off with his work, bought plane tickets first, and then made AirBnb reservations (p.s. hit me up if you want to sign up for Airbnb. You can get $20 off your first stay if you use my referral link, and I'll also get $20 off my next stay, which would be great, because we've used Airbnb a lot, and unlike with hotels, $20 actually goes pretty far!). I always say I don't believe anything until the plane tickets are bought. Now is when I give myself license to start believing it'll happen. I handle everything except the actual bookings, that we do together, because we figure it's best to have two sets of eyes so that we don't make any mistakes and choose the wrong date or destination of something of that sort.

Step 4: Making the Itinerary and Budget

We'll have a few days to see the city of Tokyo and a few days to see Tokyo Disney Resort. The trip is pretty much evenly split, with one extra day on the Tokyo side. Yes, there's lots of things to see outside of Tokyo, but with only 7 days on a first trip to the country, I didn't want to put too much on our plate, or overwhelm us with figuring out public transportation to other parts of the country.

Pinterest and Google have been helpful friends as I jot down notes of things to see and do. It's worth noting that other than ticket fees for places I really want to see, I tend to be largely a budget traveler (hence the Airbnb stays rather than hotels!), so most of the free sightseeing is what appeals to me. I don't want to do too much train travel in one day, so I'm hoping to put us in one area with a bunch of things to see and do each day, so that we don't spend tons of time on the metro (I spent lots of time on crowded metros in's a little boring). I don't plan strict itineraries, but I've got a word document with a suggested area to visit each day and possible places to see in that area, along with opening hours, ticket prices, and information for the metro lines and stops so that we will hopefully avoid getting lost. The theme park days are easy because we'll just spend the entire day inside the park. I've read lots of warnings that July is hot and humid, but I'll admit I'm not very scared of those warnings, because I'm sure it won't be as hot or as humid as Malaysia (which has been 95 degrees or hotter throughout the dry season this year). When things get closer I'll start thinking about how to strategically pack. As you know, we're cheapskates, which means that we're doing this one-week trip with only carry-ons...I figured the extra cost of a check-in was especially not worth it when I thought about having to lug it all over the place on public transportation...

I am admittedly intimidated by the prospect of visiting a country where I don't speak the language (Since most of my travels have been in the USA, China, Hong Kong, or Malaysia, I've never experienced much of that before), so I'm brushing up on my 1 year of college Japanese classes (uhhh...from 7 years ago...) by relearning hiragana and katakana and some generally practical Japanese. I found that being able to read characters in China was immensely helpful for feeling comfortable navigating, and so I expect that it will also be helpful and provide extra peace of mind during our time in China. Thanks to that previous class, it's all vaguely familiar.

What's your style when it comes to vacations? Are they a regular part of life for you, or do you prefer sticking closer to home? Do you plan everything down to the last detail? Are you up for a spur of the moment trip or are you one of those mysterious beings that can plan vacations years in advance? In your family, do you do all the dreaming and planning, or do you leave that up to someone else and just tag along for the adventure?

06 March 2016

A Wedding in Malaysia

This weekend was Issabelle and Daniel's wedding ceremony and reception. Regular readers may remember that I posted about attending their legal marriage registration in August, and promised to post about the wedding ceremony later on. The big day finally came!

Sarah was a flower girl for their church ceremony, which meant that she was really excited about getting dressed up--we took extra care with her hair and dress and got to the church early to make sure she could line up to walk the aisle when she needed to.

(Credit for this photo goes to the wedding photographer--the girls were so lovely I had to share it!)

The church service was in Tamil and English--since the wedding was held at a Tamil church, but there were a number of non-Tamil speakers present. Tamil is one of the only languages that I have had a good amount of exposure to and still haven't managed to learn more than about two words. Much of the audience sang along enthusiastically during the worship songs, but I couldn't fit my tongue around the words on the screen.

Little Josh was sleepy and MaryGrace was a trooper, keeping him calm for a long portion of the service.

The pastor preached an 8-point sermon of marriage advice. His impressions of how NOT to talk to your husband or wife were pretty funny (and quite familiar-sounding, as well!).

Once the ceremony was over, it was time for everyone to head home as there was only a few hours till the reception began. Nearly everyone changed clothes before the reception--red being a popular color of choice for the night, since it's the bride's favorite color, as well as a lucky color according to her Chinese heritage.


Wedding photo shoots--elaborate, multi-outfit and multi-location photo shoots that take place months before the wedding, are the norm for bridal couples here. There are a number of bridal studios in our town that offer clothing rental, hair and make-up, as well as photography, editing, and printing services for these photos. Issabelle and Daniel had one larger-than-life poster from their session at the reception, along with several albums.

 I always think these ultra-glamorous photos are so fun and I always say that Angel and I will get some taken one of these years. Maybe this will be the year? I think I would just wear my own wedding dress, though, since I'm partial to my own clothes and the memories they have with them over rented (but admittedly gorgeous!) clothing.

Another tradition we've seen at a number of wedding receptions is this cake in the front of the room:

Which is usually a plastic or plaster model. In fact, if you want some delicious cake, you have to recognize that individual pieces are served in these adorable boxes stacked in a pyramid at the back of the room. Those with a sweet tooth may or may not have been grabbing them before the bride and groom even arrived.

Weddings are the best time to get photos with everybody all dressed up in their best, so this is all the little girls with the bride's younger brother-we've known him since he was 5 years old--he's so grown up now!

With the mother of the bride. And, below, with the bride's older sister...acting just like sisters...

 (They are paging through one of the wedding albums)

An integral part of the reception is the toast "Yam Seng" (Also spelled "Yum Seng", although the spelling "Yom Seng" would probably be closer to the actual pronunciation for my American readers). When you toast this, you have to yell "Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam Seng!" and hold the "yam" until you run out of breath or even longer. We repeated the toast three times. This was one tradition that was carried over to my own wedding in the USA.

I didn't get any pictures of the food, but it was Indian food-rice and curries. One buffet was vegetarian and the other had mutton and chicken. You may notice Rebekah's hand in her food--there were spoons and forks available, but many people prefer to eat rice and curry and food of this type with their right hand instead. I don't...because I'm left-handed.

By the way, this was the first wedding dinner we've ever attended together. By and large, our friends either don't get married, don't have wedding dinners, or get married in countries that we don't live in. So this wedding reception was a first for us!

Congratulations Issabelle and Daniel!

When's the last time you've been to a wedding dinner? Have you ever been to a wedding in a country other than your native country?