20 September 2017

Married Life: Texting

This may be a bit unusual for couples in 2017, but Angel and I have never really developed a texting habit.

{Photos I never showed you from our anniversary photoshoot earlier this year}

When we became friends in college and later, for all the years that we lived in America after we got married, we didn't have phones with texting service. Adding texting service cost extra so why bother adding that extra fee? Plus, in pre-marriage days, I'll admit that I especially loved it that not having texting on my phone forced Angel to be a man and call me rather than flaking out and texting (you won't believe I was born in the 90s, will you? It must have been the 50s).

When we lived in China, we shared  one cell phone, so whenever we were apart, we had no way to contact each other and simply assumed that the other would arrive home safely from work or errands. We worked at the same school so we weren't apart all that often.

NOW. For the last two years, we have each had our own phone, and these phones can text. Each text costs something like a few cents, though, so there's no call to overdo it on the texting. So...we've adding texting into our lives as if we also live in the 21st century. But I've noticed that our texts seem to follow a very regular theme. Here are our real-life texts from the last month or two:

Rachel: Wanna bring me home ramen? The same kind I had before.

Angel: Ok


Rachel: Don't forget to pick me up on the way. :)

Angel: Ok


Rachel: I have a stack of books to send to the printer  so you can carry them when you pick me up.

Angel: Ok


Rachel: You must pick up the family at the airport in the big car at 4:45

Angel: Ok


Rachel: "How about bringing home food for us? Is ramen open for lunch?

Angel: Ok


Rachel: Don't forget your tesco shopping if you guys stop at McDs. Need lunch ingredients for tomorrow.

Angel: Ok


Rachel: We are at the Korean restaurant. Haven't ordered food yet. If your lesson is finished you can join us.

Angel: Yes


Rachel: You have a lesson at 3 pm today

Angel: Ok


Rachel: I cooked lunch for us.

Angel: Ok


Rachel: My phone is dying now but don't forget to pick all of us up at 4.

Angel: Ok


And...that's it. I think I also texted "I love you!" once and he texted "Take care of the baby!" once but pretty much it's just information about schedules, meals, and rides going one way with Oks coming the other way. There was that "Yes" one time which I think shows his excitement over the Korean restaurant. Works for me! No wasting of unnecessary cents on needless texts and Ok is easy to type, even on Angel's old-school Nokia!

What role does texting play in your marriage?
17 September 2017

When the Wildlife Goes Wild

I've mentioned before how we live in close proximity to the jungle and all the accompanying creatures. Monkeys hang out in the tree next to where we park our car, cicaks scurry across the living room walls in the evening (inspiring a book about their antics), and Angel continues to do battle with the fruit bat who lives in the hallway outside our apartment.

Lately, we've had a few interesting encounters with nature that I thought were worth telling you about.

Like when we were driving home a few weeks ago and saw this guy trying to get through the fence into the park that's next to our apartment complex.

Or, when Angel and the family went to visit a bigger park, one that has a swimming pool, and stumbled across two big monitors dueling next to the swimming pools.

Angel recorded the whole fight. Minutes 2-4 are the most dramatic, in my opinion, although the ending is pretty cool, too. I will warn you, the fight is a bit bloody. These big lizards mean business!


For an update on our bat situation: After someone hung up a cd and netting in front of the neighboring apartment to deter the bat from roosting there, the bat moved in in front of our place. Lovely! Angel immediately went on offense, hanging up a cd and making nightly excursions with a broom to startle the bat away. Then he got a ladder and applied VaporRub all over the pipes and the ceiling in front of our house (Why? Because apparently VaporRub is the cure for everything, even fruit bats...I guess). After the liberal VaporRub application, the bat has slightly varied his roosting places, including a spot about 5 feet away front our home's entrance. He doesn't come at the same time every night anymore, though. Angel hasn't been able to startle him lately, but this week  I came home one evening to find a bat flying around between  our place and our neighbor's and I had to rattle my keys viciously to get him to go away so that I could in without the risk of the bat coming a little too close for comfort. I'm not sure who will win this battle in the end. I should probably google the lifespan of fruit bats in Malaysia.


We went on a field trip to a butterfly garden last week, the sort of place where you expect to encounter quite a bit of nature, but I've never been to a butterfly garden where the butterflies were quite this friendly.

A few in our group had purposely worn brightly colored or floral shirts to encourage butterfly encounters, but these butterflies were landing on everyone! Nobody was safe! Little Joshua was rather disturbed by one butterfly who landed on his behind and refused to move for about ten minutes.

Can you see the butterfly on her hair bow?

This one landed on my leg and wouldn't leave me alone! I was beginning to understand how Joshua felt.

Even the cellphones weren't safe!

We loved the butterfly garden, but I always leave that place remembering how much I really, really, really don't like insects. Butterflies are pretty okay, but they have a whole lot of other bug exhibits there, including giant ants...that always leave me feeling very ready to leave by the time we are done.


And, last wildlife encounter of note: We were driving to dinner when we turned down a neighborhood road and ended up in Fort Worth during a cattle drive. Or something.

The moral to these tales is: always be prepared. Never know when you might need to judge a wrestling match between monitor lizards, VaporRub your ceiling in order to persuade a bat to find a new home, or dodge cows wandering the neighborhood.
13 September 2017

Things I Wouldn't Do as a Parent

I know, I know, everybody says you can't know what kind of things you'll do once you're a parent until it actually happens. But I feel like you can at least lay down a few general guidelines. These are the things I'm fairly positive I would not do.

- Cloth diaper. I actually might have done this if we lived in the states. I like saving money, and I cloth diapered babies back in the 90s when it was a totally different ball game. But. We live in an efficient apartment with a washing machine but no dryer and no outside area for hanging laundry. We hang all our laundry to dry from bars attached to the ceiling of the tiny hall next to our kitchen. Oh, and the humidity is about 85% at all times so clothes don't dry well, so I unplug my washing machine whenever it's not running and plug in a fan and point it at the clothing so they will actually dry. No way would I purposely add cloth diapers to the laundry load.

- Have a little boy with long curly hair. Curly hair might be a given with our genes (wonder why Angel keeps his hair so short?), but this cosmetologist gets itchy fingers whenever she sees a messy neckline or hair sticking out around the ears, even on strangers. I love clean-cut, nicely trimmed hairstyles for boys. I've already given plenty of baby and toddler haircuts, so I know what I'm getting into. I also wouldn't let my kid color their hair till probably teens or so.

- Not vaccinate. If we lived in the USA, I would still vaccinate, but over here, I think it's even more crucial. Diseases that are unheard of in the USA are not unheard of here--even as an adult, I have more vaccinations in order to live here than I would if I lived in my birth country. They practice slow vaccination for babies here, only one jab at each appointment, which I think is an even better idea.

- Co-sleep in the same bed with baby. The bed is hardly big enough for Angel and I, if one were to add a baby to the mix, Angel would have to be kicked out to the couch, which isn't actually long enough to sleep on, so none of this sounds like a good idea. I'm not much of a social sleeper, anyways. Baby can sleep in baby's own bed in our room. Said bed does not currently exist but hopefully will someday.

- Buy obnoxious and loud electronic toys. Other people can buy them for my kids if they so desire, but if I am spending any money on a toy, it's going to be one that I actually think is cool. BTW, I think basically all classic wooden toys are cool, and dollhouses.

Publicly post photos of baby with no clothes on. Considering that I already told Angel he couldn't post the ultrasound photo because the baby isn't dressed...let's just say I always think clothing is a good idea.

- Raise the baby monolingual. That just wouldn't make any sense. I'm not going to be uptight about it because I don't like rigid structures like "Mommy's language" and "Daddy's language" or "Spanish Wednesdays." English will be primary, but baby should grow up with it being part of everyday life to interact in another language as well. There's plenty of random Spanish and Chinese phrases spoken in our home already and Angel plays music in both languages in the car and at home. We'll just have to step it up a notch, and I plan to incorporate Spanish into storytime books and entertainment (songs, videos) so that the little one at least grows up comfortable with hearing the second language. And then in our homeschool we'll just do Spanish curriculum alongside English curriculum. If baby is a more verbal type, I'll incorporate Chinese early, too, if not, we'll stick to the basic two.

What wouldn't you do?
03 September 2017

Travel Goals

I told Angel recently: "You're lucky, because right now is probably the first time in our marriage that I haven't been planning some sort of future vacation that you'll end up agreeing to."

You see, for the past seven years, I've planned all of our travels, from day-trips to week-long vacations. Our usual travel plans usually come about in this manner: I hear of some location that, for whatever reason, excites my interest. For example: Tung Ping Chau, an uninhabited island belonging to Hong Kong.

I then begin to research the potential destination, collecting all available information on how to get there and what to do once there. I determine if the destination is reasonably budget-friendly and find the most cost-effective transportation and accommodations. Along the way, I periodically tell Angel all about how awesome Tung Ping Chau is and how cool it would be to go there and how I've figured out how to make it affordable and in the end, he ends up agreeing that my adventure plan sounds awesome, and we go. One exception: Our "layover vacation" in Hawaii was all Angel's idea in the first place. But I did all of the planning and mapping out of bus routes and building of our itinerary.

However, I'm currently in a state of mind where even going to the grocery store or to the mall sounds a little too risky most of the time. I do know that pregnant people travel all the time but I'm in a current state of wondering "How??" because I'm sick enough inside my own comfortable home. This is just a temporary state, I know.

Just because I'm not planning any trips right now doesn't mean there's no places on my list, however. There's always a few dream vacations hanging out there that I figure I may get around to one of these years. Here they are:

1. China

Okay, that's broad, but I definitely long to go back to China. There's a few major locations, the trouble is that they are a bit spread out: ChengDu and Xi'An are on my list, as well as ShangHai Disneyland.  Angel really wants to go to the Shi Lin Stone Forest and the Three Gorges Dam (a dam? Why?). Also, I want some authentic SiChuan veggie dishes because I miss them so much, and Halal dumplings and noodles from a Muslim Chinese family-owned noodle shop (That seems really specific, but I'm not a huge fan of pork, so our local Halal Chinese noodle shop in ShenZhen was amazing because they used beef as their meat of choice). I think we'll find ourselves back in China to visit sometime within the next couple years...

2. France

This one, my main interest is the Paris Disneyland (these would be my last two Disney parks in the journey to visit all of them around the world), and the Loire Valley castles. I haven't done much research into what else because I think this is one destination that Angel can not be convinced into thinking is interesting. If I go, I think I'd make it a trip with my little sister Anna because we're good travel buddies. She shares my (usual) endless energy.

3. East Malaysia

Angel's never been, and I'd love to take him to see a bit of Sabah and Sarawak one day. Mount Kinabalu and the Mulu Caves would both be major adventures...but both also sound more physically grueling than I would normally be prepared for. Such adventures would require pre-trip training, for sure!

4. Western USA Road Trip

I love road trips, and national parks. Especially after spending a few days in California in May, I'd love to someday explore more of the natural world of California and the rest of the western USA. Maybe work our way across the country. I have no idea when a trip like this would happen, though, as it's not like we often find ourselves in the US with access to a car we can drive across the nation. I utterly detest the long plane flight to the US and that alone will keep me away for a good few years, I imagine.

5. Hawaii

We loved Oahu, and now I'd want to check out Maui and Kauaii. This probably isn't too likely to happen unless we stumble across another "layover" incident, just because Hawaii is so far from everything. But Hawaii is awesome, so, it has to go on the list. AND AirAsia, the budget airline we use most around here, recently started offering flights to Hawaii...

6. A Cruise

I actually don't know much about cruises or cruise destinations but I love boats and oceans so they intrigue me. There's definitely a big part of me that thinks I have too much energy to be cooped up on a boat for much of a trip, but I'm told there's lots of activities on these boats, so I continue to think that maybe we'll go on a cruise someday.

7. The UP

I'm a Michigander but have never really been to the UP, other than just crossing the bridge and visiting Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox (a random memory from my childhood). I'd love to see the state parks up there someday--but only during the height of summer! I have no interest in freezing!

A few other places that intrigue me but seem more doubtful that we'll actually make it there: Iceland, Mexico, England, Ireland, and New Zealand.

What places are on your list?

25 August 2017

Pregnancy Abroad: First Trimester

The second trimester looms ahead as September approaches, meanwhile, I'm over here so ecstatically overjoyed from looking at the picture from our 12/13 week ultrasound that I thought I'd write an update.

(at the beginning of 12 weeks)

Weight gain: +0. At eight weeks I was -1 lb. but at this last appointment I was back up to normal so I'm trying to tell my mom that's perfectly normal. I even specifically asked the doctor if there was any reason to be worried about my weight so that I could tell all my older family members that it'll be fine, I'll get large enough to please them soon enough. Any corroborating stories I can use as evidence that you're not really expected to gain weight in the first trimester anyways?

Belly: I can tell a difference, and my stalkers (i.e. rather intense family and friends) can tell, since my stomach has always been a completely flat plane, but I think any normal human being who didn't stare at my body to a creepy extent would just think I also look like a normal human being. It might show in pictures if I wore skin-tight clothing instead of my usual round of dresses and skirts but let's be real...if my clothes are tight I will probably throw up. My usual fashion preference for dresses with flared skirts is basically perfect. What's not so perfect is my preference for high necklines, which, let's just say, are not quite baby's style.

Food: Baby appears to take after me as a picky eater, only, in typical overdramatic fashion, takes it to the extreme. Meat of any kind is the most consistent aversion, which makes eating real food challenging. We amazingly found bagels in the frozen food area of a specialty grocery store, so I've been able to eat bagels (even got them  on a 2-for-1 sale), other than bagels my diet still is mostly comprised of fresh fruit, chips and guacamole (I attempted to make a homemade black bean salsa but the baby REALLY hated it. Everyone else in the family thought it was great), and various form of potatoes--chips, fries, and mashed. Also, I cried because someone posted a photo of Five Guys on social media. They have the best fries.

Symptoms: I feel like July and August have passed in one intensely fast blur. I suspect this is because I spent the last two months sleeping. The most adventurous Energizer battery-powered being that is myself has temporarily become a low-energy homebody who doesn't go anywhere unless needed. I've learned to prioritize energy for the most important responsibilities of each day--because if I shoot for more, I'll end up sleeping in random public locations. Two of the reasons I've stayed at home as much as possible are: 1) Bathrooms. Too many places here have utterly terrible or non-existent bathrooms, and I'd rather just throw up in my bathroom at home, thank you. I haven't been back to the grocery store after the horribly disgusting state of their bathrooms made me cry at 7 weeks. 2) Car rides. They feel like riding a roller coaster on the ocean. I blame the constant arrangement of speedbumps and potholes that this island's streets are littered with. So...I only leave the house if I need to lead some event or teach something or if there is no more food in my house. 

Doctors: Three appointments so far and three ultrasounds--the last being by far the most exciting. At the second ultrasound, the doctor and Angel saw the heartbeat, but I never did, and at this last ultrasound, they took the time to show me the heartbeat, and I was like, "No wonder I couldn't see it last time, that's not at all easy to see!" Not being a medical professional, I have no idea how these people distinguish what they see in ultrasound pictures. But I did get to see the cutest five fingers on each hand and two little feet. Baby measures at 13 weeks plus a couple days although by dates we think I'm more like at the end of 12 weeks. I have a strong aversion to doctors and hospitals, but we always schedule them for when Angel can go, and he buys me my favorite smoothie bowl after every appointment and that makes for a good reward.  The first trimester has not been without a few rocky moments--hence the three appointments and all the little extra pills I get to take, but we're so thankful for every new day with baby.

Gender: Rather too soon to know, but my entire family is convinced the baby is a boy, to the extent that they're pretty much convinced me and Angel that they are somehow in the know and the baby is,  in fact, a boy. The fact that Angel's family consists entirely of boys thus far provides further evidence for their case. Family has also attempted to nickname the baby "Churro" but I do not approve.

Preparations: I've gotten several questions recently if we've started buying things for the baby or setting up the room or various things like that. I can't help but be bewildered by such questions. My major preparation plan is to wait and hope people with older families are like, "Oh, we don't need our bouncer anymore, I don't know why I kept it in storage for so long, do you want it?" I'm rather minimalist and I know babies aren't that minimalist, but I kind of plan on making do with whatever people happen to give us and buying whatever is an actual necessity shortly before it's needed, rather than a long time before it's needed and having to store it for months in this tiny home. Also, they don't really have much in the way of sales and coupons, or thrift stores, in this country, so there's no point in looking early for budget reasons. What the baby needs now is medicine and doctor's visits, so I get those--fun fact: prenatal care and childbirth aren't covered either by the Malaysian health insurance companies we've looked at or the international health insurance we ended up getting, so you pay for your own babies. And it's my biggest privilege. One of the things I was sad about with Em was that I never got to spend my hard-earned money on her, as seems to be the right of a parent. I tell Angel with every box of pills he buys--how amazing is it that we get to buy this for our baby! What a gift!


If my joy is annoying, I offer an apology, but not an especially sincere one. I'm having so much fun. I have so loved being pregnant for all these days so far. I praise God for every symptom, because I am so in awe of this blessing and miracle. My favorite parts of pregnancy so far are daydreaming about the baby by myself as I try to nap and chatting with Angel about the baby--about anything from names to suspicions that our child may hate brushing their own teeth given how much they hate it when I brush mine.

The only thing that's been running through my mind since yesterday's good report is:
"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" 2 Corinthians 9:15
That verse is referencing, of course, the gift of Jesus Christ and salvation. But in my mind I secretly add another gift that hasn't impacted the world and eternity so much, but, to me, still seems rather indescribable: the gift of a baby--with a heartbeat and cute hands and feet.
13 August 2017

Stories from Life: Fruit Bats, Couches, and Going to Bed Early

- There is a fruit bat who decided to live right outside the door of the apartment next to ours. We know he's a fruit bat because ever single night he brings all of his fruit snacks and drops seeds and fruit gunk all over the floor of the hallway in front of the door, which is about 15 feet from ours. I'm very thankful it's not our apartment, but we walk past the mess of fruit stuff every time we need to go to the elevator. Nobody lives in the apartment next to us, so the mess doesn't get cleaned up except on the couple of days a week that the staff that cleans the apartment complex comes through to sweep and mop the hallways. Angel has taken matters into his own hands by going outside with a broom every night at 9 p.m. to shoo away the bat. We're hoping that this habitual disruption of his cozy home will make him decide to find a new home, a little further away. I might also mention that it's rather disconcerting to have to walk right past a large bat hanging on the ceiling and noisily chomping away on fruit every time I walk back to my apartment, if walking home after dark. We've had more than our fair share of bat encounters in our married life: Like this bat in our first house or this bat (btw, it cracks me up that Angel's bizarre bat video has over 6,000 views on youtube when none of the nicely edited videos I've ever made have come close).

- In July, I posted on Facebook that what I really wanted for my birthday were kitchen utensils that wouldn't fall apart every time I used them. It was one of those days when they spatula fell into pieces again and I was like, "Why exactly have I been putting up with this for so long?" My amazing sister-in-law heard my plea and bought me this set of silicone kitchen utensils. They are so cool, and they don't fall into pieces when used. And they look like a rainbow. I've never had silicone cooking utensils before this, but I think they're kind of amazing.

- Speaking of Angel, I needed to have a serious chat with him the other day that the appropriate response when the baby incites me to vomit on the living room floor (in my defense, there was absolutely no warning--I felt fine, I was simply walking across the room), is NOT to take a picture and text it to my father, of all people, who shares my utter horror and distaste for bodily fluids and medical stuff. Like, why? DON'T DO THAT. Also, #reasonswhytilefloorsareawesome

Art day with the little sisters

- We have family from the USA visiting right now--a very rare treat as visitors are an infrequent luxury--which means my two littlest sisters are sleeping at my house due to limited beds at Mom and Dad's house. This definitely has its benefits, particularly when I ask them to take out the trash on their way out in the morning. Many nights, though, we're already asleep by the time they let themselves in, so we've hardly noticed their presence. The 10 year old and 15 year old have more of a nightlife than we do, I suppose.

- For the first time in our marriage, Angel ran a race and I didn't attend. It was a "Banana Relay Race" and they literally had to run with a banana as a baton to pass off to the next runner. He ran two 4k laps at 15:50 and 16:02. His team came in 4th place in the race. I have attended all of his races in the past, but the ultra-early wake up call combined with a few hours of standing around in the heat with likely no clean bathrooms available made me feel I wasn't quite up to it this time. My family went to be his cheerleaders in my stead and I hear that my mom took on my role quite nicely, telling him that he was "too slow!" as is my tradition.

- I've decided that my next major purchase to save up for will be a comfy couch. We always talk about how wonderfully cozy our couch in the USA was--we bought it at a thrift store for $200 with wedding gift money right after we got married, and it was the best ever. Our couch in China was horrible beyond belief: vinyl that was ripping apart at most seams, and if you sat down you sank so low you were practically sitting on the floor. We bought a very inexpensive couch (about $100) when we first moved to Malaysia, and it serves a good purpose for living room seating, but it's too short to stretch out on and it's so firm that it could never really be considered "cozy". My plan is to keep this couch, but save up and hopefully for Christmas get the sort of couch that we always fondly reminisce over, a truly comfy couch perfect for napping. We could do with a bit of additional seating in our home, anyway.

What's going on with you?
06 August 2017

Self-Publishing My Book: The Road to the First 100 Sales

Bloggers are always publishing books, it would seem. It's an understandable, natural progression of sorts. Through blogging, you gradually become more comfortable with your writer's voice, and you move on to a project larger than a blog post.

Problem is, a book is a whole LOT scarier than a blog post. Independent publishing these days is easier than it ever has been before--but publishing a book still requires the sort of time and money that a simple blog post will never require.

So, when you are weighing just how much you want to write a book and see it actually published, you're going to ask yourself at some point: "Will it be worth it?"

I've seen many books and ebooks published by various bloggers over my years in the blog world...and I've found myself wondering exactly how much are these books selling and whether the financial benefit received from the book is actually worth it.

Because I wondered this myself long before the idea for The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger came to me, I thought I'd be transparent with what the self-publishing journey has looked like in the pre-publishing stage and in the months since publication.

Self Publishing My Book: The Road to the First 100 Sales

Goal-Setting Stage

Getting a book on the market, particularly a children's book, has long been a dream of mine. I have submitted various manuscripts I've written over the years to various agents and traditional publishers, but have never yet had success. When I first drafted these cactus stories, I thought they had a lot of potential, but I also knew that they would not be a good fit for traditional publishing. To me, the very strongest asset of these stories is that they are set in a non-Western world. The number of children's books set in Southeast Asian countries in general or in Malaysia in particular is so very small. I have a passion for diversity in children's literature and although there are no humans in my book at all, the all characters are local flora and fauna, the stories clearly embrace the tropical rainforest climate of this region, and the illustrations show details of normal life in Malaysia.

I knew that from a traditional publisher's perspective, a book that includes words from Bahasa Malaysia and portrays as normal a world where monkeys and monitor lizards and cockroaches are a normal part of the neighborhood wildlife would not be relatable for the average kid living in suburban USA.

However, I believe that books that you can't relate to are how minds grow, so I decided it was worth going the self-publishing route. Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that "most self-published books don't even sell 100 copies." I have no idea if that's even true, but because that stuck in my mind for so long, my goal from the beginning was to sell at least 100 copies of the book, in order to break that imaginary milestone that "most self-published books" never reach.

Pre-Publishing Stage

I'll skim rather quickly through this stage, which for me lasted from the beginning of February, when I wrote the first draft of the cactus stories as bedtime stories for my little sister, to late April, when I released the final version of the book.

For most of this time period, the book was on my mind every day. It started with drafting and redrafting (Fun fact: many of the characters did not end up keeping their original names, but Ty's name has remained the same from the beginning!). I tested the stories on the kids I am with on a regular basis. I changed elements and figured out when my language was confusing and adapted various parts of the tales.

From there I moved to illustrating, which included a long learning curve for me as I'd never used a drawing tablet or digital art software before. This step including a good bit of Googling for "How do I...". I already knew about CreateSpace and generally how to go about using them to publish a book, so I did research to check and confirm page size and DPI requirements before I began making digital illustrations.

Once I had collected all of the illustrations, I set out to format the book using Adobe InDesign. Yet another bit of software I had no experience with, so this also required Googling to find out how to make my book look the way I wanted it to. Once the book looked generally problem-free and I had designed the cover art, I saved both files as PDF, and began the editorial process, looking out for plot points that didn't make sense or dialogue that didn't seem natural. At this point I had my mom and sisters read through the book on their own to see what changes they might make, what confused then, or whether they could find any errors.

Once things looked pretty good, I uploaded a copy to CreateSpace so I could begin the process for ordering the proof. The proof arrived at my USA address and my sisters there got their very first chance to read the book and give me feedback. My grandpa read it and spotted another two typos so it was back to Adobe InDesign to fix those typos and scour the document for more--a missing comma here, an extra space between a word and a period there. Fun!

There were times when I felt my eyes couldn't take the proofreading anymore. Finally, my team and I declared the book "finished" and I released the book for sale and started writing announcement posts for the blog. At this point, I had still never seen the book in person--Amazon doesn't ship to Malaysia--so I was completely trusting my family in the USA who said the colors looked great and we were ready to go.

Marketing Stage

This is admittedly where I am weakest. As the typical artist temperament--I like to create. I don't so much enjoy the process of convincing people that what I have created is worthwhile. The biggest truth I've learned so far about marketing is at the very least, make sure people have a chance to find out that your book exists. You can't control how they'll respond, if they'll buy it or if they'll enjoy what you wrote, but you can at least let them know that the book exists. And you may just be surprised at how many people are interested in hearing more and in buying your book for themselves, and even a spare copy for a grandchild or a friend's kid who has a birthday coming up.

I have covered the basics of marketing: I posted on the blog about the book. I created a video on our Youtube channel telling the story behind the book. I made a static page about the book that's linked in my blog header so that the book info doesn't get buried by blog content (btw, you should probably read that page, I think it's pretty funny if I do say so myself. I created and used a hashtag on instagram: #WhereIsTyTheCactus

{My sister created this t-shirt inspired by the book}

In real life, I've taken the simple route of just talking about the book. Sharing this exciting new thing in my life--the fact that I wrote, illustrated, and published a book for children--with friends and family members. Not everybody is on social media, so you can't just assume  that because you posted an announcement on Facebook that your friends and family know.

I could definitely take it further with marketing, but I'm slowly feeling my way along in this area. If you have any advice or recommendations, I'm all ears!

I will be honest with you: I am fairly certain that nobody who has no connection to me at all has bought my book. That's still a dream, and it's a dream that's not going to happen unless some of the book owners decide to leave reviews on Amazon. Yes, complete strangers have bought the book--but those are strangers just in the sense that they've never actually met me. Strangers as in people who read my blog (Thank you!!!!) and people just removed from me by a degree or so, friends of people who know me who mentioned my book to them.

Reviews are the hardest thing to get, apparently--my book still has 0 reviews on Amazon in spite of sales that surpassed my initial goal. So I will ask, for those of you who own my book and have read it, please, if you wouldn't mind, I would so appreciate if you'd take a few minutes to write down what you thought of The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger on Amazon! I have appreciated it so much when various people have written to me to say, "Hey, your book just arrived in the mail and I sat down and read it to my daughter!"

And for the very curious, as of today, current total sales for my book are: 107

On to the next 100!

Is it worth it?

For me, it was worth creating this book from before it was even published. From a financial standpoint, I surpassed the break-even point--this was because the only real cost involved in creating the book for me was the cost of the $80 Wacom drawing tablet. It's pretty obvious to you all that with a couple dollars of royalty from each copy (the author's portion, left after printing costs and Amazon's cut) multiplied by per-hour wage on this book is quite dismal. You're going to need to sell far more than 100 books in order to make a book a financially advantageous investment of time.

But as you can imagine, because of that typical artistic temperament...I don't think of the worth of the book as solely limited to finances alone, although they certainly matter. I got to write a book! That parents in multiple countries have now gotten to sit down with and read to their kids! More kids are learning that Malaysia exists (when I was the age of the target reader of this book, I didn't know Malaysia existed or anything about it) and are learning about my favorite of all Malaysian critters--the everpresent cicak! I met my goal of 100 sales, and I did it within two months of publication! For me, that sounds like a pretty good start, and I'm glad I took the scary risk of creating The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger.

What dream could you take steps toward today?
28 July 2017

About the Baby

If  you're wondering "What baby?"

It's this one:

Due beginning of March 2018

On June 24, we bought a pregnancy test while we were out doing errands. When I say "we," I really mean "Angel," because in this family there is one person who always purchases anything awkward. It's him.

Angel dropped me off at home but had another errand to do. He knew I'd most likely take the test while he was gone because patience isn't really something I do.

When the test flashed "Pregnant" I fell to my knees, crying, praying, and thanking God. And then I lay on the bed in a sort of state of frozen shock until I heard Angel come in the house and I turned on the camera, which is conveniently stored in my dresser.

 A few minutes after Angel found out.
Obviously nothing to see at 4 weeks...

None of my family was in town at the time. But after getting over the initial shock and tears Angel simply had to tell somebody right away, so he got his parents on Skype in spite of the fact that it was pretty late at night, and then Skyped his brother and sister-in-law.

We toyed with the idea of waiting till Mom and my sisters came home two weeks later and greeting her at the airport with the news...but didn't end up doing that. Instead, we waited till my dad came home about 6 days later to tell him in person, and then skyped my mom and sisters the next day since we were pretty sure Dad couldn't keep a secret from Mom, and then I texted a photo of the onesie along with the line, "Hey, look, I got something cute in America!" to my other sister and my cousin/sister. Mom said she'd tell all the grandparents and aunts and uncles.

I thought that the onesie announcement was really obvious but apparently it wasn't because most of the people seemed to respond with, "Oh, that's cute!" and just accept that we would buy a Calvin College onesie randomly for no specific reason. Which, in all honesty, is what we did. I've always loved wearing Calvin t-shirts and while we were in town we decided that, in faith, we'd buy some Calvin gear for our future baby. We didn't buy newborn size because they grow out of those too quickly, so I picked one sized at 6 months. Even in a "faith" purchase, my practical streak sticks out.

The weeks since have been a haze of sleeping, eating, and vomiting. And feeling so very, very happy I would dance if I had the energy. Angel says he finds life more peaceful now that his usual whirlwind of energy is to be found in bed more often than not. He's stepped it up with housework, and I'm very thankful! In a way, I tend to feel like I feel "normal" and I'm not having all that much pregnancy symptoms, but it's only when I look back and realize, oh yeah, I didn't previously sleep for hours in the middle of the day, or avoid leaving my house because I never know when I'll randomly be hit with nausea. I skipped church for the first couple weeks and on my first week back, about 5 people stopped me to ask if I was okay/what was wrong with me so clearly I'm not pulling off the "I feel totally normal" look as well as I think I am. I'm on some additional prescriptions which may be amping up the pregnancy side effects a bit, but I'm sure not complaining! I think this is so fun and I absolutely love being pregnant.

I amuse myself by making up mental lists of all the things that have made me throw up or feel like throwing up in recent weeks. Lists including: Taking a shower, my hair touching my neck, a shirt or blanket touching my neck, an open trash can lid, any food with a "mushy" texture, my neighbors cooking smelly foods, getting too hot, being too tired, being too hungry, brushing my teeth, swallowing my pills, tacos, etc. I find this all rather funny, but even more so, my family finds it extraordinarily hilarious. Particularly my baby sisters.

"Crispy" or "Crunchy" "fresh-tasting" food is my life saver--this baby mostly wants to eat green apples, oranges, cucumbers, and potato chips. Nice balanced diet, huh? Hopefully the fruits and veggies are enough to cancel out the effects of the potato chips...And you don't want to be Angel if we run out of all of those at once. I've also been really, really, really wanting Skinny Pop White Cheddar Popcorn, a delectable snack I was introduced to on my recent visit to America but of course. It doesn't exist here. My baby sister bought me a toaster for my birthday because we haven't had one in three years, and she thinks I'll want to eat a lot of toast while pregnant.

This is so fun. I am enjoying pregnancy immensely even if I have developed a strong dislike for riding in cars. I want to ban speedbumps from the world. I love talking about the baby with Angel. I'm so grateful God gave us another tiny baby to love and cherish. We know that nobody knows what the future brings and we certainly don't know what this baby's future holds--but we're already in awe that we actually got to see our baby AND the tiny heartbeat on the second ultrasound this morning. We've known about this little one for 35 days so far. 5 whole weeks of waking up with this joy. Wow. We appreciate all of you who have been praying for us and our little one so very much--thanks be to God for such a good gift!
19 July 2017

Visiting a WWII Ship in Michigan - USS LST 393

While in Michigan, we planned to visit our cousin Shannon--who used to live in Malaysia and has gone on a number of adventures throughout SE Asia with us, like when we got to visit the coolest deserted island ever. She's in college now and we planned a day to visit her and explore a bit of the city she lives in. We wanted to do some sightseeing and she recommended the USS LST-393.

We didn't know much at all about what the LST 393 was before going, all I knew was that it was a ship and I never say no to a ship, but if anything, this piece of American history highly exceeded our expectations. I strongly recommend taking a few hours to visit this ship  and learn more about its role during the War.

The LST 393 in Muskegon, MI, is fascinating part of our nation's history.

We arrived at the ship and were welcomed in by a veteran who was staffing the front desk. The first thing he said when we all walked in was, "You all must be students, right?" and 3 of the girls were, but Angel and I insisted repeatedly that we weren't students. When he said, "Are you sure, you don't go to school at all?" I answered, "Actually, we're the opposite of students--we're teachers." And then he still insisted on giving us the student price because he said he knows teachers don't get paid what they ought. He was so sweet, and after giving us all discounted admission, he explained to us what type of ship the LST 393 was, how many boats were built in this model, what their roles were in the war, and how many still exist in the present time.

More than 1,000 LSTs or Landing Ship Tanks were built to be used during WWII. Their flat-bottomed design allowed them to sail right up to shore and deliver armored vehicles or troops that could roll or walk right off the ship onto the beach.

The LST 393 was only restored and opened for public touring a few years ago, and now the main chamber in the center of the ship contains a great deal of wartime artifacts and informational exhibits about various aspects of the War.

Then you could take ladders up and down to explore all the various parts of the ship. This was really our favorite part--it made the ship touring experience particularly amazing as we were allowed to go inside the engine room, and to visit the galley, and the quarters for everyone from the captain to officers to those who slept in rows of cots slung one above the other.

I got really excited when I found out we could go and "steer" the ship. The ship is so large that Anna, Lizzy, and I lost Angel and Shannon for about a half hour since they decided to go explore the engine room while we were exploring the top deck.

We stayed on the ship right up until closing time at 5 o'clock--don't underestimate the amount of time you might want to spend here! We arrived at 3 and thought 2 hours would be plenty, but we could have easily stayed longer if we wanted to read more of the information.

There's something very thought provoking about walking the decks of a ship that served in a war that so shaped the history of our world--to think about the men who lived and worked on that ship and where they went and how their lives were different after the war. I highly recommend touring this ship to anyone who's in the area, it's well-worth the ticket price, even if you're not a student. Granted, I am the sort of person who's simply prone to really love any sort of educational experience or historical location, but this is exactly the sort of place you ought to visit and take your kids.

You may notice from the pictures that we all seem to be excessively well-dressed for an outing that involves climbing ladders and touring greasy engine rooms. The fact is, we were going swing dancing together later that evening, and had dressed with that event in mind. My dress wasn't really the best choice for greasy engine rooms...what we did notice was that the ship was actually hosting a swing dance on its upper deck on June 2nd, and we all wished we could have attended, only there was someone getting married on June 3rd so were a little too busy to drive across the state for a dance, even if that dance were on the deck of this amazing ship...

Do you enjoy learning about history? What is the coolest historical site you've ever visited?
04 July 2017

Fun with Family in the USA

I've been writing about various destinations we visited during our trip to the USA, but I feel it's time to underscore the fact that on this particular trip, destinations weren't really the point. They were a great part of the trip, to be sure, and lots of fun, but the point of the trip was


And, when you're lucky like we are, family who are also your best friends.

So, other than visiting cool destinations, our visit included:

Pulling a prank during a wedding rehearsal.

Posing exuberantly near lighthouses while Angel looks on skeptically.

Sister selfies at Chinese restaurants while Angel tries to photobomb.

Getting my photo taken "with" Red Green since I got so excited when he suddenly showed up on TV!

Grilling 15 lbs. of carne asada for tacos.


Lots of arm wrestling.

Cousins who really love each other.

Excessive amounts of arm wrestling.

Swing dancing, whenever we could fit it in.

Decorating my sister's car for the honeymoon. We put about 5 giant bags of wrapped candy all over the car, we figured they'd need honeymoon snacks to keep their energy up for the long drive to Arizona. Decorating wedding cars is a long-standing tradition in my family, but this was the first car that my generation, a whole contingent of cousins, got to decorate. 

Seeing my grandparents--these are the grandparents I lived with when I was in college--they were actually the first of the family to meet this friend named Angel who sometimes randomly came to visit during freshman year. Surprisingly, my friend named Angel who came over was not a girl. We visited my other grandparents too, but I didn't get a picture with both of them, unfortunately. It's surprisingly hard to get ALL the pictures you want!

As a family, laughing at Angel for ordering a hamburger at a restaurant famous for CHICKEN.

This video is a mixture of moments with our family...all of which seem
There are so many more precious moments with family that went unpictured:

-Angel and his brothers sitting around telling stories for an evening of all the fights they got into as kids and attempting stabbings and the like. (stabbings?!)

- Playing with my nephew, and we discovered that if he learned anything about his Aunt Rachel, it's that she says "Gentle" a lot. :P I'm from a family of girls, haha, there wasn't much rough-housing when I was growing up!

-Shopping trips at Kohl's with Mom and the sisters where we celebrated finding super-good deals on ultra-clearance prices.

-Early Sunday morning, after the wedding, about 20 family members from 3 generations sprawled all over the living room, half still in jammies, giggling over all sorts of stories of past pranks and shenanigans.

-Meeting Angel's former coworkers, one of whom told me, "We really, really miss him. You know, when some coworkers leave, you kind of...close the door behind them. But when others leave, there's something special missing that can never be replaced."

What fun have you had with your family lately?
02 July 2017

Bois Blanc Island

While in Michigan, Angel and I had the chance to visit my all-time favorite island: Bois Blanc, which is the lesser-known neighbor of Mackinac Island in Lake Huron.

If you want to visit this gorgeous island, usually the best way is to find a cabin that offers short-term rentals for a week or weekend in the summer. We have family with a cabin on the island who offered theirs to us for a few days, which definitely helped lure us to stay.

The typical way to get to the island is by riding the Kristen D., the ferry run by Plaunt Transportation. In the past, Angel and I have gone over with just bikes, since we were staying with relatives who already had brought a car to the island for getting around, but since we were going by ourselves this time, we brought a car over--it is a small island, but not small enough for navigation by foot and bicycle alone.

Now here's the real question: What is there to DO on Bois Blanc?

Well, to be honest, not much. The general outdoorsy activities--hike, fish, kayak, hunt for cool rocks, sit around a bonfire at night. There's a few places of interest for sightseeing--places that seem like they haven't changed a bit in the nearly 20 years since I first visited BBI: a one-room schoolhouse, the airport, the cemetery, the cross near the North Shore.

In a notebook I found in the cabin I read a description which nearly perfectly describes the allure of BBI for me:

That's it. A place where "life takes unto itself a deeper, sweeter, larger meaning than ever before." I know that sounds like exaggeration, but in my experience, it's the simple truth. It's a place for real rest and healing. Bois Blanc Island was the only place I wanted to be last fall after the miscarriage of our first baby--instead, we got to spend a few days of the week that she would have been due on the island, and for that I'm so grateful.

We had three nights and two full days. The first afternoon/evening we were there was sunny and we explored the cabin and the shoreline just a few steps from the back door. I took a "fashion blogger" photo showing off my borrowed cool-weather clothes. The Docs are not borrowed, they are back on their rightful owner's feet, although they currently live in Michigan since they aren't exactly the kind of shoes you want to wear in the tropics.

Our first morning, the water of the big lake was as still as glass, so we got out two kayaks and went out paddling. It was perfection. I got tired/lazy at one point so Angel tied my kayak to his out in the water and then paddled us both out to a large interesting rock that was sticking out of the lake some distance away. We whiled away a peaceful hour this way and eventually returned to shore. Angel had the job of stepping into the icy water to pull our kayaks in. This girl and these Doc Martens had no intentions of getting wet!

By the time we brought in our kayaks, it had started to rain, so we stayed indoors for a bit and read before deciding to go out exploring. I drove--I haven't gotten a lot of driving experience while living overseas, but where better to put in some miles than on an island with few inhabitants, dirt roads, and a 25 mph speed limit? Now that's my kind of driving!

We headed to Snake Island, which is more of a peninsula than an actual island, to do a little exploring and rock hunting. Angel had decided he wanted to find a Petoskey stone, which I'm pretty sure don't exist on Bois Blanc Island, but that didn't stop him from looking! Afterwards we headed to visit the cross at the North Shore and look for more rocks, but it was getting colder and windier by then so we didn't stay long.

We drove back to the cabin and enjoyed a peaceful evening eating warm soup, reading, and watching Netflix. After the first half of our trip to the US, this peaceful break was much needed! The next morning was sunny but chilly and we decided to go for a bike ride to Lake Mary, a small inland lake not too far from the cabin. It was so cold when we started riding that I wore socks on my hands to keep them a bit warmer (remember, we weren't very prepared for the weather of late spring in northern Michigan).

The bike excursion was followed by more rock hunting, a lunch outing to share a burger at Hawk's Landing, the small restaurant/store on the island ("share a burger" means I eat the french fries and he eats the burger, ha!).

The day passed in a perfection of being cuddled up in blankets reading books and wandering out to the lakeshore to enjoy the view in the evening. Once it got dark we were able to spot the light flashing from Lighthouse Point.

The next morning we swept the house and made sure everything was back in its proper place and reluctantly drove to the ferry dock--saying goodbye to the Sasquatch along the way...

BBI is the perfect place to stop and rest--to simply enjoy the beautiful world God made. It was good to spend just a few days there after 5 years without a visit, but I'm already longing to go back.

Where's your favorite place on earth?