The Random Writings of Rachel: 2017

For Rebekah's Graduation

{The speech I gave at Rebekah's {she's #5 among my siblings} high school graduation party. She's moving to the USA today to go to college, so if you think about it, pray for her and this gigantic transition, she's lived in Malaysia since she was 5.}

The problem with Rebekah is that she's just a little too much.
In a family of mostly obedient children, she's a little too rebellious.
At youth group, she's a little too mischievous, and I would know.
In Malaysia, she's a little too white, a little too American.
In America, she's a little too Malaysian.
She watches a few too many Korean dramas and puts one too many fake cockroaches in the pizza box at Awana.
For a woman, she's a little too tall, a little too outspoken, and a little too strong.
She's a little too young to be one of the "big kids" in our family, and a little too old to be one of the "little kids."
In a world where we're told that homeschoolers are socially awkward and bad at sports, she's a little too athletic and a little too friendly.
But she's still a little too homeschooled, isn't she?
She cares about the most overlooked in our society a little too much--to the point where she might even be a little too impolite in pointing out injustice to people who are a little too comfortable with their own lives.
And now she's leaving Malaysia a little too soon.
Rebekah, no matter where you go in life, I don't expect you'll find a place to fit in, but I do expect you to go on being a little too much.

One Day in Joshua Tree National Park

I am so glad we went to Joshua Tree while visiting LA/Anaheim. At first we weren't sure, because the drive was a bit far, but even 5 minutes into our visit, I would have said that the drive was completely worth it. Because, with the mountain scenery along the way, the drive is actually really awesome. We were pretty tired during our stay in California, and after 14 hours in the Disney parks the day before, I thought I'd nap in the car on the way, but I couldn't, because looking out the windows was too much fun.

It cost $25 for a day-entry for our car, and our first stop was Hidden Valley. Which feels very hidden indeed. Once you're inside, if you get off the trail, I feel like it would be very easy to get turned around--the trail is very natural, not obvious for most parts of the walk, which is very nice because it blends into the landscape, but also means you probably should pay attention if you want to make it back to your car without too many detours and turn-arounds. There were a few people in this part of the park, but much of the time on the trail, there were no other humans in view. It was an amazing first excursion into the desert, and before we were done with the trail, I told Angel that I had added Hidden Valley Trail at Joshua Tree to my bucket list--and would recommend it to be added to any list for people who like trails

(That's apparently my response to deserts)

We then went to the trail that leads to Barker's Dam, where we got to see a pool of water in the desert! And read a bit about the history of who created the dam. This was another short trail. We eventually decided that the theme of this day was all about short trails--we stopped lots of times, but didn't do any major hikes, just one mile trails.

After that, we went up to the Keys Lookout Point to check out the view--which was well worth checking out!

We then went in search of Arch Rock--we'd learned it was at the White Tanks campground stop, but Arch Rock itself isn't noted on the park map--the ranger at the gate said it was because there's not much day parking available so they don't want to encourage too many people stopping by who aren't staying in the campground. We did get a spot in the very small parking area, and began wandering in search of the Arch. It actually took us a while to find the right direction, because the campground was rather deserted--we eventually figured out which way to go by watching other people who were coming back from their visit to Arch Rock. When we got there, the area was completely deserted. Sitting under the Arch, I could just imagine how amazing it might be to camp there, and wake up early in the morning to sit under the Arch and read the Bible as morning turned into day. It was such a peaceful place--all I could hear was the wind...and Angel's comments as he climbed on the surrounding rocks.

We then drove down to the Cholla Cactus Garden, where I walked very cautiously because I did not want to tempt the "jumping cactus." I also learned that cholla  is pronounced choy-ya. Important info.

We got distracted by a red cactus that Angel spotted from the car and had to go in search of. In the video you can see how far we walked just to go look at a red cactus. Granted...most cacti are not red, at least, as far as I can tell from my first foray into the desert.

Our last stop in the park was Jumbo Rocks Campground...where the rocks were certainly worthy of their name! This was where we did the most rock climbing.

Here's some video from our day in Joshua Tree National Park. It was so fun--I think this is only the 2nd national park that we've been to together--how cool to experience the natural beauty of our country in this way! At the beginning, it's more scenic and "artistic" with weird music, but towards the end of the video I get rid of the music and you get to see us being our awkward selves and attempting some "shortcuts" that involve a bit of rock climbing.

Have you been to Joshua Tree? Are you putting it on your to-do list now?

Observations on Returning to the USA

Well, the first thing I did when we picked out our rental car was open the door to the driver's side (not where I was trying to go).

And then the first thing Angel did when driving out of the rental car lot was swing all the way over to the far side of the street to make a right hand turn (wrong side of the road).

We went to Walmart on our first morning and were open-mouthed with shock and giggling like we'd never seen anything like it before. Angel couldn't get over a $15 Coleman cooler (we have the ultra-cheap plain styrofoam cooler because real coolers are too expensive), I was stuck in the decongestant aisle for the longest time wondering how in the world are you supposed to choose a cold medicine when there's not only multiple varieties, but there's multiple brands of the same variety?! (Don't worry, dormant instincts kicked in and I picked up the cheapest, the store brand)

 LA and Southern California have a reputation for bad traffic and crazy driving situations...but we didn't come across anything that seemed bad in our 5 days of visiting everything we could visit in the area. Maybe it's hard to impress us with bad traffic after experiencing the reality that where we live, on a public holiday, it'll take nearly an hour just to leave the parking ramp at the mall...not to mention how long it'll take to actually drive home.

Everything was colder than I expected. I didn't think I needed to pack any chilly-weather clothes (that is, if I owned any), with a trip spent in California and Texas in May--Michigan might be chilly, but I could just borrow my sisters' clothes while I was there. California and Texas have a reputation for warm weather during much of the year, but since the warmest thing I brought was a denim jacket, I found myself rather chilly on a number of occasions. Apparently I seemed way too cold at Angel's relatives' house, where they kept bringing me sweaters and thick blankets and tried to convince me to take a blanket along with me for the road.

Wheat Chex. That wasn't even on my list of things to eat in America until I passed by it while at the grocery store with my mother-in-law. It's soooo good.

I cried inside an educational supply store because of the sheer quantity and variety of workbooks and educational supplies and teaching resources. Just imagining if we could simply walk into a store like that to get what we need right when we need it...that's crazy. Also, I'm pretty sure the three employees who asked me, "Can I help you, Ma'am?" as tears were running down my cheeks probably thought I was the crazy one.

Actually, this probably happens all over the world, but nobody here thinks we eat enough. Angel especially is eating all sorts of old favorites, but no matter how much we eat, loved ones try to feed us more. At one meal, Angel's uncle serving hamburgers, grilled chicken, and grilled shrimp, in addition to grilled veggies and rice and fruit.

Speed limits are a lot more important here. Where we live, speed limits don't matter so much due to traffic--typically, the speed limit is a lot higher than you can go anyways, because of the crowded roads, so there's no need to watch for speed limit signs. The limits aren't posted very often either, and on occasions when the roads are empty and everyone goes a lot faster, we've never seen anyone pulled over for speeding. Here, the roads are relatively so empty that Angel has to remember that speed is determined by the legal limit, not by the lack/quantity of cars on the road. We've also seen multiple people getting pulled over for speeding, just in the past few weeks.

Clothes with holes in them. What is up with this? All the t-shirts at the stores appear to have gaping holes in the backs and sides and shoulders, or open backs with just strips of material criss-crossed holding the two sides together.  I realize that this is summer...but still...I don't really like the look. I'm on the lookout for normal t-shirts, because in Malaysian weather, I'm not about to wear the sort of t-shirt that requires you to wear a second shirt just to cover up all the holes.

Big open spaces. I can't stop staring when we're driving past rolling fields. Living on a small island, we don't see a lot of open space.

The accents sound really different. First time I heard a Texan accent I nearly jumped--it's familiar, but I just haven't heard these accents in so long...

I'll write more about our travels later--I wanted to record the first impressions before they faded.

My Impractical Life Dreams

I have a few dreams in life that are rather impractical--or at least, there's not all that much I can do about achieving them. Fair warning, there will be mentions of both islands and pirates in this post, because I'm a very predictable person.

Island dreamin' in Thailand

1. Win a free stay at a fancy hotel. I have a very specific dream that I'd like to win a hotel stay. I don't know how that will happen because I don't often enter contests. Most of the time, I hardly even believe that real humans actually win contests or giveaways. Although winning has seemed more possible lately: When Angel won a bike in a lucky draw last year, the lucky draw prize given away right before that prize was a hotel stay. My sister won a hotel stay as the 6th place prize in a contest we recently entered. I won 5th place, and the prize was fancy all-natural shampoo. Still not a hotel.

I also won: lime green 'crocs', headphones, craisins, and hand soap. So...I won't need to buy soap and shampoo for a good long while, which is very happy, but it's not a hotel. I'm not sure the shoes really go with anything in my wardrobe...

2. Be named a Distinguished Young Alumnus of my college. You can qualify for this award up until you turn 40, and there's one chosen every year, which gives me about 15 years to distinguish myself enough, which sounds like enough time, but then again, I'm not very distinguishable, so I'm not sure the odds are in my favor.

3. Live on a remote island with basically nobody on it for a period of time. When I heard about Maatsuyker Island, it made me want to be a lighthouse keeper. I recently read The Light at Tern Rock out loud to the kids, and was completely unable to sympathize with the little boy in the book, who was really mad that he had to spend an extra two weeks living in a lighthouse on a tiny island instead of returning to the mainland. That kid just couldn't appreciate how rare it is to have the chance to live on a remote island. It wouldn't have to be a lighthouse. I also have fond feelings for the bamboo houses and hammocks on Gilligan's Island.

4. Be cast as Captain Jack Sparrow's daughter in a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. I just need a pirate name...

5. Be given an honorary PhD from a university. I'm not really at all sure how or why universities do such things, let's just say I think it's a bizarre but cool idea. 


These are the dreams I think are least likely to come true, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming. I never claimed to have my feet planted firmly on the ground, did I?

What's your most impractical dream in life?

Pre-Wedding Photoshoot Experience (7 Years Late)


Let me explain.

In this part of the world, "Pre-wedding" photoshoots are a rather normal or expected part of getting married. Couples book shoots months before their actual wedding, dress up in dresses and tuxes rented from the bridal studio, and spend a day with a photographer and a makeup artist taking ultra-glamorous photos, photos which may later be designed into large, artistic albums and printed onto huge posters to be displayed at the wedding reception.

This means that it's very common to attend a wedding reception here and get to page through the bride and groom's wedding photo album--this was at first an odd concept to those of us from the West, as we normally think of "wedding photos" as being taken at the actual wedding, so that only in the months to come you might be able to view the photos.

{At my friend's wedding last year, their photos and albums were displayed.}

However, we have come to really have fond feelings toward this tradition--I treasure the glamorous photos of my friends. After all, who wouldn't want to have some extra-special photos of you and your man when you were young and starry-eyed about the person you were about to marry?

Some couples really go all out for wedding photos--making travel plans and booking photoshoots overseas, taking photos in especially photogenic areas of Taiwan, Japan, or Korea. Others who aren't looking to invest nearly so much money into a photoshoot take photos locally--either at a variety of outdoor locations around the city, or at a studio.

All of this doesn't yet explain why, suddenly in April, we were visiting a studio that my family had previously used for family photos in order to discuss a photo package. Here's the situation: Angel suddenly decided he wanted nice, updated photos to be able to give to his relatives that we'll be meeting for the first time in many years in May. We'd always had it in the back of our minds, since before getting married, that maybe we'd do one of these wedding photoshoots someday, but the years went by and there was never really any motivation to spend the money and take the time to do it, but now we had some reason, and it was Angel who decided he really wanted to get photos done. The lady I sat down with initially offered a base one-day in studio package, which included 3 gowns and suits from their collection, makeup, hairstyles, along with 20 digital photos with full rights for sharing and printing. The package also included a 12"x12" photo album and a 16"x20" wall photo frame. When she showed me the frame--my eyes widened big time. 16 inches by 20 inches is gigantic. No...we didn't need a nearly life size (okay, I know that's an exaggeration...but it looked life size!) photo of ourselves to hang on the wall.

I responded that since these were really just anniversary photos, not pre-wedding photos, I was looking for a smaller package at a smaller price--not so much included, and in return, not so much to pay for. The bridal studio worked very well with that idea, offering suggestions--we ended up shrinking the framed photo to 6"x8" (much more to my taste!), shrinking the photo album size by half, and using just two outfits from their collection while including my original wedding dress and his original wedding suit as the third outfit. This shrunk the price to 3/4 of what we were initially quoted, which I was very happy with.

The next step was to go in for a "fitting." The sizes available for borrowed clothing do tend to be somewhat limited--as they stock dresses and coats that can be worn by the largest percentage of their customers. When I was first at the studio making arrangement for the photoshoot, Angel wasn't with me, and when I asked about coats for him, the saleslady asked, " he very big in size?" This made me laugh--they mostly deal with Malaysian customers, who on average are more petite, and seeing a Caucasian in their studio, it's pretty natural to assume that my other half might be a bit out of their size range. I assured the saleslady that Angel is not very big at all, he blends in well with the crowd here in Malaysia. :) The size range is definitely limited. I'm definitely taller than average for this part of the world and some of the dresses were borderline too short, or they would be if I wore heels--so I just went barefoot.

I didn't want any other white dresses since I would already be wearing my white dress, so that limited my selection to what they called "evening gowns". When we arrived for the fitting, Angel and I were told to dig right in to the racks to find what dresses I wanted to try. I eliminated quite a few right away for having too many bows (I don't like bows) or for being the wrong color. I ended up trying on 4 dresses.

The first two were a simple pink lacy dress and a fitted red gown with a dramatic train.

I was legitimately trying to keep these photos simple, not go over the top.

However, when you see yourself in a cute, simple pink lace dress...and then see yourself in a fitted one-shoulder red gown with a might find it impossible to say no to the over-the-top dress. I felt like a movie star.

The next pair of dresses went very much the same. It was a black maxi dress with some jewels around the collar...or a navy blue ballgown with silver embroidery all over the place.

It turns out that I lose all self control the minute you put me in a movie star dress. The ladies who laced up the dress were saying that they knew which one I'd choose instantly when I couldn't stop smiling, even before the dress was laced.

Then we chose Angel's coats, based on coordinating them with the dresses I'd picked, and we were sent out with a list of things to buy, which included a white shirt and black pants for Angel (yeah...apparently the man who lives in shorts and t-shirts doesn't own basic clothes for men like black dress pants and a white long-sleeved shirt) and eyelashes for me. I said I didn't want to wear fake eyelashes but the ladies at the bridal studio were a bit horrified by that suggestion. Eyelashes was on the list so finally I gave in.

Two days later, we showed up at 10:30 in the morning to start our day of photos. I got right into the makeup artist's chair...and was there for a looooong time. The makeup artist asked me if I ever wore makeup, probably because I was having such a hard time not blinking or keeping my eyes where she wanted them to be while she was doing my eye makeup. The eyebrows took a very long time. "My job is not easy, you know!" she said, "Your eyebrows are not easy!" This cracked me up. Next was my hair, which she was not impressed with. "You should have more hair. You hair is so little. If it were down to here (about 5 inches longer) I would be able to do so much more."

Oh, I was having fun! I tried to tell her that actually, for me, this hair is impressively long, because usually it's closer to chin length, but she was still not impressed. She was okay with the purple hair, though. Later, the photographer was asking, "Why is your hair purple?" and the makeup artist spoke up for me, "Haven't you heard of 'highlights' before?"

It was so much fun. I felt like a princess. I had brought my own jewelry and accessories--she let me wear my pearls with my wedding dress, but by the time I put on the red dress, she said the pearls had to go. I offered up a few suggestions of jewelry I had, but she didn't think they matched with the dress so she went to find some from the bridal studio's collection of accessories. She even brought out tiaras, but it turns out that while I can't resist a movie star dress, I can say no to a tiara when I think that's a little too over-the-top. That's better than I can say for Angel, who voted "Yes!" on the tiaras.

After getting dressed and getting my hair styled for each outfit, we were brought into the photography studio. There was a bit of a language barrier between us and the photographer, but mostly the photographers assistant just posed us by physically moving us into the locations where they wanted us to be, and sometimes he told us "Freestyle!" which meant we could pose however we wanted. I wanted happy, smiling photos rather than the serious, magazine-style glamorous photos I see in many pre-wedding shoots, so we made sure to let them know that. The studio itself was very small, but it was cool how many different backgrounds they could fit into one room--each wall of the room was a different sort of background.

The photo-taking experience was fun. Angel isn't very comfortable with being in front of a serious camera, but he was game for all of the different shots the photographer suggested. At one point, the photographer got up on a ladder to shoot down at us, which amused me greatly--just because it seems like the kind of thing you'd see in a movie scene, but here it was, happening in real life.

We finished up at 3:00, and got to head home. It was funny to still have my glamorous makeup and be back in my everyday clothes. Angel said we had to do something festive since I was still all dolled up, so we went out for dinner to our favorite local Indian food shop.

About 5 days later we went back to the shop to choose the 20 pictures we wanted to keep. They would then edit the photos for us. Because of my preferences, and because I've seen these photos done for others many times, I made sure to note a few things:

1) We wanted to look like ourselves, so I asked that our skin not be lightened or really retouched in the first place--"fair" skin is the preferred style over here, but I'm plenty pale enough.
2) I requested that no words be used in the design of our album. Putting "inspirational" or "romantic" quotes in English inside the albums is a common practice, however, often these quotes are not actually grammatically-correct or understandable English, so I knew I'd prefer the album to have no words at all.

Choosing just 20 photos was hard! Perhaps even a good test for the relationship. ;) There were a few photos in front of a bookshelf that I wasn't too fond of (I'm not a big fan of props just for the sake of props) but Angel really, really liked those...I think they appealed to his traditional side, so I agreed on a few with that background. On the plus side, my hair looks great!

Because we'd arranged to get just three digital files early to make prints to give to relatives, these are the only three photos I have. We'll get the rest later this summer after returning to Malaysia and picking up the album. With such a long gap of time, I imagine that my memories of the photos we actually chose will be somewhat hazy, so picking up the album will be a pleasant surprise!

I'm really glad we did this! The experience was very fun--like an extended date!--and as a person who really, really loves photos (have you seen the huge wall of photos that gradually grows with every new home I move into?), I know these photos will mean so much to us for years to come. Later on when my hair is gray, I can always look back on the days when it was purple! ;)

This is my tale of getting traditional "pre-wedding photos" done, from an American perspective. There's so much I appreciate about all the cultures I have ties to!

What's in My Carry-On for a Long-Haul Flight

In this case, we're talking about the small backpack carry-on, the one that goes under the seat and is accessible during said 13 hour flight.

Carry-On for Long Haul Flight

My larger carry-on is a rolling suitcase that goes in the overheard compartment and holds all of my clothes for this trip. When it comes to the backpack that goes under the seat, my biggest packing priorities are the following:

1. Important docs/electronics
2. Food
3. Entertainment

Carry-On for Long Haul Flight

Clockwise from left:

- Scarf to serve as a blanket in freezing airplanes and airports.
- Notebook. In this case, the purpose of the notebook is really just to keep photos and artwork that I'm bringing back to the USA completely flat to prevent it from getting bent. I couldn't think of a better strategy, and I didn't trust the suitcase.
-Headphones. It just so happens that I recently won these because I didn't own any before, but I think you need them if you want to listen to movies in the airplane. I really hope this airplane has movies. The last two 7+ hour flights I took had no movies, so I'm starting to feel like movies in the back of seats aren't a thing anymore. Are they still a thing? I really hope so.
-Camera. I still believe in actual cameras over cell phone cameras.
-Glasses and case. In the airports I have to wear my glasses to read the signs, but in the airplane I want to be comfortable and just store my glasses.
-Kindle with its charging cord. It's my dad's Kindle, but he doesn't use it often, so I steal it when traveling and download free books onto it. I much prefer real books, but I don't want to pack 5+ books for a trip, so this is better.
-Lots of pens. Including a blue and black pen for arrival forms, otherwise, I don't use such boring colors.
-GPS. We're renting a car as soon as we arrive and have no idea where we're going. Hopefully the GPS will point us in the right direction.
-Camera charging cord.

Carry-On for Long Haul Flight

-My little purse. Which has my wallet, phone, some meds, chapstick, tissues...and that's about it. I like little purses.
-Small clear plastic bag of liquid toiletries under 100 ml. I follow guidelines.
-LOTS of snacks. I'm not great at eating airplane or airport food. Snacks will help keep me busy. There was not much thought put into choosing these. It was basically, "What is on these grocery store shelves that I will actually eat?"
-My travel journal and my notebook. Writing is great entertainment.

Not pictured:
-I always keep my passport, boarding passes, and all itinerary and insurance information in an organized file
-My Bible.
-Phone charger
-Universal plug adapter so that I can actually plug in my charging cords in the USA.

So basically it's mostly food and books/notebooks. Sounds ideal, to me!

Hopefully that'll be enough to keep me fed and busy on the long flight from one side of the globe to the other! What do you bring with you on planes?

Why Did I Write a Children's Book?

Whoever said you can't interview yourself? In case it hasn't been overwhelmingly obvious, I've been a little overly excited about the release of The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger. In this flood of excitement, I decided to make a vlog...something I haven't done in quite a while.

In fact, I almost forgot how to just stare at a camera and talk to it, which explains the eyes darting all around the room while I'm chatting. Sorry about that. Apparently it's hard to stay focused while looking at a camera. Faces are easier to focus on. Maybe I should tape Angel's face to my camera. I'd started to hear back that some of those who ordered the book have already received their copy (yay for speedy mail service!!!)...and they had a few questions.

Fun Fact: I have mistakenly called my book, The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger, by the wrong name before. More than once. For some unknown reason, I occasionally refer to my own book as The Cactus Who Craved a Cucumber. Which would have been a healthier and more low-fat story, don't you think?

Linking up with Tayler, Autumn, and Charlene for Reading Roundup.

Reading Roundup

And linking up with Carolann!

My book can be purchased on Amazon! Do you have any questions about the book or the process involved in illustrating, formatting, and publishing it? I'll answer any questions in the comments, so make sure to come back and check for an answer!

Hosting a Virtual Bridal Shower

This weekend, we held a bridal shower for my soon-to-be-wed sister Lizzy--however, since Lizzy lives in the USA, and we live in Malaysia, this bridal shower was made possible by the power of technology!

Hosting a Virtual Bridal Shower

In our part of the globe, we invited many of Lizzy's friends and the ladies who had watched her grow up to come to spend an evening celebrating her and chatting with her about her love story and plans for marriage. MaryGrace was the primary baker--spending most of Friday making three kinds of cookies and biscuits and all sorts of yummy treats. As usual, I prepped games, decor, and favors. On Saturday, the day of the party, we spent the whole day at a charity fundraising event, only returning home an hour before the party was due to begin. Thankfully, Mom had been at home during the day and had time to prepare the last-minute fruit and veggie snacks.

Lizzy and Anna called in promptly at 7--which was 7 in the morning, their time!

As guests arrived, they were instructed first to guess how many chocolate kisses were in this silver box (they were allowed to shake the box, but not to open it!), then they had to take a little toy ring to wear, and were told that if they said wedding or bride, anyone could ask them to give up their ring.


By strange coincidence, one lady guessed the exact number of kisses in the box, and she was the one who didn't know that you were allowed to lift the box or shake it, she'd just guessed, and happened to guess "77"! She certainly earned the prize of taking the whole box of kisses home! Also funny, we asked Anna and Lizzy to guess the number of kisses based on looking at the box, which must have looked really small in the video, because they guessed "25" and "18." Most of the guests here who shook the box were in the 80-100 range.

After guessing the number of kisses, we asked our guests to grab a plate of food--we always have a lot of food at our parties! And then they could sit down and chat with Lizzy for a bit. She told her entire love story--how they met, how he pursued her, how he proposed, and all those sorts of moments, which was really nice because, given the distance, not all of the women in her community here have been able to hear many of the details of their relationship.

Of course, we had to show all of the lovely food to the bride, who was eating soup for breakfast, and didn't get to share in tasting our yummy treats!

We had bought presents online, and also given Maid-of-Honor Anna some errands to run so that Lizzy had gifts to open during the party, but we also really enjoyed playing games. Because bridal showers are not particularly common in this culture, this was the very first bridal shower some of the guests had ever gone to--and they mentioned that they particularly enjoyed the games!

 One game we played was a version of "Mustaches and Tiaras," which involved asking the bride and groom to answer a list of questions ahead of time, then reading out the questions along with just one of the answers. Guests had to guess who gave that answer, the bride or the groom, and vote by raising either the mustache or the tiara--or BOTH, if they thought that the bride and groom might have had the exact same answer.

Another game we played was "Who Has the Groom?" I printed off a free version of the game and put cards into envelopes. The version I printed off had a variety of celebrity faces pasted onto cartoon tuxes, with a blank tux where I could add a photo of the real groom's face. I added a little bit of interest by writing famous movie quotes related to love on the outside of the envelopes, so everyone could read out the quote from their envelope before opening it, and they could try to identify the quote. After each envelope was opened that contained a celebrity (Brad Pitt or Justin Bieber, etc) our whole room would burst out laughing, but Lizzy wouldn't know exactly what we were laughing about, so each time we'd hold up the card with the "groom" on it and ask if this was the guy--some of her NO!s were especially vehement. I will admit I was starting to get nervous and was actually wondering whether I'd remembered to put the card with Joseph's face on it in an envelope when we made it to the very last guest before the real groom actually appeared. I was relieved when he showed up. :P

We took some time to all share our favorite relationship advice--even the youngest guests, including Sarah. I think MaryGrace's advice was one of my favorites: "Remember the importance of surprising giving them cupcakes!"

Cupcakes are good.

Have you been to a bridal shower lately? We enjoyed ourselves, and it was a great way for Malaysia to get to have its own role in celebrating her upcoming wedding! There's always a bright side to technology!

Playing a Prank on Our Children

First of all, for those of you who saw the announcement post about my BOOK, The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger, and offered your congratulations and for those of you now waiting for the book to show up in your mailbox---you are AMAZING. Thank you, thank you so much for all of the encouragement and good cheer. This blog is such a happy place for me and I'm in awe of this amazing blog community. You rock.

The tiny cactus and I thank you.

If, however, you haven't yet heard all about the book yet, these are the steps you should take:

1) Read all about this quirky story in my announcement blog post
2) Next, you probably should consider buying the book on Amazon. When I shop, I always think, "Will I regret it if I don't buy this thing?" If the answer is "Yes, I'll regret it. I'll remember its name and face days from now and wish I had purchased it."...then I buy the thing. This book is one of those things.


Now, on to the real topic for today!

In our family, plans can change and decisions can be made at the speed of light.

To take one example, my parents have been saying for quite some time that they and my youngest sisters wouldn't be going back to the USA for my sister's wedding this coming June. It has nothing to do with anything about not supporting the wedding--it's just for reasons of practicality. We believe a marriage is a lot bigger than a wedding day, after all. And my family only visits America typically once every 4 years, and this wedding will be about 3 years since the latest time they'd been back, plus, at this season, they can't get enough time off of work for the longer trip that they would normally make (traveling to the USA is so difficult and so costly that when they do return after four years, they take a couple months in order to fit in as much as possible).

And morning, they bought a ticket for Dad to fly to America. So now, for sure, he'd be able to walk a daughter down the aisle for the very first time. And later that afternoon...they bought tickets for the 3 remaining family members to go back to the USA, too.

And then, we promptly lied about it and videotaped the baby sisters' reactions. That's what any normal person would do, right?

My favorite parts of the video are that Mom correctly predicts Sarah's reaction (a brave, stiff-upper-lipped "It's okay.") and the fact that when a trip for ice cream is announced, no one knows if they can trust Dad anymore.

So...this is kinda crazy, and not what anyone was expecting...but now there will be a whole-family reunion in America and we'll be able to get whole-family photos for the first time since being together in Cambodia a couple years ago! Everyone is so thrilled--most of all, my three siblings in the USA and the rest of our extended family who haven't seen any of us in a few years!

Do you take a long time to make big decisions, so is it a quick process for you? Have you ever played a prank on a preteen?

Introducing my Book: The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger

*drumroll please* 


I present before you today: 

The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger

Available for sale on Amazon and CreateSpace.

That's him. That rotund succulent is Ty, a cactus with big dreams and a single-minded devotion to burgers. In the words of the Amazon book description (which I wrote, so obviously it's the perfect description):

"All Ty wants is a hamburger...and lots of adventure to go with it! Join Ty as he learns to navigate the world he lives in: a world of monkeys, ants, rats, cockroaches, and even a cicak or two. For some, this world might seem a little scary, but not for Ty. His optimism and zest for life is unstoppable...just like his burger craving. These stories are meant to be read aloud to children of kindergarten-elementary age. Voracious young readers might want to read the stories for themselves. Each story is set in a little apartment in tropical Malaysia, an apartment that exists in real life. Does Ty exist in real life? I'll let you decide that for yourself."

If you enjoy my creative writing style--a unique mashup of bizarrely optimistic hopefulness paired with slightly cynical observations of the real world, you will like this book, regardless of age. It is designed as a children's book, but not as a baby or toddler book--unless your toddler likes stories with lots of words, even startlingly large words on occasion. The Cactus Who stories are entirely set in Malaysia, and all of the characters are creatures (or plants) that we see inside and around our home and apartment complex on a regular basis. I learned pretty early on in the illustration process that choosing to write stories in which geckos, cockroaches, starlings, and rats played key roles was perhaps not the best choice if I wanted "cute" or "pretty" characters...because it's basically impossible to make a cockroach look cute.  However, one of the first comments I received from an early reader was "I love the cockroaches!" That was a surprise. 

These are the real characters I stumble across in my life here--while the stories themselves are imaginary, all are based on what I imagine might really be happening right under our noses. I mean, are any of you up-to-date on all the cockroach gossip going on in your home?

The book is listed for sale at $12.49. This book contains 3 individual stories involving the same characters, which makes the book significantly longer than you might imagine the typical children's picture book to be. 

So, there it is. Lifelong dream achieved: I wrote and illustrated a book for children, and even better, it's a book giving a glimpse at life in tropical Malaysia. I'll be honest and say I'm pretty good and excited about it. Thanks to all of those who have cheered me on since I first tentatively announced this project! If you'd like, you can purchase The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger online--and if possible, I encourage you to leave reviews after you've read it, because I'd love to know what you think! The book also has a hashtag: #WhereIsTyTheCactus . Look at me, pretending like I'm social media savvy and cool enough to make hashtags. It's all a facade.

You guys are the real all-stars!

Life Lately...

Eating: Breakfast. Cereal. But I wish I was eating yesterday's breakfast, which was an orange with part of a dark chocolate Hershey's bar.
Reading: Still reading Introducing Major Theologians by Michael Reeves. It's very fascinating, but as you might imagine, it's not the quickest read, plus I just haven't had a whole lot of time for reading lately, so I'm not flying through this book as I do with most books. So far my favorite theologian he's talked about is Athanasius. John Calvin is coming up later, who I know won't be my favorite, but he reminds me of Calvin College, so I'll always have a soft spot for that guy.
Creating: A video filled with every picture of (my little sister) Rebekah ever to be shown at her graduation and goodbye party later this month. It's gonna be pretty funny, as this kid has a lot of personality and it shows through in her photos:

Watching… I haven't really watched any tv lately. I did watch Beauty and the Beast. Twice. After it actually came out a few weeks late over here. General consensus is that we like the "Beast's Song" best in this family, my sisters are always singing it these days--is it called "Evermore"?

Looking Forward To: Seeing so many family members I haven't seen in years in the USA. My book being released (hopefully next week!). Getting actual professional photos taken with Angel this weekend. This will be the first time since our wedding in 2010. I don't think there's such a need for professional photos in this age where normal digital cameras work pretty well for even clueless people like me and Angel...but at the same time I know I won't regret splurging on some fancy photos once in a while (a while in this case being 6.5 years). Actually, the idea was all Angel's--he wanted photos of us to give to the relatives we're going to see in California, since he hasn't been back in about ten years. I just hope the photographer tells us how to stand and how to smile--when I'm by myself, I have my go-to "fashion blogger" pose, but when it's the two of us, there are no guarantees. I mean, look at this: 

Planning: Our trip to the USA. Turns out that trips involving visiting many, many people and separate stays in three states, and sleeping in about 6 homes within those three states...require a bit of coordination. I'm also wondering how to convince myself to love flying because it's not my favorite but if I could find some strategy to convince myself it'll be really fun, that would be ideal. Maybe I'll use the standby "mom" trick of buying special snacks and activities that kids can only eat and play on the plane...except this time it's for myself, not for a child. 11 hours in one seat...
Hoping: That our apartment will be fixed soon. I love our home! And we have the best landlady of all time. We've been having minor leaking in our apartment due to a problematic water tank on the roof of the apt. complex since last July, which has gradually escalated in severity. What's awesome is that the building management is now doing something about it. What's not as awesome is that there's two buckets in my kitchen catching regular drips from the ceiling. And nothing can be stored inside my storage room because the damage is quite severe and the room never dries out. But honestly...Angel and I are pretty laid back, so I think we're the perfect people to be living here during this ongoing leaking issue. Also, I'm grateful the leaking is only in three rooms and hasn't affected the bedroom or living room. I am looking forward to not having buckets in my kitchen anymore, but considering that buckets catching drips from a leaky roof is something I've only previously seen in movies, it's very interesting to experience it in real life!
Are you pretty comfortable in front of the camera? Have you ever had to use buckets to catch drips from the ceiling in your home? What are you reading?

15 Things to Eat and Drink in Malaysia

This list is missing a number of better-known Malaysian dishes, because it's limited to the foods I actually eat and enjoy. There are some Malaysian favorites, such as durian or laksa or bak kut teh, which I've never really gotten the hang of.

1. Roti Canai - flatbread, dipped in dhal or curry. There are many variations of fillings in addition to plain old roti canai--my absolute favorite is roti telur bawang--an egg and onion filling. Heavenly!

2. Starfruit Juice - Fresh squeezed fruit juices are a common find at Malaysian night markets. If you want to get away from the predictably-delicious apple, orange, and pineapple juices, try starfruit. I really enjoy it, I think it has a slight 'green banana' sort of flavor to it.

3. Pancakes - There are a variety of Malaysian pancakes--apom is the usual word that designates 'pancake' on a street stall sign. Some are thick and soft and gooey, others are thin and crispy. Typically the pancakes are cooked on just one side and folded in half around the filling, which might consist of sugar and peanut crumbles, cooked egg, sweet corn, banana, etc.

4. Murtabak - pan-fried bread stuffed with fillings, most commonly a minced chicken, vegetable, and egg mixture. There are beef and vegetarian versions as well. They can be a little hit or miss--I've had many that happened to have fragments of bone mixed in with the chicken which makes for a semi-dangerous eating experience. But they are very yummy!

5. Char Koay Teow - Stir-fried Koay Teow noodles, usually with prawns and plenty of bean sprouts. Best eaten in Penang. Kuala Lumpur Char Koay Teow usually disappoints.

6. Dragonfruit Juice - The main perk of this juice is its intense hot pink flavor. It's simply fun to drink ultra-pink juice. The flavor is very light.

7. Mangosteen - A purple fruit with a very thick skin. The inside meat is whitish and the flavor vaguely reminds me of the flavor of rhubarb, but has a very soft and slimy texture.

8. Roti Tissue - Usually served as a tall, crispy cone, with sugary syrup dripping down the sides.

9. Chicken/Mutton/Fish Curry - Usually eaten with rice or bread. I'll be honest, I'm not much of a meat fan, but there's usually plenty of potatoes in these curries and I gobble those up! My friends know when Rachel's coming over, better add extra potatoes to the curry.

10. Veggie Dishes - Too many to list them all specifically, but if typical midwest veggie dishes like boiled green beans and marshmallow-topped carrots don't excite you, you have to try this. Sayur-sayuran literally means "vegetables," but will usually get you a dish of cabbage stir-fried with turmeric and mustard seeds. Also try kacang panjang (long green beans), and garlic baby bok choy, or other green leafy veggie dishes.

11. Teh Ais - Literally "Iced Tea", this is actually iced teh tarik, which is tea mixed with a copious amount of condensed milk through the "pulling" process, which involves the mixture being poured from one cup into another cup and stretched. It's hard to describe, but look up a teh tarik video on youtube and you'll understand this magic.

12. Curry Puffs - Little pastry pies, filled with either chicken curry or a potato curry--spicy and utterly heavenly.

13. Kebab Chicken - Everybody knows about tandoori chicken, but for those who prefer boneless chicken, kebab is a great alternative that's just as flavorful. Usually sold at the same shops that sell naan and tandoori, you can buy kebabs of chicken from slightly different marinades. My favorites are Chicken Tikka (red) and Malai Kebab (white).

14. Puri - A deep-fried bread that bubbles up into a sort of puff-ball, and then deflates as it cools. Usually eaten with a potato curry. One of my favorite shops sells puri 'sandwiches' of sorts--two pieces of puri wrapped around a generous dollop of potato curry, wrapped up in brown paper. Best. Breakfast. Ever.

15. Rambutan - These should be eaten simply for the sake of their ultra-cool looks. I mean, this "hairy" fruit looks like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. They have a pretty mild, sweet flavor.

Have you been to Malaysia? What food on this list would you like to try the most? Roti canai is what I crave most often when I'm away.

10k Race Recap (What Did He Win This Time?)

On Sunday Angel ran his 2nd 10k of the year. I reverted to my normal role of observer for this race.

Angel was pretty excited about this race--you can tell from how much he's talking in the video. Usually he's more on the quiet side when in front of the camera. :P

One little story from the race is that I walked past the finish line before any of the runners came back in, one of the race's organizers called out, "Hey, you're not running?"

I laughed and said, "No, running isn't really my thing."

He said, "I think I know your husband--he won the bike last year, right?"

Yes, yes he did.

Another one of the organizers complimented me on my hair. Pro tip: Don't color your hair purple if you don't like hair compliments. My hair is the natural messy wavy curls I've always had...but because it's purple, I get a lot of comments on it!

We did stay for the lucky draw, but this time, he didn't win a bike. He didn't win anything! But there was a great sense of camaraderie among all of the runners waiting to see if they might win a lucky draw prize. We were all holding our breaths as they read out the numbers one by one and all groaned together when we weren't picked. It was quite a fun race morning. The race organizer who remembered Angel from last year made extra-sure that Angel picked up a coffee and a chocolate bun from the post-race refreshment tables.

With a time of 41:14, it wasn't the fastest race he's run in the past year, but snagging 10th place in the Men's Open (about 16th place overall, because a few Veterans can in ahead of him) in a race with one thousand participants is no small feat! We had a fun morning at the park! Although...we've started to get a bit spoiled, and we tend to think Angel ought to win a trophy AND a lucky draw prize at every race. That might be asking too much, huh? ;)

Anyone else get some exercise in the past week? I'm feeling like a few rounds of "Just Dance" would be a fun way to get my heart rate up...but not too high up. Not 10k up.