The Random Writings of Rachel: April 2017

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

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 someone...like 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 then...suddenly...one 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* 

Ahem.

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.

Trying Something New

When was the last time you tried something new?

It doesn't have to be something big or dramatic, but it could be. It could be smaller--a brand-new restaurant or trying out a different way to exercise.

This past week, I mentioned on Instagram that Angel and I were playing "Mom and Dad" for my two youngest sisters while my parents were in Korea with Rebekah. They were having all sorts of new experiences--neither Mom nor Rebekah had visited Korea before, so everything was new to them!

{Mom and Rebekah at Changdeokgung Palace}

We decided to fit a few new experiences into our week at home! Who ever said you had to leave town to try something you've never tried before?

First of all: We took a batik class!



I love and admire the batik artists of Malaysia--batik designs are created in a multi-step process in which designs are applied to the fabric with wax, which blocks dyes from affecting parts of the fabric, and then the fabric is dyed or painted, and the wax is removed from the fabric, and then the process is often repeated to layer different designs and different shades. I've worn batik fabrics and I've watched them being made, but this was my first time attempting to paint one on my own. Check out instagram to see what my pattern looked like when it was nearly finished...because apparently I haven't snapped a photo of the finished product yet.




The second thing we tried that was totally new-to-me was making homemade donuts! MaryGrace got a donut cookbook for her birthday a few weeks ago.

We decided to attempt real, legit cinnamon-sugar coated cake donuts. Deep-fried and everything.



I was surprised to discover a ruler in the kitchen, a ruler they used to make sure that the donuts were 1 cm in thickness--because the recipe book said they should be 1 cm in thickness. As someone who isn't normally very careful with recipes herself, I was impressed.

And the ruler worked! Or something did! Our oil was just the right temperature. The cake donuts ended up with that nice crunchy outside but were fluffy and fully-cooked inside.



Once coated in cinnamon sugar, they looked like real donuts! Really, really, real!


I mean, sure, it's slightly more oval than circular, but you cannot tell me that that donut isn't legit. They sure tasted legit, too.

What's New With You

So, what's the last completely new thing that you've done? I'd love to hear...it might give me some new ideas!