24 May 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.
22 May 2017

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?
18 May 2017

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.
15 May 2017

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?
08 May 2017

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!