19 December 2017

10 Things I Did in 2017 that I've Never Done Before

The title says it all. A look back on what was new and different in the year that is nearly done, including links throughout, so if you missed something earlier this year and want to hear the whole story, be sure to check out those posts!

1. Experienced the 2nd trimester of pregnancy and the beginning of the 3rd and all associated things--feel the baby move, find out if baby is a boy or a girl, see his cute face and hands and feet in an ultrasound, have people  squeal in glee over the size of my rapidly-expanding belly, have the opportunity to buy a crib. All things I am so very, very grateful for!

2. Go to California. A totally new state for me! Associated with this is meeting a lot of Angel's family I'd never met before, and going to Joshua Tree National Park, Disneyland, and Hollywood for the first time.

3. Published an illustrated children's book. The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger. Available for sale on Amazon, but although I've sold over 100 copies (woohoo! Met my initial sales goal!) I still have no reviews. If you did buy the book on Amazon and if you're feeling generous, would you mind, pretty please, leaving this newbie author a review for Christmas? 

4. Sewed with knit fabric. The mermaid-inspired halter dress I made for little Sarah's birthday party was adapted from a much-too-large-for-her stretchy knit skirt. I've always been scared of sewing with knits for some reason but this was a good first venture into the world of sewing with stretchy fabrics.

5. Purchased and broke a laptop within the same year. I've actually only owned three laptops in my life. One purchased before college in 2008. The one I'm typing on was purchased when Angel was about to start his Master's in 2012. And then, this summer I bought a Lenovo Yoga to replace my unreliable and very slow 5-year-old laptop...only to have the screen crack into pieces when I closed the laptop like a normal person less than six months later. Tears ensued. After a nearly two-month hassle, I think there is hope for getting the computer back into my home, January. I'll tell you the end of the story when I know it.

6. Hosted a virtual bridal shower that involved a real-life party. Gotta love the wonders of technology!

7. Went to Bois Blanc Island with Angel and no one else. I've been going to that island whenever I've had the opportunity for nearly as long as I can remember, but always with a big group of family--parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. For the first time ever, it was just the two of us, and I learned that I don't know my way around as well as I ought, but the island is still just as magical as ever.

8. Ran in a race. Now there's something I surely thought I'd never do! But I completed a 10k in February! Angel won 1st place, but that sort of thing is not new to 2017. I like that in the above photo, I'm wearing a shirt from one of Angel's half-marathons, which would make me look like a legit runner, except for the khaki shorts paired with it.

9. Read the entire Bible in a year.

10. Stayed in a hotel just half an hour from home AND ate a breakfast composed almost entirely of fruit dipped in a chocolate fountain. Possibly not the most impressive achievement, but for some reason a chocolate fountain breakfast made quite the impression on me this year.

First saw this theme for an end-of-year-post on Finding Ithaka last year and thought it was an awesome way to recap the year's interesting events!

What's something new you did this year?
14 December 2017

Reading through the Bible in a Year: 2017

A few days into 2017, I decided to read through the entire Bible before the end of the year. A few things went into this decision--I'd discovered The Bible Project sometime earlier, and had found their videos and posters to be really fun resources for Bible education. They had published a "read the Bible in a year" plan. I have read the entire Bible before, but not in the context of an orderly read-through within a relatively short timeframe, so I was intrigued. Always with Bible study, you end up having favorite parts that get re-read countless times till you could quote them in your sleep, while other parts of Scripture are neglected. I was also still very much grieving, and looking for a way to focus my Scriptural study beyond the sadness that weighed heavily on my everydays.

I decided to, and so I did. But of course, I didn't mention this little challenge for myself to anyone outside of the family here. For one thing, I tend to believe actually living out my faith is more important than talking/posting about practicing my faith (reasons why John B. Crist's "Christian Girl Instagram" video cracks. me. up.). I also don't think that daily devotions/Scripture reading is the answer for all that ails us (Instead, I think total transformation from the inside out, something that can only be accomplished by the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, IS the answer). Besides all that, very few goals that get set at the beginning of the year end up being the sort of goals that you're still following through with at the end of the year. Angel and my immediate family here knew, and my dad even took up the challenge for himself, which made it fun because we could often talk at the dinner table about the crazy story we read in the Old Testament today.

But now it's the end of the year, and I'm about to be starting Revelation, so at this point I think it's quite likely I'll will actually follow through with my goal. There's only a couple pages left. And not in a bragging or "Christian Girl Instagram" kind of way do I want to talk about this, but I do want to share what I've learned through this year-long project, for those who may be thinking of challenging themselves in a similar way.

To prepare for this challenge: I printed out the two pages of Bible reading plan offered on their website and laminated them so that they'd survive the year. I'm low-tech. I like real books and real paper. My dad had a totally different strategy, instead using the digital version of the reading plan on his phone.

What I learned from this year:

1. You have enough time for anything that you want to do seriously enough. I wasn't sure at the beginning of the year that I'd have the time to follow through with my goal--and considering that the year involved a month spent hopping around the USA followed by several months spent in a constant haze of napping and vomiting...and all the normal work and commitments and events of everyday life...never was keeping up with daily readings a problem. There were a handful of times that I read a couple days worth at once, like on the long airplane ride across the ocean, but in general, it was easier than I thought it would be to make the time for this. Much of the time, I was able to read the Bible during the early mornings while looking out over that view of the jungle from our apartment windows (pictured above)--but other days it was in the car, or airplane, or someone else's home, or any other random place, but it still got read.

2. It was REALLY cool to read through the entire Bible in an organized fashion within this relatively short timeframe. Most of the time, I think that the study style of doing in-depth studies of small parts of Scripture is more effective than simply reading huge chunks. But I loved getting the overarching view of the whole Bible, of reading all these very different books so close together that I could still vividly remember what I read in the books that came previously. The "big picture" of the Bible was really cool to see in this way.

3. I was reminded of some really crazy stories that are in the Bible--that I either never knew existed, didn't pay attention to the first time, or had completely forgotten about. Honestly, I find the Bible extremely amusing. The same Bible stories and the same Bible passages are re-told and re-preached so often that we sometimes forget about the less popular tales. I have a great appreciation for these lesser-known stories and comments in Scripture. Like the guy who was left-handed and killed a very fat king. How would you like to go down in the Bible for that? I'm left-handed, so maybe that's why I'm partial to that one.

4. This past year, a very good and exciting year, has also been one of fighting to choose not to let my emotions and worries take over.  The miscarriage of my first baby left me devastated, and pregnancy after miscarriage--something that still feels "too soon" to write about--has been a journey of daily choosing faith over fear. A journey of knowing that even though I truly cannot control what happens to me or to my child, I can choose to rest in the knowledge that God is still God, and that truth does not depend on my emotions. Having this daily journey through the Bible has been something I've looked forward to as I've sought to make that consistent choice of faith to be Spirit-led and not tossed about everyday circumstances and statistics. It's felt like an anchor of sorts that reminds me where I belong.

I'm very glad I spent this last year reading through the entirety of Scripture. I know that this practice certainly shaped my year for the better and showed me much that I have yet to fully learn. I didn't expect how much sheer fun I would have with this challenge, but it's been a delightful part of this past year, and a challenge that, for me, seemed to come at just the right time.
10 December 2017

DIY Christmas Cards for 2017

Y'all probably know by now that handmade Christmas cards are practically a given as far as I'm concerned. Here are last year's cards.

Over the past year, both my sister MaryGrace and I have experimented a bit with watercolor painting. She does it much more than I do--I suffer from the completely false perception that I should only be making art if there is a purpose for the art. I admire her ability to simply sit down and spend an evening painting and trying out new techniques even with no purpose or end goal for the art in mind. That is a characteristic much needed in a true artist!

Because of our fascination with watercolor, both the card that Angel and I send out and my parents' family card involved watercolor designs this year--and yet maintained very different styles--after all, we wouldn't want anyone to get the two cards mixed up, now would we?

Here's my card:

Definitely a minimalist design--stamping out the letters was really fun, though! I tried to get Mom to use the stamps on her cards but she preferred the look of handlettering. I also see the appeal. I made our cards on my own, but Angel got the task of writing personal letters in each one and addressing the envelopes.

Here are Mom and Dad's cards:

It was a true family project putting these cards together--MaryGrace painting the watercolor paper, Dad tracing and cutting out ornament shapes, Mom, Angel, and I handlettering the words for the cards and signing the inside once the cards got put together. No small task when you have over 200 cards to make...but we listened to Christmas songs while we worked and had a lot of fun accomplishing this project together!

And here's this year's family photo:

The four panels wrapped up with ribbon like a Christmas gift was Mom's vision. I didn't have any software that could easily accomplish this vision, so I turned over the job to my graphic designing brother, and it turned out awesome!

What kind of Christmas cards are you sending out this year?
07 December 2017

7th Anniversary Getaway + G Hotel Experience

We always try to do a quick trip for our anniversary each year--we're pretty flexible about it, after all, our 3rd anniversary trip actually took place the following March, but we appreciate the chance to get away.

Angel had wanted to do a repeat of last year's Pangkor Laut trip, but I wanted to stay even closer to home (here's the thing, apparently, I really, really don't like the idea of traveling while pregnant), so instead, we opted for a night at G Hotel in our own city.

Because of it's location between two shopping malls, we've walked through the lobby of G Hotel many times, and have joked about staying there, and actually being the people who are supposed to be in the lobby rather than the people who are using it as a shortcut between malls. I found a good price for Saturday night on our anniversary weekend, and we booked the hotel, and spent the next few weeks looking forward to a weekend of fun and relaxation together.

Saturday morning, Angel had to teach a class, so I worked on some projects at home and got ready and by 11 he was home and we left for the mall. All of the Christmas decorations are up for the season so we got to enjoy the festive look!

First on our agenda was an 11:35 showing of "Murder on the Orient Express."

While Angel bought the movie tickets, I went to the grocery store in the mall's basement because I was running low on purse candy (sucking on hard fruit-flavored candies is my magic nausea/sudden-not-feeling-well cure). A middle-aged man said "Hi, Sweetie" as I walked past him in the aisle which was unusual, but very quickly I met up with Angel again outside the theater and we were just in time for the beginning of the pre-movie commercials.

There are a LOT of commercials before movies at the theater here. We like to laugh at/be mystified by them. My current least favorite commercial is a McDonald's commercial full of close-ups of mouths biting into pieces of fried chicken, accompanied with loud chewing and crunching sounds. It's such an awful commercial I'm tempted to write to McDonald's to ask what they were thinking. I already detest McD's but I imagine watching such a commercial would cause even the most ardent Big Mac fan to commit to a healthier lifestyle.

"Murder on the Orient Express" was quite enjoyable. I've read every Hercule Poirot book that exists and have seen most of the older BBC TV adaptations of the various books. If you're a big stickler for the books, there are certainly a few scenes in this movie which feel jarring and not what you'd expect for certain characters. Doesn't a book reader always wish the film would stick a little closer to the book? But I was not disappointed, just surprised that I was in tears on a few occasions during the movie--somehow you feel the tragedy of the story more keenly in the movie than in the book. Overall, I really enjoyed the characters and the scenery and my beloved annoying Poirot in action once more.

By then it was 2 p.m. and time to check in to our hotel room, so we walked into the lobby. And here we met a road bump.

This is probably our fault, because we don't stay in hotels often enough to know what to expect, but it hadn't said anywhere on the room reservation that we'd paid for the month before that you needed to bring in passport copies and the original credit card that you paid for your room with. We do carry passport copies with us, but we don't carry our American credit cards on us because of the high incidence of petty theft and the general uselessness of American credit cards while on everyday errands. The front desk insisted that we needed to show the same card, or else we could pay for the room again on a different card and they would start putting in motion a refund on our original payment from last month. They couldn't say, however, how long a refund process might take, and I am very skeptical about refunds in this country (after it took us 110 days after canceling our internet service provider to finally be refunded our deposit) so we opted to drive home again and then back to the hotel in order to pick up our credit card. I'm very glad that we happened to be just a half-hour's drive from home, so this mistake only cost an hour of our day, but I think it would be wiser for the hotel to put a notice on their reservation slip that it's their policy that you must bring in the exact same credit card you paid for your reservation with.

Once we'd returned with the right card, check-in went smoothly and we found our room on the 9th floor.

The threatening skies made us glad we'd opted for an indoor getaway this time around. This region has had a very intense rainy season this year, one that's seemingly without end! The room had a very simple, modern design. Angel liked the big TV and I liked the comfy pillows, the complimentary snacks in the mini-fridge, and the bathroom amenities.

After exploring the room and the hotel for a bit, I was getting hungry and we headed out to the second mall. I got a smoothie bowl--it's teamwork when we get the bowl. Angel eats the pumpkin seeds and I eat the rest of the smoothie. Fair, right?

We spent some time in the various furniture stores in the mall. I've been on a quest toward a comfy couch for quite some time. We sat on a good number of couches and weighed pros and cons. There were some good sales going on but most of the couches weren't quite what I was looking for and the few that were...were too costly for me.

We decided to go back to the hotel to rest for a bit, and Angel slept while I watched Mythbusters. haha!

I'd written a to-do list for our anniversary, and one of the 'to-dos' was to find an anniversary souvenir. One of the lesser known facts about me is that although I'm rather minimalist, and I don't buy a lot of stuff, I really just enjoy shopping. And Angel and I really enjoy shopping quests together. We decided to go back to the first mall to continue our couch shopping quest. Although at this point, I expected that this shopping expedition would do nothing more than provide final confirmation that a couch with the specifications that I had and within the price range I had in mind did not exist in either mall.

I remembered that one store that we'd purchased organizing boxes from before had some furniture in the back, and suggested that we take a look there. When we were inside, we realized that they were having a big sale for the holiday weekend, and, lo and behold, they had a couple couches. One of them had removable cushions with removable covers. It had wide, padded arms that would allow you to cuddle up in the corner with a good book. It wasn't huge, but it was L-shaped and long enough to lie down on (at least for short people like us). In short, it was checking off every requirement on my list. The original price was in the same range of the other couches we'd been looking at that were too expensive, but this one was 50% off. A very friendly salesguy came to talk to us, and let us know that the sofa was actually an additional 10% off of the 50% off price, and they'd throw in a free matching ottoman, a free bottle of upholstery cleaner, and 6 free teddy bears (???? Free random things are fairly normal in sales here. Sometimes the match between free thing and the thing you buy is totally non-existent, but it's fun anyway). BUT! They didn't have any couches left in blue, my first choice for color. BUT! If we were willing to wait three weeks, they could order in a blue couch.

We were pretty much sold by that point, but this was the first store we'd visited in this mall, so we said we'd think about it and come back later. We went around to other stores, and even visited a bookstore where I found a book by a favorite author on 70% off clearance...but we had to come back for the couch. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Just the Christmas gift I've been wanting! And we'll always be able to remember that we bought this couch on our anniversary. A perfect, if rather large, "souvenir." I'll be sure to show you the couch once it arrives!

After all of that, I was definitely starting to feel tired from the big day, and hungry. I went to Chili's and ordered take-out mashed potatoes and Southwestern Egg Rolls (hey, baby wants what baby wants), and Angel went to McDonald's to get a take-out Big Mac (I guess even horrible commercials can't convince some people to give up their Big Macs). Livin' the life! We went back to our room completely pleased with our shopping success and very excited about our meals!

A Clint Eastwood movie about baseball was playing on TV, so we stayed up much later than our usual bedtime to watch the movie.

The next morning, we were up early to see the sunrise and head to the hotel's breakfast buffet. Our theory with breakfast buffets is always go early, before too many other people have had a chance to touch all the food. What I was most intrigued by was the presence of a chocolate fountain at the breakfast buffet. This is something I have never seen before. I tend to live by the motto "If there is a chocolate fountain, ignore all other food," so obviously I had three plates of chocolate-dipped fruit for breakfast. I will say, they had a rather abnormal selection of fruits for chocolate dipping--I've never had watermelon or honeydew with a chocolate fountain before, and I think I would have preferred the classics: strawberries, apples, and oranges, but I'm not complaining! I really enjoyed that chocolate fountain! Angel ate more like a normal person. I also ate a freshly-made omelet so my breakfast didn't entirely consist of chocolate and fruit.

Then we went back to our room to relax until we had to check out. I'd brought along some embroidery and a coloring book and journal--my ideal ways to spent a few hours with no responsibilities or obligations.

The hotel staff brought a celebratory cake to our room the night before--it seemed like too much to eat ourselves, so we ended up bringing it home and sharing it with my family on Sunday afternoon.

Always, when we're having fun together, the time passes all too quickly. Check out time arrived and we headed out. I wanted to make sure to take a photo with the "G" that was decorated like a reindeer for Christmas:

And then, in true married 7 years fashion, we stopped at the grocery store for milk, and headed home. I'm so glad that we took the time for this quick getaway. Our relationship is a gift, and no matter how full life may get at times, I always want to take time to simply have fun together and try new things. And learn new things about credit cards and hotel reservations. :)

{Linking up with What's New With You}
05 December 2017

Christmas Opinions

Today I'm joining in on a link-up to talk all about Christmas.

Because Christmas is just the best.

Christmas 2011, in Michigan

1. Real or fake tree?

Real trees have not often been a part of my life. A few years when I was very young and lived in the Michigan countryside, my Dad would cut one from the woods on the family property. Other than that, we've always had fake trees, or, more recently, "flat trees," due to the reasonable constraints of apartment life in Malaysia.

2. Favorite Christmas cookies?

I have two top favorites, one being a ginger cookie (not gingerbread, this is more the type that you dip in sugar and it crackles on top, a bit of a lighter flavor than actual gingerbread).

The second is "Andes Mint Surprise Cookies," an old family recipe, a cookie that I've never eaten from anyone else's kitchen than our own family kitchens, so I don't think it's a popular or well-known recipe, but it's very very good!

Christmas 2012, in Michigan

3. Home on Christmas morning or travel?

I'd rather travel than stay home alone on Christmas. Angel worked on Christmas for the first few years of of our marriage, so I'd usually drive myself across the state to spend Christmas with my grandparents and other relatives. In fact, I once had my car slide off the highway when it hit some sudden black ice when I was driving to their place for Christmas. If I wasn't actually going to be home alone, though, I'd rather be home for Christmas. 

4. Clear or colored lights?

Definitely clear lights. This is where Angel and I disagree, but it's okay because I'm right. 

5. Send Christmas cards?I

Always! I'll be revealing this year's homemade Christmas cards on the blog pretty soon.

6. Favorite Christmas present received?

I have many favorite gifts. A few stick out from childhood--like the giant Victorian Playmobile dollhouse. That was pretty awesome, a group gift for my siblings and I. The stockings we received were just about always my favorite part of Christmas--I really, really like candy and snacks and those were awesome.

My sister once secretly bought me a miniature pewter nativity scene I'd really liked when I saw it in the store. It's very tiny and I still have it, it's the perfect minimalist nativity scene for me, one of my most cherished possessions.

Angel once got me the new Pirates of the Caribbean DVD and included a bottle of rum in the package (I'm a staunch teetotaler), which cracked me up, and we kept the bottle of rum in the china cabinet for years until we moved away. I have no idea what happened to it then. He used to get me a chocolate orange every year and I looked forward to those so much! He's also gotten me some nice shoes and dresses for past Christmases.

That time Angel and I each gave the other a yoga ball for Christmas...the exact same one. One of those is the ball I'm sitting on to write this post all these years later so it wasn't that bad of a gift!

7. Favorite Christmas present given?

I've come up with some pretty good gift ideas over the years. Last year, I coordinated with my siblings to buy my mom a 7-stone anniversary band in honor of the 7 kids.

Last year, I also surprised Angel with a full-size bottle of his favorite cologne AND a new backpack for work (up until then, he'd used my old backpack from college. The inside dividers had all ripped and it was in embarrassing condition).

I like to do homemade gifts, hand-sewn items or cookies or the like. I once painted a picture of the lighthouse at Bois Blanc Island on a large rock for my grandparents because that island is a very special place for them, and it's still visibly displayed in their house, I'm always happy to visit and see that.

This is what happens when the company that makes your stockings goes out of business before the last two kids are born.

8. Stockings or no stockings?

Of course stockings! My grandma gave me a personalized stocking for my first birthday and I still have one. Angel never had one, but I found the perfect one for him at a thrift store in time for our second Christmas (our first one was when we'd been married three weeks and we hardly had furniture, let alone Christmas stuff! haha!) It can probably not be underestimated how much I love my favorite snacks, and all the little small surprises that a stocking can contain, so stockings are one of the things I really look forward to!

I think this was last year's Christmas?
9. Christmas PJs?

Never. Ever. I don't like PJs of any sort, and Christmas should ideally be celebrated while wearing a lovely holiday-themed dress, jewelry, and, if I lived anywhere other than the tropics, sparkly tights as well. And nicely styled hair. 

10. Favorite Christmas carol?

O Holy Night

11. Favorite holiday tradition?

Counting down to Christmas with some sort of Advent calendar each year. I also really loved attending Christmas Eve church services with candles and Christmas hymns, but our church here doesn't do that.

12. Early shopper or last minute?

Typically pretty early. I'm not a procrastinator.

Christmas 2013, in Texas

13. Favorite Christmas movie or show?

"The Santa Clause" and "It's a Wonderful Life"

14. Favorite holiday beverage?

Hot chocolate with marshmallows

15. Cookies and milk for Santa?

I've never in my life been able to take Santa even remotely seriously.

What are your Christmas opinions?
03 December 2017

Anniversary Photos: Year Seven


All combined into one high-tech collage. In clockwise order from top left: 2013, 2011, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010. Because apparently I don't believe in logical time-based order. You can look back at blog posts from past years to see the larger photos. 


And, now, presenting the latest in the series:


 Quite a year to coincidentally take our anniversary photos in April instead of November, huh?  Since these are from our first professional photo sitting since our wedding, I've got a few bonus shots this year:

One of these days, our wedding clothing may fade out of style...but today is not that day. Happy anniversary to my first and always love, my Angel!