The Random Writings of Rachel: February 2017

Top 5 Favorite Travel Tools

Today I'm sharing with you all some of my go-to resources for planning travel. Apparently, I have travel planning on the brain due to our plans for this summer...



1. Airbnb

Other than staying with friends or family members, Airbnb is our very first go-to when looking for a place to stay while traveling. We've used it in 4 countries and have become very comfortable with the system--it's a great way to book places to stay that are very close to your target destination without having to pay the sometimes exorbitant prices of hotels. We first used it so that I could attend a conference in Indianapolis in 2013 and got a room within walking distance of the fancy conference hotel for $30 a night. We were hooked, and have used it in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Japan, and Malaysia! That up there is our referral link--if you sign up and book a place to stay after clicking through our link, you get a discount, and we do too. I am the worst at referral things--so MANY of our friends and family have booked trips using Airbnb after we first tried it out and have been vocally  recommending it for years...but nobody ever uses our referral link. Man, I oughta get some credit for how long I've been advertising them... ;)


This is a recent discovery, a recommendation from a fellow blogger after I announced our plans to travel to the USA. We'll be away for a month, and we need to have a tightly-packed schedule in order to get everything done that we'd like to do. Travefy, as used for individuals, is a cool way to record all of your itinerary plans in one place so that you can have all of your activities nicely organized by date. I've found it very intuitive to use, and when you're done putting in your flight and hotel info and all the info on the activities you want to do and the places you want to eat, before your trip, you can print out a nicely formatted PDF with everything in one place and in the proper order. It sure beats my old method, which involved collecting all the needed information for our trip and our schedule into one loooong draft email and then printing the email. Again, I've been recommending this site in real life as well, and now some of my family members are using it to plan their upcoming trips.


Well obviously. But I might have a slightly unusual way of using it. Because so often we've been traveling in locations where we don't have full internet access (such as China), or it's too risky to be bringing expensive electronics with us everywhere, I will often map out the places we plan to go in a day on Google maps and record all important info ahead of time and print out information about metro stops or trains, addresses, and street names before we even leave on our trip. I use the technology ahead of time so that we aren't reliant on it while traveling. This strategy has come in very handy multiple times--such as when we were in Japan. We expected to have Wifi access where we were staying, it was part of the booking, but there was some malfunction with the Wifi service and we weren't able to get any internet at the place where we slept for the first three nights of the trip. If I had been relying on being able to look up the train information I needed each day along the way, I would have been much more confused about where to go and what to do. But I had good old-fashioned papers with all of the directions from Google maps on how to get anywhere we wanted to go, and I had no need to access the internet during our stay.

4. Google Flights + Low-Cost Carriers + Kayak

The best advice I have for booking low cost flights is to to combine the strength of multiple search engines and tools in order to find the best deal for you. We can't and don't take advantage of many of the "flight hacks" techniques, because with our lifestyle, we can't take off at any time of year or without advance notice. Our travel is usually limited to specific times of year for a purpose, so last minute deals might not work. Also, where we live, we can't use our credit cards often, so there's no such thing as racking up credit card points, either. Low-cost carriers that have cheap flights but no baggage included are often a good option for us because we don't like to bring a lot of packed luggage when we travel We shared one carry-on and two normal/small backpacks for our 8-day trip to Japan, and we flew on AirAsia, which is often a good budget option for this part of the world. The multi-city itinerary tool on Kayak worked very good for us in order to get our 'layover vacation' in CA while en route to Texas. Mostly, my best advice is to not just look in one place, but to check out several different flight search tools, and find which one offers the best balance of location, price, layover, and extra features (luggage, on-flight entertainment, etc.) for your trip.

5. Travel Blogs

I'll be honest--when planning travel, I don't find the websites of city tourism bureaus to be all that helpful. Even Tripadvisor and physical books of things to do in certain areas aren't the most helpful for me. Whenever I'm researching a new destination, I search specifically for blogs written by real live humans about what they actually did in the area. I find the info to be much more practical and relatable--since I can usually get to know the sort of personality of the blogger behind the blog, I can know whether or not I would like the same things someone else likes. There have even been a few occasions where a travel blogger wrote about a certain experience being "boring," or being dissatisfied with their experience, but, based on what they wrote about the experience, I decided to go and visit, because I knew that with my personality and interests, I would likely find the experience very interesting, even though they didn't enjoy it. To me, that's a fascinating side of blogging--that someone might purposely decide to go and do something that you recommend NOT doing, because they know that they would probably enjoy it even if you didn't. 

And on that note, I'd thought I'd let you all know that I've put in some major improvements over on my ABOUT THE WRITER page--including awesome links to many of the destinations I've written about in various countries and states of the USA. If you're planning a trip to a country or a state we've visited, I hope my posts might be a helpful resource! Please check out the new and improved page either from my link right above or else from the static link that's always below my profile photo on the sidebar. Even if you're not planning travel, check out the page. This non-techie is so impressed with herself for getting photo links to line up in neat horizontal rows. AND they even change to a different image when you roll your mouse over them. That's so cool. I need some applause from fellow non-techies and some eye-rolls from website designers. :)

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What are your favorite tools to use when planning efficient, fun, and cost-effective travel? I've always got my ears open for more recommendations!

10K Race Recap - A Cautionary Tale About the Dangers of Peer Pressure

So....at the beginning of February, Angel signed up for a 10k race. That's a very normal thing for him to do. He was talking about how this race, because it was small, offered very good odds of winning lucky draw prizes, because there were a lot of prizes and participation in the race was capped at 200 participants.

Somehow, the allure of the possibility of winning a prize started to draw more and more people into signing up...first Rebekah...then MaryGrace...two of our friends...and finally, Dad signed up. It helped that the race was raising money for a charity that we thought was a pretty great cause. In the end, I signed up, too, mainly on the reasoning that if I was going to be there anyways, and everybody else was in the race, I might as well be doing it too, with the rest of them.

I'm telling you, this all happened because of peer pressure. Beware! It only took one Angel getting all excited about his upcoming race to somehow convince six of us to sign up to run it together with him.

It was the very first 10k for all six of us.

And none of us are runners, least of all me. I reasoned that to myself, I wouldn't call it a 10k race, I'd call it a "6 mile hike". Because I can do a six mile hike. No problem.


Which brings us up to race morning. At 6:10 a.m., we left the house, all six of us non-runners wondering "Why did we sign up for this?"

Most of us didn't really have appropriate race gear. I wore one of Angel's race shirts, too-big khaki shorts, and my circa-2010 Adidas tennis shoes. ;)


We were a bit giddy during the pre-race briefing...that explains Dad's photobomb, I guess. The sun was rising and it was almost time to start! Angel kept saying during the weeks before the race that he was intending to win 1st place and get the trophy. Now that it was race day...we'd have to see what would happen. The rest of us just had goals to finish before the 2 hr. cut off time. I planned to walk the whole race.

Because I don't run. I do six mile hikes.


The whole crew waiting at the back of the starting line! There were actually two races going on, one was an obstacle race, and none of us were doing the obstacle 10k, so we were all in the second heat to leave the starting line.



Mp3 player is his running must-have. Plus Asics Gel Kayanos and the "perfect" running shirt and shorts. Do you know how many hours I've sat on benches waiting in sportswear stores...


The race was 4 laps, with about a 3rd of each lap being along the seaside. I could not stop myself from smiling the whole time I was walking along the path by the sea. It's just beautiful--God's awesome creation. I love oceans and ships and being near the sea.


During-race selfie. Obviously, I was enjoying myself and my six mile hike quite a bit. And not taking it very seriously, either. Just walking along, watching the sun rise over the water...it was glorious. I wasn't in last place, either.

I saw Angel a lot during the race, due to the 4 laps, he lapped me multiple times and was at the finish line by the time I finished my 2nd lap. (hahahaha!). I ran to him and asked, "Did you place?" He said he got first place, and I cheered and kissed him. As I started running away for my 3rd lap, I asked, "What time did you get?"

He said, "Somewhere around 45."

I yelled back, "Wow! That's slow!" and bystanders started cracking up.

Granted...that was probably a strange conversation to overhear with no context...but considering that his last 10k was 40 min. on hills and this was a perfectly flat trail, I knew that was slow. After the race, Angel said that once he knew he was in front of everybody, he went into 'cruise mode' and didn't push to go faster. Obviously he's a 'compete against others' type, not a 'compete against yourself' type. Update: official time was 44 min. Still rather slow, given that his PR is 34 min (back when he was a younger man...).


Sarah and Mom were at the finish line cheering us on at every lap. Sarah made a "Go ANGEL!" sign which she held up every time he passed. When asked why she didn't make signs for any of the rest of us, she said, "Because Angel's the only one of you who's taking the race seriously."

She has a point.

When Dad came around for his final lap, Angel took off to run part of that lap with him (why? Why run again after winning the race?), and then went to a shop to buy drinks for all of us.

Of our crew, Dad finished next, followed by Rebekah, and then one of our friends who was running with us.


After that, I came in, welcomed by my cheering family and a bottle of 100Plus. Mom said, "Leave it to you to finish a 10k looking just like you did when you got started."

My patented strategy is just taking it easy. Six mile hike. I finished in about one hour and 40 minutes. hahaha! Not a bad hiking pace.


MaryGrace finished next, which meant that all of us made the 2 hour cut-off and got our medals! We had to stick around for the prize giving ceremony to see Angel win 1st place...besides, the most exciting part was the lucky draw...we hoped some of us would win prizes!



Probably the funniest part of the prize giving ceremony was when the emcee said, "I hope I get this name right...the winner of the men's 10k is....Angle!"

All of us in the crowd yelled, "Angel!!!!!" The real pronunciation.

And the emcee said when he went up to get his trophy, "You're too hairy to be an Angel."

???

Hilarious.


And then it was time for the lucky draw. What was really funny, and awesome, was that all seven of us won some sort of lucky draw prize! Angel won a jar of fancy cashew butter. MaryGrace won a voucher for a meal at a nice restaurant. Our friends won vouchers for a photoshoot. Dad and I both won 3 free exercise classes (we laughed so much because that was the prize we really DIDN'T want to win...another reason to exercise!). Rebekah got what was the most impressive prize in our group, a set of nice Sony headphones.

And then, in ironic tradition, we all grabbed breakfast at McD's before heading home, slightly sore and sleepy after our big morning. I remain staunch in my anti-McD's campain, but I had a Coke slushie, because even they can't ruin a Coke slushie. Plus...I was a bit thirsty after my hike.


Honestly, it was a really fun morning. Something about completing the race all together with our family--both literal family and friends-turned-family--made the whole morning really fun. I loved being outdoors and enjoying the long walk and the sunrise. The race organizers were all very cheerful and excited, and since our bibs had our names on them, were calling us by name, which was fun, but also confusing, because I would keep wondering, "How do you know me?" until I remembered the bib. Again and again.

Here's a short video of our race adventures! Footage taken while I'm in motion may not be the steadiest footage ever. Just warning you. It's still smoother than if Angel were on camera duty... :) You will get to hear Angel called "Angle" in real life.


I really enjoyed my first 10k, even though I signed up purely due to peer pressure. I'm not sure if I'll do it again at all, mostly because it probably doesn't make sense to sign up for races when you're really more of a hiking type...but it was honestly a really fun morning.

Have you ever or would you ever do a 10k? Or have you ever won one? I might have said, "Wow that's slow!" but I'm pretty proud of my 1st place winner!

Linking to What's New With You

Our Role Models


I can't think of the term "role models" without thinking of my parents.

My dad and mom are nearly opposite when it comes to their personalities. I am, by an odd trick of nature, a blend of both of their personalities. I have my mom's fiery passion paired with my dad's cautious attention to detail.  I'm more introverted, like my mom, but I'm also comfortable making a clown of myself on any sort of stage--and I get that from my dad. My looks come from my dad's side of the family and the ridiculously high value I place on freedom and free will come solidly from my mom's side.

I come by my similarities to my parents naturally, but Angel has no excuse. He and my mom have a scary amount in common between the two of them. But what's interesting is that, as a couple, we've really looked to them and their values in life as role models for the way we shape our own lives. Not that we do everything the same or have exactly the same values (my parents have absolutely no interest in minimalism and they laugh at our 'nice, clean, empty home'. In addition, they are both more mathematical, interested in mechanics and engineering and meetings that talk about numbers and strategies and policies. My interests are nearly always art- and language-based. No calculus required, and no boring meetings, either. ha!). But in several key areas, we have learned important lessons from their lives and have shaped our own lives based on what we've learned from them and their values:

1) Debt-free Living.
This was a value of my parents, and it's one that's been a priority of ours since before our marriage--we had a goal to get married debt-free and to stay that way. We have been grateful for the flexibility it offers us--to be free from the responsibility of a monthly payment on a debt. Sure, we don't really own much, and the lifestyle we have chosen for now isn't conducive to owning much in the first place, but we so appreciation the freedom of not owing anything.

2) You Cannot Be Too Generous.
If you ever start worrying about whether you're being too generous--stop worrying, because you're not. My mom's always said, "You can't out-give God." and I have found that to be infallibly true. We tend to view ourselves with the idea that we're most likely not being generous enough, and that helps direct our focus where it should be, on opportunities to love others.

3) "Go for the Life Experience."
This has been one family motto of ours ever since my dad had a choice between a temporary work assignment that would require the family to move to a new state, and a temporary work assignment that would allow the family to stay in the same house. Someone told him, "Go for the life experience!" so he decided to move the family for his work, and our lives were forever altered. When Angel and I were deciding whether or not to move to China for work, Dad said, "Go for the life experience!" and we did. Basically, when we have an opportunity for an experience that will impact our lives and our characters, we try to take it, rather than just sitting around on the safe and boring side of the fence.

4) Work Hard.
Laziness isn't tolerated in our family. But neither is busywork, staying busy but not actually accomplishing anything, encouraged. When you've finished working hard...

5) Have Adventures.
My family is known for being just a bit adventurous. One time Mom had a dream that the family went to Orlando--she told Dad about the dream, and the next morning, they left for Orlando. From Michigan. The week before Christmas. With a 5 year old, a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and a baby on the way. My parents are not scared of adventure and have always been the best example of not using your children as an excuse to not have adventures. You've probably noticed over the past few years that Angel and I have carried on the love of adventure into our own generation.

6) Family is Extremely Important.
Sibling relationships should be cherished. Your extended family should be a network of people who care about and take care of each other--there is no replacement for family. Take good care of them--do whatever it takes. And some friends eventually become an adopted part of that extended family, which just gives you more people to love.

We also have other role models. I think most of us paste together bits and pieces from people we've known and seen into the sort of person we want to be in our minds. I'd like to have the writing skills of C.S. Lewis, the hair of a mermaid, the preaching skills of the Apostle Paul, the mystery-analysis skills of Sherlock, and the island lifestyle of Gilligan.

But if what can be said at the end of my life is that I impacted my world like my parents did, and that I loved people as they did--I figure I'll be content with that.

Linking up with Brita for today's #LoveBlog prompt: Role Models

Our Past

1. When you met: September 2008

Angel's graduation, in case you couldn't tell by the robe. We're just friends, okay.

2. How did you meet? The oh-so-famous story. It was my first-ever day of college. I went to a fair where all the student clubs had tables. Angel was at the table promoting the Bible study club. He didn't talk to me, he was busy talking to some other guy all about the club and I snuck up to the table and wrote my email address down on the email list, because I knew I wanted to join the Bible study, I didn't need any convincing. I attended the first meeting of the Bible study that Friday, and then sometime the next week, Angel walked by my homework table, sat down for a little while, and told me I should be sure to come for the next Bible study meeting. He was a dutiful recruiter for Bible study. As everyone knows, we were mostly casual friends/Bible study associates for the first semester, and then, gradually, by second semester he was one of my best and closest friends at college. He was moving to Texas after graduation, so we just stayed in touch long-distance until he came to visit me for my sophomore year spring break and we became official at the end of March 2010, and then he left to go back to work the next day and we were long distance again and didn't see each other till July. We initially kept our relationship 'secret' from all of our mutual college friends until we were sure we were getting married (which wasn't very long), just because we didn't want to cause any drama. Nobody in our friend group suspected, not at all. Most were really surprised when we announced our engagement, seemingly out of the blue. We're very naturally the best of friends, so no one ever suspected anything else of us.


3. First date/Date you got engaged: We usually count these as one and the same. July 2, 2010 or something like that. It was Angel's 2nd full day in Malaysia. My parents and siblings dropped us off to get breakfast at a little roti shop, and afterwards I told Angel to walk down to the park, and I made him walk barefoot around an acupressure path. Cross-cultural experience, you know? Then he used my phone to call his parents and let them know he was safe and fine all the way in Malaysia. And then he got down on one knee and said, "I do love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, so will you marry me, Honey?" Then we walked home to my parents' house where everybody was ready to burst out the door to congratulate us and see the ring (yes, everybody knew we were going to get engaged that morning. If Mom and Dad hadn't taken all of them to McDonald's for breakfast they would have been stalking us around the park.).


5. Marriage anniversary: December 2010. Just two weeks after Angel moved back to Michigan to start his new job. It was assumed from the beginning that he would have to move in order for us to get married, since I still had a good chunk of college to finish up.

6. What is "your song"? "If I Stand" by Rich Mullins.


7. Do you remember the first movie you saw together? The very first movie was The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra at a friend's apartment with a big group of friends. The Blind Side was the first movie at the movie theater. We picked up my friend JB and the three of us saw it together. 

On Our Honeymoon

8. First road trip together? Our honeymoon! Six months after we got married, I was finally finished with Junior year, and he had worked at his job long enough to get PTO, so we hopped in the car and headed to Kentucky and Ohio. So fun.

Angel's surprise birthday party, 5 minutes after he arrived at my family's home in Malaysia. That's the sort of thing he's had to get used to.

9. Who was interested first? Angel. For sure. I went into college open to the idea of meeting a potential spouse sometime before I graduated, but I was 17 and not at all the type to have crushes. I just wanted friends so that I didn't feel totally alone after moving to the opposite side of the globe. Besides, I knew he had a girlfriend when I first met him, so, for me, Angel was automatically not even qualified to be a potential interest. Angel made his interest somewhat noticeable in second semester by parking his car next to mine everyday for an entire semester, always coming to study with me at my homework table (a freshman Chinese major and a senior nursing major are obvious study buddies, right?), inviting me to everything, joining the cast of the on-campus TV crew that I was part of, etc. He was always the one putting effort into finding me and joining the things I was a part of. However, he says he thought I was really weird when he first met me, and he didn't come to a hayride that I invited him, and the rest of the Bible study, to, about a month after I started going to college, because he'd never gone to a hayride before and thought it would be 'dumb.' Little did he know. Hayrides are awesome. 


Our "official" engagement photo. And I just realized that he still has that shirt and still wears it to work...impressive, considering nearly the years that have passed and the two international moves...

10. Who said I love you first? He did. But then he took it back. Sitcom worthy? Yes.  On a phone call, he said, "I love you....I mean, I care about you." less than a month after we were officially courting. It cracked me up. I was the first one to say it without taking it back, I wrote "I love you." as the sign-off in an email about two weeks before we got engaged and he wrote back to me super excited and was like, "I love you? You mean that? Wow! I've been wanting to tell you that but I was worried you'd get too scared and run away." It was hilariously cute. Recall, this is AFTER he had already had my engagement ring purchased for nearly two months. And AFTER we had already been talking about potential wedding dates. He's always said that up until we were legally married he was never sure if I was actually going to go through with it--he just couldn't believe he'd really caught me.

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So that's the 'past', which we have a little more of every year--as of next month we've been "Angel and Rachel" for 7 years! I often feel like I have absolutely no idea what the future holds for us. And that's because I don't. If you would have told me in in 2008 that I would marry the guy who led my Bible study, I wouldn't have believed you. If you would have told us as newlyweds that before our 4th anniversary we'd be living in China, we wouldn't have believed you either.  If you would have told me that while living in my beloved hometown in Malaysia we'd have the toughest and saddest season we've ever yet faced, I couldn't have believed that either. The future is impossible to predict. We do have dreams together--dreams of having children, of opening our own business--but at this point we don't know when or if or how or in what form our future will take place. Ideally, we can look back on the past seven awesome years of being together and say, all right, whatever the years to come may bring, as long as we can do it all together, they'll be good. If there's one thing we're good at, it's 'togetherness,' plain and simple.

Post idea c/o The Lady Okie. Linking up with #LoveBlog today.

USA Bucket List

Already I'm in the midst of scheduling out what we'll be doing and where we'll be going during our trip to the USA. What at first seemed like it would be a really long trip is quickly filling up to the brim once we've realized how much there is to do. Everything on this list does not include the fact that we'll be spending time visiting all sorts of family members and friends, tackling a bunch of paperwork tasks involved in living abroad, or the fact that I'm throwing a college/high school graduation open house for two of my sisters, and I'm the wedding planner/day-of-coordinator for my sister's wedding. All of that is assumed. (what have we gotten ourselves into?!) Also, I know 'bucket list' isn't quite the right term, but it sounds so much cooler than 'checklist', so I'm using it.




Food:

1. Joe T. Garcia's fajitas in Fort Worth
2. El Arriero's nachos al carbon in Grand Rapids
3. Arby's (you can judge me if you want. I'm not the type to say 'don't judge'. Feel free.)
4. Bongiorno's Pizza in Michigan (seriously the best pizza I've ever had in my life. We had it for our wedding rehearsal dinner. No regrets. I recommend it for all wedding rehearsal dinners.)
5. Five Guys
6. Some traditional Mexican taqueria food, there's good ones in both MI and TX
7. Conchas (for Angel only. I have never learned to like these.)
8. Hobo Pies (cooked over a bonfire on the farm)
9. Angel's grilled carne asada tacos.
10. Rosa's in TX (Angel says they have good margaritas. Maybe I can let him have one once every couple years...)
11. Panda Express (Angel's request. Seriously. After living in Asia three years eating amazing Chinese food all the time)
12. Some really classic American diner breakfast food.


Fun:

1. Mini-golfing
2. Disneyland/California Adventure (maybe just me by myself)
3. Bois Blanc Island
4. Riding bikes near the farm
5. Joshua Tree National Park
6. Take family photos
7. Tour Bureau of Engraving and Printing (money!) in Fort Worth
8. Dinosaur Valley State Park
9. Minor League Baseball Game
10. Swing Dancing
11. Visit our Alma Mater
12. See a Memorial Day Parade
13. Visit the lakeshore of at least one of the Great Lakes
14. See a beach in California
15. Take some new "Bear" photos
16. Visit Frankenmuth
17. See our old cat Morphine
18. Outdoor picnic
19. Hiking
20. Kayak/Boat of some kind
21. Arcade
22. Roller Skating

Shopping:

1. A new laptop
2. Some clothing basics--cropped leggings, camis, socks. A new swimsuit for me.
3. Asics Gel Kayanos for Angel--you can get them at least $30 cheaper in the USA. Angel was trying to excite my sympathy by showing me how worn his Asics are on the bottom, and I said, "Don't think of them as OLD running shoes, think of them as NEW racing flats." He wasn't amused.
4. Maybe a new pair of Chacos for me. After 5 years of hard use, mine are showing signs of weakness, although I think they still have some life in them yet.
5. Hair Stuff! Obviously. Stock up on blue, purple, pink, etc. haircolors. I need new haircut combs and maybe a new pair of leftie shears (yeah, try finding leftie shears on the side of the world where your students audibly gasp when you start writing on the whiteboard with your left hand), Feather razor blades.
6. School supplies--a new year of homeschool begins in August, so we'll be bringing back some school books for my little sisters. Plus we'll be keeping an eye out for teaching resources that would be fun and practical for Angel to use in his EFL classes.
7. Art/Sewing supplies. I feel like my list grows a little longer with each new technique I attempt. Michael's and Hobby Lobby coupons will be good thing. :) I'll try to pick up a variety of sewing patterns.

There will be no sleeping. As Mom always says, "You can sleep when you're dead."

Our family has a tradition. When people visit us, or when we go on trips, we'll make a list just like this. The cool thing is that our family treats the list like actual rules...not as mere guidelines. If you write it on the list, we'll make it happen. If it's not on the list, it's not gonna happen. Therefore--you better write it on the list!

So, tell me, what did I forget to put on my list? I'm sure it'll only get longer as the trip gets closer! I feel like I still need a few more activities for while we're in Texas...

What would be your must-do after being away from your birth country for 3 years?

The Wisdom in Allowing For Fun




In days that seem long past, outfit posts were a pretty regular feature on this blog. But life has been more serious in recent times and making time to take pretty photos in a pretty environment has just seemed too frivolous.

But is there anything really wrong with being frivolous once in a while? Frivolous as it might be, I think pretty clothes are fun. I like them a great deal. It's not that there's a good logical "reason" for outfit posts...I just like them. I have fun with getting dressed up and going out on little adventures with my Angel.

Therefore, while we could have said, with so many others, that we could just stay home and not do anything for Valentine's Day--that it would save money and be a more efficient use of the limited time in our schedule--I felt it was a bit wiser to shout "Hang efficiency!" and go out on a date. Dress up and curl my hair and pose in front of a fancy wall and take photos.

We went to the mall and split an appetizer and shared a dessert--a scoop of ice cream on top of a hot chocolate chip cookie served in a skillet is a BRILLIANT dessert idea. And then, to top things off, we split a smoothie bowl.


We went to the grocery store with a gift card we'd been given for Christmas and gleefully bought snacks, calculating so perfectly that we came within mere cents of the gift card amount. Yeah, we also did another errand or two while we were at the mall and picked up some photos my family had ordered to be printed, because maybe I'm not really all that serious about "hanging" efficiency after all...


But sometimes the wisest thing you can do is something that's a bit silly, like dressing up in a handmade skirt and a hand-me-down blouse and my great-grandmother's necklace and having your instagram husband snap photos like he did in the olden days when weekly dates and the frivolity of outfit posts were a regular thing. For me, this is fun. And if you don't let yourself do things for the sheer fun of it once in a while, your life will feel a bit out of balance. I'm not about being all selfish and millenial-esque...but I do think there's a lot of value in setting aside resources for having fun. And fun is different for everybody...for some people, it's watching Korean dramas for hours on end. For others, it's getting out of the house for any and every adventure. For some it's yummy food or time with friends.

Besides, when you add it all up, the appetizer, luxurious dessert, and smoothie bowl were less than $20, so it's not like a dinner date is nearly as 'costly' as the reputation it seems to have acquired for itself, right? And for a lovely Valentine's Day...it's totally worth it.

When do you shout "Hang efficiency!" and do something just because you enjoy doing it, not because it's actually needed or there's a strong logical reason to do so?

Linking up with Brita.

Why California?

When we announced our trip to visit the USA this summer, two of our destinations were obvious choices. Our primary family bases are in Michigan and Texas. The third destination wasn't quite such an obvious choice: Anaheim, California.

Michigan and Texas were 'must-dos' for us in visiting the USA, for obvious reasons. California is an extra...and here are the factors that added up in our decision to add such an 'extra' to our already complicated and full trip:

(Our Previous Layover Vacation in Oahu)

1. We're a fan of 'layover' vacations. My parents have used layovers successfully to visit France and England on layovers for no added flight costs. Angel and I had a 5-day layover in Oahu when we moved to China, essentially giving us a trip to Hawaii for no money spent on airplane fares. I knew from past experience that LAX is a very common stopping point when flying into the USA from Asia. Upon researching a variety of flight options, I was able to get us an arrival in LAX, a flight to Dallas, and a return flight to Malaysia leaving from Dallas for a total of $100 less per ticket than flying right into Dallas, and $300 dollars less per ticket than the best ticket for flying into Michigan (pro tip: if you want to be an American who lives in Asia, don't be from Michigan). This means our flight cost for adding a destination to our trip is -$200 of what it would have been if we'd simply just flown into Dallas. That 'extra' $200 will go a long way to the added cost of spending a few days in California.

(What Angel looked like when he lived in California, at least at the beginning.)

2. Although Angel, depending on his mood, either claims to be "from" Michigan (he moved there for college and came back for a pretty girl) or Texas (his parents moved while he was in college and he lived there for 1 year after graduation)....he's actually from California. He used to live and work biking distance from Disneyland. He still has relatives in the area but hasn't been back to visit since his last visit to California about 12 years ago. He's looking forward to seeing uncles and aunts and cousins and showing me the landmarks from the stories of his youth--his old home and school and the beach he always went body boarding at. He's made a special mention of taking me to visit his favorite panadería (bakery). He even looked it up on Google Earth to make sure it's still there. This must be some bakery. We will be staying with his aunt, which is another factor that will make the stopover more affordable.

(You can see on my face how excited I was about a real-life Pizza Planet, right? We didn't eat there, I was just happy it existed.)

3. Ever since visiting Walt Disney World and Hong Kong Disneyland in 2014...I have developed a gradual mission to visit all of the Disney parks worldwide. I've got seven down, and I might have the change to knock another two off the list since we're going to be in the area anyways. This is yet to be confirmed, as tickets to the parks in the USA are surprisingly expensive compared to tickets to the Asian parks. It's possible that just I will go to the Disney parks while Angel visits more of the people he knew growing up. We'll see...there's so much to do in Anaheim area that it's hard to figure out exactly how to allocate our few days...right now I think we'll definitely be visiting Joshua Tree National Park...but the rest of the itinerary is not really set.

I am definitely open to suggestions of things that are truly awesome to see and do in Anaheim area! If you've traveled around that part of the USA, let me know any advice or recommendations you have! I especially have no plans whatsoever for eating--I am imagining most of what we eat will either be from the grocery store or from Angel's favorite panadería...

Life Happenings Lately...

A few memories from recent weeks:


Mom and Dad went away for a day, and while they were gone, we somehow got on the topic of haircolor. MaryGrace has been wanting to get some bright color in her hair for a year or two, and Mom had recently said she could get it done as a birthday present in March. All of us reasoned that there's no real need to make it a birthday present when the net cost is free when big sis Rachel colors your hair using products from her stash...so we texted Mom our plan, got permission (it was sort of the, "I imagine you'll do it anyway..." sort of permission), and then spent a couple hours doing her hair that evening before our parents came home. Big change! We're all in love with the results!



My littlest sisters have a 'restaurant' called Lumiere's which involves them decorating the table and and cooking and serving a fine meal. It's popped up on several occasions before, but this year, for Christmas, they gave Mom and Dad and Angel and I coupons for a special evening at Lumiere's. These kids made homemade hummus and homemade from scratch yeast rolls for the bread course. There was a salad course, followed by a main course consisting of mashed potatoes, sauteed garlic green beans, and steak topped with grilled avocado slices. There was also dessert -- a choice between ice cream or fruit salad or both, not that anyone had room for dessert by that time. Basically, these kids are like #teenagergoals.


I drew an arm-less cartoon of our family, which disturbed many. When asked "Why?" I simply stated that art is meant to create more questions than it answers. ;-)


During Christmas break we made tiny donuts.


My USA-based sisters sent me a package full of fun and useful treats--I was so happy to get my lovely package!


With one of the patterns we got in the package, I taught Rebekah how to use patterns and a bit about garment construction as we spent the holiday weekend making a dress for her. She's already worn the finished dress to school but I don't have a picture of her in it yet.


One weekend, we got up and left the house before sunrise to go to the local hot air balloon festival. It was so fun watching all of the balloons get filled up and go up and down over the field. These guys were very friendly, and when they caught us staring at their balloon in admiration, they called us over and had me put Sarah up on the basket for a photo. She was a little nervous because the machine shooting fire towards the balloon wasn't too far above her head. Unlike her siblings, she has a healthy fear of fire. The rest of us have slight pyro tendencies and think fire is awesome...



The rooster balloon was the star of the show, given that it's now the "Year of the Rooster".

And, for the kids' Christmas present, we took them out to the new Science Center, which was really cool! Our favorite parts were probably the laser course and the classic arcade games--but I captured on camera Rebekah's death-defying vertical drop (she was the only one brave enough to try that!). It's it the first few seconds of this video:


What have you been up to lately?

Lack of Travel Experience + A Book Review

Here's a confession: I've never been to Mexico.

I married into a Mexican family, but I've never visited Angel's relatives in that country nor have I ever made it across the border. He's told me many stories of the times his high school coach used to drive the cross country team across the border into Mexico and have them run races, where they would win prizes of money, prizes that the coach would keep as his due after driving them all the way over there--and how this coach at least had the good sense to not allow any of the teens to drink the beer that was handed out freely at the finish lines of the races they ran. He talks about visiting his grandmother and grandfather...his grandmother is still living, and if Angel's to be believed, she's been 83 years old for as long as we've been married. I listen eagerly to Angel's tales of running races in Mexico and visiting his family there and waiting in the car for long hours during the border crossing...but I've never been.

Fellow blogger Meg Gonzalez invited me to read and review her YA novel that has just been published: Sketchy Tacos. I was very intrigued when I realized that the story surrounds a young woman, Mila, on her first trip to Mexico. She's taken multiple Spanish classes but still finds herself flustered and barely able to communicate when she first finds herself surrounded by the Mexican host family she comes to live with (boy--can I relate! The classroom just doesn't prepare you for real life!).


I read YA fiction pretty frequently. I like finding books that I can recommend to students...and sometimes, I just don't appreciate the overly serious tone of books meant for grown-ups. Perhaps I'm showing my age here, but in this novel, especially towards the beginning of the book, I found myself agreeing far more with Mila's parents and various adults than with Mila over her choices and future plans. I'm always talking to the characters in books I read and I found myself saying, "Hey, don't diss community college, student loans are no joke!" and "Teenage boys are terrible! All of them! Not worth it! Stay away! Stay away! Why aren't you listening to me?"

Anyways...that's me. I don't like it when people have to learn life lessons the hard way...but the vast majority of people have to learn from their own mistakes, and so does Mila. The good thing is, she is willing to learn.

This book is fun read, and a quick one if you're like me and read 100+ books in an average year (perhaps I should not admit that embarrassing statement. It's not my fault that the library is a 3 minute walk from my apartment, okay!).

Now to convince Angel to take me to Mexico one day so that I, like Mila, might have the chance to climb a Mayan pyramid with an intriguing young man at my side...that's my favorite scene in the book, but that's probably related to my well-documented desire for adventure.

Sketchy Tacos is available on Amazon and feel free to visit Meg's blog to congratulate her on the book's launch! I received an advance reader copy in order to write a review, and all opinions are my own (it would be pretty wrong to go around stealing other people's opinions, don't you think?).

Is there anywhere in the world that you really ought to have traveled by now but, for one reason or another, you've just never made it there? What's your favorite genre to read?

When is the Worst Time to Have a Plumbing Disaster?

After a highly scientific experiment, I have discovered the single worst time to experience a plumbing disaster.

The Day Before Chinese New Year.

Granted, this worst timing assumes that one is living in a place where a large portion of the population celebrates Chinese New Year. If you do not live in such a place, your results may vary.

It all started reasonably enough. Sometimes we lightheartedly adopt a few of the customs that we're surrounded by, and since pre-Chinese New Year spring cleaning is conscientiously done by most of our neighbors, we decided that we, too, ought to join in on the trend and deep clean our home.

On Thursday evening, I wasn't available, but I donated Angel to the cause of the clean-fest going on at my parents' home, and after theirs was all clean, on Friday, Angel and I set to work cleaning our home as soon as he got back from work. It was going great! I'd scrubbed the stovetop, swept the floors, taken down all the screens from the windows, washed mirrors, wiped down the metal bars on our windows. We were nearing completion when I went to get a bucket of water so I could wash the balcony.

When I was picking up the bucket  of water, I bumped it into the faucet. I am not exaggerating when I say I bumped it into the faucet. It was not a resounding whack from a hammer, nor did I swing a mallet at the faucet with all my might. I bumped the plastic edge of the bucket on the bottom of the faucet, and the faucet exploded off of the wall, a geyser of water exploding with it.

I immediately started screaming, "Angel!!! Emergency!!! Turn off the water to the house!!!!!!!!!!"

Obviously, instead of running straight for the main switch-off valve, he ran straight for the bathroom where I was to see what was the matter, and first attempted to see if there was a valve so that he could turn off the water to just that bathroom. As he was finding that mission unsuccessful, I, with great presence of mind, was holding up buckets to the sideways geyser, managing to fill three buckets before he gave up and turned off the water to the house. I figured that with the house water turned off, we may well have a need for buckets of water stored! Also, at this point, I suddenly realized that I was thirsty, I had to go to the bathroom, and I hadn't yet taken a shower that day. Nothing like the threat of having your water turned off to make you realize just how much you need it!


Once the water was no longer shooting out of the wall, my very first thought was: "Oh no. Chinese New Year is tomorrow." My heart sunk.

You see, everything shuts down for Chinese New Year. I was in the bakery last week and a lady wanted to order a cake for Jan. 31st. "Cannot!" they told her, "We'll still be closed for the new year!"

Angel was assessing the damage, trying to see if anything could be fixed. I was immediately trying to get in touch with my parents to see if they could put us in touch with their plumber--to see if we'd be able to get one to come out before the new year. Results of Angel's assessment showed that a plastic pipe had cracked completely through, allowing the faucet head to fall off the wall, leaving a hole in the wall with a cracked pipe. Results of my investigation yielded two numbers to plumbers.

Angel called the first. "It's Chinese New Year! The plumber cannot come."

Angel called the second. "Wrong number."

Angel went out to visit a hardware store to see if he could find anything to at least enact a temporary fix. I went and enlisted my sisters to help with cleaning the last of our screens (since we no longer had water to clean them with), and Sarah offered the idea of a cork to use as a stopper for the pipe if we couldn't get the pipe fixed.

When I returned to our house with Sarah and a cork from her collection of random things, Mom and Dad had arrived at our home to inspect the situation. Angel had also returned, very quickly, because both hardware stores he visited were closed. Because of Chinese New Year. Obviously.

Dad contacted our landlord to ask if they could see about getting us connected with a plumber. Meanwhile, Mom was trying Sarah's cork idea. The first cork didn't fit, but then we had a sparkling grape juice bottle with a plastic cork in it in the kitchen. Trying that one--it seemed to fit the pipe pretty well! However, when we turned on the water to normal pressure, it exploded out of the wall, soaking Mom, who was standing right in front of the cork, waiting to see if it would work.

Eventually, we discovered that with duct-taping the cork into the pipe, and only turning on our water pressure to about 40% of normal, we just had a slight leak instead of an explosion. Dad heard back from the landlords--nope, no plumbers available due to the New Year, but they had gotten us an appointment for a plumber on Wednesday, Feb. 1st, 5 Days later.


Never have I been so thankful for 40% water pressure than I was after envisioning days of no water at home. I was so grateful to be able to slowly wash dishes under a trickle, to brush my teeth, wait agonizing moments for my glass to fill from the filter. No, really, I was super happy! 40% water is WAY, WAY better than no water. Like, a million times better. All thanks to a 10 year old and her idea that you could stop up a pipe with a cork from a bottle. I was a bit less happy about taking cold showers since we didn't have enough water pressure for our water heater to kick on...but we can't have every luxury, can we?

On Wednesday, I eagerly awaited the plumber. He didn't come, but I eagerly awaited him. On Thursday, he did show up, reattached a faucet, and then said we couldn't turn our water on for another six hours while the glue dried. What's 6 hours after the past week?

I was babysitting on Thursday and had to tell the 6-year-old that she couldn't wash her hands because we had no water. "Oh," she nodded knowingly, "You need to pay the bill. Then they will turn on the water for you again."

Wisdom from the mouths of babes. Although not applicable in this exact situation.



I'm happy to report that our water situation is back to normal, now.

All that to say, do NOT, under any circumstances, have a plumbing emergency over the biggest (and longest) holiday in your town. And buckets of water and brittle pipes should never come into contact with each other. And we're really thankful for our awesome landlords who got us a plumber at the earliest possible date!

Have you ever have something break in your home at the worst possible time?

Moving Forward from Miscarriage

I'm finally at a point where I can really see how much progress there's been--how much better I am doing than a few months ago. Strangely, I realized this first on a bad evening. Something, I don't even remember what, had me spiraling back down into grief, but even as I sat on our bed with my heart aching I realized how far I've come--because now, I can feel this ache and this loss and the intensity of missing my little one and missing the innocent 'me' that existed before I lost her--but now I can feel that way while also knowing it's only for the moment--that I'll feel better tomorrow. There were a whole lot of weeks in which that aching, lonely heart was ever-present, my closest companion though it all, that there was no such thing as feeling better tomorrow.

{For those new here, this is the story of our loss in October}

Thank you, so, so much, to all the friends who have said to me even recently, all these months later--"I'm still praying for you guys." "I still think of you." You don't know how much that means--to know that some realize that for me, it's not all over and behind me and done with. It's still true. My baby's still gone just as much as she was that horrible day in the doctor's office. Several of you have been very thoughtful and have been gentle in the way you announced the news of your own pregnancies to me, and I am honored by your thoughtfulness. But do please know that for me, for these days--I find pregnancy announcements to be a very awesome thing. I think babies are miracles and every pregnancy announcement is a hopeful encouragement that in spite of how miraculous they are, they do come, for real.

But I'm doing a whole lot better than I was. Most of the time I'm okay, now. For weeks afterwards I felt like my creativity, my ability to host events, or to speak in front of people...that it was all gone. I actually stepped down from a few commitments and roles I'd originally chosen to do just because I couldn't trust myself to be able to speak as well or perform as well as I ought to. I mentioned to some that at the time I couldn't even imagine 2017, that I felt paralyzed at even the thought of making new plans for the year--new plans for a year I thought I would spend growing and playing with my precious baby. Here we are, months later, and I have been able to make new plans, and even to become excited about new plans for travel to the USA--right over the few weeks when my little baby should have been born. I am looking forward to our trip. There has been a few moments since we booked the trip, though, that my heart feels squeezed as I think that the only reason we're taking the trip at all is because the baby isn't here anymore--I'd trade the trip, I'd trade anything, if the baby I looked forward to last September was still growing along healthily just as she should have. But that's not an option I was given, so I'll choose the option of looking forward to seeing all the rest of the family members I love while I have the opportunity.

I'm feeling more safe about making commitments to being a part of community projects and stuff of that sort again. My constantly dreaming and scheming mind seems to have switched itself on again, and for that I am ever grateful. I didn't feel like 'me' without my dreams and schemes and big plans that Angel is always trying to tone down. I skip and jump and dance and play with the kids again when just months ago even walking and standing up straight felt like a burden.

There are still unexpected triggers sometimes. Last week I went back to the same hospital for the first time--not for me, but just to visit a friend in the hospital. I didn't think about anything ahead of time, but as we turned on to the streets closest to the hospital I found myself suddenly fighting off panic, realizing that I haven't seen these streets, I haven't seen that hospital since the day I can't bear to think about. My hands shook and I felt sick to my stomach. I very maturely handled the situation by closing my eyes so I wouldn't have to see the surroundings and reciting random nonsense poetry to myself (''Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe, all mimsy were the borogroves and the mome raths outgrabe..." no one else recites Lewis Carroll to distract themselves?) as Angel drove into that hateful parking lot and held my hand and walked me into that same horrid elevator (yes, I have irrational feelings toward the inanimate objects who appeared as stage props in my story of loss. Don't even ask what adjectives I would use to describe that ultrasound machine). By the time we arrived at the room to visit our friend I was able to be normal and okay and not appear to be a crazy person, we had a good visit, and after we left I high-fived myself for being able to go back to that hospital for the first time without crying.

Once since our loss, a neighbor randomly asked how come we've been married so long and have no children. I am fundamentally opposed to finding that question offensive--I'm not offended by it. But at the moment I utterly froze. I could respond with nothing at all. I was grateful for Angel right there to laugh it off and answer something...I have no idea what he even said. I was frozen. Someday I'll be able to answer that again. I'll figure it out. I'm just slow.

I'm an odd mix of personalities. I'm not the more spiritual kind of person who takes comfort from saying I can imagine my baby hanging out on Jesus' lap while He reads her stories or something of that sort. My take on heaven/life after death is that I have no idea what to expect in a practical, literal manner, but I trust God, He made this world and even with the terrible brokenness of this world, it's still really cool and pretty much downright amazing (the odd paradox of our world), and I figure I can trust Him to know what He's doing. No more tears and no more death and no more pain alone will be a big improvement. I'm also not the more scientific kind of personality who is comforted by the scientific fact that a certain percentage of pregnancies end in miscarriage and it's usually for a 'good reason' and scientifically it all makes sense. I understand the science, it just doesn't really cheer me up. I'm not a scientific/logic-based personality. I'm somewhere in the middle--for me, a loss like this has both scientific, physical reasons, and spiritual, eternal implications. And apparently I'm the kind of person who doesn't get over a miscarriage like it's no big deal. I have wished I was the sort of person who could, though. Who could honestly say, "I'm doing okay" long before now. I would have liked to be that person who can "take a lickin' and keep on tickin'." But I have learned that I'm not really that peaceful, calm, content-no-matter-what sort.

Finding my new place, my new role, my new 'me' through all of this has been weird. I'm a lighthearted, easily excited person, and I'm used to viewing my own life as awesome. I'm married to a prankster without a sensitive bone in his body. This sense of bereavement just seems like a wrong fit for us. And there's the contrasting facts that deep down inside, I secretly consider myself a "mom"...although in a very real way I have no reason to do so. I have basically zero shared experience with real moms--two pink lines, a few weeks of morning sickness and ramen cravings, one sonogram of a tiny spot, and love. That's the sum total of my experience of 'motherhood' and I know that it's not the definition of motherhood at all. And yet it was enough to change my 2016 and my 2017...maybe the rest of my years too, to some small extent. It's not like this is something I'll forget or I'll ever not be sad that it happened. But I've rejoined the land of the living and I'm grateful for the truth in what so many of you reminded me--it will get better.

I'm thankful for health and life and and Christmas vacation and cool people all around--on the internet and in real life. I'm thankful for that beloved husband of mine whose idea of counseling and comfort is to say, "I'm a great counselor! When you talk and cry, I sit there and I say NOTHING." It's true. He says nothing. But his non-scientific "Just let Rachel talk" approach seems to have worked (still, I'm not recommending that he pursue any mental health-related career paths anytime soon).

What I want to end with here is that God is faithful. He's not faithful because I got pregnant right away after the miscarriage (I didn't). He's not faithful because of of some even better kid I get to have in the future as long as I didn't have my first kid (that wouldn't really make any sense anyways). He's not faithful for any reason related to results--He's faithful because it's His inherent nature to be faithful. He couldn't be otherwise than faithful.

Daniel 3:16-18 "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

"even if He does not."

Linking to Brita.

Mountain Views in Langkawi - SkyCab Experience

Not long ago, we spent a few days in Langkawi with my parents in order to attend a conference. Being ourselves, though, we couldn't possibly go to Langkawi and just do official conference stuff--so we squeezed in some fun adventures, including a visit to what claims to be the steepest cable car in the world.


I myself have not measured the incline of cable car tracks in the world so I cannot attest to the truth of that statement, but I can say I've ridden lots of cable cars in a number of different countries and this is the only one that's ever made me uncomfortable in terms of height/steepness at which you are ascending.

Angel and I had already ridden the SkyCab a year ago, so, now, being obvious experts on the SkyCab experience, we made sure we arrived first thing at opening time on a weekday. Because of this, there was absolutely no line when we arrived and the four of us shared one gondola on the cable car with no strangers.

I achieved some pretty sweet photos of the cable path we were following by sticking my camera out a little open window in the top of the gondola...I'm not sure if that's a recommended practice for camera safety, but I was very impressed that my camera was able to capture the beautiful view even though I was just clicking the button, not able to see where exactly I was pointing it.



We ran into some pretty thick cloud cover that obscured half of the view from the middle station, and I found it very amusing to pose with the thick white "view" from that point, but we quickly re-boarded the cable car and headed up to the top station.


On a previous visit, Angel and I had visited the SkyBridge as well, but on this visit, we could see that part of the SkyBridge was under renovation, and we felt no need to pay the extra fee to walk on the bridge--but we enjoyed drinking in the views of Langkawi and surrounding islands from the top platforms. Thankfully, from this vantage, our views were unobscured, and while it was sunny, the altitude kept it from being too warm up there.


He's always protecting his fair skin from the sun...



SkyBridge Langkawi

A happy surprise was when Angel spotted chocolate-covered apples at the little cafe. I had spotted them, too, but I refused to believe that they were actually chocolate-covered apples until we had definitive proof. They made a great snack after the exertion of riding an extremely steep cable car all the way up a mountain.


On the way down, Dad recited facts about the strength and properties of steel and steel cables in order to calm Mom's nerves ( #nerd #mechanicalengineer ), and we really enjoyed a bird's eye view of distant waterfalls and boats in the ocean far below us.

After descending the mountain, we did the other too experiences included in the basic ticket we bought--SkyRex and SkyDome. Both are short, rather gimmicky, cheesy video/rides. What amused us is that vomiting is absolutely not permitted. I actually think this is a great rule and if we simply institute a complete ban on vomiting we'd have a more peaceful world with fewer upset stomachs. Now, how to get flu viruses and hormones and medicinal side effects and inner ears to agree with this proposal...


Have you ever ridden in a cable car?