Category Archives: family

Gifts and graphs: visualization and gift-giving

Many talents might be skills in disguise. For example, my sister Kathy has a flair for giving personal gifts, while I often struggle to think of what to give people. There’s no reason why I can’t gradually learn how to find just the right thing.

In The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam says that drawing and visual thinking are skills that can be developed, too. He breaks the process down into four parts: look, see, imagine, and show. While it can be hard to figure out how you can get better at visual thinking in general, you can think of ways to get better at observing the world, making sense of patterns, imagining how you’re going to organize the information, and showing your thoughts. Getting better at each of the parts helps you get better at the whole.

Look, see, imagine, and show. That can help me get better at giving gifts and writing cards, too.

  • Look: I can observe people more closely. I can also look at what stores sell more closely.
  • See: I can find patterns that indicate interest. I can see the intended purposes of things.
  • Imagine: I can imagine what people might like or find useful. I can imagine how things can help.
  • Show: I can show what I’ve learned through a gift and a card.

So I can use the same basic idea to improve two of the skills I’d like to work on! (And the same thing probably works for facilitation, too…)

As my mom pointed out, it’s not the gift, but the time and thought that accompanies it.

The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
Dan Roam

The extended version has a hard cover, colour highlights, and lots of new examples. Like!

(Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

Learning assertiveness

I’m the youngest of three sisters. Both of my older sisters are adventurous and outgoing. I’m quieter and more reflective. I’d rather curl up with pen and paper than go partying. As a result, I’ve received lots of teasing about being square, listened to lots of unsolicited advice, and had to deal with my own sister spiking my drink. (I didn’t get drunk, but we did argue about that.)

Moving halfway around the world turned out to be great for individuation. (Talking to specialists is a great way to find out what jargon to look for!) I know myself better, and I can stick up for myself.

It’s incredibly liberating to be able to say, “No, I’m not going to <insert activity here>.” Repeatedly, if necessary. I could hear my imaginary Get-It-Done Guy and E-Counsellor cheer me on. I figured that it was worth the experiment, and it was. =)

Assertion is a key life skill. You need to assert yourself in order to protect free time, establish boundaries, negotiate, and do many other things. I’m glad I have these opportunities to learn and practice assertiveness in a relatively safe environment. It’ll be interesting to see how else assertiveness will be useful in life!

Any thoughts or tips on assertiveness? =)

Sketch: Elephant love

My dad took me to Manila Zoo to show me Maali’s new enclosure. She’s one lucky elephant.

I fed her a few bananas from the safety of the viewing area. Then my dad gestured for me to walk across the rickety plank and into the new enclosure.

Right. Umm. Okay. So I got up close and personal with Maali.

“She’s a really big elephant,” I said. I’d never seen her that close. I held a banana out. Maali took it with her trunk and plopped it in her mouth.

“Look at the camera,” my dad said. I smiled at the camera nervously. Yes, I know my dad was watching Maali, and he’d keep me safe if something happened. But a 4-ton elephant can’t help but get respect.

More bananas. Happy elephant.

When we finished the bananas, I went back over the plank and behind the viewing bars.

My dad turned on the water compressor and directed a spray of water into Maali’s outstretched trunk. She stored water, then drank it. Then he passed the hose to me and told me to direct the water into Maali’s mouth so that the elephant could drink.

Maali raised her foot. My dad showed me how to use the spray to wash the caked dirt from the elephant’s feet. Then my dad gave Maali a shower.

What did I do during my Christmas vacation? I treated an elephant to a foot spa.


I hate flying

Long flights are the worst. New security restrictions and winter mechanical problems meant delays at the gate in the Pearson International Airport. That meant sprinting through the Detroit airport to catch my connection to Nagoya, a 14-hour flight on which I got stuck beside a talker—an American who told me he initially assumed I was some teenager on a trip with her parents and who, upon finding out I was in IT, showed me a picture of a pile of computers he’d refreshed and tried to impress me with the certs he was going for: CCNA, MSCE, etc. “ASP – you know Active Server Pages?”

I was polite. I made conversation. And I made it very clear that I outgeeked him, in the hope that would get him to stop trying to namedrop technology or military jargon.

I hate flying. I hate the expense of airfare and the time commitment of a trip. I hate the rigmarole of airport security. I hate the paperwork and queues. I hate lugging heavy bags around. Why did my work laptop have to be so big?

As the flight from Nagoya to Manila touched down, the passengers around me broke into applause. Filipinos, glad to be home.

Home. I slipped back into it like a second skin. Home. Family; long-running in-jokes with friends; conversations in Tagalog; even ads that I can relate to. Even my cat remembers our old routines.

How strange and wonderful it is to have two homes, and to know what I take for granted in either.


Christmas gift-giving tends to be a little stressful for me. My defence used to be that holidays shouldn’t be about gifts unless Santa Claus is involved. Those adopt-a-family gift drives at work? It sounds like a good idea, but I feel uneasy about requests for Xbox games or branded clothes.

I’m working on that, though. I do get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I’m surprised by a gift, and I’m coming to realize that gift-giving is a neat little way to build relationships.

I’d still prefer it to be spread out over the year, though.

When I come across something I think someone will enjoy, I can’t wait to give it to them. For example, I could have stashed the micro-fleece sheets somewhere in the house, waiting until Christmas to give them. I decided more days of warmth were better than more days of anticipation. (Okay, so that was also a self-serving gift, but you get the point. ;) )

In addition to my impatience, I find it difficult to think of things to give people. I don’t shop recreationally (easier to avoid temptations and practice frugality!), so good deals or interesting items seldom cross my radar. My parents and sisters can buy whatever they want.

I don’t really need anything, and I like saving up for experiences and tools. What I really want for Christmas: Shared time. Shared fun. Donations to philanthropic organizations. More people sharing what they know.

My middle sister and her fiance, on the other hand, have a real flair for gift-giving. They think about all the staff at the office and all the people they meet on trips, and they come up with wonderfully individual gifts for each.

Me, I’m glad that my middle sister and my mom sent me their wishlists. I don’t mind learning about gift-giving using training wheels. I’d like to get better at noticing people’s interests. I suspect that my gift-giving will involve horrible puns. I’m giving my eldest sister and her husband a gift for adventurous people who’ve been there, done that. I’m giving my dad a gift related to passion and energy.

I’d rather make things for people than buy people things, though. I’d rather give people jams and jellies, cakes and cookies, biscuits and bars. I want to learn how to sew organizers, make scarves, duct-tape wallets.

So we’ll see how this gift-giving thing works out. Has anyone deliberately tried learning this? Any thoughts?

Learning about my grandmother

When I told my mom about the hooded fleece bathrobe I’d made for W-, she laughed and told me a story about how her mother used to make her dresses. My mom would beg my grandmother to make some time to work on the dress, which was low priority compared to running a business and keeping everything sorted. Sometimes that meant finishing the dress the day of the party, I guess!

My mom also told me a story about how my grandmother bought my mom a new dress. When the top part was too worn to wear, my grandmother replaced the top, keeping the skirt. When the skirt part ended up being too worn, my grandmother replaced the bottom. My mom asked if that meant she had a new dress.

I’d never met my maternal grandmother, but it was great hearing stories about her, and seeing my mom smile as she told stories. =) Just as I like coming across things or stories that remind me of my parents, my mom probably enjoys hearing about my newly-discovered hobbies and thinking about her own parents. =)

I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy sewing. I like making things I can wear, and W- and J- humor me occasionally by asking me to make things for them and enjoying things I’ve been experimented with. ;)

I wonder what other common hobbies I’ll discover along the way…