Category Archives: family

Stepping sideways into Alternate Universe Sacha

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My parents were having problems with their company’s recent web hosting migration. No e-mail was getting forwarded to the e-mail accounts that they had set up previously, and the two blogs that were separate from the main site didn’t get transferred either. My mom asked me to help restore the blogs. They needed someone to sort out the email and other system administration issues, so I suggested that she find a local system administrator who can also take care of upgrading WordPress and other sites as needed.

I don’t particularly enjoy system administration. I feel terrible when I make a mistake on my own server, and I don’t want to be on the hook for anyone else’s. I’ve done some system administration work as part of web development, since I was usually the person with the most Linux experience in my teams. Setting up is easy, but maintenance could be fiddly, and keeping up with security updates can be no fun. (I’m looking at you, Rails.) Add to that the time zone differences and the inability to just lean over and fix things, and, well…

So I was feeling conflicted and unfilial about wanting to help my mom but not wanting to commit to being the company sysadmin. The problem needed to be fixed, though, and they probably wouldn’t find a good system administrator in time.

As an experiment, I tried imagining an alternate universe in which I would be comfortable making those changes and being The IT Guy (or Gal, in this case). If I lived near my parents, I would help them, of course. I do that for friends and family here. If I had the routines for managing many sites, then it would be easy to maintain another site and another company. I can imagine that for Alternate Universe Sacha, this kind of work might even be easy and enjoyable.

Having imagined this Alternate Universe Sacha, I tried “stepping sideways” into that role. Sure, I was half a world away, but I could mentally move the house to my hometown. Time zone differences and distance can make it difficult to communicate because it’s hard to tell how busy someone is and when you get the information you need, but it actually worked out well because I worked on it in the evening while people were at work back home. If I stopped worrying about the possibilities of messing things up worse and instead took the same methodical approach that I would use if I had a lot of experience in this (and I guess I do, compared to many people), then it would actually be pretty straightforward. Besides, I reassured myself, everything will turn out all right. Even if I messed things up, family’s still family. For gaining experience, it’s hard to find a more forgiving client.

It turned out to be straightforward, although it did involve a lot of clicking around. E-mail works again, and the blogs are both back up. Not only that, I now have an alternate universe Sacha whom I can think of myself as if I need to do more system administration work. I’m using that idea to make it easier for me set up proper maintenance for my personal sites as well. If I was an experienced and constantly improving system administrator who enjoyed doing this, how would I do this? It’s no substitute for actual experience–I’ll still miss things people learned the hard way–but it helps me reach that point of learning what I need to learn the hard way.

I wonder what alternate universe selves I might play with in the future. Do you use any?

It’s my dad’s 65th birthday today

It’s my dad’s 65th birthday today. He’s having a party with sixty-five guests, and from the pictures that people were posting on Facebook, they were having a lot of fun. =)

I wish I could’ve been there. My dad is the sort of person who’s best in person. He has all these wild stories and projects. Besides, I think Skype makes him sad. I think Skype makes my mom sad too, but she puts up with it better, and so she tells me stories about what she and my dad have been up to.

Fortunately, my dad loves taking pictures, so I can catch glimpses of his life through Facebook. He writes well, too. You can hear his voice when he writes. And other people like telling stories about him and taking pictures with him, so it’s very easy to keep up with his adventures.

W- is at work and J- is at school. It’s a good thing I blocked off my calendar and left myself some space to breathe. I cuddled up with the cats and got through another bout of homesickness. Well, mostly. It’s hard to deal with this. I’m getting better at reminding myself why I’m here. We’re saving up for flights and some other major expenses that are coming up this year, so we can’t visit nearly as often as I’d want to. Even if money were no object, J- has to be in school, so W- needs to be here, so I want to be with him. It would be nice if our extended family were all in one city, but it is what it is. I could no sooner turn my back on this than turn my back on myself. The double-digits-below-zero weather isn’t helping my mood any, but the cold air turns out to be bracing and refreshing, so I might go out for a walk later.

My dad is awesome and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. I’m also looking forward to hearing about another year of grandfatherhood. Wonderful stories are ahead.

It’s traditional to make a wish around birthdays. Even if it’s not my birthday, I’m going to make a wish anyway. I have to figure out what I want to wish for, because otherwise this sort of distance is only going to get harder, not easier. I wish we can get better at celebrating life while being less distracted by the distance. That’s all the distance is – something that gets in the way while there are so many other good things to focus on. I have to work on that.

In the original version of the Little Mermaid, the potion that gave the mermaid legs also made her feel like she was walking on sharp swords. I’m lucky in that it doesn’t feel that way all the time. The trick is to keep dancing even when it does.

Anyway, it’s my dad’s 65th birthday. He and my mom show me that it’s possible to live an awesome life, and so I will too.

Decision review: Razor A5 Lux kick scooter

imageTechnically not my decision – W- was the one who decided to get J- a kick scooter so that she can easily go to school or hang out with friends. Since J- stays with her mom during the weekends, the scooter’s fair game for trips to stores or libraries.

The Razor A5 Lux was $69.99 during a Toys R Us sale a few weeks ago. None of the stores we went to had it in stock, so W- got a raincheck. This week, we dropped by Dufferin Mall and bought the kick scooter. The box wouldn’t fit in my bike bags, so we tested the scooter and discarded the box when we were satisfied that we didn’t need to return it. Without the box, the scooter fit neatly into my bike bag.

My bike’s big and hard to lug up the stairs, so I’ve been trying out the A5 for short trips. It cuts the 750m walk from ten minutes to five, although there’s a bit more exercise involved. I don’t have the same carrying capacity that I have on my bicycle, but the scooter is a lot more convenient for short trips. Worth it, I think! We’ll see how it works out over the next couple of weeks.

Thoughts from helping with homework

J-‘s schedule is pretty packed these days: homework, high school applications, and the occasional extracurricular (karate or yearbook). We compensate by making time to help out. She learns a lot more with guidance than by floundering on her own, and she works more independently as she gains confidence and skill.

Right now, she’s working on her Media Studies homework. Their task is to analyze a commercial and create a multimedia response to it, identifying the marketing strategies that food companies use. The multimedia commenting tool was a little frustrating in the beginning, but she’s starting to get the hang of it. We helped her figure out some of the intricacies of the tool, and we helped her refocus when she was getting distracted. Now she’s planning her comments so that she can record things smoothly.

I’m getting better at helping without getting impatient. Sometimes it’s difficult. I bite back suggestions. I remind myself that the purpose of the exercise isn’t to come up with the best results, or to learn a lot about behavioural psychology and marketing. The exercise is so that she can become a little more aware of the marketing strategies that try to convince us to buy things, and so that she can learn how to learn about a new tool.

We provide a little scaffolding. We walk through the tutorials with her. We give her some suggestions on how to edit and trim her drafts. We help her get over the technological humps. The end product must be completely hers, though, because it’s much better to have an average result that she feels she truly owns than an excellent result that she feels confused by.

We’re also trying to help her learn how to manage her time and energy. Like many people, she shows frustration and elation clearly in her face and in her posture: slumping when she runs into problems, brightening up when she solves them. The odd thing is that both are self-reinforcing states. It’s hard to solve problems when you’re tired and unhappy; it’s easy to deal with life when you’re happy and energetic.

A very useful trick is that of knuckling down and doing something even when you’re feeling blah about it. If not that, then redirect your energy into something that will help you keep moving forward. You can lose a lot of energy to the friction of frustration, or you can use that energy to take the next step.

J-‘s slowly learning the value of choosing her response to work, I think, and that’s a tremendously useful lesson. So we help, but not so much that the path is smooth. A little striving is good for learning.

Stories from our trip: Furry caterpillar

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From October 7: I skittered across the pool in the opposite direction from the floating divider and the furry caterpillar I glimpsed. It had huge hairs sticking out of it, which sometimes means major irritation, which means me being far away. W- was unperturbed. Amused, even.

"I think I’ve figured you out," W- said afterwards.

"Oh?"

"Yes! You: Furry cat? Okay. Furry caterpillar? Not okay."

I nodded.

"Jelly? Okay. Fish? Okay," he said. "Jellyfish? Not okay."

"Now that you put it that way, it makes a lot of sense."

Image © 2007 zenera, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License

Back from the Netherlands

We were in the Netherlands from May 3 to May 10 to celebrate my sister’s wedding. I still have to sort through all the pictures and sketches, but here are some highlights:

Seeing Keukenhof again: My sister and her fiancé timed their wedding so that we could catch the spring flowers at Keukenhof , which has hectares and hectares of tulips and other blooms. My family and I had been there before, when I was in high school. W- had never been to Europe, so it was his first time for everything. Taking up gardening myself

The wedding: We had a small civil wedding ceremony in the gazebo in Agnietenberg, a campsite in Zwolle. Kathy wore a white terno (full-length dress with butterfly sleeves) beaded and decorated with hand-painted blue tulip appliques; a fusion of Philippine and Dutch cultures. John wore a suit. I wore the red dress I sewed myself. =) I’ll link to photos when they become available.

Moments that made me laugh:

  • Seeing the world’s tallest ringbearer get pressed into service (Mathew filled in for the actual ringbearer, who was late)
  • When they celebrated the end of the wedding ceremony with the Hallelujah chorus
  • When my dad got flustered reading the witnessing statement in Tagalog and ended up putting in all sorts of other things

Den Haag: We visited W-’s friend Dan in The Hague and we had a lot of fun catching up. In the evening, we rented bikes from OV Fiets and headed to the beaches near the North Sea. The Netherlands’ biking life made me so envious: separate bike lanes going practically everywhere, rental systems, flat terrain, garages with grooves in the ramps, locks integrated into bikes, and the freedom to bike without worrying too much about opened doors or inattentive drivers…

Geek: One of the advantages of being a geek is that most people appreciate getting tech support. We don’t do this on a regular basis for family or friends, but if we happen to be in the same country and we have some time on vacation, why not? =)

Dan had warned her husband that we were both geeks and that we were not allowed anywhere near the computers or even the microwave, because we might reprogram stuff. We ended up looking into their WiFi router, writing down the password for them and their future guests, and setting the BIOS settings on one of the computers so that it could recognize the printer that was on LPT1. (Smart IO chipset for the parallel port! Gosh.) Most of the interfaces were in Dutch, but we figured it out. We also fixed up Auntie Katharina’s computer, but that’s the next story.

Germany: We were hanging out in John’s house in Zwolle, and Auntie Katharina mentioned she’s been having problems with her computer. My parents had been planning to get Auntie Katharina a new computer for a while, so that she could talk to them using Skype. Day trip!  After much back-and-forth, we convinced Auntie Katharina to let us go on this adventure. (After all, W- had never been to Germany, and it would be so nice to visit Wiesbaden again, and…) So we piled into the car, rushed back to the camp, packed our suitcases and backpacks, and headed off to Germany. (Don’t you just love being able to take a day trip to a different country?) We bought a laptop from the Media Markt near Auntie Katharina’s house, visited her son and her grandkids, then headed over to her place to set it up. Then it was a long drive back to the Netherlands for a short nap before W- and I took the train to the airport. That was definitely cutting it close, but we made it!