The best birthday gifts

What do you give people on their birthdays? People struggle so much
with that question, often giving up and grabbing the first gift-ish
thing they see at the store and accompanying that with a few scribbled
words on a Hallmark card.

It’s always been hard to think of what to give my parents. They can
get anything they want. My father, in particular, is not the kind of
guy who will wait for an occasion in order to give himself something.
When he sees something he likes – or something that we’ll like – he
just goes out and gets it.

Ideally a gift-thing would be what people would love but never think
of getting for themselves. How deeply you must know someone in order
to do that! I still don’t feel that I know my dad enough to
second-guess his wallet. ;) I’d rather give him something he can’t
buy: memories.

I think memories are the best birthday gifts of all. You can create
new memories by spending time with people and being completely present
for them. You can share old memories by telling people stories about
how they touched your life. You can help make future memories by
listening to their dreams.

Birthdays are perfect times to think about the past year and imagine
the next. As natural milestones, they give you a chance to reflect on
the meaning of your life in the company of good friends. Unlike on New
Year’s Day, the celebrant does not have to share the spotlight with
other people. Birthdays are a good excuse for people to gather those
who are close to their heart and celebrate them, in turn being
celebrated by them.

The best birthday gifts I’ve ever received? Letters, without a doubt.
One of my treasures is a clearbook of the letters I received on the
occasion of my 21st birthday, when I was leaving for Japan. Whenever I
flip through it, warm and fuzzy feelings wrap me, and I remember the
laughter and love of friends.

For my 22nd birthday, I asked my friends to write their two-year plans
and a short letter on some 3×5 index cards. Although my friends
good-naturedly groused about it being the _only_ party they’d ever
gone to that had _seatwork_, they wrote – and this deck of dreams is
something that I flip through on occasion to remind me that people
care.

For my 23rd birthday this August 12, I don’t want to receive any
gifts. I want memories, stories, dreams. Write me a letter or record a
podcast or capture it on video. Tell me a story about how I’ve touched
your life, and these warm thoughts will sustain me through winter and
hot chocolate days. Tell me a story that reveals who _you_ are and who
you want to be, and that will deepen our friendship. Tell me of your
dreams and that will help me help you build your future.

Send my parents a thank-you note, too. After all, my _mom_ did all
the hard work on my birthday… <laugh> What parents wouldn’t
like to hear about how wonderful their son or daughter is?

Know anyone whose birthday is coming up? Put away that credit card and
send some memories instead! =)

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Random Japanese sentence: 猫はミルクを全部飲んでしまったの、とメアリーはたずねました。 Mary asked if the cat had drunk all of the milk.

Virtual birthdays, real friends

(Backlog: 2006.08.12)

“How many geeks does it take to…” is a standard joke whenever my
barkada (close group of friends) in the Philippines gets together.
Just like last year, they celebrated my actual birthday with a
tele-party. Instead of hanging out at some wireless cafe in Glorietta,
they trooped over to my parents’ new place, bringing flowers for my
mom. (Awwww! After all, she did all the hard work on my zeroth
birthday!)

It took me a while to get my side up and running. I hadn’t figured out
how to set up sound under Ubuntu, so I booted to Microsoft Windows.
Troubleshooting a network connection in a Japanese language operating
system was Not Fun, though. Through trial and error I figured out that
I needed to disable the firewall. Then I realized that the network was
blocking my MAC address because it detected a duplicate registration.
The network had worked under Linux because I’d cloned the MAC address
for my Lifebook onto my Vaio, but I hadn’t set it up under Windows. I
switched back to copy the MAC address and then figured out how to set
the MAC address under Windows (again, still working in Japanese).
Skype kept crashing, too, which was decidedly not fun.

So we decided to go with Yahoo Messenger. My friends set up the
wireless router and got three laptops on the network. It’s a good
thing, too, as we needed all three just to keep up with the chatter!
We set up the webcams and made funny faces at each other. There was
also that interesting bit with the identity musical chairs. Heh.

It was so nice to see and talk to my friends again. I so miss them and
my family. Iba talaga ang barkada. I guess Canadians might know what
it’s like. Still… Maybe it’s just the people I know or the culture
here, but it still doesn’t have quite the same feel as our
hell-or-high-water crazy-as-anything barkadas with gimmicks and dramas
and in-jokes galore. I miss my friends back home, and I love them them
to bits!

Clair and Peppy blogged about the party, too. Check out their stories!

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Merienda madness and my 23rd birthday

Last Saturday (2006.08.12) was my birthday, and every Filipino knows
that birthdays mean lots and lots and lots of food. Things didn’t go
exactly according to plan: they turned out even better! It was the
first time I tried cramming over 15 people into my suite, and it
worked out surprisingly well even though we were constantly washing
mugs and everything.

Plan A was to spend the morning preparing a traditional
merienda of Philippine delicacies. I woke up late and spent the rest of
the morning celebrating my birthday with a virtual party thrown by my
family and friends in the Philippines. That was totally worth it.

Plan B: buy traditional delicacies from a Filipino bakery or something
like that. Except I had *no* idea where to find one of those downtown.
Google wasn’t helpful, either. The one Filipino restaurant I
remembered along Yonge turned out to have closed a while ago. I asked
Joey de Villa, but he couldn’t think of any
off the top of his head. Meep.

Plan C, of course, was to declare cookies and brownies traditional
Filipino treats. ;) As long as the other Filipinos played along, I’d
be home safe! Also, I was totally craving tropical fruits, so it was a
good excuse to splurge on mangoes, pineapples, and other good things.
Richi Plana and I raided Chinatown and
Kensington Market for assorted foodstuff, also picking up ingredients
for champorado and palitaw.

What could be better than that? Plan D: Have your *guests* cook! ;)
That was just amazing. Friends demonstrated their l33t pineapple
carving / brownie making / champorado-from-scratch cooking /
dishwashing skillz. I did actually manage to cook something: palitaw,
one of my favorite Filipino snacks.

Palitaw

Glutinous rice flour, shredded coconut, sugar, sesame seeds

  1. Add boiling water to glutinous rice flour, kneading it into dough. Don’t make it sticky!
  2. Roll the flour into balls and flatten them with your hands into small pancake-like shapes.
  3. Slip the cakes into boiling water.
  4. Scoop the cakes out when they float.
  5. Toast sesame seeds until they turn golden.
  6. Mix shredded coconut, sugar, and sesame seeds on a plate.
  7. Coat both sides of each cake with the mixture.
  8. Enjoy!

Preparing all this food kept me a bit too busy to connect with
everyone, and I wish I had a bit more time to spend with people who
had to leave early. Maybe I’ll figure out a better way to do this next
time…

Anyway, after I made sure everyone had something to eat, I took a
break from the kitchen and got to the main part of the party. I talked
about the past year and how my 22nd year of life was mainly about
learning to live on my own. I then asked them to help me brainstorm
cool things to do in Canada so that I can make the most of my time
here. I also asked for help figuring out what I can do after
graduation, and I got a number of suggestions that I hadn’t considered
before but which seem like pretty good fits. I’ll blog about these later.

I asked for letters instead of gifts, and the letters I got were
really, really, really heartwarming. =) I also received some
absolutely wonderful chocolate, an interesting book, and a beautiful
set of cat-themed dishes. (I’m behind on my thank-you cards and
letters, but I’m looking forward to catching up soon!)

I demoed my strange street-performing-ish hobbies, too. (Thanks,
Kathy, for getting me into that stuff!) Then we headed over to the
Linux Caffe for dinner and more relaxed conversation. I *love* the
Linux Caffe to pieces. It’s so nice knowing and being known by a
place…

Anyway, that was how I spent my birthday. I can’t think of any better
way to celebrate finishing a year and starting a new one than in the
company of such good friends. =)

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Poem

Mike Fletcher wrote an inspirational poem
for my birthday. I spent some time composing a reply that scanned
properly in terms of rhythm. ;) With minor modifications, here it is:

My bar is high: set not for me, but you who trained for many years to
leap such heights with practiced ease and aim for stars beyond my
reach. I hear your tales of weary bones, of long hours spent and much
pain born, but also: flying through the air! And so I dare, and so I
dare. And still you urge me onward to heights far above the lowest
bar. With ease can I achieve acclaim, but I can reach things greater
far. You, my friend, will keep me true to gaps that only I can leap,
to things that only I can do, to stars that only I can reach.

I paragraph-wrapped it just for kicks. The rhythm should still be
there, though. =)

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Year in review: Life as a 24-year-old

I’m turning 25 in a little over a week. Birthdays are a terrific opportunity to look backward and look forward–what I’ve done, how I’ve grown, and what I want to do or be next. I’ll be celebrating my birthday in the Philippines, among family and my oldest friends. But I’d also like to celebrate my birthday with you, as through my blog, you’ve shared my journey too.

The blog makes it easy to review the year. So, how am I different from the person I was in August 2007?

There were three major changes in my life, all related to each other.

The first is my relationship with W-, which began in March 2008 and is now such a core part of my life. I can’t say enough good things about it without sounding like a Hallmark card.

The second major change is the transition from the academe to the industry: I finished my master’s degree and joined IBM Canada as a technology evangelist and application developer.

The third major change followed naturally from the first two: instead of going home to the Philippines, I’ll be in Canada for a while. Because of W-, I chose not to return to the Philippines after the completion of my studies, and because of my work, I had the means to support myself here. This change was the most challenging, but I’m sure it will work out somehow.

Along the way, I learned how to sketch, cook, defend myself, do yoga, drive in winter, make it across the monkey bars, go on the static and flying trapezes, grow a herb garden, script virtual worlds, manage my retirement investments, survive the conference circuit, dictate to the computer, inspire my colleagues, share thoughts about my generation, develop with Drupal, and connect with amazing people.

I’ve grown as a person. I’ve learned a lot about love. I’ve learned a lot about fighting for what I feel and building bridges after the storms. I’ve learned about the wonder and delight one can feel in ordinary things. I’ve learned about the kind of person I can be.

I’ve grown as a writer, speaker, and developer. I’ve learned about how writing fits into my life. I’ve learned about my personal style of presenting (interactive, enthusiastic, practical). I’ve learned about configuration management, testing, and all sorts of tweaks to make my development environment a better fit for me. I’ve shared what I’ve learned along the way.

What will the next year be like?

I’m looking forward to deepening my relationship with W- and seeing what another year of shared experiences will bring us. I’d like to get better at connecting with friends and family. I hope to get an even clearer idea of how I can contribute professionally, and to do so. I’d like to explore other ways to work and live more fully.

Here are some of my measurable goals for the next year. By August 2009, I’d like to be able to look back and say that I’ve:

  • completed a book on Emacs (whether published by No Starch Press or self-published)
  • increased my reach and responsibilities at and outside work
  • completed my paperwork for the permanent residency application (Canadian experience class?)
  • continued to donate 10% of my income
  • continued to save at least 50% of my income
  • developed another income source aside from salary, interest, and index growth
  • learned how to cook at least 20 new recipes

Join me as I figure more things out! =)

Twenty-seven; life as a twenty-six year old

UPDATE: Fixed PDF.

I turned 27 years old this week. If life as a 25-year-old was about taking small steps to build a wonderful life, life as a 26-year-old was about flourishing. Reviewing the past year’s blog posts to get a sense of how I’ve grown, I realized that life had gotten much deeper and richer. Work gave me plenty of opportunities to learn, share, and make a difference. W- and I have worked out our long-term plans and will be getting married in October. I learned a lot from friends, mentors, and proteges, and I shared tons of thoughts and ideas in blogs, presentations, conversations, and notes.

It’s been a great life. Fewer storms than movies or books had me believe, and plenty of wonderful memories and realizations on which to build a future. On the cusp between the mid-twenties and the late twenties, the most unexpected discovery has been that of unconditional serenity. Now I have more to share, and more to discover along with other people.

I’ve selected my favourite blog posts for Aug 2009-2010 and put them into a PDF so that I can archive them in a three-ring binder. If you’d like to review it too, see sachachua-26.pdf. (184 pages, 353k) Thanks for sharing this year with me!

Here’s how the year stacked up against the goals I shared in last year’s recap:

I’m looking forward to learning even more about my passions and interests, people, and life. When I turn 27, I hope to be able to look back and say that I:

  • [X] created another year’s worth of experiences, memories, and dreams – it feels like more than a year’s worth, even!
  • [X] helped build innovation networks and shared what I’ve learned with others – we’ve not only scaled up our Idea Labs (virtual brainstorming discussions), I’ve also helped other groups and organizations use the technique to engage people around the world
  • [X] helped build Drupal skills within the company – Drupal is well-established in our toolkit, and we’re looking forward to doing even more
  • [-] wore something I made every day – I’ve been making more of my clothes and accessories, but I’ve also calculated the my time value of money and decided that some things like technical clothing are well worth the cost.
  • [X] enjoyed home cooking and explored new recipes – This was excellent!
  • [-] relaxed in improvised situations – I haven’t signed up for further improv classes (low sign-ups for the class I want to take), but I’m looking forward to doing this again
  • [-] saved half of my income and donated a tenth – Saved about half, shifting to investing and then donating when that appreciates
  • [X] got to the point of having a place for everything, and everything in its place – Progress! After thinking about what gets misplaced and where clutter accumulates, I tried a few tweaks (beltbag, etc.). Haven’t misplaced important things in a while.
  • [X] built and deepened more friendships – I’ve been mentoring more people and hosting tea parties, and I really enjoy doing both
  • [X] figured out what I know, what I want to learn, and how to share both of those – I’ve been writing and blogging even more, and scaling back on my presentations has given me more time to think and share. Good stuff!
  • [X] shared my happiness and enthusiasm with even more people – =)

What will life as a 27-year-old look like? I’m excited about long-term growth: marriage, work, friendships, interests. I’m looking forward to small, constant improvements in the way we live. I want to get even better at learning and sharing. When I turn 28, I hope to be able to look back and say that I:

  • helped build an excellent foundation for a loving partnership
  • made a difference at work and grew in my career
  • experimented with ways of living better and shared my results
  • shared lots of ideas, questions, and insights with people
  • lived another year of an awesome life.