Thinking about how to celebrate my 30th birthday

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I’m looking forward to my thirties – a third of the way to my goal of being a totally awesome 90-year-old! I’m almost done with reviewing the past ten years and updating my collection of blog highlights, and I’m looking forward to getting some clarity on what’s coming up next too.

Birthday celebrations are an excellent excuse to get together with people. I feel a little weird inviting people to come and spend a few hours with me and a bunch of other people I know. I tend to get stressed out by the process of getting other people gifts (or guiltily donating things people have given me), so I’d rather not receive gifts. But I’ve been part of wonderful parties before, so I can think about what made those parties awesome, and what I can learn to have even better parties.

My favourite parties were the ones I had with my closest friends back home. We never needed an excuse. Sometimes I’d invite people over to hang out, or to watch a movie, or to play a game. I really liked those because my friends were all good friends with each other, so there were lots of crazy conversations and in-jokes. Even after I moved to Canada, I loved how they’d sometimes have ice cream parties and other get-togethers, patching me in through Skype. I miss them a lot.

When I lived at Graduate House, I often invited people over for a barbecue. There was a large outdoor party area with plenty of seats. Since many of my friends were also in graduate school, we had relaxed conversations under the stars. Graduate House was really convenient because most of the people I knew lived there or close by, and it was a short walk from a downtown subway stop.

I moved to my first apartment and celebrated my 24th birthday there. I didn’t have chairs and the bare walls echoed the noise, but people sat on cushions on the floor and we had a lot of fun.

After I moved in with W-, it took me a while to get around to having parties. Still, I had the occasional tea party – a casual, conversation-filled open house that was usually my excuse to bake far too many goodies. I had one of these every 2-3 months, which felt pretty infrequent (but it’s still more often than people invite me over, so I guess that counts for something). My favourite of these was when the conversation gelled and I got to learn all sorts of interesting things about my new friends.

I’ve had larger parties here as well. I remember scrambling to wash extra saucers! =) We set out mats and cushions on the deck, and people hung out there as well as in the kitchen.

Our home has more space than my first apartment. (The kitchen’s about the size of the main living area I had back then!) We have two bathrooms. So why am I not having more people over? Let me think about my excuses and how to work around them.

  • It’s cluttered. Having people over is a good excuse to declutter and clean up, and people are fine with a lived-in home. Besides, moving things around can work wonders for opening up space. Maybe we can move the kitchen table outside, for example? That requires disassembly, but it might be worth it. People can stand around in the kitchen or hang out on the deck.
  • There’s not enough seating. In a pinch, we manage to fit ten people around the kitchen table. Now that we’ve rebuilt the deck stairs (I helped!), we can put a few more chairs on the deck as well. Maybe we can get extra chairs and store them in the shed when they’re not in use.
  • The cats might get in the way. You’d expect the cats to hide with unfamiliar company – except Luke loves attention and Neko’s curious (but still tetchy, so guests sometimes get nipped if they get too close to her). And then cat hair! We’ve thought about keeping them in the basement with some food and water during parties, although some of our guests like playing with the cats, so maybe they can join us at the end.
  • Food. I like cooking, although sometimes it’s hit-or-miss, and I’m never quite sure about inflicting my experiments on people. (Although I guess that’s how you know who your friends are! Winking smile ) Since I don’t get firm RSVPs, I tend to prepare things that we can enjoy throughout the week even if no one shows up. I should stop worrying about filling everyone up. I’ve gone to fun parties that had mostly chips to snack on. People are used to pot luck or barbecue. I can always pick up party platters or order in.
  • Drink. Neither W- nor I drink alcohol (or intend to any time soon), so I’m pretty clueless about something that a lot of people enjoy or expect at parties. BYOB can help, I guess, especially if we can get someone to take stuff home afterwards. (Alternatively, we could cook with the remaining alcohol, I guess…) I rarely drink anything other than water, so I don’t have a good handle on
  • Frugality on behalf of others. I keep projecting my frugality onto other people, especially as other people might be in more difficult situations. =) It’s much cheaper to cook rather than to eat out, so I don’t want to organize a party at a restaurant where everyone will be eating out – I’d rather cook for everyone, or have a potluck dinner.
  • Timing. I asked a friend for advice, and he said many good parties run until 2 AM or something like that. I’m usually in bed by midnight. So… maybe I’m an afternoon or dinner party sort of person, even if it means not being able to join the deep discussions that often happen late at night.
  • Don’t want to accidentally offend someone. Sleeping Beauty’s problem? Her parents forgot to invite one fairy, who then threw a fit. While I don’t think anyone’s going to be quite that vindictive (or magical), I still worry about forgetting to invite someone and accidentally sending the wrong message.

A good number of excuses… I have to remember that even though I regularly feel insecure about hosting, I still have get-togethers pretty frequently, and people come. (Even though I’m usually semi-anxiously twiddling my thumbs at 1pm – maybe I should move to a 2pm start time?) I live ten minutes from the subway station, even if it’s a subway station a bit far from downtown.

I think it will help to reflect on why I want to bring people together in the first place. What are my reasons for having birthday parties and other get-togethers?

  • To thank people. People are awesome and helpful and inspiring. Feeding them and sharing what I’ve learned from them are small things I can do to say thanks. I don’t have one-on-one lunches or coffees with people nearly enough because I don’t want to impose on their schedule (although maybe that’s something else I should practise), but an open house is voluntary. I’m working on a big gratitude map thanking people for various ways they’ve helped me over the past ten years, and I’m looking forward to having that printed at a large scale. =) (That’ll also answer the “How do you know Sacha?” question!)
  • To hear from people. People don’t blog nearly as often as I do, so if I want to find out what’s going on in their lives, I have to ask, or I have to give them an opportunity to tell me. Sometimes I can help out, sometimes I learn things, sometimes it’s just interesting to find out what’s going on with other people.
  • To bring awesome people together, and to learn from their conversations. Maybe it’s weird, but I’m usually the quiet one at my own parties. =) I like listening, especially as people bring out aspects in other people that I might never come across myself. I sometimes prompt people with questions if I know they know something that other people might find useful.
  • To pick people’s brains for ideas and next steps. It’s good to let people know what you’re planning, since they’ll often have great ideas and tips. =)
  • To celebrate with lots of good food. Salads! Fruits! Baked yummies! Things that people would probably not make for themselves (or things I might not make on my own)! Many of my friends are single, so cooking can be difficult, but we enjoy cooking and are set up well for it. If there’s anything left over, I can always pack it up and stash it in the freezer.

What would it look like if I could get better at having parties?

  • I have a flexible plan for having parties. I know where the table and chairs go, where I’m going to put food, where to put drinks and snacks so that conversations flow, what some go-to snacks are so that I can get that sorted out easily. I have checklists so that I don’t forget things in the scramble. (Must remember to get ice next time…)
  • I have parties more regularly. Maybe once every two months, and maybe with a core group that also hosts during the other times?
  • I trust people more. I don’t have to worry too much about keeping conversations balanced or food flowing. I trust that people will adapt, taking care of newcomers and bringing them in without pushing them too hard.
  • We have a few more seats available, and can sustain conversation in another seating area – maybe on the deck, with the deck chairs that we built. We tend to crowd the kitchen because the living room is too dark, although maybe we can sort that out with better lighting (must replace the bare light that’s in that room).

I want to have virtual parties too, like the ones we had back then… I wonder what that would be like, especially with something like Google Hangout.

So, party. =) I don’t know what life will quite be like in the next couple of weeks, but maybe if I’m ambitious, I could try having an in-person party near my birthday. More conservatively, I could have it closer to the end of the month. Summer, so we can snack on plenty of fruits, and the barbecue will be handy too.

Thoughts? Tips? Does everyone else just Get It when it comes to parties, and am I the only one geekily trying to figure stuff out? =)

Living an awesome life as a 27-year-old: a year in blog posts

Happy birthday to me! =) I’m celebrating my 28th birthday today. Here’s the year in blog posts (August 2010 – July 2011): http://sachachua.com/notebook/files/sacha-chua-27.pdf .

Blogging as a 27-year-old: 391 published posts, 382 pages long, more than 190,000 words. If you’re curious, you can see what I was blogging as a 26-year-old and as a 25-year-old.

The short version: my birthday wrap-up. It’s been a great year, and I’m looking forward to learning and sharing even more!

Monthly chunks: August 2010, September 2010, October 2010, November 2010, December 2010, January 2011, February 2011, March 2011, April 2011, May 2011, June 2011, July 2011

My birthday wish: tell me what your life was like when you were 28 what you wish you knew when you were 28, or what I can improve on to make life as a 28-year-old totally awesome. =) Younger than I am? Tell me who you’re planning to grow into when you’re 28!

(Happy birthday to my parents, too. After all, they did all the hard work.)

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.

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! =)

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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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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