Category Archives: birthday

Life as a 25-year-old

It’s great to be able to look back and really look back–to be able to review a year’s worth of blog posts, to remember, to see how much I’ve changed and how much I’m still the same.

Here were the goals I set for myself last 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



The book on Emacs fell by the wayside as I started doing more and more Drupal development at work. I turned the project over to Ian Eure, another Emacs blogger whom I greatly admire. At work, I became a Drupal guru, and I spoke at DrupalCon on the deployment processes. I submitted my paperwork for the Canadian Experience Class skilled worker permanent residency. I have a fair amount of money in circulation on Kiva.org and earmarked for the Toronto Public Library, although less than the 10% I’d targeted. I’ve been able to save 52% of my income, building a healthy retirement fund, an investment fund, and a dream fund.  I haven’t developed another major income source, although I’ve identified a number of opportunities that I could turn into income someday. As for recipes–I’ve had lots of fun cooking, and I’m sure I’m well past that number.

Compared to my 24th year, my life as a 25-year-old wasn’t about major changes. It’s hard to top all the shifts that happened in 2007-2008: graduating, starting at IBM, getting used to the idea of being in Canada… 2008-2009 was much calmer. I discovered my inner domestic goddess as we acquired two cats (both adopted from the shelter), a sewing machine, a garden, a canner, numerous pictures and frames, a number of camera lenses, and a love for making and photographing things. I built on existing skills such as drawing and presenting, and I branched into new hobbies such as improv and playing the piano. I’m still as much in love with both my partner and my work as I was a year ago, which is absolutely wonderful. My in-jokes with W- are deeper and richer, thanks to another year of shared experiences. At work, I became the go-to person for Drupal because of my development skills–and then I switched hats and took a consulting/networking role created for me. I’ve started experimenting with ways to make life even better: trying out delegation, exploring crafts, creating experiences… Life is amazing!

My favourite posts:

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:

  • created another year’s worth of experiences, memories, and dreams
  • helped build innovation networks and shared what I’ve learned with others
  • helped build Drupal skills within the company
  • wore something I made every day
  • enjoyed home cooking and explored new recipes
  • relaxed in improvised situations
  • saved half of my income and donated a tenth
  • got to the point of having a place for everything, and everything in its place
  • built and deepened more friendships
  • figured out what I know, what I want to learn, and how to share both of those
  • shared my happiness and enthusiasm with even more people

Thanks for sharing an amazing year with me. =) Looking forward to future adventures!

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.

Looking back at life as a 27-year-old

I’ll be celebrating my 28th birthday this August. Hooray!

I spent part of the Civic Holiday reviewing my blog posts and memories. It’s been a wonderful year. In August 2010, I wrote:

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.

… and looking back, I can say that and more.

Life as a 27 year old was mainly about preparation. W- and I got married in October in a ceremony as small as we could get away with – just us, immediate family, and practically-family friends. I’m glad we did. The paperwork helps us make our long-term plans more solid, and it feels great to namedrop “my husband.” We celebrated my middle sister’s wedding in May, too. I’m curious how married life will influence the way my sisters and I interact.

We learned a lot about communication while planning our wedding, mostly inspired by Jay Heinrich’s excellent book Thank You for Arguing and our decision to keep both our names. I’m sure those skills will come in handy in the future as well. We’ve also been developing our teaching skills while helping J- and her friends learn more about math and other subjects. It’s worth investing the time into making things understandable and enjoyable.

At work, I’ve been developing some very useful skills: gathering requirements; scoping and estimating projects; working with Drupal, Ruby on Rails, and Websphere (not all together, fortunately!); working with other companies and teams. It’s been a bit more stressful because I’ve taken on more responsibilities, but it’s good preparation for many possible next steps: consulting and development in IBM, or perhaps a startup if a business opportunity seizes my imagination. The richness of my extracurricular life means I’ve cut back a little on non-project work – the presentations I used to do, the communities I used to help out with – but I’ve still been able to help make many things happen.

Lots of preparations outside work as well. We’ve been tweaking our household routines – simplifying the kitchen, improving the entrance flow, reorganizing the living room. We’ve added more vegetables to our life thanks to a community-supported agriculture program with the stereotypical abundance of zucchini. I’m getting better at gardening. We got more vegetables and fruits out of the garden this year, although bitter melons were a non-starter.  Oh yes, this was the year we disassembled a washing machine and a dryer in order to get the 27” machines down a 26” staircase. I hadn’t seen that coming at all, but it was a wonderful experience.

Lots of reflection and analysis this year, too. With a few exceptions, I’ve been able to share at least one blog post a day for the past year, and that’s been really helpful for reconstructing and remembering. The Quantified Self meetups in Toronto have been inspiring me to measure, analyze my decisions, and review them afterwards. Printing out my blog and flipping through the stories has helped, too. It’s interesting reading things I’ve somewhat forgotten writing. There are my reflections on routinely waking up at 5 AM – did I, before? But it sounds like me, so I must have. Perhaps I’ll try that again.

I’m getting better at drawing. I’m starting to feel more comfortable playing with colors and sketching ideas, relying less on the ability to nudge drawings into the right shape and more on the ability to repeat sketches until they feel right. I take informal sketchnotes at the events I go to, and I’m starting to develop note-taking and presentation workflows that fit me well.

I levelled up in terms of personal finance by opening a discount brokerage account and investing in index funds. The market has been up, down, and sideways, but I’m going to keep investing anyway. It’s reassuring to see that nest egg grow, even though it grows slowly. While the returns are nowhere near the breathless rates I read about in personal finance books written before the financial crisis, they’re okay. Updating my books makes me feel a little more grown-up, even though I don’t go for anything more complicated than passive growth.

My interests shifted, unsurprisingly. I haven’t sewed as much as I thought I would; other hobbies keep me busy. Working at home means I’ve been biking less than I used to. I haven’t fired up our woodworking tools even once this summer. But there are new and renewed interests that fill my hours: writing, drawing, piano, learning Latin with W- and delighting in unexpected discoveries. For example, I learned cras is Latin for tomorrow, which made me think about the word “procrastinate” – ah, “for tomorrow”,  doesn’t that make perfect sense now…

I think the year ahead of me – life as a 28-year-old – will be a year of slowing down, polishing, and finishing. It will be interesting. Drawings, links, and plans to follow.

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-nine; life as a 28-year-old

Today I turned twenty-nine years old! This is fantastic. I’m making good progress towards my goal of becoming a little old lady living an awesome life. =) Here’s the bird’s-eye view, with links to annual reviews whenever I remembered to write them:

  • 19 years old: Finished university, got into open source development
    20 years old: Enjoyed teaching
  • 21 years old: Getting started with graduate school in Canada
  • 22 years old: Settling into Toronto, dealing with homesickness
  • 23 years old: Thesis, writing
  • 24 years old: Moved from the academe into the industry, started a relationship with W-, decided to be in Canada for a while
  • 25 years old: Settling in, developing skills, taking small steps
  • 26 years old: Flourishing
  • 27 years old: Getting married, improving our household routines, preparing for the next step

Life as a 27-year-old was about preparing, and life as a 28-year-old was about taking more risks based on those preparations. With the stability of a warm and loving marriage to support me, the savings from a job I excelled at, and a deeper understanding of how I invest my time and money thanks to the self-tracking I’d been doing, I felt ready to take on the risk of starting a new business in order to explore the possibilities of more family-friendly work. That’s been going tremendously well, and I think we’re in as good a place as anyone could be for the next step.

I invested some of my earnings into new tools, and I’ve been teaching myself more about drawing and Android development. I have a tidy collection of sketchnotes, and people sometimes talk to me about my notes during meetups. I’ve also learned more about electronics, building myself a handy USB foot pedal using the Arduino and then converting it to a Teensy. I’m learning new ways to create value, and it’s great. Sometimes I’m intimidated by the skills of people who’ve been practising these things for much longer, but all things come with time and experience, so I keep practising and learning.

I’ve been working on being more social, and it’s getting easier and easier. We helped J- and her friends with math study groups, and we spent some time volunteering at Free Geek Toronto as well. We celebrated my sister’s wedding in the Philippines, and it was great to see everyone again. She and her husband are expecting their firstborn a few months from now – my parents’ first grandchild, so we’re all excited. I’ve also been reaching out to friends, going to picnics, and just spending time hanging out. This is good.

The more I experiment, the less I know what the next year might look like, and the more confident I am that things will be wonderful anyway.

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? =)