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Reflecting on relationships for a good life

| friends, reflection

Following up on my reflections on Aristotle, I've been thinking: what kinds of relationships can help me build a good life, and how can I help others in turn?

Aristotle distinguishes among relationships for utility, pleasure, or virtue. I have friends whose company and conversation are agreeable. There are a few whom I would go out of my way to help. I'd like there to be more of the last category. Getting to know acquaintances more will probably turn up a few, and I'll likely bump into more with time and familiarity.

I get along the best with people who are positive, self-efficacious, and temperate. I'm biased towards people who are confident and articulate. This probably means I'm missing out on appreciating otherwise awesome people. I feel a little odd and uncharitable that I don't feel that kind of appreciation about lots of people – I can wish them well and be nice to them, but there's something missing there. C'est la vie, I suppose. Something to work on from my end, or perhaps to accept. Anyway, Aristotle says it's quite rare to have good friends.

It would be interesting to have a lunch or dinner club of maybe six to eight people, meeting once a month or so. What kind of conversation would help us grow? Maybe something like “Here's what I've learned so far about life; here are the things I'm figuring out; I need help with this; I can help with that; let's make a difference in this; what did you think about that?” Different perspectives on the same things, similar perspectives in different situations… Many things are improved by conversation.

What would I bring to something like that, and to the individual friendships that comprise it? The basics might be location, food, organization. I tend to be cheerful, rational, and research-oriented. I'm getting better at sharing what I think, and at structuring and doing small experiments to learn. It might be interesting to connect with other people who like taking a step back, thinking about stuff, and then stepping back in and doing things.

If I found such people, though, would I share what I've been thinking about? I'm biased towards writing online instead, since the asynchronicity lets me think at my own pace. Online, I can reach more people and receive more insights. When I'm in conversation, I tend to listen to what's going on in people's lives instead of talking through what I'm trying to figure out. I prefer groups because of variety and lack of obligation (I don't have to carry as much of the conversation), but I also tend to step back even further into the background – I guide the conversation with questions instead of adding my own tidbits. So there's probably work to do there too. I wonder what a well-running potluck club would look like…

Hey, wouldn't you know it… There's actually a book called The Philosopher's Table: How to Start Your Philosophy Dinner Club. Requesting it from the library.

Anyway, how would I need to develop in order to bring more to and get more from conversation? It might be interesting to ask about my friends' lives, and share more from my life (more like “Here are some odd things I've been learning; maybe they'll be useful to you” rather than “me me me me”). I can practise that even without major changes. I can also invite people to things and check with them more often to see if they have plans. Maybe people might even be up for trying a few months of this dinner club thing.

On introversion and friendships

Posted: - Modified: | friends

I’ve been thinking about how I relate to people: what I enjoy, and what I’m probably going to move away from. I had started feeling guilty about being out of touch with some people, but I also realized that it might be a good idea to move on, and that some connections were easier and more energizing than others.

Face-to-face (or even over Facebook or Skype), I’m much more comfortable with groups of friends rather than one-on-one conversations. My barkada back home and the HackLab group are two examples. Because people are friends with each other, that spreads any emotional work needed. I can join the conversations or step back whenever I want, and I don’t have to worry about carrying half of the conversation myself.

As for one-on-one conversations, I prefer ones that are focused on ideas rather than events. More “This is what I’ve been learning; what do you think?” than “What’s up?” I strongly prefer asynchronous, low-commitment, non-expectant conversations over e-mail instead of synchronous chats, although I like blog conversations best of all.

I’m a little surprised by the way I get along much better with geeks (even if they’re not as active on social media) than with social media people (even if they’re active on Twitter or Facebook; even in the social media scene, not a lot of people blog). I suppose that’s more about an overlap of interests and senses of humour. Besides, I’m more likely to hang out at HackLab than go out for a networking event, so there’s that too.

I’m probably going to let my individual face-to-face friendships fade into the background, unless people want to come to HackLab (open house every Tuesday evening) or focus on ideas and learning in e-mail conversations. It feels weird making a deliberate decision about that, but it’s probably better to decide instead of just being polite. It’s awkward feeling like I’m moving on from friendships, but it’s good to know that it’s possible so that I can watch out for signs of this happening in more important areas, like other relationships or core interests.

On the plus side, the things that work well are working really well. =) I like the random conversations I have with people over Twitter or e-mail, the way people drift in and out of my inbox. I like the casual conversations at HackLab and the Facebook updates from my barkada. I like the way I can hang out with W- with the kind of comfort and ease that I’d never even thought of having with old friends. It’s good to find what works.

Reading old letters and relearning how to write

Posted: - Modified: | friends, life, writing


a snippet from my 2006 annual letter

I’m tremendously lucky to have family and friends who humour me by writing letters. On several occasions, I’ve asked for letters as presents, and they’ve obliged: before my trip to Japan, before my trip to Canada, on various birthdays. Letters from my mom and dad sustained me through my bouts of homesickness, and letters from friends in far-off places have given me glimpses of other people’s lives.

I’ve kept almost all those letters in binders. I lugged that first small collection through Yokohama and Tokyo during my six-month internship there. Then back to the Philippines, then (bolstered with more letters and wishes from friends) tucked in one of the three suitcases that I brought to Canada, anxious and hopeful and ready to start my master’s degree. The long-distance relationship I was in grew, then dissipated. I kept the letters, although I didn’t look at them for a while. Through other relationships and friendships, more letters arrived.

I have many letters, but not all. I don’t have the ones from high school. I remember prolifically writing letters then, with a boyfriend who was also epistolarily-minded and who often slipped letters into my locker in addition to writing me e-mail. (We ran into Eudora’s per-message size limit, that’s how much we wrote.) I don’t have all the quickly-dashed-off greeting cards. I don’t have the letters I’ve sent. If I had thought about keeping a copy of my correspondence, it’s lost on forgotten hard disks, the way my private notes often become fragmented while my public blog survives.

It’s okay to have gaps in the record; I’m amazed that I have this history at all. My mom has a point when she urges me to print photos. The physical presence of an item nudges memory. A binder of letters can be rediscovered. A folder on a hard disk is easier to overlook. E-mail is not designed for printing, while a letter is written to stand by itself.

But a physical copy is limited to one place at a time. Whether the letters are in a binder in a basement cabinet or a box on a shelf above my desk, they’re still inaccessible unless I am there, unsearchable unless I flip through them. So I scanned in my collection over several hours during the New Year holidays – ringing in the new by celebrating the old, planning the way forward by remembering the path before.

Filed in Evernote, tagged by sender and by subject, these letters are reminders that people have taken time out of their day to share something. I’ve come a long way from home. I’ve gained much, but I’ve also lost some things along the way, and this might be one of those things I want to relearn. The rhythm of correspondence was broken for a while, and I’m curious: is it the shift towards Facebook, Twitter, and blogs? the cocooning effects of marriage? links made too tenuous by the dwindling of shared experiences? Or are these conversations that I can return to?

And other questions: Who was I that my friends took the time to write to me? What can I write to other people? What kind of a good friend was I then, and how do I build that again with those friends and with new ones?

I’m not precisely certain. I do know this: I remember in public because that’s the most reliable way that I can remember, but other people hold their stories closer to their heart. I have friends who are decidedly not on Facebook and who hardly have an online footprint. If I want to know what’s going on in other people’s lives, I need to ask. That could be why I’ve been having a hard time writing, the same way I prefer the indirection of blogging compared to the directness of e-mail. It seems presumptuous: “Please take the time to tell me about your life.” But the world is full of interesting people and I want to get to know them, so I can try.

imageI refilled my fountain pen and dusted off the prettiest stationery I could find, this Carta di Firenze set with a beautiful peacock-and-flowers pattern with powder-gold spots – another gift from my mom, to whom I wrote the first note. Then I wrote another note to a friend, and another, and another, and another, and another, until the creamy notepaper was used up. To make it easy to enjoy the pattern on the inside flap of the envelopes, I used stickers to seal the letters closed instead of sealing the flap all the way. Well, the letters may be mundane – I’m still re-learning how to write a letter – but at least the paper is pretty. I looked up the postage (it’s gone up quite a bit!), stuck on an assortment of stamps (another dusty collection I should get through), and put the letters in my bag. I tucked the surplus of envelopes into my newly-labeled “Envelopes” drawer, also quite full of the odds and ends of collections. (Why is it that there’s always this mismatch?) No more buying stationery until these cabinets are empty, and emptied in the best way possible.

Time to revisit books like A Woman of Independent Means (Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, not the no-nonsense financial guide by Gail Vaz-Oxlade), Daddy Long Legs, and Yours, Isaac Asimov. Can you recommend any good epistolary novels?

Do you write letters? E-mail me at and let’s swap mailing addresses. I can’t promise that I’ll write regularly, but I think it would be great to learn this again: the art of letter-writing, and the art of being the kind of friend who writes.

CookOrDie: Passing it on with lemon-rosemary chicken

| cooking, cookordie, friends

After I graduated from university, I moved into an apartment-style dormitory with a small kitchen: a toaster oven, a microwave, a hotplate, and a rice cooker. I had never cooked before, but I resolved to make at least one of my meals each day. After lots of strange experiments, I figured out how to make my favourites, and I even had a regular schedule of friends dropping by to visit me for dinner.

This confidence in cooking was one of the reasons why I felt comfortable with staying at the apartment-style Graduate House student residence when I took my master’s at the U of T. I didn’t bother with the safety net of a meal plan. I made pasta and simple meals, and eventually got back into the swing of hosting friends. (CookOrDie in Canada)

When Maira moved from Brazil to Canada and we connected after the flurry of landing died down, I “adopted” her, remembering how hard it was to find your way and make friends in a strange new country. Last Wednesday, she sent me a text message confessing that she bought chicken and she didn’t know what to do with it. She hadn’t cooked a lot in Brazil. I volunteered to help her figure things out.

We took stock of what she had at her sublet apartment: a frozen pack of chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, a nonstick pan, and a small pot that was unusable. Then we picked up supplies from the Sobey’s on the corner. There was a lot of chicken, so we planned for two kinds of main dishes that she could enjoy as leftovers throughout the week. Lemon-rosemary would be a gentle introduction into the world of marinades, and pineapple chicken into the world of diced/sliced chicken.

The chicken needed time to defrost, so we nibbled some salad and I taught Maira how to sautee mushrooms. Then we started cutting the chicken, but the knife turned out to be too dull, so we used kitchen scissors instead. The can opener was too rusty, so we stored the pineapples and cooked the sliced chicken in olive oil. Despite the snags, it came together pretty easily.

Lemon-rosemary chicken: Put the chicken breasts into  a shallow dish or Ziploc bag. Add the juice of one lemon and sprinkle with rosemary (dried or fresh). Marinate for 15 minutes or more. Saute. We did it incorrectly last Thursday – the chicken breasts were too thick, so I’m going to try this again until I get the hang of it too. (This is what I get for always cooking chicken legs and thighs because they’re cheaper… ;) ) Although the chicken breasts came out a little dry, the flavour came through.

Any other friends or future friends in Toronto working on learning how to cook? I’ve got a lot of favourite recipes and W- is an awesome cook. I’d love an excuse to help friends, get better at the basics, try out new recipes, and learn more. =D

Get-together ideas for Toronto

| friends, life

Having a list of get-together ideas encourages me to plan moreget-togethers. Some are things I've done before and would be happy todo again, other things are things I haven't gotten around to doingyet… =)

  • [  ] Enjoy formal afternoon tea, with scones and all
  • [  ] Bike along the lake, then have a picnic
  • [  ] Eat at one of the best-rated restaurants
  • [  ] Tour the botanical gardens in spring, to see things grow
  • [  ] Enjoy the waters at a spa, then have a massage
  • [  ] Find a meetup I like: photography, crafts
  • [  ] Go to yoga classes
  • [  ] Watch a funny musical, play, or movie
  • [  ] Buy good food from a farmer's market
  • [  ] Explore different cheeses
  • [  ] Go on a double-decker city tour
  • [  ] Enjoy thin-crust pizza in Little Italy
  • [  ] Take a cooking class
  • [  ] Attend dinner theatre
  • [  ] Have exquisite hot chocolate at Soma
  • [  ] Have poutine (guilty pleasures)
  • [  ] Browse Goodwill, Value Village, Winners, or other discount stores for great finds
  • [  ] Browse through vintage stores for great finds
  • [  ] Go to the library
  • [  ] Attend an art or craft seminar
  • [  ] Watch Cirque du Soleil and other good shows


  • [  ] Take art classes at a museum
  • [  ] Take an evening course: writing, crafts, etc.
  • [  ] Learn a new language and practice conversation: Japanese? French? Cantonese?
  • [  ] Volunteer: library, animal shelter, soup kitchen?

Friday evenings are good (particularly in summer, when it almost feels like a second afternoon).Sometimes Sunday afternoons are good, too. I can be persuaded to use Saturdays for particularly good causes.

Thinking about dinner parties

| cooking, friends, life

The Toronto Public Library had “Julie & Julia”, so we watched it. (A movie about cooking! Of course.) I smiled at the bouef bourgignon, which W- had made for me once, and the aspics, which I’d encountered in the Joy of Cooking but have not dared to try. It was a good movie, and we both enjoyed it a lot.

Reflecting on it, I realized that I want to get back into hosting parties. However, Saturday afternoons are a good time to do woodworking, and circular saws do not go well with conversation. We probably shouldn’t spend every weekend woodworking, anyway. So I will just have to ignore that niggling itch of there-are-only-so-many-weekends-in-summer-and-only-so-many-daylight-hours desperation, work out some kind of schedule that accommodates the items W- and I want to build, and overlook the stacks of tools and lumber that make our living room unsuitable for company. After all, people have always just hung out in the kitchen.

I remember what it was like to learn how to cook on my own, dealing with too many leftovers (ah, supermarket sizes) and not enough tools. With an eat-in kitchen, well-stocked cabinets, and a wonderful garden with plenty of fresh herbs and vegetables, it would be great to help friends learn how to cook, particularly if I can pick up new recipes along the way. And now that the cats are no longer furiously shedding their spring coats, friends may breathe a little easier…

Maybe some kind of a supper club, for every other Saturday, or once a month at the latest? Friends can either bring whatever recipe they want to try, or come over early and prepare things in the kitchen. It shall have to be a homey atmosphere so that I don’t feel self-conscious about, say, having to clear papers off the table. Saturdays mean we can raid the farmer’s market or head to the supermarket if the pickings aren’t good, and people have the afternoon to come and cook if they want to.

I shifted to tea parties for a number of reasons. Hosting an open house meant that people could drop by whenever they were available, instead of being there at a certain time in order to sit down for dinner. Small treats meant that it was easy to accommodate different dietary restrictions. Maybe I can alternate tea parties and dinner parties, or work out a rhythm with other friends who like hosting. =) Or I can get back into dinner parties when I’ve gotten the hang of preparing make-ahead casseroles and other good dishes for entertaining…

I have a tea party on July 10, so I think I’ll keep it as an afternoon tea party, and maybe look into preparing some of those interesting salads in one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. Hmm…


Posted: - Modified: | friends, party, sketches

One of my indulgences is hosting tea parties. I love bringing friends together for conversation. There’s something about an unhurried afternoon when people can come and go as they please, enjoy some snacks and as much conversation as they’d like, and share their lives.

After lots of experimentation, I’ve settled into a good routine. The week before, I prepare tarts, biscuits, muffins, scones, or other delectables that I can stash in the fridge or freezer. I think about dietary restrictions and make sure there’s something for everyone. When guests come (or a little before), I get small portions ready.

Even if no one makes it (life happens!), I’ll have a freezer of goodies to see us at least through the next week. Yay!

People always come. Most of the time, lots of people do. We crowd around the kitchen table, unwrap the favourites that people have brought, and share stories and tips and questions and advice.

There’s something about these low-expectation whoever-shows-up get-togethers that feels wonderful. When I read about the extended family dinners Trent wrote about on the Simple Dollar, I thought, “Yes, that’s what I do, except tea works better for me than dinner.” Less juggling of dishes, less competition from other weekend priorities, less need to get everyone together at a specific time.

I’m planning to host another tea party near the end of the month, or perhaps mid-May. I’ll buy a few more saucers so that I’m not always scrambling to find a clean one for later visitors. It’s a good time for lemonade and lemon curd squares. (W- makes awesome lemon curd squares with shredded coconut.) Pies and tarts are starting to give way to fresh fruit and lighter breads (perhaps some pandesal?), but maybe I can learn how to make pecan tarts. Soon it will be barbecue season, which opens up even more possibilities.

If you haven’t hosted a tea party or other get-together yet, try it out. It’s fun, surprisingly frugal, and a great way to connect.