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Turning 40: a review of the last decade

| life, review

10 years ago, I wrote that I was on the threshold of even more changes and two wildly different paths, and that I was looking forward to learning, sharing, and scaling. Here's how that worked out:

  • Learning: I've been learning a ton about myself, life, and the people and resources around us, and skills that make our lives better. Drawing my thoughts out has been really helpful for untangling them. I haven't focused on tech as much, but sometimes I make little improvements here and there so that I can make the most of my limited screentime.
  • Sharing: Parenting's been keeping me too busy to create lots of focused resources. I'm not too worried about this, though, since lots of other people are making cool stuff for Emacs.
  • Scaling: Emacs News has been a really time-efficient way for me to help out with the Emacs community, and all the automation I've built around EmacsConf lets me squeeze it into the time I have. For consulting, I've been able to help other people learn by answering quick questions, and I continue to have fun making the client's crazy ideas happen.

Wow, 2013 to 2023 brought a lot of big changes to my life.

Text from sketch

Life in my thirties

Big changes:

  • Parenting:
    • I approached or hit my limits more than I used to, but that's part of what I signed up for, and it's a good opportunity to learn and grow.
      • Next: more patience, empathy, curiosity, and love
    • I have a deeper appreciation of W- and the people and resources available.
      • Next: use the inspiration to keep growing
  • COVID-19:
    • I have a deeper appreciation of W- and the people and resources available.
  • Consulting:
    • I have fun creatively solving challenges
    • Next: scale up by helping others learn
  • Emacs News, EmacsConf:
    • I found ways to help out even with the constraints on my attention. The Emacs community is thriving, and I enjoy being part of it.
    • Next: tinker & share more
  • Hobbies:
    • I'm more comfortable making things, growing things, preserving things.
    • Next: learn more skills, practise, organize

Looking ahead to my forties:

  • Parenting: From 7 years old to 17 years old is a ton of growth! This is the payoff from the last decade's setup, and the setup for decades to come.
  • As A+ becomes more independent, I'll have more time and energy for my own things. I want to work on the interests I share with W- as well as my own stuff: cooking, gardening, sewing, crafting, …

Text from sketch
  • 30 (2013-14): lots of drawing & writing, Hacklab, Emacs Chats, Google Helpouts, Frugal FIRE, self-publishing, trip to PH
  • 31: slow days, helped with new Hacklab, high-profile consulting project, sewing, laser cutter, Canadian citizenship
  • 32: library hackathon, A+! Sleep disruption, microphthalmia, lots of appointments, Emacs News, basement tiles, sewing for A+
  • 33: House projects, Royal Ontario Museum, conformer, lost shell, walking & talking, Learning Tower, cooking, Healthy Babies Healthy Children, trip to PH, de Quervain's
  • 34: Checking off medical questions, music, my dad died, dental surgery for A+, little books, city resources for kids, lots of trips to PH, babysitter experiments, bike trailer
  • 35 (2018-19): Why? more books, journal, Planet Emacslife, more consulting during the day, playdates, EarlyON, NL, PH, cousins
  • 36: EmacsConf, ReactJS, Docker, COVID lockdowns, tobogganing, gardening, Heroica, library card, allowance
  • 37: virtual school, exemption, reading, garden cage, sewing, steno, Pride & Prejudice, 11ty, Numberblocks
  • 38: cubing, Cinderella dress, pressure canning, glasses for A+, outside, house tweaks, skating, cursive, COVID vax, SuperNote, friend group, playdates, lemonade stand
  • 39: EmacsConf streaming, being outside, virtual grade 1, homework, learning to trust A+, semi-unschool, more cubing, swimming, Minecraft

Parenting will probably take up most of my forties. I think the biggest thing I need to practice is calm, appreciative curiosity: not letting my worries or reactions or shoulds get in the way of being present, enjoying what's there, and helping figure things out together. It's tough, but it's what I signed up for, and that skill will also come in handy as I learn to deal with aging and world weirdness.

It's been a good ten years. Looking forward to seeing what we can make of the next ten.

Turning 40; life as a 39-year-old

| review, yearly

Last year, I figured that life as a 39-year-old would be about adapting to grade 1 and A-'s developing capabilities, and hoped to continue spending time outside.

We successfully navigated virtual grade 1, turning in the required homework every day. We mostly treated homework as practice in emotional regulation and figuring out how to work with our brains. A+ liked it when I took on the role of grousing about homework, broke it up into sections followed by Minecraft segments, translated the math homework into Cantonese, or set timers. Sometimes it was challenging to get through the work, but it helped to point out that homework was a way for us to stay out of in-person classes. I hope we'll be able to have a similar arrangement in virtual grade 2 next year.

Friendships were a big priority for us. We took advantage of our exemption from synchronous learning to spend most weekday afternoons playing with friends at nearby parks, even through winter. The kids loved playing dress-up, dolls, and kitchen, and they had plenty of special moments together. I like the grown-ups in the group, too, and we've been putting our heads together trying to help the kids learn about friendships and fun.

Thanks to A+'s friendships, we've been exploring lots of new interests. We let her explore Minecraft this year because many of her friends play it. She's really taken to it, and I'm slowly learning to have fun with it as well. I even set up Minecraft Realms Plus subscriptions so that we could play with A+'s cousins. Fortunately, it hasn't completely taken over our lives. Friends were also good reasons to go skating in winter and swimming in summer. (We started braving outdoor pools.)

A+ continues to be a bookworm, yay! She's watched a good number of videos and followed up with lots of book tie-ins, particularly around Minecraft and Disney Descendants. I'm learning not to worry too much about her eyesight and let her enjoy it, with the occasional reminder to check in with her body in between books.

As a result of A+'s growing independence when reading on her own and when playing with other kids, I've found a little time here and there to work on my own things. I wrote some code to recolor my Supernote sketches and extract the text, and that helped me write about more of my thoughts. I managed to figure out how to run multiple tracks for EmacsConf, which was awesome. I often bring hand-sewing projects to playdates so that I can work on them while chatting with the other grown-ups. I set up the sewing machine in the living room, and that made it easier for me to work on dresses, skirts, and even some outdoor covers.

I've been able to tend to the garden almost every day. I'm getting more comfortable starting seeds, propagating cuttings, and rescuing tomato branches. We grew lots more bitter melon and cherry tomatoes this year. The potatoes were interesting to experiment with, although that might be something I'll get from the grocery store going forward. I enjoyed eating lettuce, radishes, and beans from the garden. People have been stopping to take pictures of the zinnias, and the kids had fun making flower crowns with the marigolds.

I've been drawing daily moments on my SuperNote A5X as part of our bedtime routine. A+ likes to flip back through them, and they've made my monthly review process easier. I'm looking forward to building up a good archive of them.

It's been a good year for learning more about the world and learning more about ourselves. Thanks to all that practice dealing with homework and interactions, I've learned that I lean more towards sharing reflections and offering carrots rather than using sticks. I'm getting more comfortable with the idea that I can't just tell A+ everything. Some things she just has to experiment with for herself. I'm looking forward to getting better at keeping the long-term goal in mind without also catastrophizing and worrying too much about long-term effects. W-'s really good at thinking through things, and I'm glad I get to learn from his wisdom.

Let's see what next year is like. I hope we can work out a similar arrangement with A+'s virtual grade 2 teachers so that we can spend the afternoons outside. I'm looking forward to exploring more projects and developing more skills as she plays or reads. When she wants to spend time with me, I'd like to get better at playing with her, and Minecraft seems like a good avenue for that. Onward!

Text from sketch

Life as a 39-year-old

  • Aug 2022: Recoloring sketches, connect the dots, library script
  • Sept: Eye checkup ok, new scleral shell, EmacsConf sched, porch railing
  • Oct: Wonder Woman, OpenAI whisper, OBS in the cloud
  • Nov: Snowman, Ethernet, EmacsConf prep
  • Dec: Emacs Conf tracks, skating, campfire
  • Jan 2023: Twiddler, skating, forts
  • Feb: Party for A+! Skating, sledding
  • March: Minecraft, Mineclone, atropine, glasses, tooth extraction, taking turns
  • April: Minecraft caving, laptops, garden
  • May: Minecraft Realms, cavity, booster seat, loose tooth, sewing during playdates
  • June: finished grade 1! biking farther, Minecraft worlds
  • July: swimming, pizza, sewing covers

Compared to when I was 38:

  • Stopped/reduced: LEGO Technic, house organization, cubing
  • Continued: outside time, SuperNote drawing
  • Started/increased: Minecraft, videos, playdates incl. 1-on-1, skating, swimming, container gardening, EmacsConf


  • Stopping/reducing: worrying
  • Continuing: outside time, play, moments, drawing, crafts, garden, EmacsConf, consulting
  • Starting/increasing: playing with A+


93 sketches this year versus 43 sketches during the previous year.

Blog posts

104 posts this year versus 96 the previous year. I didn't do as many weekly reviews, so this was more learning and sharing. Yay!


Category % 38 years % 39 years Diff % h/wk Diff h/wk
Discretionary - Productive 6.4 9.8 3.4 16.4 5.7
Personal 7.3 10.1 2.8 17.0 4.7
Discretionary - Family 0.5 0.9 0.5 1.6 0.8
Business - Build 0.2 0.1 -0.1 0.2 -0.1
Discretionary - Social 0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.0 -0.1
Business - Earn 2.0 1.6 -0.3 2.7 -0.6
Discretionary - Play 1.0 0.4 -0.6 0.8 -1.0
Unpaid work 4.6 4.0 -0.6 6.7 -1.0
Sleep 35.7 33.4 -2.3 56.1 -3.9
A- 42.3 39.6 -2.7 66.5 -4.6

Less childcare, because sometimes she's lost in a book and I can do something else like sewing, drawing, coding. Less sleep because I've been setting an alarm so that I can water the garden before I wake up A+. W-'s been doing more of the cooking because we're often out at playdates, although sometimes I shift things around so that I cook lunch. I feel good about how our days generally go, especially when we're out for playdates.

Monthly review: May 2023

| monthly, review

Text from the sketch

cavity - lost tooth - booster seat - bike - Realms - splash - sewing - garden

June: More of everything! Dealing with the heat, playing outside.

  • Growing bigger: A- bravely got a cavity filled under nitrous oxide. She also lost her first tooth the regular way. She grew big enough to a use a booster seat in the car. She got a 20" bike with gears, and started getting used to it. Still a little wobbly and we walk up and down slopes, but she'll get there.
  • Having fun: We set up Minecraft Realms Plus so that we could all play with my sister and her kids. Fun! Adventure & creativity. Splash pads! I replaced the top of A-'s splash gown and it's good for another year. Lots of play dates! Popsicle season.
  • Making time for my own hobbies: I started hand-sewing during playdates. It's slow, but at least I'm making progress! I sewed on some lace that A- asked for. and now I'm working on a hat.

    Moved the plants into the garden. Whee! It's lots of fun watching things grow and learning how to eat them.

Blog posts



Category Previous month % This month % Diff % h/wk Diff h/wk
Business 1.9 3.8 1.9 6.6 3.2
Discretionary - Productive 3.0 4.9 1.9 8.5 3.2
Unpaid work 2.8 2.9 0.1 5.0 0.2
Discretionary - Social 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
A- 44.2 44.1 -0.1 76.6 -0.1
Discretionary - Play 0.4 0.2 -0.2 0.3 -0.3
Discretionary - Family 2.6 1.6 -1.1 2.7 -1.8
Personal 10.4 9.3 -1.0 16.2 -1.8
Sleep 34.9 33.4 -1.5 57.9 -2.6

Monthly review: April 2023

| monthly, review

Text from the sketch

We spent a lot of time playing Minecraft with A+, who was curious about both Java and Bedrock. I figured out how to export command books from Org Mode, so we can easily teleport around.

Matthew D. gave me an X230T and a Surface Book, since he moved on to other computers. How kind! Happy to get more use out of them. The X230T was a straightforward upgrade for my X220T, and the Surface is neat too. (Krita supports multitouch!)

I want to learn a lot about gardening this year. Many of our strawberries came back We started bitter melons, tomatoes, peppers, and lots of flowers in March, and the seedlings are coming along nicely. We also planted radishes, lettuce, beets, and carrots outside. We'll see how this goes!

Lots of playdates with A+'s friends, including biking around. She's getting better at figuring out what she wants to do with other people and what she wants to do by herself.

Other moments: dog encounters, tooth extraction, booster seat, lots of baking, bubbles in bubbles, ice cream, respect the timer

Blog posts



Category Previous month % This month % Diff % h/wk Diff h/wk
Discretionary - Family 0.4 2.6 2.2 4.3 3.7
Sleep 32.9 34.9 2.0 56.8 3.4
Unpaid work 3.0 2.8 -0.2 4.5 -0.4
A- 44.4 44.2 -0.3 71.9 -0.4
Discretionary - Play 0.8 0.4 -0.4 0.6 -0.7
Discretionary - Productive 3.3 3.0 -0.4 4.8 -0.7
Personal 11.7 10.4 -1.3 16.9 -2.2
Business 3.5 1.9 -1.7 3.0 -2.8

Monthly review: August 2022

| monthly, review
  • Lots of little improvements because I've been getting some early morning coding time while waiting for A- to wake up.
  • Back to making visual book notes, thanks to the SuperNote
  • Lots of playing outside by ourselves or with others. A- sometimes feels jealous of others, but she'll get the hang of dealing with that feeling someday.

Blog posts and sketches


Category Previous month % This month % Diff % h/wk Diff h/wk
A- 39.1 41.6 2.5 69.8 4.1
Discretionary - Productive 5.5 7.7 2.2 13.0 3.6
Sleep 36.5 38.1 1.5 64.0 2.6
Discretionary - Play 0.9 0.9 -0.0 1.5 -0.0
Discretionary - Social 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Unpaid work 4.1 3.0 -1.1 5.0 -1.9
Business 2.7 1.3 -1.4 2.2 -2.3
Discretionary - Family 3.2 1.8 -1.4 3.0 -2.4
Personal 7.9 5.7 -2.2 9.5 -3.8

Turning 39; life as a 38-year-old

| yearly, review

This might be the earliest I've written an annual review in years. Now that A- is becoming more independent, I've been slowly reclaiming time for myself. We'll see how it goes!

I feel like we grew so much this year. We've shifted to spending a lot more time outside, trying to slow down the progression of A-'s nearsightedness. It's been easy to do that with fine weather and plenty of playdates. A- enjoyed playing with dolls and tea parties with her friends at the playground. I'm happy to keep them well-stocked with chalk and flower petals for colourful potions and soups. We had a lot of flexibility thanks to her virtual kindergarten teacher, who was all right with us pretty much spending the whole day playing outside. A- continued to have fun reading and doing math, diving into graphic novels such as the Wings of Fire series and the comic guides of Beast Academy Level 2. She also enjoyed using math to explore entrepreneurship, setting up her first lemonade stand. (CoVID-safe: she sold bottled water and powdered juice packets.) She's also starting to get interested in typing and in writing cursive. (So fancy!)

We finally gave her the go-ahead to watch movies on weekends and other special occasions. Cinderella, Tangled, and Frozen have been her favourites. She loved the floor-length gown I sewed her. We've been memorizing song lyrics, and doing a lot of pretending. It's all good.

W- has taken over most of the cooking because we're usually out playing in the afternoon. A-'s interested in helping in the kitchen, so we do some of that together. She also enthusiastically helps with W-'s house projects. We're all picking up practical life skills. She's growing so much. I need to remember to keep challenging her!

While supporting this whirlwind of learning, I've been able to squeeze in a bit of consulting. I learned more about automating things with Python, and I also enjoyed being able to hand over my Javascript prototypes to other team members who could deal with things like meetings or fiddly CSS.

I also really appreciated working with a larger team of volunteers for last year's EmacsConf. We managed to get most of the videos captioned in time for broadcast, which was neat! I'd like to try that again this year. I see all sorts of inspiring posts in the process of compiling Emacs News each week, so I'm sure there'll be plenty to talk about at EmacsConf this year.

I've been working on few other tech improvements here and there. I upgraded my Lenovo ThinkPad X220T to 16GB of memory, so it feels a little snappier. I got a SuperNote A5X mostly for drawing on, and I love it. (In fact, I wrote this on the A5X.) I included A-'s interests in the typing website I made for her. It's nice to be able to make these little improvements.

For fun, we picked up cubing last October–even A-, who can often solve a 3x3 cube faster than I can. It's a compact way to exercise memory, spatial thinking, and fine motor skills, so I'm all for it. I average about a minute for a solve. If I practise, maybe I'll get to sub-45 seconds.

Drawing is lots of fun too. I've been really enjoying exploring thoughts and doodling stuff around me. Maybe I'll end up blogging more as well!

So yeah, all in all, a pretty good year.

Last year, I wrote that I wanted to:

  • support and document A-'s learning: This worked out really well. I reused the spreadsheet I made for junior kindergarten so that I could organize my journal observations according to the four frames used in Ontario's kindergarten program. Grade 1 will be more subject-oriented, and I look forward to figuring out how to keep following A-'s interests while organizing the observations in a way that would be helpful for the teachers.
  • plant more flowers: A- has loved being able to pick flowers pretty much every day for giving to us or making pretend soups. Dahlias, dianthus, marigolds, mums, poppies, alyssum, bachelor's buttons… so many to choose from!
  • read and draw: I've been able to draw during some of A-'s playdates and while waiting for her to wake up. Progress is being made.
  • keep my priorities straight: having a bit more me time makes it easier for me to focus on A- when she wants it to be her time.

Next year will probably be all about adapting to grade 1 and A-'s developing capabilities. We'll continue to focus on spending time outside, and we'll see how that goes.

Blog posts

Aside from emacs-news and weekly reviews:



Category 2020-2021 % 2021-2022 % Diff % h/wk Diff h/wk
Sleep 31.9 35.7 3.8 59.9 6.4
Personal 5.6 7.3 1.7 12.3 2.9
Discretionary - Play 0.3 1.0 0.7 1.8 1.2
Business 1.8 2.2 0.4 3.7 0.7
Unpaid work 4.5 4.6 0.1 7.7 0.1
Discretionary - Family 0.4 0.5 0.1 0.8 0.1
Discretionary - Social 0.1 0.1 -0.0 0.1 -0.0
A- 45.1 42.3 -2.8 71.0 -4.8
Discretionary - Productive 10.3 6.4 -3.9 10.8 -6.6

Huh, that's interesting. We shifted to being outside more often, so I haven't been bribing A- with screentime in order to have some coding time (Discretionary - Productive time down). She's happy to read more independently now (A- time down), so I've been able to set a bedtime for myself and start settling down for sleep at a reasonable time (Sleep up), and I sometimes have breakfast by myself while waiting for her to finish reading (Personal - Routines up). From time to time, I can even do a bit of reading myself (Discretionary - Play up). W-'s handling almost all the cooking since we're out on playdates, but I've shifted more chore time towards picking up, cooking, and doing errands, so the time I spend on household stuff (Unpaid work) is still about the same. This year has felt pretty good.

It would be nice to have more time for working on personal projects, but I don't know how that would fit into our current rhythms. I don't want to stay up late, and A- doesn't want me to be on my laptop while waiting for her to wake up. So I'll probably focus on writing and drawing for a little while, since I can do that early in the morning. I just have to pick coding projects that pique her interest, like when I made a typing practice website based on her favourite books. Other things can wait.

Let's see what the next year brings!

Weekly review: Week ending January 7, 2022

| review, weekly
  • Emacs:
    • Woohoo! I got undercover, coverage, and buttercup working together for subed. I also changed subed to use the major-mode specifier for the generic methods.
    • I added the BBB questions for the Turbo Bindat talk, and I checked if I missed any other BBB chats.
    • Yay, Indium still worked! I could interactively debug my eleventy Javascript, which was a great help.
  • Other:
    • We made cat beds out of cardboard boxes, fabric, and foam.

Blog posts

Category The other week % Last week % Diff % h/wk Diff h/wk
Sleep 36.3 40.1 3.9 67.5 6.5
Discretionary - Play 0.0 0.7 0.7 1.1 1.1
Discretionary - Family 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.5 0.5
A- 40.2 40.3 0.1 67.6 0.1
Business 0.7 0.2 -0.6 0.3 -0.9
Discretionary - Productive 9.1 8.5 -0.6 14.2 -1.0
Personal 6.6 5.7 -0.9 9.6 -1.6
Unpaid work 7.1 4.3 -2.8 7.2 -4.7