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A birth, a wedding, and a funeral

It was an emotional week. On Saturday we began our day by learning that my sister-in-law had delivered her first child! So exciting! Then I whisked the kids off to the farmer’s market where we picked up some fruit and flowers.

That afternoon, we virtually attended a wedding. I got a little dressed up and armed with the flowers we watched the ceremony. I’m super thrilled to see my friend so happy, and really wish we could have traveled to Philadelphia to be a part of the wedding as originally planned. Still, I’m glad that in spite of the pandemic, we were able to “be there” at least a little to show our love and support. It sure did make for a whirlwind of emotions though.

We then received very sad news that an elderly relative was quite ill. She subsequently passed away on Thursday. As is Jewish tradition, her funeral was scheduled for today, and I can’t begin to describe how unsettling it is to be here, instead of scrambling to get on a plane and fly to Philadelphia for the funeral. My heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one during this pandemic, it’s heartbreaking to not be able to say goodbye in person, or to get the closure that a funeral helps provide.

In an attempt to get my mind off the emotional roller coaster, I’m focusing on other house projects. MJ installed some deadbolt covers on the doors to the outside so Adam can’t get outside on his own. He also got the gate at the top of the stairs installed so Adam can have slightly more freedom upstairs without us worrying that he’ll go downstairs alone. As mentioned in my last post, I did manage to get my desk cleaned out and prepared for work. Our next big project together is cleaning out MJ’s office, since he may need to use it, and it would be a good backup option for me to take conference calls or do presentations while Aaron is napping.

As the conclusion of my maternity leave is in sight, I’m happy to report that everything that needed to be done before my return was done. So even though my adult to-do list never really nears completion, I am in a good spot. Once I return, I really will have to start letting things go more, especially when it comes to the house being more cluttered than I’d like. Even with the kids being cared for while I’m at work, as soon as 5PM rolls around I’m scooping them up for dinner, playtime, bath time and bedtime, then doing chores before adult dinner. It makes for exhausting days that leave little time for other things, and I really do need other things for sanity! So maybe the boxes will pile up in the living room a bit more, or I’ll have to mop the floor less frequently and go a bit longer before doing laundry.

I’ve also prepared several places around the house for me to work as I’m still sharing my home office with baby Aaron until his sleep gets to a more stable place and he can share a room with Adam. If my office is unavailable, I have a table on the deck, a table upstairs, the couch downstairs, a big fluffy chair in the master bedroom, and even a comfy spot near Caligula by the downstairs fireplace. Work aside, it’s been fun cultivating these spots anyway, with public places still out of the question, it’s good to have a change of scenery now and then when I want to go study, read, or get some project work done on my laptop.

I also got to spend some genuinely fun time with the boys. Our back yard is not beautiful, but with a new fence and the old broken parts of fence gone, it is a bit safer back there now and I’m more comfortable taking the boys out to play back there (well, Adam plays, Aaron is still so little!). I’m also trying to find more toys that a two year old can play with out back. Sand boxes seem popular, but I know I’d struggle to cope with the mess. Water tables are popular too, maybe once it’s warmer outside. I bought a bubble gun, bean bag toss game, and some little truck toys, and so far the novelty of those are keeping him busy for a few minutes at a time.

Several things are wearing on me as I look at the coming weeks. After the initial excitement and acceptance, Adam is struggling with not being the sole recipient of attention when there’s only one caregiver around to care for both him and little Aaron. So we’re working on strategies to make sure he doesn’t melt down so often or severely. We also decided to tackle potty training while I’m on maternity leave, which by all metrics is going very well, but it’s still been an exhausting process for everyone involved. With COVID travel restrictions, there is also some uncertainty around the arrival date of our next au pair. Thankfully there are emergency care options at work, so we won’t be in a total bind if the delays we fear do occur.

Passover begins tomorrow night. It’ll be our second pandemic Passover spent entirely at home. Doing holidays at home, especially ones that are so social, has been a pretty sad part of this pandemic. Still, MJ’s picking up our catered Passover meal today and we’re going to make the most of it here with our little family. There is also a light at the end of the tunnel with all this pandemic stuff. Vaccine availability is increasing, and more places are opening in limited ways. While it will be some time before the little ones can be vaccinated, things will continue to get safer for all of us with few people who can spread it. Maybe we’ll even be able to spend Hanukkah with our family back east this year.

House things, St. Patrick’s Day, and time

It’s hard to believe I have just one more week of maternity leave. I’m grateful for the 16 weeks paid leave for my employer, and I’m actually eager to get back to a working schedule, but there’s really never enough time.

As my maternity leave winds down, I do recognize that I will be losing some of my free time, and am now rushing to finish off tasks around the house before I go back to work. Over the past couple weeks I’ve focused on making some small, but impactful changes in the living room downstairs to make it more livable. I set up a paper mail workflow in the corner so I can toss mail in a box when I don’t have time for it and it’s easier deal with it when I have a few minutes here or there. I also bought a key holder for the wall, and MJ showed me how to use his electric drill so I could hang it properly, and now our key table isn’t such a mess. Admittedly, I also shoved a bunch of boxes full of pending house project stuff into a closet so I don’t have to look at it anymore, but having it in the middle of our living room wasn’t doing anyone any favors.

The other big project this month was replacing our fence. Some big wind storms last year did a number to our fence, collapsing it entirely in one long section, and requiring to be stapled back together on another section. While working on those portions, we also discovered that a section we thought looked fine was actually infested with termites. MJ spent a bunch of time researching materials and settling on Trex composite, because it doesn’t require maintenance and looks better than vinyl tends to, and then had a multi-month search of finding a dealer who would install it here. Then there was wrangling of all the neighbors we border to let them know about the project. Thankfully it all went pretty well in the end, even if he did have to check in on the installers while they were working to make a few little improvements to their plans. The rest of the back yard needs a lot of work, but I’m really happy to have a functional fence out there again! And we couldn’t reasonably do a landscaping remodel without replacing the fence first anyway.

We also kind of celebrated St. Patrick’s Day this year. Our au pair Claudia did crafts with Adam to decorate the wall, and we dressed ourselves and the boys in green. In the afternoon we had some green cake and that evening we enjoyed a round of Guinness. I’m not sure if it’s the kids or the pandemic that are changing holidays for us, it’s probably a little of both. We have little buddies to dress up with now! And anything to break of the monotony of pandemic life is quite welcome, even if it does take energy that I frequently find lacking.

I also had my last visit with my liver doctor on St. Patrick’s Day. As I’ve mentioned, I put on a lot of weight in my 30s, and was diagnosed with NAFLD several years back. I’ve had high liver enzymes and an annual visit booked with a liver doctor since the diagnosis. With both pregnancies I also had intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (a liver condition), and with the second I had my enzymes spike so high that they were in dangerous territory. It was pretty scary, especially since my father died from liver disease in his early 50s. Thankfully, my last blood work came back the best we’ve seen in years. All my values are down, and close to normal! Coupled with what looks like no long-term damage to my liver, based on tests I had done before I got pregnant with Aaron, my doctor declared that he doesn’t need to see me again unless there’s a problem. I’m convinced this reversal in condition is due to me adjusting my diet, exercising more and ultimately losing weight. One more reason to stick to it.

Cycling back to the beginning of this post, as a parent of two now, I’ve been thinking about time a lot. I reflect back to 2015 when I read 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and how I let it nearly ruined my life. I started scrutinizing every free moment I had, placed guilt upon myself for watching TV, and made serious commitments to more than I could deliver on in a healthy manner. If I’m honest, it made my life amazing for a while, I hit several life goals, optimized loads of tasks. I still reap the benefits today. It was actually a really valuable book in many ways! Then I nearly burnt myself out. “Nearly” is key here, being immersed in open source communities where burnout was discussed was important to me avoiding the depths with which other fell to, but I did hit a low point. Learning to relax after that has been a whole de-programming exercise. I internalized so much of the message of the book where every moment is filled with value, and reflected that back to others in my life in increasingly unhealthy ways. Now that I find myself with even more serious time restraints, I want to avoid falling into that again. I’ve started making a rotating list of what I want to do in my limited free time, and have included everything from studying for the Ham radio Technician license to reading comic books. I’ve also ditched the guilt. I don’t watch much TV, I never did! But it’s an enjoyable part of being human, especially when I’m tired.

With my last week of maternity leave, I look forward to lots of baby snuggles and then getting my home office ready to return to it. My desk drawers are overflowing with stuff that I’ve been meaning to sort through for some time, and it would be nice to start work again with a more organized space.

A 5K, private Aardman film fest, amateur radio, and hamentashen

Last week I set out with Aaron, dressed a bit like a penguin, and did a 5K walk around town as part of a fundraiser for the San Francisco Zoo.

While it was just a walk, and I do walks almost every day, it was fun to dress up and share something on social media with a community of fellow animal lovers. I also realized that these virtual races may be something I could really get in to. We’ll see what else I can find virtual 5K-wise in the coming months.

In my last post I mentioned resurrecting my Wallace and Gromit fan site, and as promised I did write up about my at-home film festival: DIY Aardman Book Private Film Festival. It was an enjoyable way to spend my time, and it was a pleasure to learn more about the history of the studio, and work beyond the characters I am most familiar with.

I’ve also been studying to get my amateur radio license. It’s been on my bucket list for years. My father was a ham fan, so I knew about the hobby from a young age and have always had a number of friends who were into it. It’s also a technical endeavor that has nothing to do with my day job, making for an engaging and interesting way to spend my extremely limited down time while on maternity leave. I hope to do the test in the next few months, probably remotely with one of the ham clubs my friends are part of.

We also recently celebrated Purim, by which I mean we ate hamentashen prepared by our synagogue and shipped to us, introduced Adam to noise-makers, and watched a joint Purim and Shabbat service via Zoom on the big TV in the family room. It’s not a holiday I’ve observed before, partially because timing is tricky (I’m usually traveling during it) and also because it all seemed very kid-oriented, and we didn’t have kids until recently! Doing all of these things remotely is still taking some adjusting to, but I love how creative our synagogue has gotten with the holidays, it’s now been a whole year of them. Passover is scheduled now, and will be our second one conducted over Zoom.

All of the things in the post are impacted by a very different world than I was sitting in a year ago. On March 8th, 2020, we flew home from Pasadena after our last in-person conference, and that was our last flight for an entire year. It had been over a decade since I spent that much time without flying, with most years getting near or hitting 100K miles lately. This past year without travel has been hard on my wanderlusting heart, but it also allowed me to cope with a difficult pregnancy at home, and spend a lot more time with my little family. There were no virtual 5Ks I could do at my own pace with my infant without joining a crowd, I probably would have continued to not prioritize getting my ham radio license if not for infrastructure and safety concerns stirred up by the pandemic. We’ve had to get more creative with projects at home, leading to my private film festival. The pandemic has been deeply tragic, so finding these silver linings has been important to keeping me hopeful and happy as we look to the future we’re building for our sons. Here’s hoping the vaccine rollout continues quickly and we can be in a much safer place in a few months.

Virtual Beer Festival, Mars, and Another Zoo!

My maternity leave continues to be a fulfilling time with little Aaron and the whole family. After a bit of a sleep regression last week, as he approaches three months old he seems to finally be sleeping for longer stretches (4-6 hours overnight, rather than 2!) and we’re hoping this continues. As a long time 9-10 hours of sleep per night person, getting 4-6 hours per night myself has been brutal, especially when it’s chopped into several segments. I’ve been drinking coffee every morning to get going, which is unusual for me.

It’s not all kids all the time here though! I signed up to participate in a virtual beer festival last weekend, Juicy Brews Saturday Morning. It was breakfast themed, so they sent some whole bean coffee, kids cereal (and color-changing spoon!), a stuffed toy, and a whole box full of breakfast-themed beers brewed specifically for the event.

The event itself was handled over a YouTube Live stream, with participants in chat and sharing photos on Twitter and Instagram, and check-ins on Untappd. They had a variety of panels and discussions, from coffee making to art labels on craft brews. For my part, I did the breakfast and loaded up the stream on the TV in the family room so I could keep an eye on it throughout the morning as I watched the kiddos. It wasn’t until lunch when MJ joined me that I finally had a single coffee stout. Still, it was fun, and it’s really been fun trying these wild beers this week. About half the beers are fruity sours, a quarter stouts, and the rest are an array of ales. Some are really odd, like the one that tasted like a juice smoothie, or one I had the other night that was essentially a banana and maple syrup milkshake with 8% alcohol content.

I’ve also been getting familiar with a MacBook Pro running OS X that we’ve been using for family stuff, including video calls and virtual events at the synagogue. I will never give up my Linux laptops, I’m open source to the bone, but it has been an interesting experience from a technical perspective. Most of my pain so far has been just how different it is for ordinary tasks, and the muscle memory of special keys not being where I expect. The tactile feel of the keyboard is nice though, and from a practical perspective, there is some proprietary software that’s required for virtual things that isn’t built for Linux, so using it for that has been necessary.

One thing we didn’t need it for though was watching the latest rover landing! That we just loaded up on YouTube on the Roku on the TV in our family room. I was particularly excited for Adam to see this one, because in addition to it being his first rover landing, it has his name on it!

In other “media” news, I mentioned in my last post that I’d brought back my Wallace and Gromit fan site. Unfortunately for my credit card, that has also sparked a renewed interest in Wallace and Gromit collectibles. I’m not regretting it though, I’m really happy with my recent purchases and am still looking forward to a few coming. It also caused me to start reading the book about Aardman that was published a few years ago. This in itself has turned into a mini film-festival for myself. As I read through the book, I watch the shorts they mention, take in an episode or two of one of each series they talk about, and I have a whole pile of feature films to re-watch. It’s been a delightful adventure which I plan on writing about over on the fan site when I’m done, since Aardman themselves have published a lot of the shorts I’ve been able to watch on YouTube.

This week we went to another zoo! This time we got tickets at the Oakland Zoo, which was a much easier drive than San Francisco (about 15 minutes from home, versus 45), and the shorter drive was quite welcome. We went in the afternoon, picked up one of their speciality Town Zoo beers (beer again? hah!) and had a wonderful time visiting the animals and soaking in the views of the bay. I’m really glad these outdoor venues are open again, and the reduced capacity really seems to be working, there are still a number of people there, but it’s relatively easy to keep a safe distance.

I mentioned a couple posts ago that I’ve been losing weight through diet changes and exercising. I didn’t mention just how successful I’ve been. At the height of my non-pregnancy weight around this time last year, I was 237 lbs. Today I’m 197. That’s 40 pounds!

Breastfeeding has been a key factor in this success, since it burns roughly 500 calories alone, so I can over-shoot my weight loss calorie goals by that much and still manage to lose weight. That means I’ve been able to keep having a beer with dinner a few times a week and enjoying my favorite foods in moderation, and ease more slowly into this diet change, while still maintaining momentum and that good feeling of watching the numbers on the scale go down. I’m also lucky that I haven’t been as hungry with baby #2. A major part of my weight gain that brought me to my top weight was how ravenous I always was when I was feeding kiddo #1. I’m not sure what’s different this time around, maybe my body knows what to expect.

The other part of my success really is concern about my health. As such, I’ve been paying very close to the sugar composition of the foods I eat, and even the ones I indulge in, and have started to be more strategic about when and how I enjoy them. Learning about all this has made all the difference. I also bought a simple Fitbit and have been tracking my steps again, aiming for 7500 per day, which is helped by daily walks with the boys. This is the part of my lifestyle changes that I’m most concerned about with my return to work next month. It’s easy to carve out 45 minutes to walk a couple miles today, but once I go back to work? I’m going to be tired. I will work to make it a priority though, staying active is so important for my health.

Kitchen, fandom, parks, and kiddos

The new “kitchen pantry” has been assembled! I guess you can tell you’re getting old when things like creating more counter and storage space in your kitchen is something to get excited about. It really has changed how useful the kitchen is though, no more doing meal prep on unactive burners on the stove top, or on the table, I can actually use the counter! It’s not a spectacular decor match, but it does look nice, and it’s a versatile piece of furniture that we can use elsewhere in the house when the time comes to do the kitchen remodel.

Life with an infant continues to be tiring, so we don’t have a lot of spare time for things, but I have been carving out some time in the evenings to wind down and read for a bit. I also decided hobby-wise I need something. So one thing I decided to resurrect is my news blog/fan site over on WallaceAndGromit.net. I started working on it in 2002, but until this week my last entry was five years ago. Things dropped off when I was working on my OpenStack book, and then I got very busy with my new developer advocacy career, so a lot of energy was put into building my expertise on that path, and then kids really made my life busy. But I love Wallace and Gromit, and keeping up with their news is great when you have kids! Shaun the Sheep is a lot of fun for kids, and I can’t wait to introduce The Wrong Trousers to Adam and Aaron. It’s also a less computer-y hobby, and one that’s social, so I think it’s a good one to get back on top of right now. We’ll see how it goes when I return to work in a few weeks.

In family bonding news, we’ve been taking advantage of the nice weather and going out for walks every day, and sometimes even going on adventures further afar now that some outdoor spaces are opening. Last Thursday our au pair and I took Adam and Aaron out to Lake Chabot Park where we played on a field and then went on a short walk by the lake.

Friday was our big zoo day! The zoos have been opened and closed a couple times during the pandemic, but since most of the exhibits are outdoors, it feels like a safe, and much-needed escape for families looking for something to do — including ours. We first thought we’d go to the Oakland Zoo, but with limited occupancy numbers and what seems like every family in the east bay wanting to go, it was actually quite tricky to get tickets. Instead we made our way over to my beloved San Francisco Zoo. It’s much further away, and a smaller zoo, but it was my “home” zoo for nearly a decade, and I’ve been there many times. They also require timed ticket entry to manage capacity, but they were easy to get. It was the first big family outing with our au pair and the kids since the pandemic began, so it was notable. We had a really good time, and I’m pretty sure Adam wants to go every day now (me too!).

Valentine’s Day this year was pretty low-key. We had a nice take-out brunch, including some great Lobster Eggs Benedict for me. MJ splurged on a couple dozen roses and chocolates for me, but our dinner of Thai take-out was interrupted by Aaron deciding to continue a multi-day sleep regression that had him waking up every 45 minutes around the clock. With restaurants closed anyway, it was never going to be a big, fancy dinner of years past, but I do look forward to getting back to those date nights when the pandemic is over and the kids are a bit older.

This week our au pair is on vacation, which means for the first time we have both kids non-stop for over a week. My hats off to stay at home moms who are caring for small children, this is tough! Especially with a sleep regression thrown in! Showers are now an every-other-day thing, and I’m barely keeping up with chores because I’m so tired from the overnight shift. MJ and I have been mixing up the overnight schedule a little, I’ve found that 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep seems to serve me better than getting the same amount (or even a little more) in 2-3 chunks, so we’re trying that now. Still, it’s hard to operate on so little sleep day after day. I’m continuing to try to enjoy the tiny, snuggly baby time as much as I can, but I’m also looking forward to him being a little older and sleeping better.

Big boxes and small moods

We’ve made progress on some house things these past few weeks. I was able to finally assemble the deck box for Adam’s toys that was delivered back in November, and MJ helped me bring it outside. This will make it considerably easier to play with him out back, since we’ll no longer need to haul out his toys every time, now they’re already out there!

The wind this year has not been kind to our fence, so MJ has spent some time improving the temporary fix-ups and coordinating with our four neighbors to get the fence replaced. With support from the neighbors secured, we’ve now signed a contract for a new fence, but the materials will likely take a few months to come in, pushing out our installation date a few months. In the meantime, I’ve piled up the broken parts of the fence in a pile that Adam is unlikely to go near, making the back yard a slightly more hospitable place until we can tackle the landscaping remodel.

We also bought a chest freezer for the garage. We have one that came with the house, but it’s small and doesn’t appear to be in great shape. Plus, it was already filling up between our modest pandemic food stockpile and breast milk that I’m freezing. For the new one, we went with a 10.2 cubic foot freezer, and picked it up at the hardware store as soon as I was cleared for heavy lifting again. I’ve been joking (not joking) with my friends that it’s now time to get a Costco membership.

Freezer loaded into the truck? Check!

There are several more projects on the radar here, including putting a toddler gate at the top of the stairs, assembling a “kitchen pantry” cabinet to provide some much-needed additional storage and cabinet space in our kitchen, installing a drying rack above the sink, hanging the family room TV on the wall, and finally configuring our additional WiFi access points. We’re slowly making progress on all of these things, but sleep often wins in the battle for our time.

On the family side, I’ve been getting slightly more adept at watching both of the kids at once. It’s not easy, with the toddler taking any opportunity to run around the house and get into trouble while I’m trying to attend to the baby, but I’m getting even better at physical multi-tasking than I already was as a parent. My real limitation, yet again, is exhaustion, and power naps only get me so far! Thankfully, the antidepressants seem to be helping my postpartum depression and anxiety, meaning even at my most tired, I’m not feeling as hopeless and anxious.

Even with the medication, I have noticed there are a few things I need to be doing to keep myself on an even keel. Taking 30 minutes to light a candle while I shower, brush my teeth, and put on face creams and lotions is astonishingly restorative. Taking a walk every day, with or without the kids, has helped me ease into being more active. And reading something for pleasure, often at 4AM while waiting for Aaron to fall back to sleep, is wonderfully relaxing. Writing here in this blog is also high on the list, it’s the one thing I’m able to do right now that’s very me. I desperately miss computers and all things technical, but I keep reminding myself that I’ll have plenty of that waiting for me when I go back to work in a couple months. Still, it does leave me feeling a bit disconnected for myself, especially as I watched everyone return to work after the holidays.

Taking a walk with Aaron in the baby carrier!

The other thing I’ve been spending time on is improvements to my diet. If you’ve read through this blog over the years, you will have noticed I do from time to time commit to diet improvements, or new exercise routines (new gym membership, new running regimen). Like many adults, when life and work creep up, the more challenging of these things drops to the sidelines, and I drift toward a more sedentary lifestyle with poor nutrition choices. This became even harder once we had kids. But with the gestational diabetes diagnosis during my last pregnancy, I was really shaken up by what that means for my long-term health. It’s no longer a matter of “just being overweight” and that being a problem for vanity, it was clear that if I turn 40 this year and if I don’t get serious about diet and exercise, I have a very real risk for long-term, serious health problems. I have the benefit right now of breastfeeding, which is a major calorie burner, so even as I ease into diet improvements I’m already losing weight, which is keeping me motivated so far. I’m hopeful that concrete health concerns will keep me on track.

2021 so far

We’re just a couple weeks into 2021, and what a doozy already!

It kicked off as unusual as all of 2020 had been. No parties for New Years’ Eve, instead we did takeout from our favorite family restaurant here in town, that had curated a special New Years’ Eve menu. We picked up after Adam went down for the night, and Aaron down for his first nap of the overnight.

But quickly, 2021 reminded us that dates are an arbitrary human invention, and don’t actually change anything about our lives. On January 6th there as an attack upon the Capitol building incited by the president while Congress worked to certify election results for his opponent. This action lead to the presidents’ subsequent impeachment, again. COVID-19 vaccines finally became available a few weeks ago, but we’re coping with botched roll-outs in many states, including California, just as a more virulent strain of the virus is becoming more widespread.

I’m hopeful though. With the new administration being sworn in on January 20th, we’ll have a president who puts his country before his ego, and can finally have intelligent discourse from the executive branch again. I’m looking forward to actually having a leader who is interested in serving the whole country, and not just playing to pockets of supporters who are “loyal” to him. Most of all, I look forward to once again being critical, but constructive, about our government. No more shocking stories every day that get in the way of actual action in the interest of the people.

The vaccine is also a real bright spot. It’ll be some time before the kids can receive it, but as soon as it’s available for the rest of the family, we’re eager to get in line. It does seem like we’re in this for the long haul though. I finally broke down and bought a little holder to put by the door for the masks, so they’re not just piled up in a big mess on our key table.

January 6th was also Adam’s second birthday! He had three little birthday parties last year, between celebrations in Philadelphia and back here in California, so I hope that makes up for doing a household-only birthday party this year where he had a little celebration of cake, balloons, and presents.

Otherwise at home, we’re still in newborn survival mode. That means both MJ and I are tired all the time as we cater to the around the clock feeding and changing needs of little Aaron for these first few months. I’m definitely looking forward to this stage being over, but I’m doing my best to enjoy those overnights with him, as we snuggle up and wait for him to burp and get sleepy again so I can return him to his crib. This will be our last child, and these newborn snuggle sessions don’t last long! Day to day, most of my awake time is spent trying to keep up with chores, and chipping away at small house projects. We’re continuing to make improvements to the family room in our attempts to stem the toy chaos, the most recent addition is some shelves with boxes to put toys in, which Adam helped me assemble.

But if I’m being honest, this newborn phase is very hard for me and not much is getting done aside from what is necessary. As much joy as I get from my children, I am definitely putting other satisfying parts of my life on hold in order to focus on them, and I struggle with what feels like a loss of that part of me during this time. I also just generally don’t handle lack of sleep well, so I struggle to even write this, and my moods haven’t been what I would like. So this week I spoke with my doctor and started a low dose of antidepressants. Postpartum anxiety and depression are shockingly common, and I knew I was at high risk for it even if I managed to avoid the medication route with Adam. This time around it was just getting to be too much, and I’m grateful that I know myself well enough to see that and take action to improve my situation, and that I have a supportive family and doctor.

With that, I’m also taking the recommendation from my doctor seriously that I carve out a few minutes to myself, and to get outside more. Postpartum recovery was tough for me, so I’ve stayed very close to home these past six weeks. Thankfully, I have finally physically recovered and I’m cleared to resume normal activities. Even if the pandemic prevents me from doing most of what I used to do, I will do my best to make sure I get some fresh air every day. And that time to myself she recommended? You’re reading it.

The adventures of 2020, or lack thereof?

For the past decade, every year I’ve written an End of Year blog post. I list the places I’ve traveled, my talks, and then generally reflect upon other milestones in the year.

2020 was a very different year for all of us due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amusingly, at the beginning of 2020 I made a decision to really own my travel schedule, and not lie to myself about how I’d stay home more. I had my first international trip since Adam was born, to Australia, and penciled in trips to Singapore and Amsterdam. I had lined up trips across the country for events during the first six months of the year, and we even had flights booked for an early spring trip to our place in Philadelphia.

So to begin my post like I usually do for these year wrap up posts, we did get some adventures in!

The January trip to Australia was one I’d longed for. I spent a long weekend in Brisbane doing some tourist stuff, and then took the train down to Gold Coast for the annual Linux Conf AU event where I gave a couple talks. COVID-19 was not even on my radar.

Tourist in Brisbane!

IBM pals at Linux Conf AU

As we entered February, we took our first agenda-free (no wedding, funeral, visit to Philly, etc) family vacation with Adam! It was to Las Vegas, which we figured would be an easy way to start vacation-wise. We were able to get a large suite so Adam could have a place to sleep separate from us, and we were able to take advantage of a bunch of perks we had accrued over the years and our previous trips to Las Vegas. A few murmurs here and there had begun about COVID-19, but it felt more like the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s: a serious outbreak, but not something we factored into our lives.

On a walk down the Las Vegas strip, Adam enjoys the fountains at the Bellagio

As March approached international travel started tightening up for work. My trip to speak at a conference in Singapore in mid-March was canceled by management, and all other travel started getting looked at with more scrutiny. Still, we had a trip to Pasadena planned for SCALE18x the first week of March which MJ, Adam, and I were all going to. As I boarded the plane with the family on March 4th I still had the green light to attend.

I’ll be honest, I still wasn’t taking COVID-19 entirely seriously at this stage. At the conference the hugs were limited, though many still happened. Several companies had pulled out at the last minute, leaving the expo hall a bit more sparse and the conference scrambling to fill slots left by missing speakers. The conference venue was filled with hand sanitizer, and as one of the track leads I dutifully wiped down microphones and surfaces between speakers, but there were no masks in sight.

Adam’s first conference!

It was only by the end of the conference as we saw cancellations for upcoming events piling up and the number of COVID-19 cases climbing in coastal hotspots that I fully came to the realization that this was really serious, and this may be my last conference for a while.

Everything really changed for us on March 16th when the entire bay area fell under Shelter in Place orders and all but essential businesses closed. Suddenly, both MJ and I were 100% work from home, and all of our travel plans were canceled.

And then we learned I was pregnant!

I’ve written a fair amount over the year about how COVID-19 has impacted our life and family, for good and bad, so I won’t repeat that here, but it has been quite a different year.

“Big things” this year began straight away, with Adam’s first birthday on January 6th!

We also started on a few major projects on the house. We unexpectedly needed the dishwasher replaced after a major failure caused it to leak and soak through the floor into the garage (also prompting some immediate remediation and eventually drywall work, too). We finally got almost all the closet doors hung, and they look fantastic! Our solar was completed and finally went on-line in December, with an array of 48 panels on our roof and four Tesla Powerwalls in our garage. The fence project is going a bit slower, but after several quotes and chats with the four neighbors we share a fence with, we finally have a path forward, so the materials will be ordered soon should be available for installation in the first quarter of 2021. The family room upstairs is constantly evolving with new configurations and storage solutions for toys as we cater to the needs of a playful child who spends most of his time at home due to the pandemic.

The year concluded with the birth of our second son, Aaron! He was born on December 2nd and aside from his parents suffering from a bit of sleep deprivation, everything is going very well and he’s very healthy.

Finally, on the work front I had a really exciting year with several work projects and events coming together with impressive results. I briefly mentioned my ability to do talks all year with events having gone virtual. I ended up with a pretty standard schedule of talks as a result, and some new opportunities in the mainframe space, which was a lot of fun. I’m still learning a lot in the realm of IBM Z, but this year I finally feel like I’m making the connections I really need to succeed long-term. IBM has been very good for me, I’m looking forward to my return when my maternity leave concludes in early April.

Talk roundup for the year:

2020 has certainly been a difficult year, but it’s also been rewarding as the family got more time together and my work is thriving in spite of changes we’ve had to make. I miss traveling, I miss my friends and family. I am deeply saddened that we couldn’t make it back to Philadelphia this year, especially with Adam growing so quickly we would have loved to have him spend more time with our loved ones back east. It’s been hard to welcome Aaron into our lives with so few people around to welcome him, but we’ll just have to make up for lost time in the years to come.

Stay healthy, my friends, we’ll see each other again soon.

Three weeks in and Hanukkah 2020

It’s now been almost three weeks since we had our little Aaron. Everything has been going well, Aaron gained weight at a healthy clip and is healthy. I’m recovering on schedule, though definitely slower than with Adam, in no small part because having a toddler and a newborn is more difficult than caring for just a newborn.

One thing I’ve quickly realized with having a second was how intense the learning curve was the first time around. We didn’t remember everything, but we did fall into a pattern quickly with this one, and were less worried about everything. We have an established plan for feeding, we know how to change diapers, and we generally feel more comfortable with this delicate, new little human than we did with the first. It’s still exhausting like no other exhaustion, especially when he goes through nights of waking up every hour, but there’s less stress this time. I also am more in tune with my own moods this time, in particular I know that a little sleep will go a long way when I start feeling sad, and I know when to ask for help. Usually I just need a break and a nap, and that snaps me out of whatever slump I find myself in.

We also quickly learned how different children can be immediately. For instance, Adam would get out of all swaddles we tried to craft with receiving blankets, and generally rebelled against heat, even now he prefers lower temperatures. Aaron is happy to remain swaddled, and reacts very negatively to the cold. I suddenly realize why there are so many products on the market for everything from soothing and sleeping to feeding. Parenting advice really has to be taken with a grain of salt, since what works well with one newborn may completely fail with another. So that learning curve I mentioned? Turns out we did still need to learn some new things with this one!

It’s not been all baby though. With all of us home, a few house things have gotten done. The big one is solar finally going online! Our solar project began back in September, so we were waiting on a series of inspections that needed to happen before we could actually switch it on. I’m excited that it’s finally done because it’s a cool new system with the Powerwalls, but I’m really excited to see out electricity bills drop, which were getting to be quite excessive during the hottest periods of the year.

We also went into San Francisco for my first time this year. In spite of being regular visitors since we moved away, I never made it prior to the pandemic in 2020 due to traveling elsewhere a lot. Then the pandemic restrictions have kept me close to home in the east bay for the rest of the year. This time was an important visit though, to see our Rabbi and Mohel for Aaron’s bris and baby naming. Due to restrictions, we couldn’t have guests from outside our household, and had to do it in a doctor’s office instead of at the synagogue, but we were able to do a video conference and actually have more family in attendance than we normally would have been able to! Silver linings. As an aside, I had some reservations about writing about this here. Both religious gatherings of any type outside of the household and the bris itself are controversial topics. As a Jewish family, the decision to do a bris is one made millenniums ago. The gathering which included the Rabbi in person (the Mohel was required) was a risk we took, because we felt it was important to Aaron’s path. After doing such a big event with family flying in and a whole social gathering with food at the synagogue, it broke our hearts to do something so much smaller for our second son, so we wanted to do all we could to make this event as special as we could, even in light of the pandemic.

And then there was Hanukkah! I prepared everything before going into the hospital, which ended up being the right move, even if it did make me extra tired at the tail end of the pregnancy. As I mentioned in a previous post, a pile of wrapped presents were placed inside the rails of our model train. Beyond that, a few decorations were scattered around the house, and while we were in the hospital our au pair and Adam took care of putting up some lights and Hanukkah garland that I ran out of energy to put up. Finally, I ordered some Hanukkah pajamas for the boys, so we could take some photos of Aaron’s first Hanukkah and Adam’s second.

Food-wise, we were quite over-stocked! Relgious-wise, Hanukkah is not an important Jewish holiday. However, it’s proximity to Christmas and the delightful celebration centered around delicious foods and eight nights of candles and gifts for children make it a popular one in the US. We ended up ordering a Hanukkah meal with brisket and latkes from a Jewish deli in San Francisco, and also getting some fancy doughnuts from a diner in town. Finally, a family friend dropped off an assortment of delicious cookies!

In the midst of Hanukkah celebrations, we also celebrated Caligula’s 17th birthday on December 13th. We’re slowly integrating his new kidney disease diet, but not as quickly as I’d like just due to exhaustion. He seems to be doing well though, he quickly adjusted to the new baby at home, and most days he spends mid-day upstairs in the family room with all of us lounging in the sun and getting familiar with his growing human tribe.

I began this post by mentioning my own postpartum recovery. I took my first walk outside last Friday, and while there was still pain, it was very nice to go out for something other than a doctor’s appointment. On Saturday we ventured out to the outdoor farmer’s market for the first time since before the little one arrived. In general, I’m finding each day to be a little easier, and I’m able to do a few more chores around the house. I still need to avoid picking up Adam, since he’s over the weight limit I’m allowed for a couple more weeks, but there’s plenty to do house-wise without any toddler carrying! I wish I could say I was enjoying having a break from a bunch of the chores, but it’s actually been somewhat stressful as things pile up and I know these tasks await me when I’m feeling better. Still, I am doing my best to take it slow with this recovery so I get to the end more quickly and with as little pain as possible in the meantime.

I had a baby during a pandemic

What’s it like to be pregnant during a pandemic, and give birth during what’s being called the biggest wave of said pandemic? Not great, that’s for sure.

I want to begin with a shout-out to other people who have been pregnant during this pandemic. Pregnancy is often not easy, even during the best of times, and these were not the best of times. I had every benefit laid out for me, from top-notch prenatal care to a supportive work environment and help at home. It was still a struggle from conception through delivery, and now beyond as our options for help around the house and supplemental childcare are limited.

When the reality of the pandemic became clear in early March, we were already trying for a second child. A brief discussion was had about whether we should pause our efforts due to the growing pandemic concerns, but little did we know at the time, it was already too late! Our second child was coming, and he’d be born during a pandemic.


The first thing that was clear was the limitations placed on doctor visits. My husband came with me to almost every prenatal appointment with our first child. He held my hand as we got our first glimpse at that first ultrasound, and at every milestone after that. This time he wasn’t able to join me at any of them. I was able to video him in to chat with the doctors, but ultrasounds don’t come through well, and it was heartbreaking to miss out on his physical presence there with me.

Beyond this, the absolutely necessary COVID-19 screenings at the doctor offices were tedious, but not overly burdensome. Most days, you are scanned for a fever and asked to answer a series of questions, which I was happy to do. Unfortunately, I ended up with a severe sinus infection early in my pregnancy and suddenly I had a whole pile of symptoms consistent with COVID-19. I was put on antibiotics, but I also had to go in for a COVID-19 test before they would allow me in to my prenatal appointment. This meant getting screened on a Friday, receiving a negative test on Saturday morning, and the entire household going under strict quarantine all weekend so I could go to my appointment on Monday without having risked any additional exposure. Once I arrived at the office on Monday, I had to wait outside until a nurse from the OB-GYN office came out to confirm my negative screen and escorted me into the office. Side note: the COVID-19 test is much worse when you have a severe sinus infection.

There were a couple times when I had to ask my husband to drive me to visits. One was when I had my amniocentesis at a practice 45 minutes from home. I reacted poorly to the one I had with my first child, so I knew I’d be in rough shape this time too, and wouldn’t feel comfortable driving myself home. Another time, a troublesome headache in my third trimester caused me to call upon him again to take me in. Both times, he was required to wait in the car while I went in to my appointments.

The only thing different with doctors in a good way was the rise of video-based medical appointments. When a problem arose with my liver, I was able to sync up with my liver doctor over video. Every appointment with my nutritionist to handle the gestational diabetes was over video except when I had to go in learn how to use insulin. Even physical therapy, which consisted of a series of exercises, was done over video after the initial consultation. The video appointments were not only convenient, but without transit time, allowed me to craft a much smaller buffer around each of them so there were fewer adjustments to my work schedule on those days, which typically translated into not having to wake up so early. I hope video appointments are something that survive the pandemic, maybe not to this extreme degree, but when no physical examination is required I was grateful for them.


While on the positives, travel is high on that list. I love traveling, and I do a lot of it for work. I traveled extensively during my first pregnancy, and the longest stretch I’ve gone in the past decade without traveling is the 14 weeks I took around the birth of that first child in 2019. This time around, I was grounded for my entire pregnancy. While I desperately missed traveling, I was almost immediately grateful that during the peak of my morning sickness, I didn’t have a block of two weeks of travel which would have included booth duty, delivering a couple talks, and a running a day long workshop. One of the events was cancelled outright, and the others made a quick, if not graceful, transition to a more limited virtual event, where my commitments were greatly reduced. The year continued in this vein, which events being postponed or canceled, and ultimately many making the shift to virtual. Along with all my peers, I could suddenly do my whole job from home and, though it was no secret, people didn’t even know I was pregnant! And as complications piled up with this pregnancy, from severe pelvic pressure to gestational diabetes, it became clear that juggling these while traveling would have been a challenge. Instead, not only was I able to excel at work this year, I was able to work and keep giving talks until two weeks before delivery.

Sadly, travel limitations cut both ways. Our townhouse in Philadelphia went unused by us all year. Our local relatives and friends took care of it while we were away, our wonderful neighbors let us know if anything had go awry (like some birds making a nest under our deck!). Logistically, this was fine, but it was incredibly sad. The main reason we have a place on the east coast is to more easily spend time with family out there as we grow our family. We want our children to have a close relationship with our relatives in spite of us being California-based, and we were looking forward to visits that would allow our parents to frequently see our kids as they grew up. Instead, the last time they saw our first child was when he was just one year old, missing out on countless milestones as he entered the toddler phase this year.

Day to day

Broadly speaking, being pregnant with a toddler at home during a pandemic is tough. Since the pandemic began, our area remained fairly high risk, with lulls in numbers but never a full eradication where we felt safe. It’s unclear what COVID-19 could do to a pregnant person, but as with most illnesses during pregnancy, it does present greater risk than if one was not pregnant, and there is some preliminary evidence that shows impact on the placenta, which could impact the fetus.

Now, we would have always followed the stricter guidelines (no salon/barber or dining out for us!) but being vulnerable myself added an extra layer of stress to the pregnancy. There’s only so much we can do to protect ourselves, we depended on our community members also doing the right thing. Thankfully, people here are largely are careful and considerate with masks and other precautions, with the only behavior causing us to pause is on-site dining, which often looks crowded and poorly managed, even when it’s outside, and we just avoid that pitfall by not partaking.

Preparing for baby!

As the due date approached, other pandemic-related restrictions became apparent. For our first, we had my aunt come into town to help us out for the first seven weeks. I can’t imagine having done it without her! From baby care to making sure I was eating healthy food to taking care of chores, I’m certain her stay with us kept some of the worst sleep deprivation at bay and made our home livable as we made the bumpy transition into parenthood.

This time we had planned for her to come out for a few weeks to help with caring for our toddler during the hospital stay, but it just became too dangerous for all of us. COVID-19 cases hit the uncontrolled level nearly nation-wide just before Thanksgiving, and since we were going in to be induced on December 1st, she’d either need to come out very early (weeks before Thanksgiving) or risk traveling at the same time as all the folks going home from Thanksgiving. Instead, for the hospital stay itself we crafted a network of friends and neighbors to support the primary care for our toddler that we had arranged. There was still risk in expanding our pod, but it was very limited, and much less than having someone who had to fly join us. Thankfully everything worked out.


I delivered both my children at the same hospital, but the pandemic experience was vastly different. The first time around, my husband was allowed to come and go from the hospital as needed, which meant he could get meals, run home to check on the cat, shower, and change his clothes, and stop by the grocery store to pick up snacks (for us and the nurses!). This time we were both isolated within the hospital walls from check-in through discharge. That made planning a bit more complicated, since we needed to pack and plan for both of us being completely away from home for several days.

Upon arrival, I was whisked off to admitting while my husband waited outside. Once I was cleared to go up to the maternity ward, he was able to come inside and join me. We went through the standard screening procedures (temperature check, verbal questions about symptoms, swap out masks) and then put into the room where I’d deliver. I was immediately given a COVID-19 test, and until the results came back negative 90 minutes later all the staff interacting with us had both an N95 mask and a surgical mask on. We were allowed to remove our masks when we were alone in the room, but as soon as someone knocked on that door, we immediately put them back on. That means I was induced and went through several hours of early and active labor with my mask on, had the epidural administered with a mask on, and ultimately gave birth to a child with a mask on.

About two hours after birth the epidural wore off and I was cleared to walk on my own. At this stage, we were moved to the recovery room where we’d spend the next couple days. As with the delivery room, it was “masks on!” every time someone entered the room. While tedious, I was grateful for the abundance of caution. Contrary to last time, when they encouraged us to take walks around the ward, there was no such encouragement this time, and I never left the room once I entered it. All tests on our little newborn were performed inside the room, rather than taking him elsewhere. For meals, my husband ordered his from the hospital cafeteria just like me, and everything was delivered to our room. And sadly, while fed, my husband didn’t get a bed. Instead, he spent our three nights in the hospital sleeping in reclining chairs!

They did what they could to still make it feel special though. The hospital offers a lovely celebratory dinner, which we looked forward to last time, and are very pleased that they still did. The hospital food for this meal was a bit better than their standard fare, and it’s delivered on a table with a couple small bottles of alcohol-free sparking cider.

Discharge looked a bit different as well. First, they were aiming to let people out 24 hours sooner, but were strictly adhering to the guidance of the doctors on this one. We ended up staying the standard amount of time due to a couple risk factors. I was somewhat split, going home early was a compelling option and I think the pediatrician would have let us if we insisted. But once discharged, our only way back in to the hospital if there was an emergency was through the ER, and that’s the last place I wanted myself or my newborn during an uncontrolled phase of a pandemic. We followed the advice of the pediatrician.

Once actually cleared for discharge, we had to do a bit of vehicle juggling. We needed to leave the family SUV at home with our two year old and his caretakers while we were in the hospital because it’s the safest car and it has the car seats, so we took my car to the hospital. MJ had to leave the hospital to swap cars so he could pick us up in the SUV. There was a bit of negotiation with the nursing staff to make this work since it meant he was leaving the hospital, and they were required to inspect the car seat to make sure our newborn was properly secured in it before leaving. It was clear at this stage that a lot of families were put in quite a bind with little ones who were at home, from finding safe care to being in situations like ours, where flying in a relative from far away suddenly became unrealistic, so they had to be somewhat flexible.

Life ahead

I’m publishing this just under week after my little one was born. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a shelter-in-place order that closely mirrors that of the initial one in March went into effect yesterday as the hospital ICUs are rapidly approaching capacity. It’s a scary time to have a newborn, for sure. As limits are placed on in-person shopping, I’m apprehensive about the next time we have to go to the grocery store (soon!) and otherwise we’ve been leaning more heavily on delivery services than ever before.

Thankfully, with a newborn and my own recovery on-going, the pediatricians have still been allowing both parents into the appointments, which is not true of doctor appointments for our toddler. All the office visit precautions apply, so we’ve generally felt safe within the walls of the doctor office.

Tomorrow we’ll be going into San Francisco for our little one to have his bris and baby naming ceremony. For our first son, this was a big event! We went to the synagogue with family and friends, brought in a catered lunch, took loads of photos, and had a lovely time introducing our new little one around. This time, we are unable to have any family fly in, and the synagogue is closed for all events. Instead, only members of our household are making the trip to the city, meeting our rabbi and mohel at a doctor’s office to perform the ceremony. We’ll do a video stream for family and friends. I’m disappointed that we won’t have the same memories and experiences for our second son that we did for our first, but I hope he some day has a sense of humor about it, being born during a pandemic will make quite the story some day!

These next few weeks will be challenging. Between my aunt and other help around the house last time, we were able to keep things running relatively smoothly. I expect a lot more chaos this time around! Things won’t be as clean, I’m certain the place will look more cluttered, and we all will be a lot more tired just trying to keep our heads above water without the opportunity to hire any outside help. It will be fine, I’ll just need to let my standards lapse a lot more than I’ve ever been willing to.

At the end of this phase of life, we’ll be fine. But my heart goes out to families who are not as lucky as we are. It’s a hard time for all of us regardless of where are are in life, and any additional complication or major change adds in countless hassles and an undue amount of stress. Hang in there, and reach out to your loved ones if you need help, I sure have.