pleia2's blog Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph's public journal about open source, mainframes, beer, travel, pink gadgets and her life near the city where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars. Wed, 26 Jan 2022 22:39:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 At home adventures of 2021 Thu, 27 Jan 2022 03:30:49 +0000 Here we are again, my End of Year blog post, even if I’m writing it pretty late.

In 2020 we squeezed in a handful of trips early in the year before the pandemic hit, but we did not have that opportunity this year. We didn’t travel at all. We never even left the San Francisco Bay Area. But with what approaches our second year at home all together, the year was still eventful.

As 2021 began, we had baby Aaron at home and I was on maternity leave. The startup MJ was with had shuttered and he decided to take some time to spend with the family this year instead of jumping right back in to the job market. I’m grateful for this, the kids won’t be little forever and this time together is so precious. Plus, it helped me hit the ground running upon my return to work in April so I could continue working toward a promotion that I’ll be going for in 2022.

It’s hard to stress how much the pandemic has really altered our lives. In the past, MJ had a long commute and worked quite late. He would see Adam in the morning, but it would be pretty rare for him to be around on weekday evenings with us, let alone putting them to bed every night. We developed a lovely routine in 2021, and I’ll be quite sad when things shift back. I suspect when we look back on our pandemic time, we’ll really treasure the opportunity it presented with us with, even if it is hard to be so isolated. But 2021 brought the vaccines for adults! And then for kids over five!

I read more in 2021, concluding the year having read 21 books. It took very conscious effort in the last few months of the year, and I gave up most of my television watching to accomplish it, but I’m glad I did. Curling up with a book is truly one of my favorite things, and I ultimately get more satisfaction from it than I do from watching television or playing video games. I wasn’t totally without screen time though, in April for our anniversary, we rented out the independent movie theater in town and watched Star Wars.

We got several home projects done. We coordinated with all our neighbors to get the fence replaced (no small task!) and also got a deck box to store toys outside, instead of having a bunch of toys we haul out back every time we go out there. I also snagged a plastic slide structure that someone was selling via a local mom group, and a little BBQ-themed play set with a tent over it where Adam can play with water and food toys.

Old fence, new fence!

In the house, we got some new furniture, including a couple kitchen hutches that have expanded our storage and counter space somewhat. I went to a plastics shop and got custom-cut shelves for a metal shelving unit that we inherited from MJ’s grandparents and is now in our downstairs bathroom. We got a big freezer in the garage, which feels like a rite of passage now that we have two kids, we suddenly have so much frozen food!

I took the kids out to lots of parks, playgrounds, and on other adventures outdoors. We spent the summer going to garage and yard sales, outdoor book sales at the library, and the farmer’s market. I took the kids out on a few virtual 5K runs, which were a lot of fun for all of us since we tended to “theme up” during these walks (penguin theme! Star Wars themes!).

Adam and I started doing a lot of “toddler art” together and hanging it around the house. We went to the zoo a couple times, and also made our way over to the A’s stadium twice, where we rented a suite and our immediate family and some close friends could enjoy the game safely.

I lost a bunch of weight (about 50 pounds) and then promptly gained half of it back. It’s a frustrating situation, but I understand how it can happen. Weight management is tricky and managing a healthy diet for myself while I’m working a lot and have two little ones at home is difficult. I also turned 40, which is quite the decade milestone and your body just doesn’t bounce back from having two kids as it may have when I was younger.

Speaking of whom, my life does strongly revolve around my kids right now. Adam turned two in January, and Aaron turned one at the end of the year, in December. Kids change quickly at these ages, at every rapidly approaching milestone their care needs change and so does my schedule and coping mechanisms to manage it all along with everything. It’s been a tough year, especially as our ability to hire external help has been limited and we dealt with the baby’s sleep issues. But in the spring we were able to bring a new au pair into our home, so safe, reliable care for the kids is at least handled while I’m at work, for which I’m grateful for and realize a lot of parents don’t have the luxury of right now.

Still, I’ve managed a few minutes here and there for myself. I got my HAM radio license in August, say hello to KN6QGG! Unfortunately, in spite of the kindness of an acquaintance who gave me a radio, I haven’t made time to begin operating. I also picked up a vintage (1938) typewriter, and then paid to have it fully refurbished at a shop in Berkeley. It’s a beautiful machine and I’ve been using it here and there for artwork with Adam, and most recently to address envelopes for holiday cards. I also started resurrecting my SPARC Ultra10, beginning with replacing its NVRAM chip.

I’ve also done a few crafts of my own. I got some IBM Z models 3D-printed through a service I found online, and got permission to release the 3D-printer files. I also made my own Automan autocar, after falling in love with the silly show from the early 1980s. I concluded the year by making my own punch card wreath, which now decorates my home office door, and I swap out decorations each holiday.

As the year wound down, there was enough of a pause in COVID-19 infections that we felt it was safe enough for my father-in-law and and his wife to visit. This was just before omicron arrived, so things were looking quite hopeful and we went to the zoo and also held a small birthday party for the boys in a nearby park, to which we invited some friends we hadn’t seen in nearly two years.

Finally, I’ve had to get creative at work to meet the needs of the communities I work with as we couldn’t see each other in person for yet another year. I stepped away from some of the general online open source events, because I simply wasn’t getting much value out of them, and it was better to find ways to connect and socialize in non-conference ways. That means my talk schedule, in addition to being virtual, was more focused on IBM events and those with partners, with a handful of notable exceptions. It’s actually been very interesting, because we can craft each presentation more specifically than I might have at a more generalist in-person event. Many of my decks did away with introduction to mainframes text entirely because I was either honed in on just doing my own part of the event (someone else would cover the basics) or I was speaking to an audience that didn’t need a primer. Still, I look forward to getting back out there to see my open source pals again, and to meet my new mainframe friends I’ve bonded with virtually.

So without further ado, my talk rundown! It starts in May because I was on maternity leave until April.

As I said, having another pandemic year was tough, and it definitely caused us to take different paths and try new things, some for the better, others less so. As we dive into 2022, the omicron variant surges and vaccines for the youngest among us are still just outside of our grasp. I’m hopeful that 2022 brings the vaccinations, health, and reunions that we’re all so desperate for. But I’ll continue to look back fondly on the bright side of 2021, and for the closeness it’s brought to our little family.

The quiet end of 2021 Sat, 15 Jan 2022 04:05:42 +0000 The last few weeks of 2021 were pretty quiet. Only a few folks were around at work, so I was pretty heads down on project stuff and had very few meetings. It also made my schedule a bit more flexible than usual, so I spent a few more evenings working so I could get outside during the day on the handful of sunny days that the end of the year brought. As a result, I’m feeling refreshed as I barrel into the new year, which is already coming at me fast.

I had a couple days off around Christmas and New Years, so I spent one of those evenings with MJ de-soldering the SLT card I have. There’s still more work to be done on it, since the cards appear to have been assembled by hand and in addition to the solder, I have 50 year old bent wire to wrangle to get all the little the resistors out.

It was fun getting some new toys (de-soldering tool!) and working on a project together. So much of our lives revolve around the kids and the house, the ability carving out some hobby time together right now is rare. I managed to snag a couple more SLT cards from Etsy this week, along with some lamps from the IBM s/360 that I’ll work to incorporate into jewelry once we get our soldering iron (ordered! But supply chain issues…).

I spent a lot of time with the kids too. I’m definitely struggling to balance how much time I spend on the floor playing with them, and the time I spend on chores during the day. They’re aged one and three, and I know this time won’t last forever, but I’m definitely getting burnt out by pushing all chores to after they go to bed. Doing dishes, folding laundry, and other chores can be done while keeping an eye on the boys and I also know how important it is that they grow up knowing that chores get done, and sometimes helping with them.

Still, a strong focus on time with the boys meant that Adam and I could make a gingerbread house together!

And do some art!

And jump in puddles!

And make muffins!

And play with the train!

We also had a rough few days with baby Aaron as he worked his way through a reaction to his Measles vaccines. Due to the pandemic-driven isolation, neither of the boys have gotten sick lately. Aaron hasn’t had so much as a cold. I forgot how hard it is to watch your little one struggle, and how exhausting it is when it interrupts their sleep and a fever puts them in a bad mood. Still, he’s generally a cheerful boy, and that personality is always dominant, even when he’s a little grumpy for a few days.

He does mostly sleep through the night now, which was a whole struggle this year. The wake-ups he does have don’t require us to go in, and he solidly wakes up around 6AM, in spite of our attempts to shift this later by adjusting his bed time. I don’t love this development, Adam always slept until 7AM once he settled into a routine, and I do not enjoy mornings. Still, everything I’ve read says that 6AM is fair game for little ones, and I just need to focus on getting to sleep by 10PM.

Right before New Years I went for a long walk with a friend. It’s something I hadn’t done in almost two years because of the pandemic, but I realized that I could really use the company outside of our household. It did cause some self-reflection on how much trauma we’ve all had these past couple years. Before the walk I was worried a bit that I’d unload a lot of feelings onto this friend that had been pent up for a couple years and look like a total mess. It may have happened, but it was OK. I think we’re all in a similar place, especially those of us who were particularly cooped up with small children, as much as we love them.

Vacation at home, 2021 edition Sun, 19 Dec 2021 18:20:27 +0000 I really needed this week, but a week definitely isn’t enough to fully recharge when you’re still getting up at 6:30AM with a baby every day and there are still so many chores to do each day. I think about that article from The Onion a lot, Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean, and in this case I didn’t even leave home. But with our au pair watching the kids during my normal working hours, I did still have an unusual amount of time to myself for a few days. I had a lot of time to read, even watched some TV as I relaxed for a couple afternoons. One day I took a nap! And with the exception of one day, I even managed to get over 7 hours of sleep every night.

Monday and Wednesday were mostly chore days. On Monday I rotated out all of Aaron’s 12-18M clothes for the 24M clothes and did a ton of laundry. After Aaron’s morning nap, we loaded the kids into the truck and took them to their annual pediatrician exams, complete with vaccinations. When we got home, I started the process of deep cleaning Adam’s car seat following the latest car sickness mishap. I also cleaned out the cooler, which was still full of ice packs and drinks from the party on Saturday (and it was all still cool!). Having the day time to do chores was a help too, especially since the weather wasn’t cooperating. I was able to get all the trash and recycling taken out before it got dark, so while it was still a soggy job, it wasn’t a soggy and dark job. With all the chores done when I’d usually be working, in the evenings all I really had was cleaning up after dinner and then I could relax.

Wednesday morning I did the weekly grocery shopping as usual. Mid-day I went to my neurologist to see about the path forward for migraine treatment now that I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding. From there, I had to swing by two Targets (one didn’t have our whole pick-up order), buy a few more pieces of clothing for Aaron. I don’t enjoy shopping, or visiting the doctor, but it was nice to get out of the house on my own for a while. On Thursday MJ and I were able to spend a nice lunch together in the fancy alleyway they have set up with tables next to The Cannery in town. From there, I dropped off holiday cards at the post office and then swing by the comic book shop, which I hadn’t had a browse through in quite some time, as I usually just pick up my subscriptions and depart. When I got home, I made pumpkin pie! It didn’t turn out to be as good as the one I did earlier in the season, I think I needed to bake it longer. Still, even if it’s just the recipe on the back of the Libby can, I actually preferred the spices used in it to the one we got at the diner for Thanksgiving. This was a surprise to me, since I’m usually quite happy with store-bought pumpkin pies.

Adam and I also had a little time to decorate a couple cookies with Aaron and their au pair on Thursday. The IBM offices are still not fully open, but they sent out holiday gift bags for kids, which included the cookies and a few small crafts and activity books. I continue to be impressed with how thoughtful and family-friendly IBM is as a company. Employees with families aren’t merely tolerated or required to act as if our personal lives don’t exist, to a great extent I feel like we’re actually supported and respected.

We also celebrated Caligula’s 18th birthday. These past few months we’ve been going through various treatment plans to help treat his arthritis and lack of appetite. I’m pleased to say his weight is back up where it needs to be, but his age is definitely taking it’s toll. Still, he does seem to enjoy our company, and spends most of his day in the family room with the kids. He tolerates their heavy-handed petting, and even being grabbed at now and again. It’s really nice that he’s not hiding downstairs or in our bedroom like he was wont to do a few months ago.

Caligula enjoying his birthday treat

Personal project-wise, I got a little done. I was able to upgrade most of my Debian servers to the current stable. The only one left is my monitoring server, which tends to be quite brittle and always need a lot of love when I do upgrades, so I’ll have to do that one when I have a chunk of time some evening to work on it. I also fiddled around with my SPARC Ultra 10 to figure out the next steps in getting it running. I learned from NetBSD docs for Sparc, that you need a working NVRAM chip battery in order to netboot, which I’ll need to do for installation. I looked up some tutorials on how to “replace” the battery in my NVRAM chip, but it would have required more time than I have. Instead, I hit eBay and ordered a refurbished one, which was due to arrive on Saturday but instead got here Friday. That gave me time to install it and boot my system, I finally had a MAC address and no more NVRAM warnings! Alas, that’s as far as I got. I’ll continue project Twilight SPARCle some other time.

The punch card wreath on my office door got a seasonal switch. I took down the Hanukkah garland I put on it and replaced it with some little lights to observe New Years and generally offer some light and warmth to the winter time. I used some cheap, coin battery operated lights, and I think it came out nicely!

My last big project thing was developing a plan for making my IBM System 360 jewelry from the SLT card I bought a few months back. After inspection of the board, MJ and I determined that a proper desoldering tool was the best way to make sure we don’t damage the parts when we remove them. Of course we don’t need the parts to be physically working, but I do need them to look nice, especially the aluminum SLT covers, which will be a central piece in one of my planned pairs of earrings! We really want to make sure we get all the solder off these components and so the amount of lead that remains is as small as possible, since I’ll be wearing these earrings. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a desoldering tool, but one will arrive next week! Another project I’ll have to continue in some future evening time, but at least I’m on my way.

On Friday I was split between relaxing a lot with TV and books, or going to San Francisco. Relaxing was a compelling option, but reading and watching TV are things I can do in my evenings. Going to San Francisco during the day is a much trickier endeavor, and very well-suited for my last day of vacation. So, with the encouragement of a few friends who helped me decide to go up to the city, I hopped on the train and went. I only spent a couple hours there, admiring the bay and stopping for lunch on a patio of a restaurant on the Embarcadero. It was chilly, but beautiful, and reminded me how much I love San Francisco. I took pictures of street cars like I used to do all the time, enjoyed oysters for the first time since the pandemic began, and got to admire the beautiful bay. I think I need to make visits to the city a more regular part of my life.

Ultimately, it did all help. I am feeling better. Having my evenings to relax was a bigger game-changer than I expected. I’m hoping that once the kids are vaccinated we can have someone come in periodically to do some of this work. Most of it isn’t overwhelmingly time-sensitive, as long as it’s done regularly. The ability to relax each day and have some time to myself, or to work on something with MJ or watch TV together is something I’ve really been missing.

Zoo! Party! Family! Tue, 14 Dec 2021 18:37:18 +0000 I talk about the pandemic a lot, but the pandemic is a lot. Even without becoming sick ourselves, every aspect of our lives over these past two years has been impacted by it. It drastically changed my job, and access to our family, all of whom live on the east coast. We bought our townhouse in Philadelphia specifically so it would be easier to visit our family frequently, especially during these early years when traveling with babies is already a challenge, having our own home to land at was major.

We’ve now been in California since February 2020. No one in our family had met little Aaron! Or Adam since he was just one year old, and he’s almost three. It’s heartbreaking. So, with all the adults fully vaccinated with booster shots, we decided it was time to have my in-laws come visit to see their grand kids. It’s probably one of the biggest risks we’ve taken thus far, but as my conservative relatives love to remind me every time they scoff at our precautions, there’s more to life than avoiding COVID-19. We all have to constantly do risk assessments and decide what’s best for our families, and at this moment in time, this was what we decided.

And their visit was action-packed! I took off the day from work on Friday so we could all go to the San Francisco Zoo. Unfortunately, on our way there, we got confirmation that poor little Adam does indeed get car sick on long car rides. I’m still in the process of doing a full cleaning of his car seat. But we had a change of clothes for him and then we were off to meet grandpa and grandma at the zoo! It was a good day, Adam loves the zoo train and getting to run around a lot, and Aaron just loves going on adventures with us.

On Saturday we had an outdoor party for MJ and the boys. We had some last minute chaotic schedule shuffling as the forecast called for rain on Sunday, and switched the date of the party. Our guest list was very small, and couple guests couldn’t make the new date, but everything else came together nicely. We rented a spot at the park so we could put up our tent, both to avoid the sun and have a way to hang decorations and center the event. We picked up the cake at the grocery store and MJ worked with a local deli to get us pasta salads and individually wrapped sandwiches. We bought a cooler and stocked it with an assortment of beverages. With all attending adults vaccinated and everyone keeping what they felt was appropriate for them distance-wise, it was actually pretty comfortable, all things considered. We hadn’t seen some of the people who came by since the pandemic began, so it was nice for them to see the boys and for us to get some in-person, adult social time. It did remind me how much I miss seeing people. Most of my friends are not local and pre-pandemic I depended upon my whirlwind travel schedule to keep in touch.

Sunday we had a pretty chill day, partially because it was raining, but mostly because the past two days had been so busy and we were all pretty tired. MJ’s father came by for a couple hours in the afternoon to visit and play with the boys one last time before they flew home. It’s been really sweet seeing Adam play with him, and in the end even Aaron is overcoming a little of his one-year-old shyness to start to warm up to him. I hope we can see family again soon. As I think I’ve mentioned, getting the kids fully vaccinated will likely be a tipping point for us. COVID-19 will never go away, but once all ages are eligible to get the vaccine, we’ll be more comfortable with traveling again and starting to return to a more normal life. We really want to get back to Philadelphia as soon as we can, and will likely spend a few weeks there catching up with everyone.

I have off from work this week. In spite of taking maternity leave, I did have some vacation to use this year, and I’m just spending it at home. I’ve been struggling a lot with how much I have on my plate, both in terms of work and family. I get very little time to myself, and I am always tired. I spent yesterday doing a bunch of house stuff, mostly related to the kids, and taking them to their annual pediatrician appointment with MJ. With a lot of big tasks behind me, including rotating out Aaron’s clothes (he grows so fast!) and putting away all my breastfeeding supplies, I’m going to try to rest this week and work on some personal projects. Finding the right balance is a little tricky, since there are so many projects I want to work on! But I know how important giving myself some time to watch TV, go on walks, and read is for my mental health right now. I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my family, to come out of this week feeling refreshed so I can be my best me.

Hanukkah 2021 Tue, 07 Dec 2021 03:54:50 +0000 Another Hanukkah with us fully in California. So many years had us splitting Hanukkah between San Francisco and Philadelphia, so it’s still a little unusual for us to spend it all here, with no plans to head back east. On the bright side, my father-in-law and his wife are coming to visit this week, so they’ll finally get to meet little Aaron, who just turned one!

In preparation for Hanukkah, I once again got our Hanukkah train set up and presents wrapped, so Adam could grab them each night.

I did a refresh on our Hanukkah garland and replaced the lights, so our stairway display was fluffy and fresh-looking this year! The punch card wreath on my office door also got a little bit of Hanukkah flair.

We enjoyed a Hanukkah dinner on the third night, once again picking up our brisket, latkes, veggies, challah, and sufganiyot (donuts!) from Wise Sons in San Francisco. Even with everything pre-cooked, it does take work to heat up and serve everything with the little ones running around, but it was still a great short-cut, and I didn’t have to worry about anything coming out badly!

With Adam being nearly three years old, it was also nice to really observe the holiday with him. He was thrilled about getting to light candles each night, and the presents were a nice touch too. He even helped his dad with lighting his train menorah candles.

Night seven fell on Saturday, and I somehow felt inspired to try and make latkes. MJ mixed the dry ingredients and wrangled the kids while I shredded potatoes and onions with a hand shredder. Once the kids went to bed we got to frying, and it turned out pretty well! As someone who “doesn’t cook” I was quite pleased, and it gave us fresh latkes to enjoy with the leftover brisket and veggies.

Finally, I got a Hanukkah-themed beer box! It meant having a beer each night, which was probably a bit much, so I’m happy to dry out this week, but it was fun as a novelty this year.

It was a fun year for Hanukkah, but also gave me a taste of how the holidays are going to be moving forward. Both of our kids have birthdays this time of year, so I’ve also been planning birthdays! It’s definitely a very busy time of year, with lots of treats.

Another Thanksgiving in California Tue, 30 Nov 2021 04:25:20 +0000 For Thanksgiving in 2020, we did our first California Thanksgiving in several years, and prior to that we did the child-free thing of just going out to fancy restaurants on Thanksgiving. But when we got the townhouse back east, we started to celebrate in Philadelphia with our extended family. The pandemic made for quite the disruptive change, and that continued this year. I didn’t expect this year to also be in California, but without the kids vaccinated, we didn’t want to take the risk of traveling. Dinner at home, it is!

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, Adam and I did some toddler art. With Hanukkah arriving the same long weekend as Thanksgiving, I also had my hands full preparing for the start of gifts on Sunday night. Our au pair decided to take the opportunity of a four day weekend to go on a road trip with some friends, so as we sat down to dinner, it was just the four of us.

Given how seamless it was last year, we went with the same diner food again, but had our family dinner at 5PM instead of the afternoon to work around the nap schedules of TWO kids this time. It was again nice to just heat up the food instead of cooking ourselves, but honestly even that was a bit of a strain on my energy. Having two kids under three continues to be an exhausting experience, especially during four-day weekends.

It was little Aaron’s first Thanksgiving, and being the I’ll-eat-anything eater he currently is, he thoroughly enjoyed every dish offered up to him. Adam is growing pickier, but we did manage to get him to eat enough healthy food before letting him go to town on the bread.

It was nice to have this experience of a dinner with just the four of us, but I’m really looking forward to next year in Philadelphia again. At our last family Thanksgiving there, Adam was the only child. Now, there are four young kids in the family! 2022 will definitely be a noisier Thanksgiving, and I can’t wait.

Trains, baby sleep, the zoo, and holiday planning Wed, 24 Nov 2021 18:38:10 +0000 Several weeks back, Adam and I had a train day. We put on our matching train t-shirts and had a nice stroll around the local BART station. Up and down stairs, and lots of checking out the local buses. From there, we went home and unpacked our Union Pacific O-scale train set. We normally wouldn’t have done that in early November, but having a Hanukkah train is a tradition now, and Hanukkah starts at the end of November this year! That afternoon, the episode of Blue’s Clues we watched also coincidentally had a train theme, so that was fun.

One of the reasons it was just Adam and I at the train station was because Aaron has a new sleep/nap schedule. I’m told every kid has their “thing” (or more than one). For Adam, he’s a picky eater, for Aaron it seems to be that he’s not a great sleeper. So in August I found myself with an increasingly busy work schedule and a 9 month old who still wasn’t sleeping through the night. With work reaching peak busy in September, MJ ended up taking the entire overnight “shift” each night and we started looking into a sleep consultant. It took a few weeks to get an appointment, but in mid-October we were able to do an introductory call, and started taking detailed notes about his sleep. Her advice got us on the path to sleep. He now sleeps through the night, and we’re just fine-tuning some of the details of his new schedule. For one, he still wakes up earlier than I’d like. He’s also not taking long enough naps, so we’re continually tweaking things based on her advice.

As someone who is an avid reader and got 80% of my parenthood skills from reading books, hiring a consultant may have seemed like a strange move. The trouble we had was that there are always weird corner cases that not even the most comprehensive sleep system book could cover. Even if one did, I WAS SO TIRED. I’d rather just call someone and ask what we should do then spend an hour scouring a reference book – and then still not even knowing if what we’re doing is hurting or helping the process. A lot of poor sleep baby stuff is also counter-intuitive, so having someone to walk us through the most difficult parts has been really valuable to our success. We also wanted someone who would listen to us and help us be flexible in methods. In spite of advice from our pediatrician, we knew just letting him cry wasn’t for us, so we used a slightly different tactic that was more palatable to us. It was also nice to be reminded that even if he spends a little time crying as he learned how to self-sooth, ultimately the best thing for him and his developing brain was mastering sleep.

With the current schedule, on weekends Adam and I now get some alone time while Aaron naps in the morning. We’ll go to the outdoor farmer’s market, or over to the donut shop (the pandemic means we’re still not regularly bringing the kids inside stores, but we’ll go into the donut shop if it’s just us – and it often is!). On Sundays we usually go to the library too, which is closed on Sunday but has a nice little climbing playground, a bridge Adam likes running across, and a car-free parking lot that he likes to push the stroller around. He’s almost three years old, so his energy is on the high end, and it’s nice to give him the opportunity to burn some of it off. Plus, getting to walk outside is one of his favorite things.

Walking outside is so much one of his favorite things, that when we went to the San Francisco Zoo recently, he told us that his favorite part was getting to run around. I felt a little bad about this, because I worry we don’t give him enough time and space to do that, but the zoo really is a special place in this regard. It’s largely safe, and has large stretches where he can just let loose. We don’t live in the city anymore, but our area is still pretty densely populated, and busy streets are never very far, and our back yard isn’t very large. With all of this in mind, we’ve started exploring the local parks a bit more. There are a lot of them, and with the weather being pretty mild all year around here, we can go to them most weekends. It’s also been really nice for us adults to get out of the house and enjoy some nature too, and getting some activity is definitely helpful to my health!

We did do other fun things at the zoo though, including the zoo train! It’s a historic miniature steam train that just does a quick loop, but I love it and having kids gives me that many more opportunities to ride it. Adam loved it, and Aaron seemed to not have a bad time. We also brought along my zoo key that worked various information boxes throughout the zoo, and the process of turning the key to make something happen was a lot of fun for Adam. It was a bit of a long trip for two little ones, and Aaron didn’t get his afternoon nap so we’ve learned a little for our next adventure out to the zoo, but it was also nice to stop for lunch (and for me to grab a zoo brew!).

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. On Monday Hanukkah begins. On Thursday Aaron turns one year old. A week after that, my father-in-law and his wife are coming into town for a visit. Now, this isn’t quite as chaotic as actually giving birth at this time last year, but with work and family keeping me so busy, all of this came quickly and I wasn’t prepared for how exhausting it all is. I’ve been staying up late to wrap Hanukkah presents and make holiday and birthday plans.

We’re not cooking for Thanksgiving, but we did need to sit down and get our catering order from a local restaurant sorted. Same for our Hanukkah dinner. For birthdays, we’re celebrating Aaron’s first birthday on his actual birthday, and then a week and a half later we’re doing a big joint birthday party at a park for MJ, Adam, and Aaron while my father-in-law is in town. For that we had to visit the park and decide what space we wanted, and then reserve the space. Even with an outdoor event, our guest list is modest (pandemic!) but we still need to sort out catering for the party, probably a tray of sandwiches that will be easy to grab without spreading germs. I’m excited about all of these things, but I finally understand why parents are so exhausted around the holidays, and grateful for a quiet January.

Hanukkah presents we have so far wrapped? Done!

I’m going for my COVID-19 booster next week too. Here in the bay area getting an appointment took some planning since I was looking at 2+ weeks out for all the local pharmacies. It’s not like this in all of the US, but the demand is high here and distribution hasn’t been as good as I’d like to see. It’s still nice that the boosters came out in time for the most vulnerable in our population to get them before the holidays. I’ve really enjoyed seeing families get reunited, and seeing people start to get back to their normal lives. As I’ve mentioned before, it won’t happen for us until the kids are vaccinated, and they’re not eligible yet, but it does give us hope. Our goal is to get back to see family in Philadelphia as soon as the kids are fully vaccinated, and to spend Thanksgiving next year there.

Finally, I discovered that I had some vacation time to use. I’ve taken a couple Fridays off, and today (yay! I can write in my blog!), and am taking a week off in mid-December. During the week of I hope to get a little rest, get some things done around the house, and hopefully eke out a little time for some personal projects. It’s not quite the fancy vacation in an exotic location that I’d love to have, but it’s probably the vacation I need, and I’m looking forward to it.

Holiday cards 2021! Mon, 22 Nov 2021 17:37:02 +0000 Every year I send out a big batch of winter-themed holiday cards to friends, acquaintances, and anyone who made there way to this blog post somehow.

Reading this? That means you!

Even if you’re outside the United States!

Even if we’ve never met!

Send me an email at with your postal mailing address and put “Holiday Card” in the subject so I can filter it appropriately. Please do this even if I’ve sent you a card in the past, I won’t be reusing lists from previous years.

Disclaimer: My family is Jewish and we celebrate Hanukkah, but the cards are non-religious, with some variation of “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” on them.

Exclusively Pumping: Round 2 Mon, 15 Nov 2021 01:14:50 +0000 As I began preparing for motherhood three and a half years ago, breastfeeding wasn’t really on my radar. It’s natural, it’s what is best for our child, so I’d do it, close the book. I had no idea how challenging it could be or how emotional I’d be about all of it. I guess I also never thought much about the fact that we’re lactating mammals, and so I also didn’t fully digest that until it was upon me (and it’s still kinda weird!).

Still, a friend of mine suggested I order a breast pump (currently available for free to expectant mothers through the ACA) before he was born and suggested a model, so I got one, because hey – free! Imagine my shock when I struggled with nursing and ended up exclusively pumping. I wrote about here when I was at the seven month milestone. My goal was to pump for a year, but due to travel schedules and other things that interrupted my weaning plans, I pumped for nearly 14 months.

With my second child, my plan was similar, but I had more experience this time, so I was able to be more successful at it and start winding down around month 11 (it takes some time to wean).

My experience was definitely a lot different with my second. Since I knew I was planning to EP, I was able to start everything in the hospital while I was recovering, and really set myself up for success by pumping frequently from the beginning. This gave me a much better supply of milk, but I also think that as a second time mother my body kinda knew what to do. This additional supply allowed me to freeze a lot of milk in the first four months and so I was actually able to start weaning just shy of my little one’s first birthday, and still have enough to get him through.

Supply is a huge topic in the realm of breastfeeding. It’s a major source of stress and desperation. I put on about 30 pounds after my first pregnancy because I was incredibly hungry all the time, and I tried to cut back on how much I was eating, I’d have a drop in supply. Turns out, there is an entire mother-driven (yay!) industry around products designed to boost supply. Cookies, brownies, both fresh and packaged, and lots of herbal supplements in various forms. As a skeptic who is a big supporter of the science-driven medical community, I’d never tried herbal supplements that didn’t have studies to back up their effectiveness. This changed while breastfeeding the first time. I didn’t go overboard, but I did order things from a handful of small companies because I really wanted a magic bullet to boost supply. Alas, for me, there was no magic. None of the brownies or herbal fixes did anything for my supply. The answer was always “take in more calories, drink more water, and pump more frequently.”

Since I knew all of this for my second time around, I skipped all the supply-boosting stuff, and actually packaged everything I had left over that wasn’t expired and sent it to another new mother who was struggling (with the giant caveat, “nothing worked for me, but maybe it will for you!”). Thankfully, I wasn’t as hungry this time around, so my weight gain was limited, but around month nine I did have a dip in supply that caused me to start eating more, and ultimately put on 15 pounds. Fortunately I had lost 50 pounds since my highest weight after my first child, so gaining a few back hasn’t been catastrophic, and while I’m not happy about it, I have a plan to lose it again.

Another big difference this time around? Thanks to the pandemic, there has been no travel. I didn’t pump on any airplanes, or my office, or in cars, or in public restrooms. No putting in requests to have a mini-fridge brought to my hotel room, or tedious packaging of milk to ship home every day when I was at a conference. No careful planning of breaks during events so I could pump, or emailing event coordinators ahead of time to make sure there was a place to pump and store my milk. We were pretty much home all the time, and this made things significantly easier in this respect. Still, it’s not easy to be sole source of food for another person, and to give your body to this whole process.

Which brings me to that fact that when a person gets pregnant, they effectively surrender their body to the small embryo growing inside of them. Diet has to change (no alcohol, but also no deli turkey!), and even some self-care regimes have to be adjusted (love long, hot baths? You’ll need to pause them!). In some cases, like with my second pregnancy, you even have the added load of complications that impact your life. I had severe pelvic pain that began in the second trimester, limiting my mobility, and then gestational diabetes, which required a total overhaul of my diet in the last two months of my pregnancy. Even with daytime blood sugar in check, I ultimately had to start injecting myself with insulin during the last month.

When you’re breastfeeding, the journey is even longer. If I want to have a beer (AND I DO!) I have to time it properly. There are still foods that are off-limits, either because they cause a dip in supply (good bye, peppermint!) or have things that can be passed along in the breast milk (though, admittedly, none of us should be eating fish that’s high in mercury). A lot of medication is unsafe while breastfeeding because it can be passed to baby. And even though I exclusively pumped, strapping myself to a machine multiple times a day to extract breast milk is not something that makes me feel like I have much autonomy.

I had about a month between when I stopped breastfeeding my first child, and became pregnant with my second. Which means my body hasn’t really been my own for over three and a half years.

It’s taken a toll.

I mentioned the weight gain in both breastfeeding journeys, and I felt like I was sacrificing my health (weight gain) for the benefit of breastfeeding. Every time I reduced calories to where I want to be, or exercised more, I saw a drop in supply. As I saw that number creeping up on the scale, I kind of just gave in and did what I needed to do to produce the amount of milk we needed. Constantly thinking of pumping schedules, getting out of bed to pump at night or early in the morning, all added to my mental load, especially as we struggled with sleep problems with our second child. Cleaning pump parts all the time and making sure I had other supplies was also always top of mind. It’s a lot.

I’m grateful that I could naturally carry both my children through 37 weeks of pregnancy, and then provide enough breast milk to last until a little past their first birthdays. But breastfeeding is definitely something that causes me to pause as I reflect on this particular component of motherhood. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: as natural as breastfeeding is, it’s not easy. None of this is. Part of what allowed me to succeed was a fair amount of privilege that allows me to work from home during the pandemic, and the mental health and support to cope with the emotional toll it can take.

Finally concluding pumping this month has been a big deal for me. This won’t be a panacea for everything I’m struggling with, but it does help me get back on my path. I can get my diet back into check, I can see my neurologist about finding a treatment plan for my migraines, and I can even see about antidepressants again if I find that I need them.

Being a parent can be so much fun, and I’m looking forward to being able to fully embrace it all, but with my body being my own again.

Halloween 2021 Sun, 07 Nov 2021 22:06:12 +0000 Halloween is certainly different when you have kids in your life. And different again during a pandemic!

First, there’s decorations. I am not a crafty person and decorating for holidays was never really my thing. But I now have a toddler who loves making art, and holidays are the perfect inspiration. Plus, when I was a kid I remember how much of a positive impact celebrating the holidays had on me. Every year my mother would put our much-loved paperboard cutouts in our windows. I had my favorites, and it really helped set the tone for a memorable season. So, decorations, it is!

With decorations in mind, Adam and I put together a couple creations, one with some typewritten lyrics incorporated. I also brought out some Halloween-y toys and a dish for candy, and our au pair spent time with Adam putting up plastic toy bats and spiders around the family room.

We also carved pumpkins again this year. It’s not something we did while living in San Francisco, partially because living in a high rise didn’t exactly make it easy to showcase our beautifully carved pumpkins, but mostly due to my travel schedule. For years, October was a busy travel month, and most years I was traveling for conferences on Halloween. I had Halloween in Hamburg, Copenhagen, and while pregnant with Adam, in Nashville. With kids, it’s a holiday I’ll definitely be spending at home for the foreseeable future.

Up until the morning before the pumpkin carving I still wasn’t sure what I’d carve. It’s such a magnificent opportunity just once a year, I don’t want to waste it! But given our Star Wars theme costume-wise, I finally settled on creating an R2-D2 pumpkin. I spent a few minutes scouring the internet for a design, and all of them seemed too complicated for someone who is not artistically inclined. I searched for some other Star Wars options, but finally came back to designing one on my own. I think it came out nicely, so I’ll create a template when I can make some time.

Nearly 11 month old baby Aaron came close to the pumpkins to check them out, but mostly sat in his high chair, watching with fascination as we carved.

Adam is currently going through a “ew, yucky” phase where anything messy is subject to rejection. That means pumpkin carving was not on his to-do list. I encouraged him to help, but he wasn’t super keen on “getting yucky” by helping me yank the guts out of a pumpkin. Naturally, he was totally into it when we got out the knives, hah! But since we aren’t horrible parents, we kept his collaboration knife-wise to a minimum.

Our au pair from Brazil joined us in the fun, and had never carved a pumpkin. She went with a conservative choice of Jack Skellington, and knocked it out of the park. She later expressed regret at not selecting something more difficult!

Adam’s first Halloween he was about 10 months old, which wasn’t really old enough to do trick-or-treating (he didn’t eat candy yet!) so the primary celebration we had was going to the village and walking around with all the other families and seeing their costumes, and we sported our own costumes and took pictures. In 2020 there was a pandemic, which drastically limited options, we stuck to setting out candy and just taking some pictures, since going door to door was still pretty unsafe.

This year, we started feeling a little safer at outdoor events. On Saturday we went to a truck-or-treat put on by a local real estate agency. It was within walking distance of home, at a park we’re familiar with, so we figured if it was too busy, we could easily come home. It turned out to be nice. Adam got to get candies from a half dozen cars parked there, and they were giving away pizza and popcorn, two of his favorite things!

Paused on our walk home from the truck-or-treat

Sunday we went to another event in a park. This time was with a local mom group that I’m part of. The event had been rescheduled from the weekend before due to rain, so it was more than I planned to do in one weekend, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. The four of us hopped into the truck and drove out to the park in Hayward to meet up with other families. This park had a couple playgrounds and so we got to enjoy snacks with the boys. MJ mostly carried little Grogu (Aaron) around, while Princess Leia (me) followed The Mandalorian (Adam) all around the park.

Grogu also got to check out the swings.

While The Mandalorian stopped for a snack.

Things were still a little uncertain for trick-or-treating. We put out a table where people could freely retrieve their own candy.

Our neighborhood was a mix of people not participating, people putting out unattended tables, and a few giving out candy at their door while masked. Our au pair joined us (dressed as Rey!) and we did a 30 minute walk up and down our street. It was short, but Adam is still not really old enough to have much candy, and even that far for a not-even-three year old took quite a bit of wrangling! It was a lot of fun to take him out for his first proper trick-or-treating, once he started understanding it, he really got into it.

Finally, as the evening wound down I got to have a bit of fun re-enacting a Star Wars scene with my costume and my pumpkin.

In all, it was a tiring Halloween, but one full of great memories! I suspect this year may be the last we’ll be able to dress up Adam how we want to, he may actually have opinions about his costume next year. We still have a couple of years for little Aaron though.