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Another pandemic 4th of July weekend

We traditionally spent the 4th of July visiting our friends and family in Philadelphia. It was a convenient point in the summer to visit, and we enjoyed spending the BBQ and fireworks holiday in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Of course, the pandemic paused that tradition last year, and this year it’s simply not safe to travel yet with the kids remaining unvaccinated. I still wanted the long weekend to be special though, so in addition to some matching USA-themed clothes for the boys, we had a fun weekend of activities.

The weekend began with kiddie pool day! I got Aaron a little floating tube so I don’t need to hold him the whole time we’re in the pool, and it was a big hit. Our kiddie pool has a “roof” to shade the kids from the sun, but it kept deflating and it ended up being quite useless. So I ended up buying an 10 foot by 10 foot canopy that can keep the sun off of us. Bonus: When we don’t use it for the pool, we can put it up over the picnic table and get some shade that way. It’s been life-changing for our time outside, and it’s relatively easy to put up and take down, I can even do it myself in a pinch. When we do the back yard remodel we’ll definitely want to make sure we build in some more permanent shade areas.

On the morning of the 4th of July, I decided to take the boys out for a 5k honoring Yellowstone National Park! We would have gone on a walk anyway, but as silly as it may be, it’s more fun to turn our walk into an event with a theme, race bib, and medal. We also stopped at little playground by the library for a few minutes.

That evening we didn’t go see any fireworks, but we did get to see a bunch going off just by looking out the windows while we were eating dinner upstairs.

The REAL playground adventure came on Monday! The library playground is really just a place to run around and jump on things, it doesn’t have slides or swings or anything. I recently discovered a playground that’s a little over a mile from home, so on Monday morning I loaded the kids into the car and took them over. I was a bit apprehensive about this adventure, juggling both a toddler and a baby on an outing on my own is still a challenge, and I’m still nervous about the potty training situation with Adam. Thankfully, it all went really well. Adam got to go on a slide for the first time! He was a little scared when a bunch of other kids showed up and started playing, but it wasn’t enough to fully stop him from playing. The pandemic really threw a wrench in his socialization. I’m not worried though, I’m sure he’ll get back on track once we can keep spending more time around other kids.

We also watched a bunch of baseball. Having the TV set up in the family room was a good move, it’s so nice to be able to keep up with the A’s, the Giants, and sometimes the Phillies while we’re just doing our thing with the kids. As I may have mentioned before, watching baseball at home is kind of a new thing for me. Traditionally, we would go out to bars and restaurants to see the games, or go to the park itself! Having kids limited this some, and the pandemic paused it completely. We still plan on going to games when we can do it safely, but I think we may end up settling in to baseball-at-home now that we have a family and are enjoying it together.

In all, a very nice weekend, but a tiring one. Aaron is now 7 months old, but he’s still waking up at least twice a night most nights. Plus, caring for a super energetic toddler who wants activities and a baby who needs a lot of hands-on time is tough. They have lots of great toys in the family room, but making sure they get outside and have activities every day is really important to me, especially as we have limitations imposed by the pandemic.

50 pounds

I’ve been overweight throughout my 30s. There were a lot of reasons for this, but it was mostly because I was comfortable and happy. I ate whatever I felt like, but I kept reasonably active, and when we lived in the city I regularly went out for a couple miles of running. I thought I was mostly healthy, but I did end up with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which I’m genetically disposed to. Still, I’m sure my diet didn’t help.

A lot changed when I had kids.

My first challenge was breastfeeding my first child. I was hungry all the time. After losing my pregnancy weight pretty quickly, I gained it right back within four months of his birth. I was also exhausted all the time, so exercise beyond short walks with the baby in his stroller were out of the question. I put on even more weight over the year I was breastfeeding him, and there was only two months between stopping breastfeeding and getting pregnant with my second child!

I found myself at 237 pounds at the beginning of my pregnancy, the heaviest I’ve ever been. At my high pregnancy weight in October 2020 was at 246. I wasn’t going to let this get to me though, I was having severe pelvic pain during this second pregnancy, and I figured I’d worry about my weight after I had the baby.

Then I developed gestational diabetes. I’ve written about this a few times, including soon after I was diagnosed. Ultimately I needed to take insulin to control my fasting glucose levels, but I was able to control my daytime levels with a drastic change in my diet, and exercise. For the rest of the pregnancy I adhered to a strict diabetic diet, and under doctor supervision I lost about 10 pounds during my third trimester and gave birth to a healthy baby!

During this time I also watched a couple older family members get diagnosed with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. This was a wake-up call. I suddenly had a family history of Type 2 diabetes, and with my own history of gestational diabetes I was already at high risk of developing it myself. After experiencing the diabetes diet during my pregnancy, along with glucose tracking and insulin injections, I knew it wasn’t a path I wanted to go down.

Upon my return from the hospital I was down to 228, and by April I was down to 187, 50 pounds from my high before I got pregnant!

For my own reference, here’s what I did.

Breastfeeding

This is my magic bullet, and unfortunately the one that’s impossible for most people to replicate, including me in the future. Popular wisdom says breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day, which means if I lose weight by sticking to a 1200 calorie per day diet, while breastfeeding I can succeed at 1700 calories. I’ve always found 1200 to be impossibly restrictive, so weight loss has always been a miserable process. 1700 is not an easy target either, but it is possible.

My biggest challenge moving forward will be when I stop breastfeeding and lose this 500 calorie deficit bonus!

I did it during my maternity leave

Another troublesome one! Like breastfeeding, we’re not all going to be in a position of not working. I discovered that when I went back to working, this all became tricky again. I’m a stress eater, and I’ve effectively stopped losing weight since going back to work because I stopped trying so hard all the time, and I was happy with my progress.

Food tracking

I hate food tracking. Even the most comprehensive databases don’t have every possible food in them, and I’d get stuck on finding the perfect entry, get frustrated when I had to add something myself, and in general I found it to be stupidly tedious. But during my pregnancy it was necessary. I was working with a nutritionist who would review my food logs and help me with fixes if I was struggling with my levels.

How do I manage it?

1. The big one: Let go of tracking perfection. There’s an eggplant wrap that I love, but the food databases don’t have it and it’s sold by a local shop with no calorie information posted. Based on my knowledge of calories, I picked an eggplant sandwich from the database to log in place of it. It’s close enough. It’s fine.

2. Log as I go. At every meal, I’d log my food right then, so I wouldn’t find I had a backlog and forget. It took discipline, but it became a habit after a while.

After my pregnancy, I didn’t have to log anymore! But I’d actually gotten kind of used to it, and good at it, so I kept going. I didn’t have to review it with a nutritionist anymore, but it turns out that logging my food made me more mindful of what I was eating. I am less likely to have a snack if I have to pause and think about whether I’m really hungry, or just bored, and consider that I won’t meet my weight loss and health goals if I eat when I don’t need to.

All that said, I learned a lot with food tracking and stopped it in April. The key for me was both accountability (which I can do by myself now) and education. There’s one sandwich I’d regularly get that was over 1500 calories! For just one meal! Yikes! I now either avoid eating it entirely, or I cut it in half. And most importantly, I now mark it down as an indulgent meal, not just another lunchtime sandwich.

Becoming aware of sugar

It’s now cliche to blame “carbs” on the obesity epidemic, and even worse to call sugar deadly, but in my case, it was a problem. I unintentionally ate a tremendous amount of sugar and leaned into breads, pastas, and other carb-filled favorites. During the gestational diabetes episode, I was forced to look very closely at my sugar consumption, and it allowed me to discover just how much I was eating. A big realization? Breakfast cereal like Raisin Bran, which I had been eating as a “healthy” breakfast, very much was not, it’s full of sugar! I’ve cleared all breakfast cereal out of my diet now, and my breakfasts tend to be eggs and lean meat (usually turkey bacon), and a single cup of coffee with half and half.

Ditch the fast food sides

I still eat fast food, but I’ve changed up how I do it. I’ll order a single burger or chicken sandwich, no fries, no soda, no milkshake, just the sandwich. It turns out that the sides are just as full of calories as the sandwich or burger, and I’m perfectly satisfied just eating the sandwich. I still get my fast food fix, but I can stay within my calorie budget.

Daily weigh-ins

I got a FitBit scale so I have a fun new gadget! It automatically uploads the data, so I don’t even need to think about it. Weight fluctuates a few pounds every day, so being clued into trends is important. If I notice the graph starting to trend upwards, I take note and refocus to get control over my eating again.

Pushing past thought distortions

Most of us do this weird thing where we “give up on our diet today” if we eat something “bad” or over-do it for one meal. Obviously, calories don’t work like that and they don’t care about how you feel about the day. More calories is more calories, and you can indulge at lunch and then regain control with the next snack or meal. I don’t know why we’re like this, but I had to get over this silly behavior.

Discipline

This is hard, but I had to remember my goal: I want to be healthy for my kids. I can’t do that if I’m eating unhealthy foods. This week I’ll order the salad, but next week maybe I’ll treat myself to that pizza I love, the shop isn’t closing, I can always get it later! I’ve also started adding salads to some meals like pizza so I’m not tempted to eat more pizza than I should. My parents did this growing up, too.

Eat dessert, moderately

Don’t touch my cake! Part of why I struggled with the diabetes diet while I was pregnant was because I really couldn’t have my beloved sugary treats. Life is really hard for me when I can’t enjoy my favorite foods, part of avoiding type 2 is so I can still enjoy things here and there without having to take insulin. So I just need to do it in moderation, and be very specific about what I enjoy. Is that cookie really worth it? It better be a good cookie. And I really don’t need a dessert with lunch, let’s save that for dinner tomorrow. Do I mess this up? Yep. But I also don’t give myself a guilt trip over it, I just do better next time.

The end! Or not?

I’ve been hovering around 185 for the past couple months. At this weight, I can fit into most of my old clothes, I’m back in the jeans size I wore for years, I’m pretty comfortable, and my doctors are happy. I would still like to hit my goal of 175, and getting back to 155 would be lovely, but it’s hard and I’ve had to focus on other things lately, like getting enough sleep while having an infant. However, my hope is that everything I’ve learned, and the habits I’ve changed, will stick. I am perfectly happy to continue maintaining this weight.

You will also notice that exercise is not on this list. For me, exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle, not a key to weight loss. In fact, when I exercise, I eat more. So I have been exercising more for the general health benefits (mostly walks with the kids, and walk-runs on my own when I can make time), but it’s not part of how I’m losing weight, it’s kind of the opposite!

Ultimately this really is your standard calorie restriction diet. I’m no expert and I don’t expect this to help anyone else, especially since my circumstances are very specific, and my breastfeeding experience differed so much between my first child and second. I’ve mostly written this so I can refer back to it if I need to get back on track again. In case I need a reminder of how important food tracking and daily weigh-ins were. Also, to keep skipping those sodas and french fries.

I was wrong about art

I did a lot of drawing when I was a kid, and into my teens. I wasn’t bad at it!


Then I stopped and left it all behind, with a bitter taste in my mouth.

The downfall of my childhood art journey began one Christmas when I was a teenager, my father bought my younger sister a bunch of art supplies and he got me tracing paper. He constantly complimented her original art, and dismissed mine that was based on existing characters (mostly from Disney movies). I was actually good at drawing, but feeling like it meant nothing to him was incredibly painful.

As a parent myself now, I have more sympathy for his actions, he never meant to tear me down. He wanted to support my middle child sister, and I was doing fine. I was always fine! Unfortunately I was a little more fragile in this area and quickly left art behind for STEM pursuits where I could quantitatively measure my success, instead of relying upon the squishy world that was art.

Throughout my 20s, I was downright negative on art. I love museums and vaguely appreciated fine art, but I was pretty dismissive about art programs. Why should funding go to art when there were Real Problems and Real Jobs that needed to be done? We don’t die without art! And don’t get me started on how ridiculous I thought abstract art was. Finally, I thought amateur art was a total waste of time because it was not “good” art. I bristled when people would post their painting-with-wine paintings and everyone would gush about how great they are (they aren’t!).

I was wrong about everything. I finally came around to this in my 30s.

First of all, I had a poor experience and it colored my perspective. I was bitter and unreasonable.

Art funding? Without art funding, art would be the playground of the wealthy and privileged. What kind of miserable world would that be? A pretty miserable one! Practically speaking, it also means that art we take for granted in our everyday life wouldn’t exist. We’re surrounded with things that are designed, and someone has to do all of that.

Abstract art? I still have a kneejerk reaction of thinking a giant canvas covered with yellow and a single red dot hanging in a gallery is kind of silly. My toddler can make that “art”! But that’s the wrong perspective. It’s all about aesthetics and how it makes you feel. Does a yellow canvas and a single red dot make you feel something? Would it look nice in your living room because your couch is red? The amount of effort that goes into a piece does not create value. Something can look nice and be simple and abstract. Admittedly, I still struggle with actually liking most abstract art, but I do appreciate and understand it more now.

As for amateur art, that’s what prompted this blog post. A few years back I started buying art supplies again, and picked up Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. You see, if I was going to take up drawing again, I wanted to make sure my art was good. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make much time for it, so it fell into my pile of untouched hobbies.

Then I had kids. Little Adam is 2, and now old enough to drag a marker across a piece of paper and have fun with finger painting, even if he’s not quite at the stage of making recognizable designs. I discovered that doing this together is FUN!

Fun.

And every time I look at the chalk drawings outside or see one of the pictures we made taped to a door, I have great memories of spending time with my son. That’s what those painting-with-wine paintings are about! It’s fun! You have memories!

Memories.

You don’t hang it in your living room and share it on social media because you’re suddenly some talented artist, it’s because you’re happy, and that’s worth sharing and celebrating.

Happiness!

So this is where I am. Adam and I now “create art” most weekends. We hang it around the house and share it on social media. I’m still uncomfortable about it not being “good” but by sharing it I’m trying to let that go, and hiding behind calling it “toddler art” (he does provide a lot of artistic direction!).

But I also remembered something, it wasn’t just drawing I did as a kid, I made tons of collages. As a big Disney fan, I’d clip an article or picture I really liked from a magazine, and I’d build a whole collage around it using stickers and other small pictures. I did this for The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more. I created them on poster board and hung them in my bedroom. They’re all lost now, but I did capture part of the Pocahontas one in one of my pictures of my teenage bedroom.

So hey, I have a head start on experience with collage art! And that’s what I naturally picked up with as I’ve started making new art with Adam! Maybe it’ll even get good at some point as we refine our skills together!

Or maybe we’ll just have fun, make memories, and be happy. That would be OK too.

Food, art, furniture, and outdoor markets

It’s inevitable that I’m tired when I write these blog posts lately. I’m usually carving out a few moments before bed or after I wrap up work for the day. Working full time, then taking the kids, and making sure our household stays on track is exhausting. I know it’ll get easier after this first year and when I’m no longer breastfeeding, but until then, it remains tough.

Still, I’ve been trying to keep active, I did another 5k, this time going out all by myself instead of with the kids, so I could actually do a bit of running! Weight-wise I’ve stopped losing weight, just a few pounds from my second goal. I didn’t plateau, I strayed from the diet as life got more stressful. Thankfully, I haven’t gained any weight back. I do hope to get back to actively losing again, but it’s less of a priority at the moment. Plus, I just discovered a local pizzeria that does halal pepperoni (it’s beef!) and a local donut shop that sells amazing donuts! That said, my diet is greatly improved over what it was a year ago. I really have managed to integrate healthy, satisfying breakfasts, I always skip the french fries and soda, and I eat more protein-balanced salads. Focusing on the fact that not every meal has to be indulgent or have a dessert attached to it has really helped keep things in check. Going to the local farmer’s market with the kids every Saturday morning is helping too. It’s causing us to always have fresh fruit in the house! Which is a nice alternative to other snack foods when I’m feeling hungry, especially in the middle of the night when I’m up with Aaron.

Aaron is now approaching 7 months old, which is hard to believe. As our final child, I am trying to soak in this baby time as much as I can, but I am looking forward to a time when the boys can play together. So far we’re working with Adam to get him to share his toys, and succeeding sometimes! Last weekend we had a couple kiddie pool days and Adam learned that Aaron liked to play with the boats, so he gave them to him a few times.

Adam and I have also been spending some good bonding time together – creating art! I have an uncomfortable relationship with amateur art, especially my own. I was somewhat discouraged art-wise as a kid, and I grew up with a great appreciation for “real” artists and left my own interests behind. Now that I have kids, the interest is coming back, and being older has made me care less about the product and more about the process. It’s a creative outlet that we can have fun with as we put our “toddler art” all over the house. I’ve especially been having fun doing finger painting with Adam, which I then cut up and we arrange it to make flowers and other designs.

We’re also continuing to make progress on home things here and there. We got the TV in the family room mounted on the wall, which was a big relief. It was the one thing in the family room that was dangerously not child-resistant. Adam also had a tendency to hit the power button when he wanted to watch something else (less baseball, more Pocoyo!). We hung it quite high on the wall, since it’s not meant to be a focal point of the room. The TV is really just so we can watch baseball games together while we play, and a few minutes here and there of shows for the kids. Our downstairs living room is where the adults escape to for watching TV and movies, with the comfy couch and nice speakers. Next up: cable management! The parts have been ordered.

We also had a hutch painted that we acquired a few months ago when one of our neighbors down the street was getting rid of it. It’s solid wood and it good shape, so we were happy to pay a handyman to paint it so we could put it outside our laundry room. It looks good and is already useful, and I’m glad to have it out of the garage. Finally, I ran out to a local plastics company storefront a few weeks ago and had some shelves made for the rack that we have in the downstairs bathroom. The shelves had been glass, but with the kids that’s not really safe, and I could only find two of them anyway. So I brought one of the current glass shelves to the shop, and 20 minutes later I had 4 shelves! Which you can’t see in the picture, because they’re clear. Hah!

Work is continuing to pick up. I’m really glad to be back and to gather the satisfaction that working gives me. Since returning from maternity leave I’ve given a couple talks and started writing for third party publications again (in addition to what I do on IBM websites). It’s really nice to be working with people again. As much as I get out of creating toddler art, it’s nice to be putting my technical know-how back to work and to be engaging with other technologists about things we’re excited about again. I’ve also participated in a couple events as an attendee, which has been nice for getting my finger back on the pulse of what’s been going on in the mainframe community during my absence.

On the pandemic side, things are opening up. MJ and I are fully vaccinated, and our new au pair got her second shot last weekend. As I’ve mentioned, the kids are the real wildcard here, so we’re remaining cautious. On June 15th California dropped many mask and capacity restrictions, so most shops here now only require masks for folks who aren’t vaccinated, and the farmer’s market, being outside, has dropped all requirements. We’re still wearing masks everywhere, and a decent chunk of our community is too, but they have started to taper off for outdoors, and I’m increasingly seeing maskless folks in stores. It’s important for things to open up, but without the kids having any protection and the virus continuing to spread to some extent, we still won’t be bringing the kids into any stores for the foreseeable future. We’re also still not comfortable with indoor dining ourselves, but we may start being open to outdoor dining if it’s still being offered over the summer, and the weather holds out. It has been nice to see what some of the opening has brought though. The farmer’s market now has live music again for the first time in a year. A local parking lot now hosts a weekly food truck event (even if it’s small!) with live music. We’ll keep monitoring the situation, but ultimately a lot of our public life is still on hold until we feel the risk to the kids is much lower.

As chaotic and tough as everything is, the good days outweigh the bad, and I’m treasuring this time with our little ones.

Tired, Star Wars 5k, sours, and my SPARC

Our new au pair is here! I’m beginning this post with that because welcoming a new person into our family is a big deal, and the help she’s already provided in just her first few weeks here has been an incredible relief. On May 5th I was chasing Adam at the playground and managed to sprain my foot, so in addition to the general 24/7 care of my kiddos, I was suddenly injured in a very inconvenient way (my foot! I need that!). Caring for an infant and a toddler is no small task, but our new au pair seems to be handling it well, and I’m really glad to be back at work full time.

I’m also glad to have a little time to myself. I had a revelation one morning when I “got enough sleep” but was still tired, that it wasn’t just physical exhaustion that was hard on me. I am an introvert, and being with the kids all day gives me no time to recharge on my own. Now that I’m aware of that, I can be more strategic about rest. In most cases, if I’m up at 6AM and got over 7 hours of sleep overnight, it’s more restful if I get up and spend an hour alone before anyone wakes up, rather than attempting to sleep for another hour. I’m still tired all the time, which is unavoidable until the baby sleeps through the night, but at least I’m understanding myself more so hopefully I can handle it better.


Introducing kiddos to Studio Ghibli while I rested my sprained foot

Sprained foot aside, we did manage to have fun during my time off. The day before I sprained my foot, on May the 4th (be with you, Star Wars Day!), I dressed the kids up as little R2-D2s and we did a 5K walk around town. It was my first 5K with one of the virtual run websites, so I got my first 5K medal and everything! It was fun and I see more virtual 5Ks in our future.

I also received a case of sour beers for another virtual beer fest, but the event feed didn’t quite pan out, and after a series of failed streams they postponed it. Still, while I’m certainly looking forward to the pandemic being over, and technical glitches aside, this virtual stuff does have its benefits. As a new parent, beer fests are tricky to make time for right now, but one from the comfort of my own living room? And 5k I can do wherever and whenever I am able? I can do that!


Beer fridge in the garage, all stocked for the sour fest!

I’m trying to squeeze in some time for hobby projects. It’s so hard, but just like alone time, having a little hobby time is also important to my well-being. I decided to start playing with my SPARC Ultra10, which has been sitting in my home office since we moved in. I was pleasantly surprised to see it boot into Debian Lenny. So it still boots! And the hard drive was still functional! Of course Debian Lenny is ancient and I can’t keep running it, and Debian no longer supports SPARC64, so I’m going to have to install NetBSD on it. The next phase of my project was giving an install an attempt, but my CD-ROM started throwing errors. It’s old, so it’s not surprising. I think my next step will be giving up on the drive and doing a netboot install. Ultimately I’m not sure what I’ll do with the system once it starts running, but I am enjoying playing around, and I haven’t touched NetBSD in years, and never had a lot of experience with it.

In better health news, I got my 2nd COVID-19 vaccination a couple weeks ago, so I’m fully vaccinated! The side-effects this time were similar to last, but the exhaustion hit pretty hard and I ended up taking a three hour nap the next day. My life probably won’t change much though. With two unvaccinated kids at home, it’s not worth the risk to them just so I can do some indoor dining. With mask mandates being lifted state-wide in mid-June, things may actually become more dangerous for them inside public places, so we have to continue doing grocery and meal runs solo.

I also spoke to my boss about continuing the pause on travel. Thankfully, the company hasn’t even fully opened offices yet, let alone lifted all the work travel restrictions, but I wanted to get ahead of it in case I was expected to get back on the road before I believe it’s safe for our family. As the vaccines become available for the little ones and infection rates drop, we’ll continue to do risk analysis to see what we are comfortable with, but it’s good to know that I won’t have pressure on the work side in 2021. It’s also nice that my role has so many facets to it that while dropping the event travel is major, and even with other people start going to events in the fall, I’ll still be busy and effective without it in the short term. I have been doing some virtual events too. I did one for Mom Relaunch last week where I did a quick Linux on Z workshop. Next week I’ll be speaking at a virtual conference, giving a brand new talk on developing for non-x86 architectures. It feels good to be back.

I 3D-printed an IBM z15 model!

Back in April as I was catching up with work following my maternity leave, I discovered the existence of some internal IBM 3D printer files for IBM z15 pencil holders. I was immediately intrigued, and quickly found a 3D printer company that would print one for me.

As a quick aside, I learned about 3D printing services because one of the hobbies I wish I had time for is model railroading, so much so that I subscribe to a monthly model railroad magazine. Model railroad combines my interest in small electronics, Arduino type boards, 3D printing, and love for trains, so it’s a fascinating hobby that puts a bunch of the things I’d love to do into one package. In reading about model trains, there’s a lot of talk about “scratch” building of custom things for your model railroad layout. One of the things that makes this easier for model railroaders is 3D printer companies who will print, on demand, various parts for their scratch built items. Suddenly a world opened up for me. As much as I’d love to have a 3D printer, the truth is I have a lot of interests, a couple of small children, and very little free time. Until the kids are older, my options are limited. I had to seek out a 3D printing outfit if I wanted to print my z15 pencil holder, and so I did!

I went with Xometry because their quote process was simple and I didn’t need to research materials and whatnot. Since this was essentially a display item, I didn’t have many material requirements, and I figured this would just be the first of many baby mainframe models I’d be ordering. I ordered my model on April 15th, picked the slowest manufacture and delivery option (knowing I’d be taking a couple weeks off from work) and it arrived on April 23rd, much more quickly than I expected!

Since it arrived white, and we all know that IBM Z systems are black, my first step was painting it. I started with Krylon COLOR maxx spray paint in glossy black. When I do this again, I may see about getting it printed in black, because while this was not a very difficult step, the paint was strong-smelling and because I was rushing a bit (remember, 2 small kids at home!) I did end up with some drips.

From there, I went with a couple 2 oz tubes of Golden Artist Colors acrylic paints, one in Titanium White and another in Ultramarine Blue. Now that’s almost certainly not the exact blue of the z15 system, but it wasn’t bad!

I did some tests with the acrylic paints, and with the black base the white came out great, but the blue was too dark. So I was able to paint the “Z” and the “IBM” logos in white (though I believe strictly speaking the IBM logo should probably be silver?), and then the insets in the doors I first had to paint white.

From there, the coat of blue went on. I quickly learned that precision painting is a skill, and one I lack, even with a generic set of tiny paintbrushes. And again, I didn’t take as much time as perhaps I should have, because I was working on this in the naps and quiet time I had to myself between caring for the little ones!

Ultimately, this was super fun. But my next task? Getting permission to release these 3D printed files to the public, because I knew that my fellow fans of Z would be chomping at the bit to have one once I shared it. It took some time and being redirected to a few people, but I found the people I needed. They made a few adjustments to make it more in line with the design of the prototype, including closing the top. The design remains proprietary, but I secured the rights to share the file in public for anyone who wants to 3D print their own z15! You can hop over to the Fans of Z community where I posted this blog post: Print your own IBM z15 Model!.

I think my next project will be getting one print with this file. And do feel free reach out to me if you want to collaborate, or are interested in the original pencil holder files, and I’ll see what I can do. I’ve just started playing around with stl editors, so I have a ton to learn.

The Big Iron Hippo

It’s been about a year since I last wrote about an Ubuntu release on IBM Z (colloquially known as “mainframes” and nicknamed “Big Iron”). In my first year at IBM my focus really was Linux on Z, along with other open source software like KVM and how that provides support for common tools via libvirt to make management of VMs on IBM Z almost trivial for most Linux folks. Last year I was able to start digging a little into the more traditional systems for IBM Z: z/OS and z/VM. While I’m no expert, by far, I have obtained a glimpse into just how powerful these operating systems are, and it’s impressive.

This year, with this extra background, I’m coming back with a hyper focus on Linux, and that’s making me appreciate the advancements with every Linux kernel and distribution release. Engineers at IBM, SUSE, Red Hat, and Canonical have made an investment in IBM Z, and are supporting those with kernel and other support for IBM Z hardware.

So it’s always exciting to see the Ubuntu release blog post from Frank Heimes over at Canonical! And the one for Hirsute Hippo is no exception: The ‘Hippo’ is out in the wild – Ubuntu 21.04 got released!

Several updates to the kernel! A great, continued focus on virtualization and containers! I can already see that the next LTS, coming out in the spring of 2022, is going to be a really impressive one for Ubuntu on IBM Z and LinuxONE.

Theater rental, vaccine, and home with the kiddos

The pandemic has caused a lot of businesses to really struggle, but one that was particularly decimated was theaters. With sky high ticket prices, I have limited sympathy for the big chain theaters and suspect most of them will manage to survive, but the smaller ones that were already struggling worried me. Here in Castro Valley we have The Chabot, a privately owned historic theater with a single screen. We’ve seen a few movies there over the years, but it closed at the beginning of the pandemic. Recently I noticed the marquee mentioned you could rent it! I reached out to them about cost and availability and we decided to celebrate our eight wedding anniversary a couple weeks early so we could get within their rental window. A fun evening out together AND supporting our local theater!

Food-wise, we played with the idea of setting up something fancy, since it was a nice opportunity to do that with the theater to ourselves. But ultimately it was a bit too much to plan, and theater food was just as fun. We got some chili dogs and I brought along pop corn. I even had soda for the first time in months.

In healthier news, on April 19th I got my first COVID-19 vaccination. The appointments had been a little tricky to get, but they started opening up somewhat that week, and I secured one for the Pfizer vaccine at the Alameda County Fairgrounds site operated by Stanford. I was so thrilled to get the vaccine. After a year of such incredible caution by our whole family, I’m grateful to finally be at this point and that our country mobilized so quickly to get the vaccinations distributed. I do hope that the trials for children go well and our little ones can be vaccinated this year too. I’m concerned about the number of people who are refusing the vaccine, and how much risk that continues to cause for children and folks who are immunocompromised or otherwise unable to get the vaccine. This refusal is continuing to put the most vulnerable people at risk, and for them I worry that the “end” of this pandemic is still a long way off.

On side-effects, for this first dose it was pretty mild. My arm was sore at the injection site for a couple days, and the day after the vaccine I was cold for most of the day, very thirsty, and ended up with some aches in my shoulders by the end of the day. None of it was bad, and if I hadn’t gotten the vaccine I would have written off all the symptoms to just general “I am sometimes cold, I didn’t drink enough water yesterday, and I’m almost 40, aches and pains exist!”

As I mentioned in my last post, I returned to work at the beginning of April. I was getting caught up and back into the swing of things, very happy to be back. The hardest part has been juggling my schedule. Between getting up overnight with the baby and then taking the kids after work, typical chores, and basic things like showering and eating each day, I was overwhelmed. Plus, I don’t want to lose momentum with diet and exercise that I’ve been doing so well with! As a result, I ended up buying a laptop stand for my treadmill. There’s a decent chunk of work I do each week, from reading emails to updating tickets and watching videos that are necessary for my job, that I actually can do while walking on a treadmill. I don’t love this compromise, since I really do want to have time to do more serious exercise, but right now I simply can’t make the time for it.

Unfortunately just as work was picking up, it became increasingly clear that I’d need to take a couple weeks off. Our beloved au pair of two years finished her term, and we didn’t have enough gap coverage to make it until our new, delayed au pair can get here. We carefully discussed and weighed options around bringing in a new caregiver for a couple weeks, but with the COVID-19 infection numbers still troublesome here and difficulty in finding reliable, fully vaccinated, childcare on such short notice, we were really in a bind. Thankfully IBM has a program for this situation, and my boss has been incredibly supportive of me using a little emergency leave. I still don’t feel great about the situation though. As someone so dedicated to my career, we worked hard pre-pandemic to not only make sure we always had childcare, but that I could easily travel every month as my job required it, even when the children are little. This pandemic caused our entire support and care network to collapse, and left us with very few options. So in this situation, it simply made more sense for me to put work on hold for a couple weeks than take the risk of bringing a new person into our home.

I will admit that it hasn’t been easy. Aaron still doesn’t sleep through the night, so my sleep is suffering and I’m not at my best when I don’t get much sleep. I worked out that I need at least 6.5 hours per night, preferably 8, and that I need at least an hour mid-day for a break so I can shower and get a little time to myself (like, to blog, hello!). MJ has been great about providing this support, as well as picking up some of the household chores that I typically do on days when I’m extra tired. I’m also trying very hard to let some things slip. The house isn’t as tidy as I want every night, and at the risk of a broken dish, I’m managing to do dishes each morning only by letting Adam “help” me with them. I’ve also been trying to laugh when I feel angry or frustrated instead of giving into those feelings. The ridiculousness of the situations that caretakers of small children find themselves in is often comedic if you’re able to take a step back and give yourself some grace. I’ve also been asking for help and taking more help when offered. I can’t do it all, and trying to but failing was making us all miserable.

I’m also making sure we take time to enjoy this time together. In spite of how difficult it’s been, this is a great opportunity to bond more and have some fun. My new treadmill desk got a break as I’m taking the kids out for walks every day, sometimes also stopping at parks so Adam can run around a bit. This week a second seat for the stroller also arrived, so I’ll be able to test out putting Aaron in that for our walks instead of carrying him in the “baby backpack” I have. He really loves being carried, but my back isn’t always a huge fan of it every day, especially as he grows!

While at home, I’m also mixing it up a bit with crafts with Adam while Aaron is napping. We got to do some painting the other day, and then took the painting and made a collage a la Eric Carle.

The television has also been on a bit more than I’d like, but this is where a bit of grace for myself comes in. If putting on a show keeps Adam calm while I feed Aaron, that’s just how it’s going to be sometimes. We’re all happy and healthy, a bit more screen time than usual will be OK for a little while.

Passover and return to work

Last year we celebrated Passover at home, and via Zoom. This was in the first month of the shelter in place orders due to the pandemic and we all thought we’d have to stay home for a few months until it was over. How naive we were! This week we celebrated our second Passover at home and via Zoom. It’s nice to do a Passover meal at home, and we’ll likely continue it now that we have kids, but even with ordering the food catered, the whole process of heating up all the dishes and setting the table while we juggle the very small kids is a lot of work, and then there’s the Seder itself. We may have done a shortened version with the kids, looking to the second night Seder with adult friends over Zoom for the fuller experience.

Thankfully, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel now with the pandemic, and next year we should be able to celebrate with our community! Vaccines are being deployed quickly here in the United States and trials on younger people are progressing at a good pace. It will likely be the end of the year before our two very little ones can be vaccinated, but at least the rest of us will be able to get the vaccine soon and protect them from us bringing home the virus, even if it leaves things very uncertain with regard to family travel.

Before returning to work on April 1st, I managed to succeed in finding some toys for Adam out back. The first was a toy sink that cycles water and I discovered just how much Adam loves playing with water. He spent 45 minutes playing with the sink and various cups and buckets just pouring water between containers, that’s longer than he’s ever played with any toy!

I also got him a scooter, which he wasn’t super interested in until I got one too. We still have some learning to do, but they were both good purchases, I’m having more fun with mine than I expected.

On April 1st I returned to work. I took most of my maternity leave (I have eight months to use the rest), and it felt like the right time to return. I love my kids, but it was really nice to get back to mainframe stuff and having technical conversations again. I was lucky to have gone out right before the major US holidays, which means I was away while a lot of my other colleagues were also away around the holidays, so I didn’t miss as much as I would have if I took leave over the spring or fall. Even so, I am still working my way through my backlog of work, and it’s definitely going to take a couple weeks to get fully on top of everything.

With Aaron still using my office in the morning to nap (he uses the nursery in the afternoon, when Adam doesn’t need it), I’ve been enjoying all the working spots around the house I created. Most mornings I’m up around 5AM to squeeze in a couple hours of work before the boys wake up, usually from the living room couch. Then I’ll spend the morning working from MJ’s office, which is actually quite the comfortable place! He hasn’t been able to set it up much, so it’s a clean slate decoration-wise, which makes it a good spot for doing calls and presentations. After Adam’s nap, I regain access to my office and can finish my day in the late afternoon so I can do a few chores before taking over kiddo care from our au pair. I’m not going to say it’s been easy, especially since the early wake-up means I also need to go to bed by 9PM, but I’m making it work. I do look forward to the pandemic winding down though, the ability to outsource some of the house tasks again will be such a load off, literally in the case of laundry!

Finally, pandemic cooking hasn’t been a big thing here. We’ve really just switched to a lot more take-out. But I was inspired by some shortbread cakes at the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, and along with a bunch of strawberries, I had most of the ingredients for strawberry shortcake. Now, MJ doesn’t do great with dairy, so the final ingredient was a non-dairy replacement, which I found at the grocery store in Silk heavy whipping cream, made instead with cocnout. I don’t have high expectations for non-dairy substitutes, but this one really came through, it whipped up really nicely and tasted great!

I may have had strawberry shortcake for dinner last night as a result. No regrets!

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.