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In the time before the baby arrives

I wrapped up work last week, concluding with a week that included two days of training to become a Certified ScrumMaster, a discussion-driven talk at an ACM-W chapter, a talk at the Linux Application Summit, and a talk at SeaGL. It was probably too much, but I love what I do and if I’m going to be away from work for four months, I’m absolutely going to make it a dramatic exit! I also had a lot of work to hand off and to complete some projects. I didn’t complete as much as I wanted to, but it really is just four months, one of which will be taken over by the standard holiday slowdown. It was strange for me though. I’ve taken time off between jobs before, but I’ve never taken leave from a job. Even with Adam, I took my maternity leave between jobs. I’m also just generally bad at shutting off. My work is so intertwined with who I am and what interests me, that I can’t just shut off without walking away from social media entirely. So if you’ve seen me talking about mainframes on Twitter this week, you know why! It is a relief to no longer have work obligations though. With doctor appointments becoming more frequent in these final couple weeks, it would have been impossible to keep up with everything.

In these two weeks before I go into the hospital I’m taking time to finish up personal and house projects, write (hello!), and do as much as we can to prepare for the new little one. One of the first things I tackled was finally getting a little bit of art put up in my bathroom. I searched around a lot for something that resonated and came up empty. That’s when I realized that I should just go all in Me and use one of my green streetcar photos (the bathroom is green and purple). It came out better than I expected, I’m really pleased.

We also had some much-needed electrical work done in the kitchen and FINALLY managed to get a vendor to provide a quote for the composite fence we want. Both are big to do list items house-wise, so while boring, it does feel nice to have them move along. The crib is also set up in my home office where it will live while I’m on maternity leave.

I’ve been working to figure out Thanksgiving and Hanukkah plans. We’re going to order a Thanksgiving dinner, but we’re still a bit uncertain as to where from, and stores are already starting to sell out of things and I need to decide soon. Hanukkah will happen after the birth, but I want to be ready with wrapped presents and everything is set up before we go into the hospital, since I know I’ll be too tired and sore to do it after.

Thankfully, the cool weather and rain have started to roll in for the winter. We’ve had clear skies here for a few weeks, but the fire risk has remained high so we’ve had to stay vigilant, with an eye on the air quality. The changing weather should pave the way for the conclusion of fire season, and we’ve been finally able to shut off the air conditioning!

I was also able to bring Caligula into the vet this week. We’re still waiting on some test results, but we’re already seeing some real concerns as he approaches his 17th birthday next month. But one of the hidden benefits of all of us being home bound with this pandemic is that we don’t have any trips interrupting our time with him right now, he never likes it when we’re away for a while.

Speaking of the pandemic, things are getting bad again. We’re sitting here at the beginning of the holiday season (Happy Diwali!) and cases are already rising fast nation-wide. Our county, along with most of California, was quickly thrust back into a more restrictive tier with little notice to try to stem the looming crisis, and hospitals are preparing for a large inrush of patients. It’s a scary time to be preparing for a hospital visit that I can’t avoid. Giving birth is not elective, and it’s quite time-based! Maternity wards are traditionally separate from the rest of the hospital for security and medical safety, and the sanctity of that area will never be compromised, but I do still worry about being in a hospital during what could very well be the worst phase of this pandemic. I think the biggest risk is that I will need emergency care related to the birth after we’re discharged. I hope I can get it if I need it.

The other big news this November has been the election in the US. The Trump administration has caused a considerable amount of heartache, fear, and straight up loss of rights for so many of my loved ones. Living in a state that a sitting president is openly vindictive against has been a roller coaster. Even my own family has been impacted with the rise in anti-Semitic sentiment and crimes nationwide. When MJ and I had a Jewish wedding seven years ago, I happily agreed to raise our children Jewish. I would make the same choice again, but given the political climate today I would have a lot more to consider if I were making the decision again. It’s been a long time since I naive enough to believe we lived in a post-racial society, but living in a coastal bubble with diverse neighbors and doing a lot of international travel for the past decade has wildly skewed my perceptions. As I watched the progressive changes made during the Obama administration to increase access to health care for everyone and extend rights for my LGBTQ+ loved ones, I believed we were moving toward a better future in a unified way. So I was naive enough to believe that. I do still believe the pockets of bigotry are shrinking, and I have hope for the future, but they are tempered with a large dose of reality from these past four years. It was with that optimism that MJ and I went to the polls on November 3rd.

The next several days were nerve-wracking as the initial numbers showed a close race, but with Biden solidly leading at this point, even with impending legal challenges, I feel much better. Biden wasn’t my first choice, and I won’t be shy about voicing my opinion when they inevitably get things wrong, but the freedom to do so is one of the things I love about the United States. Ultimately we have a lot of work to do and we have to be prepared for the long haul. But at least we’ll have a politician who wants to do right by all the American people and won’t be aggressive to states and departments he doesn’t like. I hope to see my sons grow up in a kinder, safer world than we live in today.

Holiday cards 2020!

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 lyz@princessleia.com 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.

And yes, it probably seems like I’m doing this early this year. But Hanukkah begins on December 10th and we’re expecting our second child in early December, so I want to make sure I get the cards out by Thanksgiving in the US (November 26th).

A Pandemic Halloween

As far as holidays go, Halloween is my favorite. Costumes! Candy! Spooky decorations! Scary movies! Most years, I queue up a show or series of movies to get in the mood throughout the month of October. I even took my costumes on the road when I had to travel for work on Halloween, incorporating travel into my costume. One year I dressed up in a Godzilla hoodie for my travel from Japan to San Francisco, and another I dressed as Carmen Sandiego for my flight from Florida to Paris.

I was pretty excited to finally experience trick-or-treating with my own kids. Last year Adam was only 10 months old, so we met up with another mother and kiddo pair and dressed him as a dragon to go around the Castro Village Shopping Center where restaurants and shops were giving away candy and there was live, kid-focused music and entertainment. We spent the evening handing out candy to the 40 or so kids who came by and rang our doorbell. At the time, it was impossible to know how different this year would be.

With a pandemic raging throughout the country, plans had to change drastically. At home, we started with pumpkin carving! With Adam being so young we didn’t bother, but we took the opportunity to do it this year now that he could watch and get his hands into some pumpkin guts. MJ was on pumpkin seed duty, with his job separating the seeds from the rest of the pumpkin and then baking them.

Due to our proximity to the BART station, and a love for BART trains that I get to share with Adam, I grabbed a stencil of BARTy for my pumpkin! Our au pair did one of the Cheshire Cat. I was quite pleased with how mine turned out, given my limited artistic skills!

As for Halloween itself, some communities put together “drive-through” candy collection with spooky themed booths to drive past. Several more inventive folks put out candy in candy shoots so they could still see and say hello to trick-or-treaters, while maintaining a safe distance. Others had other kinds of fun candy dispensers. We set up a table out front that kids walking by could partake from, and then watched from an upstairs window. We had fewer than 20 trick-or-treaters, but it was still fun.

It would have been Adam’s first trick-or-treating Halloween, but not many neighbors had put out candy and it was better to just walk around for a few minutes and wave hello to the neighbors. Plus, Adam doesn’t really eat candy, and on my gestational diabetes diet I can’t have much either, so it’s really just a cruel temptation to have it laying around.

So we played outside for a bit, took some pictures before it got dark, and then retired inside for the evening.

In all, it turned out to be a very satisfying Halloween and we had a lot of fun. It was tiring though. The third trimester is taking a lot out of me, and while we were packing up the table at the end of the night, I definitely felt it. The last holiday we have on our agenda before the second kiddo is due to arrive is Thanksgiving, and that’ll be a low-key affair. We’ll find a place that will cater a dinner for four and pick it up, keeping cooking and clean up to a minimum.

Holidays, birthday, and furniture assembly

The pregnancy has definitely been front and center in my life as I entered the third trimester. It’s been a difficult one, and on top of the GDM diagnosis I recently wrote about, I’ve had some other puzzling test results lately that have caused concern. I’ve also been once again diagnosed with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), which I am not surprised about since I had it with the last pregnancy and there was a 60% chance of it happening again. Thankfully, it just means that I’m going in for non-stress tests twice a week, starting last week, and then induced again at 37 weeks, which was a good experience for me last time. That means the new kiddo is scheduled to come in early December. I also started long-acting insulin this past week over night to control my fasting glucose levels.

Still, regular life continues too!

The high holy days concluded a few weeks ago with Yom Kippur, on September 28th. As I mentioned in my last post, observing these holidays remotely has been a different experience, but it turns out Yom Kippur wasn’t that much different. Last year we attended Rosh Hashanah family services as guests at a congregation in Philadelphia, but I got sick just before Yom Kippur and it prevented us from traveling back to California in time to attend services as planned in person in San Francisco. As a result, Yom Kippur was observed via a live stream from a synagogue in Philadelphia. This year we did the same, only from home in California and a new stream from our home congregation in San Francisco. I guess the silver lining to all of this is that attending services at home with a toddler, while pregnant, is a lot easier than going there in person! But it was still sad not being there.

Then on September 29th I had my birthday! I ended up taking the day off from work, making it a four day weekend. I’d been working a lot lately, and I really needed a little down time to rest and catch up on some personal project work. I did make a couple requests for my birthday though: pizza and cake. The family came through, I had my over-priced east-coast style pizza for lunch, and before Adam went to bed we all enjoyed a little birthday celebration, complete with cake, flowers, presents, and balloons (I think the balloons were more for Adam though!). It was also a good thing I didn’t wait on the pizza and cake, I enjoyed them in blissful ignorance of the upcoming GDM diagnosis.

Adam is continuing to grow as he rapidly approaches turning two years old in January. The daily challenge has been keeping him happy while we’re all still stuck at home, and frequently inside with the smokey air that continued into October. His latest new toy is a Brio-style train table, so he has more trains and a spot to play with them on, which he loves. The other new addition is a toddler stool that can be used to more easily wash his hands and brush his teeth at the sink, something he’s really excited about and my pregnant self is grateful for, as picking him up to wash up was becoming increasingly difficult as he gets bigger and I get later into the pregnancy. In mid-October the smoke finally started to disappear around here, so we’re now able to bring him outside more often, now it’s just a few mornings and afternoons here and there where we’re stuck indoors. Still, at this point I really struggle with the energy for more than 20 minutes at a time, so I’m thankful for our au pair who takes him out often, and MJ who will often take him out for evening walks.

Adam helps me build his toddler stool

On a personal project note, as September wound down, so did the PSIGenix IRC Network. It’s the network my ex-husband linked to as a home for a now-defunct social channel we used to have. I stayed on as an administrator when he de-linked and moved on, but it was now time for everyone to move on. Traffic to most IRC networks has been dropping for over a decade now, and the remaining key stakeholders were no longer interested in running it. I have enough server resources that I could have swooped in and rescued it, but as loyal as I am to IRC, I didn’t want the burden of running a network anymore either. On October 1st, with a heavy heart, we shut down the servers and I moved my personal channel over to Freenode.

I mentioned the solar work happening on our house in my last general post back in September. Progress is being made! The physical work is pretty much done (just some painting and patching to do). We’ve passed the first inspection so we’re now just waiting on the operation certificate, which could take another few weeks and require another inspection from a different agency. Still, it really is cool to walk into the garage and see that lovely array of Powerwalls!

This week we also had some electrical work done. It desperately needed to be done, but was incredibly disruptive as a whole chunk of wiring needed to be replaced in the kitchen, access of which was gained by cutting holes in the wall of the family room. The family room is where Adam spends a large chunk of time, and between that room, the kitchen itself, and where our dining room table was, we had to get creative with our lunch plans. It was a great opportunity though, we got to try out the new convertible bench-to-picnic-table set that we assembled last week! They aren’t the most beautiful of outdoor furniture, but they were inexpensive, flat-pack shipped for free, and were easy to assemble. It’ll get us by until we are able to tackle the landscape remodel on our five-year plan. Plus, I actually quite like them for now! We had a lovely little picnic lunch.

And then we assembled even MORE furniture! As my bedtime routine gets longer with my third trimester, with glucose checks, insulin injection, and blood pressure check, standing in my bathroom the whole time was getting tiresome. My bathroom has a lovely vanity, which I never bought a stool for, until last week! It’s funny that I’d never bought one until now, but I don’t do make-up and my bathroom time was historically short. In just a couple days of use, it’s already so worth it. As exhausted as I am by the end of the day, I don’t dread the routine as much as I did a few days ago. Plus, Adam helped me assemble it, and gave it the first test drive!

Looking out at the next month, and assuming all goes according to plan, I’m still at work for the next couple weeks. I have four events on my schedule, obviously a higher load than I’d have if the events were in person! But one of the unexpected gifts of COVID-19 and virtual events is the flexibility to do more events this late in my pregnancy. September and October were similarly busy for me, and I’m glad I’ve been able to keep my participation up for so long. My last day at work will actually be presenting at SeaGL on Saturday, November 14th, which is particularly amusing for me because SeaGL was also the last conference I did before Adam was born! Of course I traveled to Seattle for that one. The rest of my time at work is being spent getting logistical stuff squared away and making sure a large chunk of my work is triaged while I’m out for a few months. I’m actually finding it a little tough to leave work behind, but this bonding time with family is so important to me, and sleep deprivation with a newborn is no joke!

Gestational Diabetes Diagnosis

I’ve talked some before about the frustration I have around pregnancy health. With pregnancy being such a personal and health-related thing, I think a lot of discussion around complications and how we’re feeling during pregnancy is also personal, and some of it taboo. It’s pretty rare when I see pregnant people share in public about the struggles they face, and I only really learn about them when I’m forthcoming myself, or join a private group that’s specific to the topic.

I don’t like that. I feel like I’ve gone into pregnancy and motherhood so blindly because of how everyone slaps a rosey picture on it. It’s only when you peel back the layers that you get to the jokes around parenthood, and the raw truth that created those jokes. Pregnancy has been so hard for me. I don’t feel like a glowing miracle. I feel sick and tired most of the time.

So this is where I publicly talk about my gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) diagnosis. I was diagnosed with it on September 30th, and it really threw me because it’s something I didn’t have with my first pregnancy and my only risk factors are age and weight.

Before my diagnosis, I hardly knew anything about diabetes. That means I didn’t realize what was in store for me when I was in the office with my doctor, but after some reading online and meeting with a diabetes nutritionist, I quickly learned that it’s not good. I won’t dig into the risks to the baby and myself here, but they would be significant if I didn’t get my blood sugar under control. Getting there meant a total overhaul of my diet, and taking blood sugar readings at least four times a day.

The diet overhaul included reducing my carbohydrate (including sugar) intake drastically, eating smaller meals, and making sure I eat every 2-3 hours. As someone with a busy schedule, historically carb-heavy diet, and a big comfort-eater, this has been very, very hard. And this is on top of an already difficult and painful pregnancy. The first week I started incorporating the new diet was hungry constantly and lost about five pounds, not something you want to see in the third trimester of pregnancy! Turns out I cut out too many carbs and was really bad about making sure I ate often enough, as I’m not naturally much of a snack person. So, in addition to a glucose meter and all its accessories, I now own a food scale, and have measuring cups constantly at hand to make sure I’m getting the right amount of carbs as directed by the nutritionist.

Some days are harder than others, for sure. Some mornings I still cry before pulling myself together for the day. With the severe pelvic pain I’m still dealing with, the walking exercise that the nutritionist calls “free medicine” isn’t always an option for me, and if I push through the pain anyway, I pay for it dearly. Eating on a schedule is hard too, with work meetings popping up at random hours throughout the day and my need to eat not always syncing up with when my family is eating (so lonely!). Additionally, one of the suggestions from the nutritionist was eating dinner before 7PM (we’re traditionally an 8:30PM dinner family) and then have a snack before bed to see if that helps my fasting numbers overnight. This is hard for a variety of reasons.

And it’s still not all under my control. Fasting numbers overnight are still slightly higher than the nutritionist would like to see, so there’s a high chance I’ll end up needing daily insulin injections to keep them in the safe range. I spent some time at the doctor on Wednesday getting trained on how to inject it.

Still, I’m coping with all of this the best I can, and trying to focus on the bright side. First, the results came back the day after my birthday, so I got that last bit of pizza and cake in blissful ignorance! But on a more serious note, I can handle all of this, even with the bouts of crying here and there. The finger pricks for the glucose monitoring are only scary the first few times. If I end up needing them, insulin injections aren’t as scary as I had feared. The strict diet is only for a couple months. I’m also lucky that MJ has done a keto diet in the past, so he’s familiar with carb reduction and the food choices available, and he’s been right there with me as I learned to use the glucose meter (did I mention that it needs blood?!).

It was a wake-up call though. The CDC states that 50% of people with GDM go on to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. Having this experience has convinced me that I don’t want to be in that half. I’m fortunate that it doesn’t run in my family, so I have a good chance of getting ahead of this with diet and exercise. I know I won’t be able to adhere to the strict diet I’m on for the pregnancy, but I will take these strategies I’m learning to heart to make sure most of my diet is better than it has been in the past. Exercise will also take priority as soon as I’ve recovered from birth and the first few weeks of “we have a newborn!” exhaustion.

Otherwise, I’m having regular ultrasounds, and everything looks good, so I will also continue to be grateful for that too. Next week I start non-stress tests twice a week until birth, which I was able to schedule for late in the day so it doesn’t impact my work schedule.

My heart genuinely goes out to families who don’t have the privilege we have. Even the easiest pregnancy takes such a toll on every part of you. Adding in complications like GDM makes it exponentially harder.

Orange skies, solar, Rosh Hashanah, and work

We’ve now passed the six month mark since the shelter in place order began here in the bay area, and the loneliness is definitely catching up to me. I am certain that part of this is also related to the pregnancy. My first pregnancy was an exceptionally lonely time as I didn’t yet have a network of friends with kids who I could speak honestly with, and I found myself distant from some of my closest friends due to changes in their lives. Still, I was still attending conferences and kept up a lively tech connection. This time I am in a different situation, but it’s more because I’m struggling to find the time and energy to connect with people now that it takes effort beyond showing up at an event. Pregnancy also means my moods are out of whack and I don’t feel much like myself, so reaching out to friends is particularly tough. On top of that, I’m still working full time, and when I’m not I’m chasing our beloved toddler, doing chores, or resting in an attempt to reduce the pain I’m coping with in this pregnancy.

It continues to be fire season here in California, and what has turned into the worst one in recorded history. On September 9th we all woke up to one of the most surreal sights of my life: an orange sky. Caused by some motion off the coast, the smoke rose higher than we are accustomed to, causing an entire day where the sun was obscured by smoke which turned the sky orange, and periodic ash falling from the sky like snow. Since the smoke began annaully impacting the bay area back in 2017, I’d never seen the level of ash fall as I did on that day. Truly the weirdest thing about the day was the darkness though, Adam slept in that morning, and we had the lights on inside the house all day.

Orange sky outside my home office

Ash piling up on MJ’s car

The Air Quality Index numbers really climbed after that orange day. We were stuck indoors for over a week, only really gaining a bit of relief this past week, when numbers dropped back into the safe green zone. It’s been hard on Adam, who isn’t old enough to understand, but loves going outside and has already had his world shrink this year due to social isolation. It’s heartbreaking to see him grab his shoes to indicate he wants to go outside, only to have to decline day after day. The pandemic compounds this, since we’d normally be able to at least leave the house to give him a change of scenery at a mall, or even a grocery store, but we just don’t feel safe bringing him to indoor places unless it’s absolutely necessary.

As a parent, keeping a 20 month old occupied for days indoors has continued to be a challenge. We’ve picked up a few new toys, generally giving him a new one every couple of weeks. Play-Doh was the latest surprise, though he’s currently more excited about the plastic jar it comes in. The next will be a wooden train train set table, prompted by his love for his train toys and desire to turn all of his separate wheeled vehicles into one long train. Little boys being enamored with trains is a bit of a cliche, but I’m totally grateful for his interest so far. I’m already looking forward to sharing my interest in model railroads with him, and hope that sharing a hobby with my kiddo will provide the time and energy required for me to finally realize the setup I want in my home office, which has thus far been unfulfilled.

Things have been busy at home, with the installation of solar moving forward much more quickly than we had planned. The company had an opening two months earlier than expected, so instead of having the panels and batteries installed in November, we’re getting it done now. The disruption has mostly been in shuffling cars around as they need garage and driveway space, and getting them access to indoor spaces as we juggle work and meetings. There will also be a significant disruption this week in power as they start bringing it online. It’s really exciting though, aside from being super cool and money-saving in the long run, it was incredibly stressful last year when we had a freezer full of precious breastmilk and areas around us were suffering through extended rolling blackouts due to the wildfires. We never lost power here, but I anticipate it only being a matter of time before we’re finally impacted, so being able to survive off the grid for a bit of time will bring considerable peace of mind. Did I mention they were cool? It’s been so exciting watching the panels go up on the roof and seeing the array of batteries in the garage come together.

Caligula inspects the pile of solar panels awaiting placement on the roof

We celebrated Rosh Hashanah this weekend. I baked my first honey cake, using this recipe. It came out better than I expected, and Adam can’t get enough of it (half a cup of sugar and half a cup of honey in a single loaf will probably do that!). As for services, they were shared by our synagogue in San Francisco via YouTube, pre-recorded but “released” at a certain time so we could enjoy them accordingly. We watched both the evening and morning services, and it was definitely a new experience. To decrease the contact that clergy had with one another, segments were recorded separately and it was very clearly stitched together. The videography and editing work was done just professionally enough to be enjoyable, but not so much to feel over-processed. I’d say it was perfectly charming. Still, we missed getting together with the rest of the congregation, and it is a bit sad seeing the place empty on some of what are traditionally the busiest days of the year.

Work has been exhausting, but rewarding. Last week we held a huge, successful, virtual event, that I’m still shocked such a small team could pull off, even with as much work as we all put into it. There were several long days and late nights that went into it, and the weekend prior to it I kept my work phone close by to address any lingering issues and tie off loose ends. I was so relieved when my track went exactly according to plan come event day. I do have a backlog of work to tend to now that the event is over, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming, even with the compensatory time I blocked off over the next couple weeks. I have talks at several virtual events coming up, but I don’t have any organizational role in those, so it should be much lower stress, and I can just focus on writing my talks.

I also received a paper copy of IBM Z Systems Magazine with an article I was interviewed for, What Works for the Latest Mainframe Generation at IBM. This isn’t the first magazine I’ve been in, and I’ve done a number of podcasts this year, but it was monumental because I definitely had anxiety over entering the mainframe space with my background. I spent decades working in the Linux systems administrator space and making a name for myself, there was a real risk that I’d be starting over here in mainframe land. It’s a relief to see that hasn’t been the case, and that I’ve managed to pull this off with a little one at home and another on the way. I have a lot to be proud of right now.

Regardless of how this entry began, we are actually doing ok, all things considered. We’re incredibly privileged, and even the worst of it so far has something we can ultimately cope with. I’m grateful every day for how our little family has managed to become closer and happier in some ways, even if it can sometimes be hard day to day.

Fire season, furniture, and our political future

We’re in week 25 or so of restrictions put in place in our community due to the pandemic, which means we’re rapidly approaching six months. It’s a little difficult to believe how different our life is than it was when we got off our last flight after the final conference we went to just 26 weeks ago.

I miss my family and friends a lot. Even as an introvert and loner by nature, that never translated in wanting to never seeing anyone but my immediate family. We have the townhouse in Philly specifically so we had an east coast base to visit family and friends out that way. Conferences and other events were my key way of seeing a lot of my friends, and with those canceled or put online indefinitely, it’s been really hard sometimes.

Difficulties were compounded a couple weeks ago when an incredibly rare thunderstorm rolled through the bay area. It didn’t bring a lot of moisture, but it brought us a stunning thunder and lightning show for several hours that Sunday morning. News and social media that morning were full of the lightning and storm sunrise photos, including a sunrise photo of my own. Much attention was paid to why this storm had occurred (a tropical storm off the shore of Mexico).

An unusual sunrise accompanied the thunderstorms

Then the news about the fires started rolling in. I wasn’t thinking about it much, but of course a low precipitation thunderstorm was a terrible thing for our area right now. Lightning sparked fires in areas around the bay area that had not had wildfires in recorded history. By Tuesday night smoke had made it to our area and, when combined with a continued heat wave, triggered power companies across the state to start enacting rolling power outages to deal with the excess load on the grid. Several folks I know here in the bay area had to be evacuated, either due to fire risk or dangerous air quality. When combined with the pandemic, I definitely had some rough days. Not going out much was hard enough, but not even being able to go outside for a walk has been really hard for all of us. Plus, Adam and Caligula don’t understand, so they’re particularly upset at us for keeping them indoors when they both love going out so much.

Smokey sunrises make for eerie red sunlight

It’s not all smoke and doom though. I keep an eye on the air quality indication websites and let everyone know when it’s safe to go outside. About half the time, it clears up enough to spend a little time outside in the evening. Last week we had a full day when the winds shifted and we all spent a fair amount of time outside.

In house news, we had a new couch delivered last week! But they ordered the wrong color. It would have actually been a mistake we could live with if we didn’t already have a matching chair for the set. Thankfully they think they can get the replacement in more quickly than the first two month wait we had. Still, it was pretty disappointing. The crib for kiddo number two has arrived, and it’s the correct color, hah! It’s sitting in a box downstairs, and we’ll bring it upstairs and hopefully assemble it this week.

The current plan is to have the new kiddo take over a section of my home office while I’m on maternity leave, so not to constantly wake Adam throughout the night with them sharing a room. I’d rather wait until later in the pregnancy to start making adjustments to my office, but with the pain I’m dealing with in this pregnancy it’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to get as much done as possibly early on. Step one was moving the sofabed from my home office into the family room, and moving the chair we use for infant feeding into my office. It was actually an easy swap, with MJ doing all the heavy bits and me mostly guiding the furniture as he slid it across the floor on a blanket. I will keep the crib out of camera view at least, I do have several more months of work and events before my leave, after all! But things are definitely moving along. Bonus: it’s actually really nice to have a sofa in the family room.

Work is going well, but busy. We had a big community launch a couple weeks ago, and we’re now a couple weeks away from a large conference, which occurs the day before another conference that’s related and I’ll be participating in. Between some extra hours, and working around the increasing number of doctor appointments now that I’ve entered month six of the pregnancy means I’m definitely looking forward to calmer times. I’ll also mention that the flexibility that my employer provides for family has always been great. But the increased amount of support offered during the pandemic has been really valuable, even when I’m not taking advantage of it, knowing the safety net exists allows me to focus on my work instead of worrying about how we’ll cope if something gives.

Finally, a brief moment to pause and talk about politics. It’s not something I talk publicly about much, but it has weighed heavy on me this year. We continue to be at what feels like a crossroads in our nation with this upcoming election. Many of my friends have legitimately suffered under this administration as they lose equal rights and protections. Protests demanding justice and equality continue to erupt across the country, even amid a pandemic. My white privilege blinded me to so many of the problems in our country prior to this, or gave me the ability to ignore it, but I’ve done my best over these past three and a half years to get up to speed by expanding the types of content I consume, who I consume it from, and really listening.

I’ve also tried to understand my conservative relatives, but this is something I’ve not quite succeeded at. When I found myself somehow subscribed to the political campaign for a GOP politician in Texas, I took it as a learning opportunity, but ultimately unsubscribed after a month because I couldn’t stomach the number of lies the repeated about Democrats and liberals. I know social media has played a huge role in this misinformation campaign, but I still struggle with it. I also don’t understand how skeptical and paranoid many of my relatives are of experts and scientists, but will then believe random people with questionable credentials on YouTube and websites that are well-known right-wing propaganda machines. The left certainly isn’t immune to conspiracy theories and spin, I call my fellow liberals on it when I see it, and have fallen for it myself, but I have changed my mind and re-evaluated positions when presented with evidence.

I continue to have hope that we’ll come out of this intact and continue along our progressive path, but I do have very serious concerns.

A market, memory, and motherhood

As I mentioned back in June, writing about life during a pandemic is tough. Life is pretty boring. We’re still mostly sequestered at home, doing take-out, and avoiding indoor spaces except when necessary. A trip out to Target has turned into a noteworthy activity for the month. The only indoor spaces Adam has been in since March have been his doctor and the post office when it’s closed so I can check the PO Box or drop something in the mailbox.

Last week we had a new adventure though, we went to the local farmer’s market! It’s outdoors, in the nearby BART parking lot. After avoiding it for the whole pandemic, I felt safe enough to check it out. Masks are required, as is social distancing, and everyone seemed to be abiding by the rules. Even if they didn’t, it was just a couple rows of stalls that have always been spaced out, so there’s plenty of opportunity to make a quick exit if we felt uncomfortable. Adam has gone for daily walks around town during the pandemic, but it’s clear he’s still not used to people in masks, so it makes him a bit apprehensive. Still, he seemed happy to see the colorful booths and people.

We also made the leap to an electric hair trimmer for cutting Adam’s hair. We had been using an older one that MJ had for MJ’s hair, but it was a bit too old and noisy for us to feel comfortable using it on Adam. Finally in July we were able to order a nice one that I can use on both of them. It’s pretty quiet, and though there were some tears at the beginning of his haircut, Adam was a champ throughout the bulk of the process. Plus, it’s so much easier and looks so much better than when I was trying to cut it with scissors!

We’re continuing to turn our back yard into a usable space. In addition to the stuff for Adam that I mentioned previously, a pair of benches that convert into a a picnic table came this week for us adults. Now it’s just a matter of assembling them.

On the pregnancy side of things, everything is still looking great for the little one, and I had a 3D ultrasound done! Still, it’s super sad that MJ can’t join me for any of these prenatal appointments due to new pandemic rules at the offices. I video conference him in when I talk to the doctor, but it’s so much better when he can be there holding my hand and seeing the little one squirm and kick. I’m now extra grateful that he was able to come to every one for Adam, so at least we could experience this all together once.

Unfortunately as I approached week 20 (I’m nearing 22 now) I developed pelvic pressure that has turned into pain. It’s not unusual, and I’ve had two appointments (one with my regular OB, one with the higher risk OB, where I got the 3D ultrasound done) and both confirmed that while miserable (one of my doctors had it herself), the pain is something I’ll have to cope with. Thankfully, so far it’s not as bad when I’m working (sitting all day!), the worst pain is when I spend more than a couple hours chasing Adam around and doing chores, so weekends have been particularly difficult. I will have to scale back some activity if it gets much worse. The other night after a particularly active day I was so uncomfortable that I even had trouble falling asleep, and sleep is already hard enough!

Our fluffy son is hanging in there too. He had a bit of a rough spring with multiple vet visits, medications (one on-going) and ultimately a switch to wet food. He seems to have stabilized though. You can still tell he’s an older cat, his weight has dropped, he sleeps more and is a bit unsteady when he awakes from his naps, but he still loves going out in the back yard and waking me up at 5AM to feed him. The transition to wet food has been a little tricky for us with frequent feedings and him just becoming picky about the foods he likes (we rotate through several flavors and styles now). It’s all worth it though, I love him to pieces and I want his last few years to be as comfortable and happy as possible.

The upgrade for the memory in my new-to-me Lenovo T460s came in recently. Replacement was easy, and I’m incredibly happy with how zippy it is. I’m also funny how happy I am with having a thinner, lighter laptop. It’s probably a mix of being older and having more things to carry these days due to being a parent, but oh how my preferences have changed! I totally used to be that “I don’t care how light it is, I want it to be powerful!” person.

Work has been going well, and it’s been incredibly busy these past few weeks. We’re in a particular crunch time at the moment, so I’ve been churning out a lot of material and working on several projects. Things should calm down by mid-September, but then I’ve got a few virtual events on my schedule that I’m presenting at. Tech-wise on my own time, I was also able to carve out some time last month to put together an article on 4 ways I contribute to open source as a Linux systems administrator in time for System Administrator Appreciation Day on July 31st. It’s something I remain passionate about, so I skipped out on a some sleep for a couple of nights to get it done. Open source is so much more than just code, and the more lights we can shine on everything from documentation to infrastructure, the better off we’ll all be as a community. It’s also the one thing I am still actively working on in the free time I devote to open source, as much of my day to day contributions have become de-prioritized since becoming a parent.

This weekend we’re enduring a heat wave, and we’re so grateful for the air conditioning that we had installed last year. Temperatures soared over 100F on Friday, and while cooler today, it’s not by much. I set up Adam’s kiddie pool out back yesterday and he had a lovely time out there with his au pair. The water is good for a couple days, so MJ and I will go back out there with him this afternoon. We also want to finish construction on his Cozy Coupe. The rear axle is a bit loose, so MJ picked up a couple extra washers last night to bridge the gap.

I do hope we can try to assemble the benches as well, but that will largely depend upon my pain and energy levels. Fingers crossed.

Toys outside, a laptop, and lots of bread

Pandemic life is continuing. This month we went through a wave of places opening for outdoor dining, only to be shut down by the state due to rising COVID-19 rates, and then conditionally opened up a few days later with the county remaining on a state watch list. For our part, we did go out for ice cream one day, but otherwise have avoided public outdoor dining and are sticking to take-out and eating at home. Hair salons remain closed, so I gave poor Adam a terrible haircut a couple weeks ago, I hope some day he looks back on his pandemic photos and fondly remembers that his mother is a tech person, and not an artist. Still, maybe I should watch another YouTube video on cutting toddler hair.

The 4th of July was uneventful. It was the first in several years that we didn’t spend in Philadelphia, which is quite the change for us and I was a bit sad about it. This year I didn’t have a fancy outfit for Adam to celebrate the day, but he did wear some red, white, and blue socks. But no BBQs, gatherings, or formal fireworks shows. Instead MJ and I spent the evening after Adam went to sleep enjoying dinner while watching various neighbors setting off fireworks all over the place. Turns out this was a bit of a last hurrah for all the fireworks, like many places in the country people had been setting them off throughout June, much to the frustration of my need for sleep at a reasonable hour. It’s tapered off almost completely since then.

I recently had the back yard cleaned up and now have a monthly maintenance plan with a local service, so our back yard can be used again! It’s still unpleasantly mulch-filled, but the other day Adam and I went out to pick some plums.

Since he’s walking pretty steadily now, we’ve also learned just how much he loves going outside. So each evening we go out front together to collect the mail, but he really wanted to stay out there and play. So we decided it would be nice to get some toys for him to play with out back. We started with an inflatable kiddie pool, which we finally got a pump for and tried out last weekend. I got one that is big enough for me to climb in there with him, and which has a roof to keep the sun away. The whole thing is a lot of work, but he really had fun playing in the water outside. It’s been such a beautiful summer.

We also got him a play tent with some camping gear toys, and a small Little Tikes picnic table with umbrella so he can sit outside, maybe eat? Draw? Paint?

We’re still thinking about getting him a mini-playground with a slide to keep out back, but I think we’ll hold off while he enjoys these toys for now. Ultimately, it would be great if the pandemic subsided and it was actually safe to go back to one of the many community playgrounds in the area, but that’s probably months away.

Phew, that’s a lot of kiddo stuff. To say he’s taken over my life is a bit of an understatement. On social media you can usually see me talking about work or family now, as many of my other hobbies are taking a back seat while I pull together the energy to chase a toddler while pregnant. I am caught in a perpetual battle of wanting more time to myself and wanting to sleep more, even worse than I ever experienced in my pre-motherhood days.

Still, that doesn’t mean I have no time. I’ve started reading more, and carving out time here and there for some TV shows when I’m particularly tired. A few weeks ago I bought a refurbished Lenovo ThinkPad T460s through the employee purchase program at work. After a COVID-19 related warehouse delay, it arrived and I was able to have a nice evening of checking out the physical memory configuration (4G soldered on, 4G removable, upgradable to a 16G chip, which I have ordered!) and installing Xubuntu. This is replacing the HP EliteBook 850 that I bought back in 2014. The specs actually aren’t actually that much different, but the weight and size of the EliteBook was starting to get to me, and the battery life had been steadily dropping. And though I knew I would be (I had the T470 and T480 for work) I’m already quite happy with the T460s, especially since even with the memory upgrade, it was less than $500.

Like many of my fellow pandemic citizens, I’ve been doing some baking. I made brownies a few weeks ago, and most recently challah and banana bread. None of these things are particularly out of the ordinary for me, but I am probably doing more than I usually would because we’re eating at home for all our meals, snacks, and desserts now. Plus, Adam loves banana bread.

Pregnancy-wise, things are progressing as expected. Last week I had the last of the Big Tests to make sure everything looks good. It does! So I sit here at about 19 weeks along, with another 21 to go. The morning sickness is behind me, and I’m not quite as tired as I was during the first trimester, but my moods, heartburn, and the lump in my belly won’t let me forget I’m pregnant. Just like with the last pregnancy, I suddenly have a fondness for onion rings (I don’t usually like them) and I can’t eat frozen custard or strong cream cheese. The ice cream craving from my last pregnancy appears to have been replaced for one for popcorn, and popcorn isn’t usually a normal part of my diet.

The weather looks beautiful this weekend, so my plan is to catch up on some chores and go out now to set up the kiddie pool for this afternoon so we can have some nice family time. Should be a good weekend.

Four months of virtual events

It’s been over four months since I attended my last in-person conference, and last week marks the last conference I had on my schedule, but which was cancelled.

In these four months I’ve seriously attended probably a dozen online meetups, seriously participated in four virtual conferences, and gave four talks. As a whole, I am grateful that we can still connect and share knowledge with each other, but I’m really struggling with them, so here are some observations about virtual events.

It’s hard to stay focused on the event

Literally everything else in my life at home is conspiring to pull me away from participating in a virtual event. My family is just outside my home office door. Laundry is out there. I’ve really been meaning to re-organized my desk. Hey, a package has been delivered! And now it’s time for lunch, which doesn’t sync up with a break at the event because I’m in the wrong timezone.

I got to choose my own lunch and had a nice view!
But the session I wanted to attend was still during lunch…

And my “regular” work is still happening. During in-person events, I chime in “at work” when I can, but generally my colleagues know I won’t be responding quickly because I’m engaged in the event and out talking with the community. This is much harder with a virtual event, I’m right there! And engagement is considerably less, so I do actually have the bandwidth to hop on a meeting or reply to a work email when the current session isn’t essential to my participation.

All the conferences I’ve participating in have also been in a different time zone. That means I’m starting work at 7AM, but it doesn’t mean I’m stopping at 3PM to make up for that, colleagues assume I’m still around to my regular end of day. The other day I started at 7AM for an event, but I needed a sync up with a colleague in China, and so my last meeting for the day began at 6PM. Even if I am more flexible about my schedule on any given day (not working for a straight 12 hours), it’s still a long day.

I don’t attend things that aren’t essential to my participation

I’ll back up to this comment I made a paragraph ago. When I’m at an event, I book meetings with people and take advantage of the hallway track, but I’m an introvert and sometimes I find myself with some time, so I’ll duck into a talk that I wouldn’t normally go to, but I have a passing interest in. Sometimes it ends up feeling like a waste of time, but more often I learn something interesting, make a connection (technical or personal), or simply am happy showing up as a friendly, supportive face in a talk being presented by someone I know. This hasn’t been happening with virtual events. I have simply been avoiding non-essential talks, and even when something interesting does pop up, my attention often waivers, or I end up replacing it with an impromptu work call or other work-related tasks.

The worst part about this is that I don’t feel the impact of this immediately. I’m just using my time efficiently! But after the event I feel like I didn’t get enough out of the event, and that it was sometimes an echo chamber. Even if I learn a lot about and contribute to my specific focus for the event, I missed out on so many other cool things happening in the tech world!


This is a double-edged sword. Traveling is tiring and takes me away from my family, and it’s so nice waking up in my own bed every morning! I absolutely appreciated that a conference was made virtual in the midst of my worst pregnancy morning sickness.

But I love traveling. With most trips I take at least a couple hours to soak in the local sights, pick up some gifts for the kiddo, send a post card. I get such joy out of wandering around the world, visiting places (new and old!) and visiting with people I can’t see at home. It makes the long, exhausting days worth it. I now find myself with a serious case of wanderlust.

Things that helped me

1. Shorter talks.

I can’t stress this enough. It’s incredibly hard to sit through a 60 minute talk at home. I suggest maxing out at 45 minutes, but 15-30 is better. And take advantage of the lightning talk format!

2. An integrated chat mechanism during talks.

I say integrated because I went to a conference where they had a Slack organization for the event, which certainly had it’s strengths. It allowed attendees to congregate prior to the event, lots of channels were created for fun and interesting topics, and it wasn’t all centered around the talks, which I appreciated, since conferences are more than that! But as a participant, there was a much warmer feel to the sessions when I could see attendees chatting away and answering each other’s questions during the talk (often directed at the speaker, but quality answers from the audience are great, too!). When I was giving a talk, having a mechanism for attendees to send questions to me that came up in a section of my screen also reminded me that people were there and actually paying attention enough to ask questions.

Integrated chat!

3. Live attendee counts.

Virtual events are incredibly isolating, both as an attendee and a speaker. I can’t say how valuable it was knowing I wasn’t actually alone, and as a speaker that I wasn’t just speaking into the void.

4. Single track.

This is not going to be possible for a lot of events, but I the ones I’ve participated in that have been single-track gave me a much stronger closeness with the fellow attendees. We were all participating in the same sessions throughout the event, speakers could reference previous talks, and you gained some familiarity with the moderators and active participants in the chat.

Single track! Timezone mentioned! Integrated chat!

5. Visible themes.

You don’t need to have all of your speakers dressed up in costumes (though that does make things more interesting!), but even small things that make you feel like all the presenters are at the same event helps. That can be a custom slide deck theme that all presenters use, or a little toy or printed sign the speakers place on their desk during their talk. Just a little something that shows continuity instead of staring into an endless parade of home offices, living rooms, and kitchens.

As an attendee, I’ve also come up with a “visible theme” myself that has helped. I aggressively take photos at events to share on social media, and I wanted that continuity as I attended virtual events, but who wants endless pictures of my monitor? Well, there was no avoiding taking pictures of my monitor, but I kept myself entertained by having an ever-changing cast of stuffed animals joining me next to my monitor. Sometimes they’d be topical, with a penguin for an interview with Linus Torvalds and the SUSE chameleon for talks by SUSE employees, but just as often they were random. The key was that I got up between sessions to raid my stash of toys and brought a new one to each talk, also trying to mix up the camera angle as much as possible.

SUSE chameleon! Themed event slides!

At the one event, I also dressed for the occasion! Each day I wore a different t-shirt from a past iteration of the event and tweeted a photo just before the keynotes.

First day of the Open Source Summit, I wore my t-shirt from the event the year before!

6. Clear schedules.

This is one that came up for a couple the more corporate events. The headline sessions were promoted and highlighted extensively on the site, but there was no grid view of all talks, and it was a struggle to find some of the more niche topics.

This was frustrating as a participant and a speaker. A topic I spoke on was a bit niche (mainframes often are!), so it was nearly impossible to find on the schedule, and there were a few talks I knew were somewhere on the schedule, but I didn’t manage to find. Ultimately, I skipped all but a couple keynotes for one of these conferences, and only spoke at my own talks for the other. These two didn’t make the cut for my list of conferences I “seriously participated in” as mentioned at the beginning of the blog post, because the lack of a clear schedule just made it to hard for the event to be valuable to me.

And please, include the time zone on your schedule!

7. Encouraging social media presence.

Again, it’s hard to be drawn in and “feel” an event without fun pictures, but you can still lead the way in encouraging social media participation. As the event itself, keep tweeting! Retweet posts from attendees! Are you an open source project? Take some screenshots and tweet about speakers on your project!

It felt so nice to get a series of tweets from the Open Mainframe Project (image source)

Not all bad!

There are definitely upsides to virtual events. Many of them are free, or significantly cheaper than their in-person counterparts, allowing more people to overcome the financial barriers in place for attending. You have the opportunity to attract a more international audience because people aren’t required to travel.

MainframerZ Meetup! London-based, but I can regularly attend now that it’s virtual.

Giving the opportunity to share knowledge with so many more people at the actual event, instead of just videos posted afterwards, is not something to be overlooked. I hope that our experience from this year can continue the trend of some conferences being virtual and so we have the tools and expertise to improve these experiences for the future. Already I’m seeing changes in platform technology, and with every virtual event I attend I get a new experience and new ideas about how to bring us all together.