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Big boxes and small moods

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

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

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

Freezer loaded into the truck? Check!

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

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

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

Taking a walk with Aaron in the baby carrier!

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

2021 so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The adventures of 2020, or lack thereof?

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

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

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

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

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

Tourist in Brisbane!

IBM pals at Linux Conf AU

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

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

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

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

Adam’s first conference!

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

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

And then we learned I was pregnant!

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

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

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

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

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

Talk roundup for the year:

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

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

Three weeks in and Hanukkah 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a baby during a pandemic

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Day to day

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

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

Preparing for baby!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Life ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Reuven Joseph

On Wednesday, December 2nd I gave birth to our second son, Aaron Reuven Joseph!

After a very difficult pregnancy, I’m happy to share that the birth was quick and uncomplicated. Aaron was a healthy size for 37 weeks and my recovery is advancing at the expected rate.

Working with pandemic restrictions during our hospital stay was a story I’ll tell some day soon, but the entire stay went as smoothly as could be expected. They’re even still doing the lovely celebration dinner in the recovery room!

Due to concerns we had after our first, and a couple risk factors, the pediatrician went with caution and kept us in the hospital for the full standard stay, instead of a day shorter that they’ve been doing during the pandemic. This gave us some extra assurance as we finally were able to go home mid-day on Friday.

Upon our arrival at home, our first son was there to greet us. So far, Adam has been excited and curious about his new little brother.

It’s wonderful to be home, and we’re so excited as we move forward with little Aaron as a delightful addition to our family.

Final baby prep, Thanksgiving, and a pandemic haircut

Less than one day to go! As I’ve mentioned, due to Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, I’m being induced into labor at 37 weeks, which means I’m going into the hospital tomorrow morning. I’m nervous, excited, and not quite feeling ready, but I will be grateful to conclude this pregnancy. Having a newborn is exhausting in ways I never felt exhaustion before, but at least I’ll finally be able to share the load instead of fighting through the pelvic pain, gestational diabetes, and dozens of visits to the doctor on my own.

In the two weeks I took of vacation prior to my maternity leave I’ve been getting as much pre-baby stuff done as possible, while also resting while I can. The big thing was making sure we found everything we needed. I knew we had it all from just two years ago when Adam was a newborn, but over that time I’d stuffed it into closets and spaces all over the house as new clothes and items came in. I succeeded for the most part, but it was a lot of work going through closets, rediscovering everything, and making sure it was all washed. Thankfully, our au pair helped a lot with this too, she washed all the baby clothes and got them organized into the dresser, after helping MJ move said dresser/changing table into a common area near the kitchen. Getting the bassinet and infant car seat fully cleaned and set up was quite the pile of chores as well, but I’m happy to say that’s all complete!

I do admit being a little sad about my home office. It’s where our little one will sleep while I’m on maternity leave, and over night until his sleep regulates enough to share a room with Adam. We moved the printer into a common area and swapped out the sofa bed for the nursery chair a few months ago, but otherwise it’s my office with a baby overlay. My little world in here is being taken over! But if I’m honest, I didn’t have a lot of time for myself anyway last time around, so it makes sense to surrender this room. I do still need my own little space though, so MJ and I went furniture shopping in town and picked out a big, fluffy chair to put in our bedroom. I’ll use it as a recovery spot, for pumping, and if I need an out of the way place to work if there’s a time collision in my home office. It’s a great chair that I’ve already been enjoying quite a bit, so I’m really glad we went with a new piece of furniture instead of trying to just make something else work. Plus, I was happy to patronize a local business that has likely been hit hard by the pandemic this year.

Beyond baby things, we have finalized holiday preparations!

Thanksgiving was a few days ago. Given my due date, we were never going to be able to spend it in Philadelphia, as is our tradition. This year the added risk of pandemic travel made it unthinkable. Instead, we celebrated as a household by picking up a traditional turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, steamed veggies, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie catered meal for 4-6 people from the diner around the corner. It worked out really well. MJ picked up the meal around 1PM, we transferred the various dishes to oven-safe dishes and heated them up in our pair of ovens for 40 minutes. By 2PM we were ready for dinner, with the house smelling of cooked food, but without the actual cooking! Not being home-cooked, it wasn’t the best food I’ve had for Thanksgiving, but it was satisfying, and I managed to keep my glucose levels under control even with getting a second small helping of stuffing (my favorite!). We did have dessert three hours after dinner so that I could also a sliver of pumpkin pie, but it worked out since we were all so full from dinner anyway. It was also nice to dress up a little for a meal. We’ve definitely slipped into comfy clothes all the time around the house mode during this pandemic!

I managed to get holiday cards out as well. This was important because while I enjoy the process, it is tedious and time-consuming, so it wasn’t something I wanted on my plate after delivery, and I would have felt sad if I skipped it this year. Plus, Hanukkah beings on December 10th this year, so getting them out by the end of November was actually quite reasonable.

Hanukkah prep was the last thing on my list, and I’m pleased to say that we succeeded there too. Picking out Adam’s presents for eight nights was pretty easy, but it was trickier for incoming #2. What do you get for a newborn who doesn’t play with toys yet and already inherited everything he needs from his brother? We managed to come up with some ideas with the help of our au pair. He’ll grow into some of it over the next few months.

Beyond gifts, I realized that I really enjoyed the tradition I started in Philadelphia last year of putting all the Hanukkah gifts inside the train tracks of the O-scale train I keep there. So I looked around for a train that would meet the requirements, and ordered a train set, tablecloth, and table that I was able to get set up the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. Next was wrapping all the gifts as they were delivered over the past couple weeks. The table is now overflowing with gifts! Adam really enjoys the train, too. When we return from our morning walk, he insists on sitting with me and playing with it for a few minutes. It’s a detour I’m happy with, I have someone to play with trains with!

I mentioned taking Caligula to the vet in my last update post, and unfortunately that visit led to a diagnosis of kidney disease. I can’t say I was expecting it, but we’re also not surprised. It’s common in older cats, and he was showing signs we were familiar with in Simcoe when she was diagnosed at just five years old. So far he hasn’t had a specific “crash” incident, which is great, and his kidney values don’t rise to the level of needing subcutaneous fluids yet, so we’re starting off with a diet change to better support his kidneys. This is easier said than done in our very picky kitty, but there are non-prescription options we can try too. He now has quarterly vet visits on the schedule to keep an eye on the progression and adjust treatment as needed. Coming to terms with this diagnosis has been tough though. He’s already exceeded the generic lifespan of his breed, but he’s been part of my life since he was a tiny kitten, I never wanted to admit he was getting old, let alone developing illnesses that could hasten the conclusion of our time together. Still, with treatment he should have a good chunk of time left, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure he’s got the best care we can offer.

In last minute preparations for the hospital, I also concluded that my hair was getting too long. I don’t get it cut very often, but when the pandemic hit it had been over a year! I’ve been cutting MJ and Adam’s hair at home for months now, but I hadn’t gathered up the courage to have MJ cut my hair until the weekend before Thanksgiving. Thankfully, my hair is straight and simple, so it was relatively straight-forward and he did a great job, even if it was a bit nerve-wracking. I’m sure I’ll be grateful for the low maintenance of short hair during delivery, recovery, and while we have a newborn at home!

And with that, I will return to whatever final home preparations I can squeeze into today. It’s going to be quite an exciting week!

Adjusting traditions in 2020

We are living through a global pandemic. Today, just days after Thanksgiving, the US is enduring the biggest wave of the virus yet. Cases and deaths are increasing in areas that haven’t seen powerful previous waves before. Even where we are in northern California, where cases have trended high, but manageable, hospitals and public health officials are bracing for a crisis. With this in mind, I was quite disheartened to learn that the Thanksgiving travel surge was still occurring, with airports packed with travelers and people continuing to willfully defy public health recommendations.

Traditions are important. It was one thing that was impressed upon me when I decided to go down the Jewish path with MJ in our marriage and to raise our children Jewish. Whether it was repeating the same meal during Passover every year with the same Exodus story or reflecting upon the past year during the High Holidays, as someone new to these traditions they made an impact on me. Now, perhaps someone who has experienced them their whole life may not see it, but the fact that repetition and tradition are so woven throughout much of Judaism and other religions is something that caused me to pay attention to it.

So what do we do when that tradition is disrupted? It’s hard, but we’re adaptable. In fact, I learned this year that changes to the underlying tradition can sometimes make things more meaningful and memorable.

With all of the major, family gathering Jewish holidays already behind us for 2020 and all celebrated during the pandemic, and with Christmas around the corner, I wanted to share thoughts and experiences my Jewish family has had this year.

Many congregations have closed their doors since March, including ours. Everything we’ve done has been virtual, and our first big holiday occurred in April as we celebrated Passover. Passover consists of a ritual meal called a Seder, during which you read portions of Exodus to focus upon Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Many families do two Seders, one with their family at home, and a second night community Seder with their broader community. MJ and I have typically just done the community Seder, with the exception of when we’re in Philadelphia for Passover and we do a first night family Seder.

This year we did both for the first time!

We ordered food from Wise Sons, a Jewish deli in San Francisco. They provided all the pieces for the ritual Seder plate, and we also did catering from them of traditional foods for the real meal following the Seder. We read from new Haggadahs, shipped to us from PJ Library, and muddled our way through the traditions. Doing this on our own was a real learning experience and one I will truly treasure. Our past reluctance to do it ourselves mostly stemmed from not wanting to make a fuss for just the two of us, but now that we were finally nudged into doing this family Seder ourselves, we’re much more likely to do it moving forward as our family grows.

The second night was up in the air. How can you do a “community Seder” without physical contact with your community? We went in an entirely new direction for this. Our synagogue hosted a virtual Seder, but with the whole world open to us, why not try something new? Instead, we were invited to do one led by a fellow Philadelphia transplant to the Bay Area who was hosting a Zoom-based Seder with his friends from across the country. A Seder over Zoom would have been unthinkable in years past, and we weren’t sure how it would go, but it was the responsible thing to do and we found it to be quite enjoyable! We were able to experience the meal with different people, some of whom weren’t Jewish, and from a different Jewish perspective (led by a conservative, rather than reform, which we are).

Passover 2020 was unusual, but memorable and special in so many ways. We missed seeing on congregation, but fellowship was possible, we were all safe, and we kept our communities safe.

September marked the arrival of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays, the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. Commemorating the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, respectively, these are traditionally held in the synagogue with services beginning in the evening, people adjourning home for the night, and returning the next morning for a day of services and holiday-themed events. Yom Kippur itself is a fasting holiday, which concludes with a large community meal to break the fast.

With how important these holidays are, it may seem unthinkable to not gather together for them. I admit, it was tough being away from everyone, especially since we hadn’t gathered with the congregation in some time. In some ways the High Holidays didn’t make as much of an impact this year because we couldn’t be together. In other ways, they were more meaningful. Sacrifice for the good of the community are core tenants of most religions, and Judaism is no different. By forgoing the in-person gathering for the safety of the congregation and our community around us, were were making a sacrifice very appropriate to the spirit of the faith, and that holds tremendous meaning when you pause to frame it that way. Going without a big gathering this year means that most of us will be there to celebrate next year, and many years to come.

Our congregation did several Zoom-based events, and then pre-recorded services, which were then released on YouTube. We were able to watch the evening and morning services from home, which was actually quite nice with the tough pregnancy and with a toddler running around. The services were nicely done, but not too nice as to make us feel like we were watching a polished production. It was meaningful and special in its own way.

Being distant from our congregation also led me to experiment a bit. Since we’d always been at the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and enjoying all the baked treats and goodies to celebrate the new year, I’d never had anything at home. Last year in Philadelphia we picked up some honey cake, but that was about it, all celebrations were outside the house. This year, without access to the congregation’s array of foods, I decided to take the time to make honey cake. It turned out great, and now we have a recipe to use in the future to enjoy part of Rosh Hashanah at home with a new tradition.

Another thing many religious organizations have been doing is special fundraising drives to address the needs of the more vulnerable community members. Giving has always been a big part of Jewish traditions, but the need is more obvious this year as we’ve heart-breakingly watched those without safety nets be left behind and put into truly dire positions. As this year winds down, more turmoil faces those who are most vulnerable to this pandemic as even more of those safety nets are disappearing, both health-wise and employment-wise. It’s truly a time to pause and be grateful that we have jobs and homes, and it epitomizes what I always thought was key to the Christmas season, even if I no longer celebrate the holiday itself.

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).