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Maternity Leave and Brain Mush Avoidance

I am thrilled to be on maternity leave with my sweet boy Micah for an entire five months. He is now three weeks old and reality is starting to set in: Kenny is back at work and my mom has just returned home to California after spending five weeks helping me out in so many ways. If this leave is anything like the one I spent with Gloria two years ago, I’ll be looking back early next calendar year wondering where the heck the time went and how I’m going to bear leaving my helpless little cutie every day so I can spend a large chunk of my day locked up in a room with a breast pump. Without attempting to make my time off too “structured” (because how structured can one’s time be when hanging out with a newborn anyway?), I have been pondering a few questions to help make the most of the next few months. The first few pertain to quite obvious tactical Micah goals, while the last is much more aspirational and has little to do with him:

  1. Can Micah get acclimated to the bottle so that my return to work (and Kenny’s paternity leave) is less stressful than it was last time?
  2. By the time he’s four months old or so, can I help Micah develop some semblance of a nap schedule?
  3. By the end of my leave, will Micah be sleeping reasonably well at night so that I’m able to function in the office during the day?
  4. Will we figure out a routine or at least some strategies for managing as a family of four?
  5. Will Micah and I find some ways to get outdoors – and socialize with other families – this fall and early winter so that we don’t develop severe cabin fever? (This one is also important for me with respect to getting back in shape post-baby – thanks to breastfeeding I only have about 7 lbs. left to lose, but I have a long way before my muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness reach their pre-baby levels.)
  6. What can I do to keep my intellect active and engaged, and avoid allowing my brain to turn to complete mush?

Brain Mush Avoidance Plan

For me, item 6 is an important element of ensuring that I both enjoy my maternity leave and ease my transition back to adult life, but of course it’s also the item that is most likely to be neglected if some of the others (especially 2-4) don’t work out as well as hoped. To achieve 6, I have some areas that I’d like to delve into as part of my Brain Mush Avoidance plan – all of which will allow me to remain engaged with some of the topics I focus on in my professional life, but in a more abstract “personal enrichment” sense rather than the more focused tactical approach I generally take when learning on the job. The plan is probably too ambitious, but I love having a huge list of topics to choose from as I’m thinking about how to spend my time. I suspect that the plan will morph over time if these topics lead me in unexpected directions.

Tech Explorations

After spending 8 years deep in the Microsoft stack and the last year working in Java, I’ve been ignoring a lot of not-so-new tech. I’d like to spend some time with a few languages and frameworks for my own enrichment, including (in rough priority order):

  • Ruby (and Rails)
  • AngularJS
  • Scala
  • Various modern databases (NoSQL and otherwise)
  • Python

Books

Obviously books (especially those I can read on my Kindle/phone) offer the easiest way to ingest information during maternity leave, because they can be consumed while nursing or being slept on by a newborn. Of course I plan to spend some of that time looking lovingly into my baby’s eyes and some of it sleeping, but I expect to have some time left for reading as well. I’m about halfway through the first title and finding that reading on my phone while nursing is a pretty good plan, although I am developing some soreness (tendonitis?) in the knuckles of my right hand.

MOOCs

I’ve never taken a MOOC before, but interested in trying it out – it’s been years since I’ve been a student, so we’ll see whether I have the attention span to watch lectures or the dedication/time to do homework. I’m thinking about a course on Epidemics via Penn State as a starting point, but I have my eye on some other fun/general interest courses for later if time and interest allow.

Make Something?

If possible, it would be fun to do something creative as well – perhaps by making some contributions to code.org or codecademy.com, or potentially by implementing a project or two using the technologies I’m planning to learn. This area is probably the most ambitious/undefined and least realistic of all of the items in my plan, so we’ll see what I accomplish if anything.

Of course the ultimate stretch goal is also to document some of my experiences and deviations from plan. I’d like to at least publish some rough notes here.

Blog Love

…what this poor abandoned corner of the web hasn’t been getting. I’ve been dividing my time among many things, and maintaining my cyber identity has been triaged out.

Of course, this little one has been taking up most of my time, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. What little time I do spend blogging, I’m usually writing about her, because Kenny and I embarked on the formidable (but rewarding) task of writing a separate missive about each week of her first year. Even that effort is typically a few weeks behind, but every now and then we get on a blogging/photo-editing kick and knock out a few weeks worth over the course of a weekend.

However, I’m (perhaps naively) hoping to revive this little blog as well, at least as a place to record a few thoughts about development and global health, topics that have been on my mind – and will be surfacing all the more, as I start a new role working on a global health project in about two weeks. More on that later. So you might check back here occasionally for:

  • Thoughts – and links, mostly – about current topics on development, especially global health. I may even tweet about some of this stuff from time to time, oh my.
  • More food reviews, cross-posted from lawolf.net 
  • Perhaps some general geekiness, as I start getting my hands dirty with code again after a bit of a hiatus

For any updates about the baby, or musings on travel, stick to the other blog.

errorspotting.com

As if Kenny and I did not have enough blogs already, we have recently launched yet another, inspired by some frustrating experiences that we’ve had as software developers – and consumers – during our sabbatical. Errorspotting.com aims to humiliate software developers and designers everywhere into creating better error messages and fallback experiences when something goes wrong. We have posted a few stories already, and are eager to include reader contributions, as we imagine there may be a few other software users out there who have banged their heads against the wall in frustration upon encountering unhelpful error messages before. Maybe.

Aniello’s (Diani, Kenya)

Cross-posted from http://lawolf.net.

Rating:

While in Diani, we ate our best non-Olive Branch meal at a cute little Italian place called Aniello’s, recommended by Hassan from Kenyaways. The place has a romantic atmosphere, and seems to be a popular hangout for visiting Italians. Unfortunately the mood lighting made photography with our point-and-shoot difficult. But we shared a good pizza, crab ravioli, and a scoop of tiramisu gelato. I don’t remember the name of the pizza we tried, but it was the best pizza we’ve had in East Africa and featured two types of cheese, basil, and tomato sauce. The crust was thin and flaky, with the right amount of crunchiness. The crab ravioli were extremely fresh, although one needed to be a bit careful of the stray bits of crab shell hidden inside a few of them (oops!)

It’s a great little spot, and I’d certainly recommend it over most other options in Diani – for one thing, the pizzas are much better than those at Forty Thieves.

Aniello’s apparently has two locations in Diani – the one we chose was further north, across from the Barclay’s bank and just past the Nakumatt. There is another one in the Diani Shopping Center, although Hassan told us that the one we chose has the better menu of the two, most notably for the inclusion of the pizzas.

Pizza
The pizza looked better in person than this photo attests

Crab ravioli
Fresh crab ravioli

Aniello’s
Diani, Kenya

The Olive Branch (Galu, Kenya)

Cross-posted from http://lawolf.net.

Rating:

The stretch of sand occupied by Kenyaways, where we spent most of our time over the past four days, is a bit isolated from the action of Diani, to the north. Even beach resorts and hotels are quite spread out on that part of the coast. As such, it is extremely convenient that Kenyaways has a fantastic and reasonably-priced restaurant, the Olive Branch. We consumed all of our lunches there, and we wished that we had opted to stay for dinner on two of the three occasions that we ventured up to Diani for mediocre food.

During our four day stay, we sampled many different dishes, including the ceviche and smoked sailfish salad, falafel burger, Thai fish cake, prawn and avocado salad, grilled prawns, butternut-lentil-coconut curry, big garden salad, and the hamburger (Kenny, not me). The ceviche, served with toast, was quite tasty, although its consistency was more like a tuna fish salad than most ceviches I have tried. The falafel burger was certainly a standout, a delicious chickpea patty on a homemade bun, served with a fresh salad. I also loved the butternut-lentil-coconut curry, which tasted like Thai-Indian fusion, and was served with rice and chapattis. The Thai fish cakes were two juicy fish patties, pan fried but not greasy, served with a large helping of salad. They were delicious, and could also have been great on a bun as a fish burger. The big garden salad was extremely fresh, and featured greens heaped with a big spoonful of feta-like cheese, tomatoes, avocado, capers, and several types of nuts. Yum.

The restaurant staff, Alex, Hassan, and David, were always helpful and amazingly friendly. Hassan told us that the Olive Branch was the best restaurant in the area, and we believed him. He also recommended Aniello’s in Diani, where we had a very nice Italian meal.

If you find yourself at Galu Beach, definitely stay at Kenyaways for the laid-back kite surfing vibe (even if you don’t kite surf!), excellent balcony views, and perfect beach. And while you’re there, you could do much worse (trust us, we did!) than eating all your meals at the Olive Branch.

Big garden salad
Big garden salad

Falafel burger
Falafel burger

Ceviche and sailfish salad
Tuna ceviche and sailfish salad

Prawn and avocado salad
Prawn and avocado salad

Thai fish cakes
Thai fish cakes

The Olive Branch, Kenyaways
Galu Beach, Kenya
+254 (0) 728 886 821