Blog: Entries From 2020

11 entries found.

RSS Feed
Happy New Year! - Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Happy New Year (and New Decade)! This holiday season, because Christmas and New Year's fell in the middle of the week, Priscilla and I stayed in the Bay Area for Christmas (and had dinner with Uncle Kenway, Aunt Susan and their family) and went down to LA for the four days leading up to New Year's.

So the Saturday after Christmas, we departed at 7:30am en route to LA. I-5 had been closed at the Grapevine just two days earlier due to snow and icy roads. Fortunately, it was nice and sunny on Saturday, and unlike on Thanksgiving Day, we didn't need to detour to the 101. There was constant traffic but it wasn't too bad until we got to the Greater Los Angeles area, and the total transit time was 5.5 hours. Not the most optimal, but way better than Thanksgiving's 9.5 hours.

Saturday night, we had dinner with my parents and Aaron and Lauren's family at Mandarin Deli. We stayed at my parents' place that night, and Priscilla's parents' condo the following three nights.

Sunday was pretty packed - we went to CCAC in the morning (at the new Granada Hills location), ate with Gina and Cindy at Pieology afterwards, and ate dinner at Gen Korean BBQ with Raymond in Alhambra. Our original plan was to stay at my parents' place Sunday night, but since my other high school friends weren't available to hang out that day, Raymond was the only one who could make it. He had to drive from Orange County, so we decided to go Priscilla's parents' condo one day early and meet him in Alhambra.

Monday was a more restful day, and I took the time to run a few miles. Cindy (the other one) and Tracy visited us on Tuesday and we ate lunch at Bopomofo Cafe. We even caught a sighting of the cafe's cofounder, Philip Wang of Wong Fu Productions. He said hello to the people at the table next to ours - that's as close as we got, though Priscilla later went inside to ogle at him working at the counter.

And today, on New Year's, we stopped by my parents' place to pick up food before driving back up north. My mom had cooked us a lot of food - mung bean noodles with ground turkey and vegetables, chicken and vegetable soup, and turkey porridge - so that we wouldn't have to cook after getting home. This was on top of the soup, porridge and ribs that she had us take to Priscilla's parents' place on Sunday. I've realized that cooking for us is one way that my mom expresses love, and she usually always overdoes it and heaps food on us in her neurotic, loving way, but I'm really blessed to have a mom who loves me this much.

Our trip down to LA was a good time of seeing family and catching up with friends. We're really blessed to have so many people who continue to care about us after all these years.
Just Cruisin' - Monday, March 2, 2020
Priscilla loves traveling, and perhaps cruising in particular due to the aspect of everything being taken care of. And because I'm married to her, I occasionally have to go along with her crazy schemes. So three weeks ago we took a 4-day cruise from Long Beach to Catalina Island and Ensenada aboard the Carnival Inspiration. At least we got it free thanks to credit card points; all-in-all, it would've been $600 something otherwise.

This was my third cruise overall (all of them with Carnival) and my second cruise to Ensenada, the first one being in 2009 when Priscilla's parents brought us there (but we didn't do Catalina that time). Priscilla was particularly keen to include Catalina this time because it's where I proposed oh so many years ago.

So on Monday, we flew down to Long Beach Airport and Ubered to the Long Beach Cruise Center where we boarded the ship. The next morning, the ship docked off the Catalina coast and we had to take a ferry to get to shore. We walked around Avalon, which was in a quiet, sleepy state, perhaps because it was a weekday. We hiked up the same trail that we tried hiking up last time (where I had proposed), except this time we made it to the top! Priscilla had brought proper footwear this time and was resolved (or more like resigned) to get to the top, not because she likes hiking, but because she knows how much I like it. We enjoyed the scenic ocean view on both sides of the island, and had a local there talk a lot to me, before we continued along on a route down the mountain.

The route down took us to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden through the rear entrance, where we were able to enter without paying a fee. I got that tip from another local who struck up a conversation with me when we were at Vons getting sparkling water (those locals really like to talk!). We were able to enjoy the memorial and garden before heading back to the ship. Altogether our trek was a little over 10 miles - not too shabby, especially for Priscilla.

Ensenada was the next day, and our time there started with a 1-hour horseback ride with Rancho los Bandidos, an excursion booked through Carnival. We joined around 18 others riding single-file on a trail in the mountains above the city. The views were great, but the pace of the horseback riding was pretty slow. I did get a lot of chafing from the times when the horse was running, due to me bouncing up and down as a result of not knowing proper technique. So I guess there's an upside to the pace being mostly slow.

Priscilla's feet were sore from the day before, so we only walked 4 miles around Ensenada before going back to the ship. We briefly passed through the area with touristy shops but were scared off by all these guys wanting us to check out our their respective souvenir shops. We didn't have a pre-planned route, so most of our walking was through nondescript parts of town. But along the way we managed to pass through the grounds of the Riviera de Ensenada, Plaza CĂ­vica de la Patria (a park with busts of the heads of three historical figures), and Ventana al Mar (a park along the harbor near where the ship was docked). I wish we had done more walking, but next time we should probably have a plan, or at least some idea, of the places we want to visit.

The day afterwards, Thursday, was the day at sea. We went around the track in the morning (I mostly ran, Priscilla mostly walked), learned how to fold towel animals at a session, worked out at the fitness center for the third time during the cruise, and enjoyed the Motown musical Motor City in the evening.

I definitely ate a lot and often on the cruise (though my waistline would disagree). We always had breakfast and lunch at the Lido buffet, and we got burgers from Guy's Burger Joint a couple times. For dinner, we ate at the dining room except on the last night. We found that the quality at the dining room was hit or miss, and service was extremely slow. A lot of the same food was at the Lido buffet. And unlike with our previous two Carnival cruises, there was no longer a night when lobster was on the regular menu at the dining room. Lobster tail was on the menu as a $20 item, but of course we didn't want to spend extra money. Since there was no free lobster to look forward to (we were able to preview the next day's menu), we skipped the dining room and ate at the Lido buffet on the final night.

On Friday, we disembarked after breakfast and walked along the Long Beach waterfront to Yard House, where we had a couple unmemorable appetizers. We weren't too hungry and I was also starting to get sick (which happens often when I travel), so I didn't feel like ordering more.

Speaking of cruises and getting sick, there's been a lot of news/panic lately about the coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, and everyone on the Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined in Yokohama as a result of passengers being infected. Fortunately, things haven't gotten too bad on this side of the planet (though reading about shoppers snatching up all the basic provisions at Costcos may make one wonder). Based on my symptoms, I only had the common cold. Unfortunately, Priscilla later caught it from me. Plus she had prolonged land sickness (MdDS) to deal with, lasting much longer than it has in the past for her. And she'd already booked the same cruise for her and her parents for later this year. Fun times!

The quality of the cruise could've been better. But it was still nice to get away for a few days, have food always taken care of, work out when I wanted to, and have some time to catch up on writing Yelp reviews (Priscilla had spent some credit card points to get the unlimited Internet package since she knew it would keep me sane). I guess I do get the appeal of cruising. I'd be hard-pressed to want to go on a 3-month cruise around the world, but a 4-day cruise to a couple places where we have some cool activities planned, ones that don't involve chafing on my rear end? Sure, sign me up.
Coronavirus Pandemic - Friday, March 13, 2020
2020 has shaped up to be quite an eventful year. It seems like the coronavirus outbreak (a.k.a. COVID-19) is what's on everyone's mind these days. State and local governments and companies have taken drastic steps to limit transmission of the virus. This week alone, the outbreak was declared a pandemic by WHO, the NBA has suspended the basketball season, the three major US stock indexes touched into bear market territory, California governor Gavin Newsom banned gatherings of 250 people or more, President Trump imposed a 30-day travel ban for flights from Europe, and, just today, Santa Clara County closed all public schools for 3 weeks as Trump declared a national emergency.

Many tech companies have required their employees to work from home, and while Pure has made it optional, my manager mandated that our team work from home until further notice starting next week. My commute to work this week has been great; I guess it's going to get even better now. It's difficult for people at Priscilla's company to work from home due to the nature of their work, but it sounds like the company is seeing what can be done.

At church, youth ministry and Sunday School were cancelled. Yesterday the pastors decided that we'd continue having worship service while advising people to stay more than an arm's length from each other, but today they sent another email announcing that worship service will now only be available via streaming after the Santa Clara County Public Health Department issued a legal prohibition against gatherings of more than 100 people. It's amazing and frightening how many new developments there have been in just a few day's time.

On a societal level, frequent hand washing and social distancing has suddenly become the norm. And stockpiling seems to be increasing, with Costco and other stores quickly running out of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, water and some food. There's especially been an insane level of toilet paper buying. Once some people started panic buying, others felt forced to as well. This is how runs on supplies happen.

Though some supplies are running out at some stores daily, so far we haven't seen real scarcity. But there have already been some reports of isolated instances of violence over things like toilet paper. I shudder to imagine how society might unravel if scarcity and joblessness increase. Businesses in industries including travel, food and retail are losing money, which affects how many people they can afford to hire. What's going on isn't economically sustainable, and it seems like a recession is all but inevitable at this point. Our renter's internship at a school is threatened by today's school closures, and she also just lost her waitressing job at a restaurant that has closed indefinitely. What will be the ripple effects of many people losing their jobs? It feels like we're teetering towards the end of the world, but I have to remember that many people/places have it much worse.

In my lifetime I have not seen a global response as strong as what is happening now. So far there have been 145,810 cases of the virus worldwide, with 5,436 deaths and 72,531 people recovered. In the US it's been 2,466 cases, 50 deaths and 41 recovered. The amount of tracking, the amount of up-to-the-minute updates on this pandemic is of a scale not seen before. Information spreads faster than ever, and perhaps that's a large reason why the response has been so dramatic. To put things in perspective, it's estimated that the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic saw 700 million-1.4 billion people infected, with 150,000-575,00 deaths. However, swine flu had a mortality rate of 0.02%, while WHO has estimated the coronavirus mortality rate at 3.4%, topping out at 14.8% for adults 80 and older. And since a viable vaccine could be many months away, I can understand why governments want to severely limit the spread of the virus. We don't want hospitals overwhelmed with critical cases like what's happening in Italy, we want to protect those who are most vulnerable, and we want to give researchers more time to develop a vaccine.

As Christians, our hope must be in God, not in the flawed institutions of this world. I know this, but living it out is hard. I still feel hopeless when my stock portfolio drops by another 7%, when I read about the permanent effects that the virus can have on the body, and when I think about how society could be on an unchangeable course headed towards major systemic problems. But as an article from The Gospel Coalition reminds us, "it takes the same amount of energy to worry as to pray. One leads to peace, the other to panic. Choose wisely."
Sheltering in Place - Wednesday, April 8, 2020
It's amazing how quickly society can adapt to a new normal.

It was only 7 weeks ago that the 3 major US stock indexes were at an all-time high and most people didn't have a reason not to be confident in the economy.

Since then, due to the ongoing pandemic, the indexes lost 33% of their value in a 1-month period, though they've been climbing slowly (currently down "just" 22% from the all-time highs) due to the unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress.

It seems that nothing about this crisis is precedented. Statewide shelter-in-place orders, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, have caused millions of jobs to disappear. 10 million people filed for unemployment in the span of 2 weeks. Many who can still work are forced to work from home (I'm in my fourth week of doing so). The amount of vehicular traffic I've seen around here is maybe 15% of what it used to be not all that long ago. Weekly gas demand has fallen to the lowest rate since 1993, and gas prices are at a 4-year low.

California was the first state to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, and since then, 41 other states have followed suit. Under those orders, people are allowed to go out only for essential purposes including buying groceries, exercising, and commuting to essential places of work. Maintaining six feet of distance from others who don't live in the same household, a.k.a. social distancing, is required. When two people are nearing each other on the street, one of them moves well out of the way. It's become so second-nature.

Only businesses considered essential are allowed to be open. The stores that are open are limiting the number of people who can be inside at one time, causing lines to form outside during peak hours (which, at Costco, seems to be all hours of the day now). It's common to now see stickers on the ground, both outside the store and inside leading up to the register, guiding people in where to stand to maintain adequate distance. Stores have put up plexiglass barriers at the registers to separate cashiers from customers. And it seems like more people than not are wearing some sort of face mask, with Santa Clara County having recommended cloth masks to help limit transmission of the virus. All of this would've been a foreign concept a couple weeks ago, but now it's the norm.

Priscilla and I have been walking outside every day. Exercise, after all, boosts the immune system. In the quiet of night when there's almost nobody out, it feels like, in Priscilla's words, an introvert's dream. Grocery stores now have special hours and are closing earlier, so there's really no reason for people to be out at night unless they're crazy, which it appears that most people are not. On the flip side, it's hard for me to not be able to go to the gym. I can do pullups and dips at the park and bodyweight exercises at home, but it's not as practical. I'm getting tired of working from home, mostly due to the lack of office perks - I realize how entitled that sounds, but something can be said for being able to better focus on tasks when you don't have to worry about things like grocery shopping, cooking and washing dishes. Meanwhile, Priscilla wishes she were working from home more (she's only able to work from home twice a week, and she had to fight hard with management to be granted even that). But at the end of the day, we're very fortunate. We have stable jobs, shelter, food, savings, and good health. How many others can say the same? Plus, it seems like the curve is starting to flatten in the US, echoing what's already been seen in some other countries. There may very well be a second wave of infections down the road, especially if the virus mutates, but hopefully by then the world will be more strongly positioned to handle it. Ultimately, as Christians we must trust in God's sovereignty over all things. Yes, we must all do our best to protect health and save lives, but ultimately God is our shelter, and we must bring everything to Him in prayer.
Not Quite Eden - Monday, May 18, 2020
It's now been two months of mandatory working from home for my company, but it feels like it's been forever. Today, Santa Clara County finally went to Phase 2 of California's four-phase plan to reopen the state. Now only two counties in the state - Los Angeles and Sacramento - are still in Phase 1. Nonetheless, an end to the current shelter-in-place order seems far off.

I've accepted the reality that I may never set foot in my gym again. It seems more likely that they won't survive the current economic crisis. I've been doing pullups and dips at the park, and I have some really ghetto adjustable dumbbells in the shed in the backyard. In the midst of sheltering at home, the backyard has become my second home, of sorts.

I've contemplated building my own monkey bars in the backyard, but that project will be at least a few months out. What I have been doing is clearing out weeds, as I do every year. Except this year, I've also been filling in the gaps between patio sections (where weeds love to take root) with polymeric jointing sand. I also plan to replace sections of the backyard with rocks and mulch, and convert sprinklers to drip irrigation. With investments in making my backyard low-maintenance, I hope to reduce the amount of time I spend doing manual labor in the future. Like with improving the infrastructure at work, it's about spending less time bailing water out of the boat and finding more time to build a better boat.

I've also planted quite a few green onion bulbs. Every time we finish using a sprig of store-bought green onion, the bulb gets planted in the back. So far I've planted 36 bulbs in the planter box and another 30 in small plastic pots. I've had issues with some animal burying its poop almost nightly in some of the planter box holes where I planted a green onion bulb, and from some cursory research, I believe the animal to be a cat. Covering the smaller plantings with buckets at night and spraying the area with citrus has seemed to deter the animal from leaving its droppings. I've also noticed that the animal hasn't gone for the larger plantings, which is another reason I started the new bulbs in pots instead of immediately putting them in the ground. Not to mention, starting plants in pots seems to be a very common thing to do.

I also had to deal with bugs which appear to be aphids attacking the green onions. Spraying with neem oil seems to have helped. And when I watered using a wide spray pattern, small weeds popped up everywhere. After spending a couple hours painstakingly pulling all those weeds out, I switched to spot-watering using a pitcher. I have drip irrigation parts due to arrive in a couple weeks, at which time I'll run a drip emitter to each planting, with weed barrier and mulch in between plantings. Overkill for green onions, maybe. But, better boat.

While I've been spending much of my free time in the garden and learning more about gardening, I wouldn't say I actually enjoy it. I guess what really appeals to me is not the act of gardening, but the state of not having a ghetto, weed-ridden garden. And I like the idea of having food automation - having low-maintenance plants that will provide some food during the year. It won't really protect us from being affected by potential food shortages, but it's something productive and worthwhile that we can do with our space. One of the many ways in which we are truly blessed.
Reopening - Friday, June 12, 2020
Today, California entered Phase 3 of the four-part plan to reopen the state. This allows schools, bars, gyms, campgrounds, professional sports and more to reopen with modifications. Bay Area counties are taking things a bit slower, though last Friday Santa Clara County opened up things including outdoor dining at restaurants, in-store retail shopping, outdoor swimming pools, camping, and all outdoor recreational activities with one other household that don't involve physical contact.

After hiking last Saturday, Priscilla and I were running errands and decided to go pick up gyros at one of our favorite restaurants, Yiassoo. We weren't aware that outdoor dining had opened up, so seeing the patio area open was a pleasant surprise and we did not miss the chance to eat there. After a few months of not being able to eat at a restaurant, this felt like such a blessing. Ah, the little things.

Today we went to the CVS by Santana Row to pick up my meds, and we took the chance to wander through Santana Row. It was uncanny to see all these shops open and so many people dining outside. The area looked to be at maybe 40% of the pre-COVID levels of occupation. It felt like an unsafe number of people, and some diners didn't appear to be seated 6 feet away from other tables. But I guess this is the new normal. Santa Clara County's coronavirus numbers have been relatively low (only 3,117 confirmed cases thus far). But will it stay that way?

This coming Monday, I'll be joining a couple hundred or so other Pure employees in returning to the office. When the survey went out to see who wanted to return sooner and who preferred continuing to work from home until August, I was quick to respond and choose the former. But that was at a time when our renter was home all day and it was more difficult for me to have focused time at home. She has since moved out (her last day was June 6) in order to do a PhD program on the East Coast. So now our two non-master bedrooms are unoccupied, the first time in over 6 years that we haven't had a renter. Priscilla and I are enjoying the long-forgotten peace and quiet and privacy, and we're not rushing to find a new renter. I'm not really jumping at the possibility of finding someone only to have them be at home all day if there's another lockdown this year.

In terms of work, though, the current situation at home has allowed me to have better times of focus. Going into the office could actually make me less productive, especially when you factor in time commuting, less schedule flexibility, and the strict health guidelines (e.g. having to continuously wear a mask when in the office) that we'll have to abide by. Also, lunch will initially not be provided, and drinks and snacks will be limited. I know that many others don't get those things at their workplace, but it's a major productivity booster to have food taken care of, especially since I get hungry all the time and find it difficult to focus when my mind is on my stomach. So we'll see how things are next week.

With all this uncharted territory that we as a society are venturing into, I think we can only take things one step at a time, assess regularly, and try to do the best with the situation we're in.
Back to the Office? - Tuesday, June 16, 2020
As mentioned in last Friday's post, yesterday was the first day back to the office for a couple hundred Pure employees. Every other desk is now unassigned, meaning that many people were moved, though I still have the same desk by the window. On my floor where there are normally around 200 people, I'd estimate that there were only 10 people in. I was the only one on my team who came in (the only other person on the team who elected to come back was still working from home yesterday). The next nearest person on my floor was sitting 100 feet away.

Lunch is currently not provided. And in our microkitchens, there's about 1/3 of the previous amount of snacks. There are individual-sized cups of cereal, Cup Noodles, popcorn, chips, beef jerky, granola bars, cookies, and a couple types of energy bars. Plus a couple types of soda, energy drinks, tea, and sparkling water. And one type of beer - Corona (ironically?). All the perishable stuff like eggs, hummus, carrots, yogurt, cheese, almond and soy milk has been removed. So have the bulk bin snacks, oatmeal, and peanut and almond butter. Unfortunately, there's not that much that I can eat on my limited diet.

Before work, I visited my dentist for a cleaning that was 2 months overdue. They reopened their office at the beginning of the month, and there are naturally more protective measures in place: a health questionnaire and temperature screening up front, patients having to rinse their mouth with hydrogen peroxide, masks and face shields for the dentist and her assistant, and the dentist chair and other equipment covered in disposable plastic to be changed in between patients. The assistant told me that they used to have 2 or 3 patients per hour, but now they have 1 every hour back to back. The dentist asked me to pay a $20 charge for the PPE that they have to use, since insurance doesn't cover that yet. A small price to pay given that the office is bringing in much less revenue now but can't suddenly start billing higher rates to insurance. I don't know how they'll be able to keep the lights on like this.

Being back in the office yesterday was difficult for me. Part of it is probably that I still need to adjust (it was an adjustment going from working in the office to working from home), but the lack of food that I could eat was a significant hindrance to productivity. Also, wearing a mask for long periods was uncomfortable, so half the time when I was at my desk, I either wasn't wearing it or had it resting lower on my face, not covering my nose. I don't know how cashiers, dentists and other people can stand wearing a mask for long stretches at a time. Compared to them, I have it good.

Today I'll be bringing a lot of food to work to help get me through the day. But that defeats the purpose - why don't I just stay home where I already have things I can eat, which also has the benefit of eliminating a commute (however great my commute to/from the office currently is) and not necessitating a mask. I don't have much incentive to go into the office at the current time, especially since our renter is no longer here and I can work quietly at home (see previous post). I'm planning to stick with it for a couple more days and then make the request to switch back. Everybody else on the team is already there.

With the shelter-in-place shakeup, it seems like people are embracing the benefits of working from home - having more schedule flexibility and ditching the commute - and companies are becoming more amenable to the practice. Last month, Twitter gave its employees the option of working from home permanently, even after the shelter-in-place is lifted. Many other companies will probably do the same. We'll probably see companies downsizing and consolidating their office space, which will cause office rents to fall. Fewer workers in the office may also negatively impact businesses, particularly restaurants, that are nearby. The same businesses that have already been hit hard by the economic crisis. In turn, perhaps we'll start seeing an exodus of people - those working remotely as well as those in the service industry - away from areas with a high cost of living in favor of more affordable places that still offer a high quality of life. We've seen the ability of this crisis to shake things up, and we probably haven't seen the end by a long shot.
Reversion - Saturday, June 27, 2020
In last week's post, I mentioned the challenges of working in the office during the current crisis but that I hoped to stick it out for a couple days. Well, after two days total I decided to revert to working from home. Not having much that I could eat and having to wear a mask the whole time in the office were too burdensome (and half the time while I was at my desk with nobody around, I either wasn't wearing the mask or didn't have it covering my nose).

Everyone else on my team had already elected to continue working from home. And this week, due to the rising number of coronavirus cases both nationally and statewide, Pure decided to roll back the reintegration plan and require all employees, except essential staff, to revert to working from home again.

Today, with 44,782 new cases reported, the US set the single-day record for new cases for the fifth day in a row. For comparison, the number of daily new cases was less than half this number at the beginning of the month. Cases are spiking in western and southern states, California included. But it's encouraging to see that New York, where things seemed out of control in April, has appeared to have flattened the curve since then.

The spike in cases is likely due to states reopening, though people not taking as many precautions is probably a large contributor. One need only look around to see the signs. When we visited Santana Row mid-June, it felt like there were way too many people there, and many people didn't seem to be socially distancing or wearing masks. When I went running at Rancho San Antonio (an extremely popular hiking spot) last weekend, the trails were crowded and only about 25% of people were wearing a mask. It seems like the fact that we're reopening, plus some quarantine fatigue, has caused people to let their guard down, and now we're starting to see the consequences of that. Half of the new cases in recent weeks have been in adults under the age of 35, a worrying trend.

Personally, I'm not taking chances. I keep a cloth mask with me when running in an area where social distancing is not always possible, and I'll put it on when someone is approaching. And when going into stores, I've started wearing an N95 mask and a cloth mask over it - partly for the double protection, and partly to cover up the N95 mask because there seems to be a stigma against non-medical personnel having/wearing them due to shortages. We bought two N95 masks 2 years ago when NorCal was experiencing large-scale wildfires, but I don't want people getting the wrong idea.

At the current rate, I expect the crisis to get a lot worse before it starts getting better. Young people might continue not socially distancing and unknowingly catch the virus and spread it to others. We could be past the inflection point where the exponential spread of the virus really starts to accelerate. States could scale back their reopening efforts and shut down again, causing new economic woes that compound the earlier ones. Bay Area companies could very well require employees to work from home for the rest of the year. There's so much uncertainty now. But, places like New York (where all parts of the state have reopened to some degree) are proof that things can turn around, but it requires everyone to work together.
The Rest of Summer - Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Now that it's fall, I figured I'd better get to writing an update for the rest of summer. A lot has happened since I wrote my last blog entry!

Workwise, the situation has remained unchanged. I'm still working from home, as Pure has directed all non-essential staff to continue to do so for the rest of the year. Priscilla is still working from home only 2-3 days a week.

In late June/early August, I decided that I may never be able to set foot in my gym again and that we should start purchasing gym equipment. We originally wanted to keep our two spare rooms free in case we decided to rent them out again in the future. So we were thinking of having an outdoor gym, which would involve removing two trees in the backyard and installing a canopy and hard flooring with rubber flooring over it. But eventually we decided to convert our larger spare room into a permanent gym room, meaning we'll never rent out that room again, which we decided was acceptable.

So I bought rubber floor tiles and had a glass company install a 8x6' mirror. I also purchased a weight bench and dumbbell rack on Amazon. I wanted dumbbells because they're the most versatile. The problem was that they were sold out everywhere, and the price gouging for used dumbbells on Craigslist was insane. I'd heard of Rogue Fitness and knew that they were well-regarded in the fitness community but also that their stuff had been considered pricey. But unlike most companies, Rogue had seemingly not increased prices during the pandemic, making their gear competitively priced by today's standards. It took a couple weeks, but I was finally able to order 10-50lb dumbbells, and later 60lb dumbbells and a 35lb kettlebell. Orders were naturally quite backed up, so it took 5 weeks for everything to arrive, but it was awesome once it did.

Unfortunately, now I have a problem with weight distribution. The dumbbells plus the rack weigh about 850 pounds, which is a lot to put in one small area given that we have a crawlspace and a foundation that doesn't seem too strong. We don't have major foundation issues, but we have creaking floorboards everywhere, a sagging floor in many spots, and evidence of minor settling all around. I went into the crawlspace and found that we have 4x6 beams with subfloor planks on top. No joists and no plywood, unlike with modern homes. I did a lot of research about foundations and also had a structural engineer come take a look, and he determined through very generic calculations that I can have no more than about 360-400lbs of weight in that area. I loaded up the rack with 375lbs (including the rack's weight of 75lbs), and a couple weeks later, I noticed some thin cracks on that side of the room where the floorboard was starting to pull away from the wall. I'm not sure if the floorboard was like that before, but I didn't want to take chances and exacerbate the problem, so I took the 40lb dumbbells off the rack. Now the lighter dumbbells are on the rack while the heavier ones are distributed around the edges of the room.

I have the rack centered over two beams, though it's slightly wider than the beam span by a few inches on each side. The structural engineer didn't go into the crawlspace as I had hoped he would, but he gave me a suggestion to install one additional pier per beam to support the weight of the rack. I'm having an actual foundation repair company come next week, and they will actually go into the crawlspace and give me a free estimate. Of course, I'm afraid that any work they do will cost a lot.

But the gym room has been an investment that's already been paying off. I had been feeling down due to not being able to go to the gym for 4 months, let alone losing a lot of my previous strength gains. I had the cheap adjustable dumbbells in the shed, but it wasn't the same. It's been awesome physically and mentally to be able to get a real workout again. We also added an exercise ball as well as a custom metal sign hung on the wall to complete our gym setup. Overall, we spent around $4k on the home gym, and Priscilla's parents graciously paid for most of it (they insisted). But perhaps we may have to shell out another $4k for foundation work - who knows.

Not to be left out, Priscilla decided that we should convert the other spare room into her spa room. Our last renter left a twin bed and some small furniture when she moved out. At the start of July, I purchased a Casper Wave Hybrid mattress, hoping that it would help with Priscilla's back pain. Casper was among the many companies having supply issues, and the mattress shipment kept getting delayed and ultimately took 5 weeks to arrive (and probably would've been longer had I not emailed customer support). The new mattress was pretty pricey at $2,360 (though we got a $109 refund due to the delays), but it's been an invaluable investment since it's helped a lot with Priscilla's back pain when all other mattresses we've tried have failed. Since our previous mattress was only 2.5 years old and still in good condition, we didn't want to just toss it. So Priscilla decided to use it as a backrest between the wall and the twin bed, creating a day bed. Thus, her day bed and spa room was born. It seems like we will never have renters again while we are living here. I guess we're at that stage of life now where we are ok with that.

Our other home improvement projects have been focused on the backyard. I had a handyman come and fix some things around the house including repairing some rotted wood behind the shed door hinges. We finished planting green onions in the planter box and also planted 6 tomato plants that Priscilla's coworker gave her. I installed a 3ft fence around the perimeter of the planter box to keep cats from pooping there (and it has worked!). I pressure washed the patio and also surprised Priscilla one night with string lights hung from the patio cover over our patio table. Afterwards, she bought tiki torches and a gas firepit so that we can enjoy our backyard at night in even more style.

However, we haven't been able to spend a lot of time outdoors since August. The second week of August, we saw a record-breaking heat wave. And then on August 16, a rare thunderstorm event caused a long period of dry lightning that sparked hundreds of fires. We were kept awake most of that night by the frequent sound of thunder; I have never heard so much continuous thunder in my life. Over the next few days, over 12,000 lightning strikes were recorded over Northern California, sparking up to 585 wildfires. In an unprecedented fire season, massive wildfires burned across Southern and Northern California, as well as Oregon and Washington, spreading quickly and wide due to hot weather, dry conditions and high winds. The August Complex, which originated as 38 separate fires, soon became the largest fire in recorded California history. Pretty much the entire West Coast was on fire, and firefighters were stretched thin, and it took a few weeks before any real progress was made. I found myself incessantly checking the AQI on PurpleAir and AIRNow, as most of the time the air outside was very smokey and not ideal for going out, let alone for cardio exercise. At times, the air quality in the Bay Area was the worst in the world. A couple days this month, the sky was red and orange all over the Bay Area, making everything look apocalyptic. With all that's been going on, it certainly felt like it.

Across the three states, more than 5.8 million acres have now burned - a combined area larger than New Jersey. Containment on many of the fires is still ongoing, but firefighters have been working relentlessly and under straining conditions. Finally, a couple weeks ago, the Bay Area started seeing healthy AQI levels again. Since Priscilla and I hadn't been able to travel since the start of the pandemic, we had planned a trip to Yosemite from September 26-29. We booked this a week before the start of the fires. Unfortunately, Yosemite air quality has been greatly impacted by the nearby Creek Fire, and there are a couple smaller fires burning inside of Yosemite itself, so the park was closed for about a week prior to our scheduled trip. We decided that we should go down to LA instead, so we drove down last Saturday and stayed until yesterday. Since Priscilla's parents are older and thus more at risk to COVID, we saw them first for two days, followed by my parents for the latter two days. We also got to have dinner with my brother and his family. It was nice to be able to see family again; we hadn't seen them in person since the start of the pandemic.

While the Bay Area has been seeing healthier air than LA as of late, that's now changed thanks to the Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma which started on Sunday. Air quality all around the bay is now back in the "unhealthy" range. People are getting fire fatigue, and those having to evacuate and go to shelters have the added danger of exposure to the virus in the middle of this pandemic. Things could be worse, but they have not been great. And weather conditions and wildfires are probably just going to get more extreme with time thanks to global warming. In all of this, while the future can look bleak and hopeless, we as Christians must remember that while we are stewards of this world and its resources, that ultimately man is sinful and creation is fallen, and our hope must be in our Creator who will redeem all things.
Not a Normal Thanksgiving - Monday, November 30, 2020
Like this year as a whole, this Thanksgiving deviated far from the norm.

Coronavirus cases across many parts of the world are on an exponential rise, with the US topping the list at around 150-180k new cases on a daily basis now. 51 out of California's 58 counties are now back in the purple tier, and the state has a curfew from 10pm-5am, effective until December 21 but likely to be extended, during which non-essential work and gatherings are prohibited. And authorities have been asking the public to not get together with people outside their immediate household during Thanksgiving. The fear is that widespread travel will cause a surge in the infection rate.

Priscilla and I still wanted to see our families and deemed the risk acceptable since most of us have just been staying at home. We decided to see Priscilla's parents first since they're older and more at risk than mine. Since we always go down on Thanksgiving Day, this meant that we had Thanksgiving dinner with Priscilla's parents instead of the traditional dinner that my parents make. So instead of turkey, we had Peking duck! We got it and a couple other dishes from a nearby place called Tasty Duck (the food was ok).

On Friday, we found out that LA County was prohibiting gathering between people from separate households, effective the following Monday. No worries, we thought, since Monday was the day we were planning to return home. We stayed at Priscilla's parents' place for two nights and then the plan was to stay at my parents' place the next two nights. But on Saturday, we found out that effective 12:01am Monday, Santa Clara County is requiring that people traveling from 150+ miles away must quarantine for 14 days. This cutoff seems completely arbitrary and the 14-day quarantine seems too heavy-handed for Priscilla's and my situation, but we wanted to be above board for the sake of Priscilla's workplace since she needs to work from the office four days a week. So we decided that it would be best to leave Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately we had no time to see Aaron and his family, but it probably wouldn't have been a good idea anyway because one of his kids is sick with the cold.

We had enough time to eat three meals with my parents, and I was also able to fix my dad's old computer (turns out his motherboard and two sticks of RAM were bad). My mom of course made a ton of food for us to bring back with us.

In terms of driving, the drive down was surprisingly fast. We started heading down at 7:40am on Thursday, and except for a couple very minor slowdowns, traffic was relatively light the whole way - way better than in previous years. The drive back up on Sunday took 6 hours due to several slowdowns. Sunday is the busiest day after Thanksgiving to travel, so 6 hours is definitely better than it would've been in previous years. The drive up was very tiring, so we were just glad to get home.

This morning, my mom informed us that a patient with whom she interacted at her workplace has tested positive for the virus, making it the 4th infection identified there during the pandemic. My mom had gloves and a mask on when interacting with the patient, so she's probably fine, but she'll be testing in a few days. As it doesn't sound like Priscilla and I were directly exposed, Priscilla's workplace is fine with her going back to the office after getting a negative test (a general policy that was put in place for the holiday for any employees traveling out of the county), as long as my mom does not test positive. Fun times. This is the kind of thing that health experts were cautioning about, though the orders are probably aimed more at people who aren't exercising caution.

I don't think that life should stop because of the pandemic. Just about everything we individuals do carries some level of risk, yet we have learned to live our lives while unconsciously accepting calculated risk. With the pandemic, we should be able to see our family as long as people are acting responsibly and keeping others safe - and from everything I've seen, we definitely need a lot more of that. Lockdowns can only get us so far without personal responsibility.
Goodbye 2020 - Thursday, December 31, 2020
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I think the opening line from "A Tale of Two Cities" perfectly sums up the year 2020. In multiple ways, this year has been one for the books. And while the pandemic rages on across the world, and now a more infectious variant of the virus is spreading rapidly, there is also hope in multiple viable vaccines which to date have been administered over 10 million times across 29 countries.

This year has separated us from loved ones, prevented people from doing things that bring them joy, and even caused tens of millions to lose their jobs and over 100,000 businesses to shut down. But during these past several months, we've also learned to slow down, refocus on the things that matter, and find new ways to connect with others. Despite the pain, or perhaps because of it, we've seen how creative and resilient people can be.

Due to increased restrictions in LA and Santa Clara County, Priscilla and I decided to not go down to LA for Christmas this year - a first. While we of course missed family, it was nice to do a virtual dinner for the first time with my parents and her parents, respectively. My dad initially thought the idea was weird, but I guess he warmed up to it. It's too bad we waited this long to do something like this - we should do this with our parents more often.

While this year has undoubtedly had its unique challenges, life has overall been fairly good for the two of us. I'm grateful for our stable jobs, our savings, our house, for our new home gym and spa room, our continuously improving backyard, and for family and friends who love us. There are many who are missing some or most of these things.

Time is a construct. There is perhaps no New Year's celebration more joyous than this one, but we celebrate now not because things will improve overnight, but because in spite of the difficult months ahead, there is hope of a better future. As Christians, our hope is in Christ who has conquered all things, but as human beings living through a pandemic, sometimes we need to be reminded to hope and that there is hope.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the new year. Nobody knows for certain whether the worst is behind us or is yet to come (though my bets are on the latter). But rather than worrying about what we can't control, let us spend our energies on what we can control.

This week, Priscilla and I visited the Willow Glen Holiday Lights for the first time. It was a spectacular sight. One reason why I enjoy lights is because they represent something in the midst of nothing, warmth and light in the midst of cold and darkness. So it is too in the metaphorical sense. It is during times of darkness when light is needed most - it's up to each of us to find that light in the world and to be light for ourselves and for each other.

So thank you 2020 for one heck of a year. For the pain, for the joy, for the love that you've taught us to not take for granted. I would not want to go through all this again, but I am grateful that I did.