Masked Jeromey

COVID-19 at 2 Months: Invisible Lines Everywhere

After two months with everything shut down, we’re all trying to creep towards “the new normal” of life with COVID-19. There seems to be an abundance of anxiety from all different places. There are those worried that things are being rushed open too quickly with efforts that will be met with sudden spikes of infection, hospitalization, and deaths. There are those who are anxious to get businesses open get the economy moving forward, impatient with the slow rate of progress. There also seem to be those who are not accepting “the new normal”, whether they think the reaction is overblown, or that current mitigation suggestions are not relevant.

As we creep out of lock-down, everyone is drawing their own line of comfort and risk, then see others crossing those lines – whether it’s by strangers, neighbors, friends, or even family members. We’re seeing a vast spectrum of comfort levels being disrupted. On one hand, there are those that feel we’re moving too fast in opening things up and don’t feel comfortable yet leaving the house. On the opposite end, we are witnessing performative virtue signaling in people proudly announcing that they won’t wear masks, actively supporting businesses that are defying the loosened restrictions. It comes across as a performative machismo coated in ignorance, that just seems gross.

In our community, you see people trying to be responsible to an extent. People out walking or biking may not be wearing masks but seem to be trying to keep an appropriate physical distance. However when you go to a store or another public place, you see nearly everyone wearing a mask – now mostly by mandate, but before those dropped I would say 85% of people work a mask during my weekly grocery store run.

Our own neighborhood has been interesting. You see more and more kids out co-mingling, mostly in small groups, but you get this sense of the social bubble expanding as people are now having tertiary social connections through their expanded encounters. I can’t help but still feel a sense of nervousness when I see it.

Our own kids have been back at in-home daycare for over two weeks now, and we’ve felt that was a pretty big expansion of our social connections (going from our own family to now having connections with four other families). The girls are also playing with another neighborhood friend, as well. At this point, that’s been the limit to expanding our bubble, through small baby steps.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that these lines and bubbles are all relative. Colorado now has people able to go back into office settings at 50% capacity, and I’m seeing some of my friends on social media back in those settings (albeit with masks and trying to maintain the social distancing). Then it’s important to remember that we have essential workers that have been in the thick of it all along in the form of grocery workers, delivery drivers, and workers in other services that never shut down and have been living in this tension for months on end.

Everyone has their own backstory, their own circumstances, their own risk assessment, their own way of dealing with it. Right now it’s too easy to pass judgment on people without having the full story. We’re seeing a lot of public shaming going on in social media, with people jumping to conclusions. Sometimes it is warranted, but it does seem that much of it is uncalled for. The reality is that everyone is trying to do what they can to get by and figure out the new normal – or at least the new normal for now.

You’re Doing Video Wrong

When a pandemic hits society and forces everyone to retreat into their homes, video technology has transformed from a novelty to a necessity. For the last two months, people are relying on video conferencing, broadcasting, and live-streaming to replace their face-to-face interaction.

In my 20+ year career working in the technology sector, spending the majority of it working in global remote teams, I’ve spent countless hours in teleconferences (and video conferences) and tried many different technologies and methods to collaborate. Watching those around me try to grapple with the same problems at a larger scale has me offering some suggestions about how to approach video in your daily life.

Your video conference likely unnecessary

There’s a dirty secret about video conferencing, especially for work meetings: 95% of them are unnecessary, usually creating more problems than they solve.

I get that many are trying to fill the void left by abruptly ending face-to-face interaction, and video can help, but only to a very short extent. When sitting around a table in a conference room, you’re not looking at everyone in the face simultaneously, yet that’s the experience that a gallery-view video meeting. This backfires on concentration efforts, where participants become far more concerned with their own appearance, surroundings, and demeanor, rather than focusing on the content of the meeting. This is especially true for larger meetings.

Unless it’s critical that you get non-verbal feedback to your meeting content, keep the camera switched off. While the risk exists that there may be more multi-tasking (which is a fancy term for “not listening”), it’s part of the reality of remote meetings. You’ll also be grateful that meeting attendees can manage their distractions on mute, especially if you have parents with their kids at home. As a presenter, you do get a sense that you’re yelling into an empty cavern without much feedback, but it will feel better over time.

The other important consideration for video is bandwidth usage. With many working from home right now, household bandwidth usage has grown significantly. Your video conference may be clogging the internet pipes in your own house, as well as in your community. Especially if you’re challenged for bandwidth, you may be better off just keeping that camera turned off when you can.

Use a headset if possible

If you’re going to be home for the foreseeable future, invest in a USB headset if you can, or if you’re doing a lot of one-way video lectures, a decent USB mic would do as well.

Having a headset will not only make the audio better on your end (blocking out background noise), but it also improves your listening experience as well. When I was on teleconferences in a crowded office I bought this gaming headset that completely covered my ears, eliminating the background noise.

You might get some comments about looking goofy on video, but your coworkers will secretly thank you for the decent audio, and may even be secretly jealous.

If you’re a musician and looking to do live-streaming, the best thing you could do to stand out has decent audio, especially if you’re going to be playing something louder than an acoustic guitar. If you happen to already have a Shure SM-58 (or another vocal mic), investing in an audio interface would take the inputs from your microphones and port them to your computer, giving a superior audio experience.

Lights and your camera

If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of sunlight and windows where you work, be mindful of where they’re positioned in relation to you and your camera. Avoid having the windows and sunlight to your back, as the lights are going to wash you out. Ideally, you want the light source to be behind the camera, or lighting you from off to the side so that your face can be the brightest object on the screen. It may be necessary to turn off your background lights as well.

There are the fancy LED rings and studio lights (which are in short supply right now), but the reality is that even a desk lamp placed correctly would be sufficient for most people.

Streaming vs Hosting – it’s not either/or

I’ve seen a lot of people doing live streams on Facebook, from musicians to fitness classes, to public institutions. Facebook does make it easy to Livestream, especially if you’re using a mobile device, and it also rewards you by prominently showcasing your video in everyone’s feed. As nice a job Facebook is about live streaming, it’s awful about rebroadcasting and archiving your video. If you have a fitness class, for example, their interface makes it pretty hard to find the video, burying it deep in your page.

Facebook is also the most draconian about copyright claims. If you are playing music in the background of your video, YouTube will try to identify copyright holders and get them compensated. Worst case, you won’t be able to monetize your own video. With Facebook, however, that same music will get your video taken down, as they aren’t equipped to compensate copyright holders.

The fix is easy: if you Livestream on Facebook, great – but be sure to download the video and upload it to your YouTube channel as well. I would condition people to also go over to YouTube as well. YouTube will reward you (socially and maybe even monetarily) far more than YouTube will, plus you have a place you can refer people to outside of Facebook. If you’re doing something where you’re trying to build an audience, use an email list service like Mailchimp to correspond with them.


Ultimately it’s important to remember that each situation is different and it is easy to go overboard depending on what you’re looking to do. If you’re looking to dip into live streaming or giving long-form video lectures, your level of investment may be more than someone who is just doing a weekly video checkpoint for school. While streaming video is an incredible tool, it’s also most effective when used sparingly.

Do you have any video tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

A sign along our walks

COVID-19: 7 Weeks In, Wearing Thin

As we’re into our seventh week in this COVID-19 shelter-in-place/stay-at-home/quarantine, life has really become a mixed bag of circumstances, consequences, and emotion.

Above all, it’s important to count our blessings: we are still healthy, gainfully employed, and luckily not in dire financial straights, and are lucky to have relatively few struggles compared to many others who have much to worry about. We’re also lucky that we haven’t seen the scary scenarios that were being predicted nearly two months ago.

That said, one word sums up our predicament: uncertainty. It seems that there’s more we don’t know than we know, and the lack of knowledge has forced people to make tough choices between bad options, with no potential good option in sight.

Our own daily lives are encompassed by doing the best we can with what we have, but it becomes difficult to ignore the consequences of the situation. In our own lives we’ve found the rhythm of a daily routine staying mostly at home. Aided by the nice spring weather, our daughters have grown accustomed to lots of independent play outside while we work, but also with more screen time than we’d care to have under normal circumstances. We’re getting by and keeping our sanity in tact.

We do greatly miss school, however. The remote learning that everyone does their best at is a poor substitute for the educational clamoring of a young first grader. While Clara still gets excited about learning, transitioning from play into school is still a struggle, and we can’t help but concede that our own best efforts as working parents fall far short of the quality of education at school. As with all young kids, we’re seeing educational stagnation, but accept this as a necessary short-term step to keep our societal health at bay. This is the way the rest of the school year will play out, all four weeks left of it. Going through pictures from past Mays reminded me that our “last day of school” picture is going to be an interesting one this year.

Colorado itself is transitioning from a “stay at home” order to a “safer at home” phase. The reality is that “safer at home” is basically “please still stay at home”. There are businesses that are starting to open up, trying to balance their own need to ensure the survival of their livelihoods, finding ways to be able to serve customers mitigating as much risk as they can in a sea of uncertainty. For the most part, however, people remain reluctant to venture out. Every time I get groceries or run errands (typically once per week) there’s a prevailing sense that you’re taking your life into your own hands, with the stores filled with a general sense of unease. For the most part, people are trying to follow the government’s directives of maintaining a 6-foot social distancing barrier, as well as wearing a mask. I’m very deliberate in not touching my face, sanitizing my hands right after I get in the car, scrubbing my hands the minute I get home.

It’s not clear whether this is the no normal (for now), or in a weird transitional state towards the new normal – back to the uncertainty. It seems that our town, state, the country is collectively holding their breath to see what’s coming next, but getting a little light-headed along the way.

I don’t mean to paint a grim picture of despair. On the contrary, we are taking the extra time at home as opportunities to work on different projects (like re-doing our garden area), play with our kids, and enjoy our time together as a family.

Our garden work

However, aside from being strategic in our meal planning (to avoid excessive trips out), we’ve had to learn with not having a plan that extends beyond a day – in large part because our options are limited, but also because we’re not quite sure what’s coming next. Right now there’s little we can do besides count our blessings and try to be optimistic about the future, but ready to begrudgingly accept setbacks.

Chalk Art

COVID-19 – Week 2 & 3

We’re venturing into our third week of social distancing/quarantining in our homes. Luckily we still have our health and no one has seriously hurt each other.

This is really strange in many ways. We’ve moved away a little bit from the more organized schedule, replaced by our own natural rhythm of each day. We’ve learned to accept that the kids will be little tornados throughout the day, requiring a resetting of the house each evening – but after accepting that fact, it’s been easier to accept the chaos. It’s also helped that the weather has been nice and the girls have been able to spend more time outside. We play in the back yard quite a bit, as well as ride bikes around our cul-de-sac. We’ve been lucky that the weather has been mostly nice and that we’re able to be outside, although when we get a cold day, those days feel especially long.

Bethany is now has started working from home this week, but with Clara technically on spring break, we’ve relaxed some of the structured learning. She’s scheduled to resume school online next week, and we’ll be facilitating that. Bethany and I are working to trade off the time we focus on work with being present to the family, and it’s seemed to work well so far. I have to confess that the screentime restrictions have gone out the window, but you do what you can go get by.

We’ve done a good job of obeying the official “stay home” order, only venturing out for a dog walk or bike ride, as well as a weekly trip to the store to stock back up. We’ve been lucky enough to find all the items we’re looking for at the store, and the panic-buying has seemed to have calmed down a bit (although there was no toilet paper when I went to Sams Club today).

I’m not quite sure what to make at just how much our kids are picking up of the situation. We’ve avoided using terms like “COVID-19” and “Coronavirus” when the kids are around, and instead of leaned heavily on the term “germs”, pressing the importance of washing hands and maintaining distance. We’ve been lucky that the kids haven’t balked at their favorite places being closed, and have mostly been able to entertain themselves with things around the house. They’ve had some interactions with daycare and dance classes online, and that has surprisingly brought some level of normalcy as well.

Overall weeks 2 & 3 have been filled with the reluctant acceptance of the situation, gratitude for what we have, and nervousness about what may come. Here’s to staying inside and flattening the curve.

Looking Back on the 10’s

Looking Back on the 10’s

… and just like that a decade went by. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, the passing of the decade seemed much more momentous, but it seems like the 2000’s and 2010’s just blew by.

The 2010’s have been a pretty transformative decade, marked by a lot of joy, but not without its share of sorrow.

2010

We were celebrating our first year of marriage, living in Fort Collins. Bethany was in the midst of finishing her Master’s Degree in School Counseling and had to do a year of unpaid internship, making it a financial challenge. However our little family grew by 1 – adopting our kitty, Logan.

Major Milestones:

  • Traveling to Las Vegas (multiple times), Boston, Minneapolis for Joel & Katie’s Wedding.

2011

Bethany started her counseling career at Northridge High School and celebrated my 30th birthday, receiving my first new drum set since I started playing the instrument back in 1996.

I also went overseas for the first time, traveling to Ireland with Bethany’s family. This was well-documented in my blog back then.

Major Milestones:

  • Traveling to Ireland
  • Receiving my Drum Set – the Pearl Masters MCX
  • The Balderrama’s meeting up in Keystone, Colorado for a reunion
  • The birth of our nephew, Liam

2012

If 2011 was a “calm before the storm year”, 2012 represented the storm that set in. It represented many changes, as well as enduring tragedy. In 2012 we decided to sell out town home in Fort Collins and move to Windsor, during the process we learned that Bethany’s brother, Rocky, had unexpectedly passed away. We learned the horrible news just hours before we were about to set on our Baby-moon Cruise to Alaska, setting a long and heavy shadow over the trip. When we returned from the trip we were in between moving out of our old house and had not yet moved into our new home. The house we moved into was not in the state we had expected and we ended up having to deal with a lot of unexpected hardships.

Despite the darkness during the year, we ended it on a positive note, with Bethany coming pregnant with Clara.

Major Milestones:

  • Selling our townhome in Fort Collins
  • Buying our single-family home in Windsor
  • Welcoming our niece, Sonia, into the world
  • Taking our 2 week Baby-Moon to Seattle and on an Alaskan Cruise
  • Mourning the loss of Bethany’s brother, Rocky

2013

The year that changed it all, when God brought Clara into our lives. They weren’t kidding when they talked about how children change lives. We experienced all of it, but were very blessed to have a beautiful, healthy and happy little girl in our lives.

Work-wise, my company went through a split, which really increased my workload leading up to Clara’s birth. Clara’s birth also gave us incentive to invest in a DSLR camera, unlocking new talents. Aside from a quick trip to Kansas for a wedding, we did not travel anywhere for 2013.

Major Milestones:

  • The birth of Clara!
  • Experiencing a tornado in Windsor, causing damage to our house
  • The Broncos having a great season, making it to Super Bowl 48 (then losing to the Seahawks).

2014

As transformational as 2013 was, 2014 continued to be a year of “firsts” for us – Clara would have her first real food, first crawl, first steps and continuing to experience the first holidays.

We started to venture out, making Clara’s first plane trip to Daytona for an SoB (Summer of Balderrama’s) trip, seeing Disneyland. We also road-tripped to Kansas to visit family, Taos to commemorate Rocky’s birthday, as well as a new year’s trip to Durango.

Major Milestones:

  • Clara being a flower girl at Shannon and Andrew’s wedding
  • Clara growing from an infant to a spunky toddler
  • Summer of Balderrama’s trip to Florida
  • Road trips to Taos, Durango and Kansas.

2015

2015 was all about Mariana. We spent the entire year anticipating her arrival, which finally came on October 29. We then got all of the reminders of parenting a newborn, along with the challenges of a full-fledged toddler.

Clara continued to blossom and develop her own personality as a happy-go-lucky little girl. Looking back at this time, the 27-month span was perfect for the girls, as Clara was intrigued about having a little sister, but didn’t really develop the jealousy a new infant would bring.

Music-wise, I also joined Amy and the Peace Pipes and had an awesome year with them. We got selected to play at FoCoMX, released our first EP and played over a dozen shows throughout the year.

Major Milestones:

  • Traveling to Nashville for a long weekend trip
  • Road-tripping to Kansas to visit family
  • Introducing my mom to Durango
  • Welcoming Mariana into the world!
  • Broncos win the Super Bowl (it technically happened 2016, but it was the 2015 season)

2016

In 2016 we watched the girls grow into being sisters, being witnesses to many of Mariana’s firsts, as well as learning how to be our family of four. We also had a very busy summer filled with weddings (and Clara being a flower girl), as well as a trip to New York to go meet our new niece, Elisia.

Major Milestones:

  • Our friends Brett and Joanna getting married
  • My sister Amanda and David getting married
  • Cousins Laura and Herrick getting married
  • Our niece, Elisia, being born
  • Our trip to New York to go see the city and visit our new cousin
  • Clara starting dance class

2017

Now it’s Mariana’s turn to grow into the full-fledged toddler, while Clara grows into a little girl. Clara started preschool in the fall, while also going full-fledged into dance class and soccer. It was such a rewarding experience watching Clara being exposed to these activities, learning more each day.

Mariana also became pretty active as well and incurred our first major injury as a family, falling off the couch and fracturing her leg. It happened a few weeks before we were scheduled to go to Disneyland as well. Fortunately she was able to get her cast removed two days before we were set to head out, and got the full Disney experience.

Major Milestones:

  • Family trip to Disneyland, with Mema, Papa and nephew Liam
  • Clara starting pre-school in the fall, 3 hours each afternoon
  • Clara starting soccer in the fall
  • Clara continuing dance class
  • Mariana’s first cast

2018

One of the coolest things to happen in 2018 was Bethany being recognized as the High School Counselor of the year by the Colorado School Counselors Association, which was so well-deserved and we were very proud of her!

Clara started all-day Kindergarten in the fall of 2018 and we were blown away by just how much she was learning each day. She was transforming into a little reader and writer, excited to read to her sister.

Mariana joined Clara at Just for Kix Dance Classes and was a natural to the stage. We also worked through the adjustment period after Ms. Amanda closed her daycare to finish her school counseling internships.

Oh , and through the generosity of Bethany’s mom and step-dad, we were able to see Hamilton at the Denver Center for Performing Arts!

Major Milestones:

  • Clara finishing pre-school and starting kindergarten
  • Mariana starting dance class
  • Clara continuing dance and soccer
  • Going on a beach vacation in North Carolina
  • Seeing Hamilton!
  • Bethany winning School Counselor of the Year
  • Saying goodbye to Bethany’s grandmother
  • Being an active campaigner fo the new library in our town and ultimately losing that ballot initiative
  • Bethany completing her first sprint triathlon

2019

Clara finished kindergarten and is now in first grade, continuing to amaze us with her growth. We’ve been really lucky to have great teachers working with her at her school, and outs been neat to see her come home excited to tell us about her day.

Mariana is in an incredible daycare and making her own educational strides as well, already working on writing. After going from an in-home to a center, then back to in-home, we’ve found that in-home works much better for Mari.

Work is going well for both Bethany and I. I am blessed to have my school drop off schedule accommodated and have some flexibility to be able to help out from time to time. Bethany is rocking it at her school and headed to Washington DC in early 2020 to be recognized for her counseling award.

We took some awesome road trips over the summer, first to South Dakota with the Miles-Hastings, then to Yellowstone with the Balderrama’s, experiencing a lot of the beauty of our country.

Amy and the Peace Pipes had a great year, capping it off with an opportunity to play Old Town Square in Fort Collins.

Major Milestones:

  • Road trip to Yellowstone
  • Road trip to South Dakota
  • Road trip to Durango
  • Clara starting 1st grade
  • Both girls performing in dance (Clara doing hip-hop)
  • Clara playing soccer (with Bethany coaching both the spring and fall teams)
  • Bethany running her first half-marathon!

Thus closes my forth decade on this earth. It’s definitely been the most transformational of my life, going doubling our family, moving to a new home and planting some roots within our lives. I’m anxious to see where our family will be ten years from now.

Here’s to the next 10! Happy New Year!