Happy Independence Day

I bought some new underwear recently. From the Gap, so no surprises, right? But look at this:

underwear

Can you believe that label? It’s four labels long. Need to know how to wash these underpants in Hungarian? You’re in luck. Because this label contains washing instructions in more than twenty languages. (Including both French and Canadian French. The Canadian French washing instructions are considerably more complex. But I digress.)

According to the Daily Mail (don’t judge), labels like this one are a new European Union requirement. As of 2014, if an item of clothing will be sold in an EU country – or might be sold in an EU country – it must have information printed in the language of that country.

That, to me, is an incredible amount of regulation regarding my underpants. It makes me homesick for the US, where the government would never support an intrusion like that into my… um…

Yeah. Never mind.

Happy Independence Day!

Trip to Arran

We recently spent a week on the Isle of Arran. That’s in Scotland. Really.

tropical

No, really. See?

Lochranza Castle

We saw many things. The baby was kind enough to wake us up in time to see the sun rise over the Firth of Clyde. At 4:27 am.

sunrise

We also saw standing stones at Machrie Moor.

Machrie moor standing stones

And Ireland, from the top of Goat Fell.

view from Goat Fell

Here, let me help you out with that. It’s the bit of land way at the back. See?

view from Goat Fell - Ireland

Three years old

As of Tuesday, I have a three year old.

kid on bike

Some days I want to write down every single thing he says so I can remember it all forever.

Kid: “Take your face off and put it on the apple.”
Me: “But then I won’t have a face.”
Kid: “Then you won’t be able to yell at me.”

Some days I don’t.

My three year old loves trains. Especially trains with faces. He thinks toys with wheels make the best presents. But dinosaurs are pretty good too. Last weekend he convinced us to buy him a toy in the museum gift shop by saying that he needed a Parasaurolophus. He insists that he wants us to paint his walls his favorite color: red. (We’ve been reluctant.) He has a best friend. It took him 45 minutes to pick out his newest pair of shoes. And when it rained the next day, he made us carry him everywhere so they wouldn’t get wet. He can make his baby sister stop crying just by talking to her. He has excellent taste in chocolate. But sometimes he doesn’t want chocolate because it will make him too sugary.

And he’s adjusted remarkably well to a year of huge changes. (Better than his parents, we suspect.)

We’re still here!

We’ve been here a year! (Plus 5 days or so.)

I remember the days before we arrived – newly pregnant, recently robbed, and seriously questioning our sanity.

But what do you know, we’re still here.

I love this city, I really do. Although I’ve experienced it in a totally different way than anyplace I’ve ever lived before. I generally feel like the best ways to get to know a new place are to take long walks, find the best places to eat, and find a couple of great places to relax (namely bars and coffee shops). But being pregnant made all of those things far more difficult. Let’s just say I would not recommend getting knocked up as a strategy for getting to know a new city.

Now that the baby’s here, I’m taking plenty of long walks, eating a LOT (although not at terribly fancy places), and working on visiting every coffee shop within a two mile radius. And taking advantage of the fact that nearly every bar in the city allows kids in during the day. I’ve gone from barely getting out at all while pregnant to getting out constantly and ruthlessly with a small baby in tow. I have learned the precise water resistance limits of all of my jackets, let me tell you.

I’ve heard that it’s impossible to really judge a place you’ve been living until you’ve been there at least a year – because it takes at least that long just to settle in. And living here, while an adventure in some ways, is also just life. I mean, we have jobs and kids and furniture and way too much stuff and families to visit (STILL) and a mortgage and all the other trappings of being grownups. I also know that some of both the shiny newness and the crippling unfamiliarity of the place will be wearing off over these next few months. So watch this space…

Too many clothes, part 1

I would love to be a person who lives simply, who shops mindfully, and who has little enough stuff to be able to pack up and move at a moment’s notice.

Clearly I am not this person. Recall:

our stuff

In an attempt to have less stuff and simplify my life, I decided to keep all of the kid’s old baby clothes, pack them away in huge plastic boxes (which are terribly green*), and bring them to Scotland. Wait, no, it made sense at the time. I wouldn’t need to buy any new baby clothes!

This strategy probably works really well for some people. Do you know when it does not work? When one kid is born in May, in California.

dressing the kid

And the other is born in December, in Scotland.

dressing the baby

On the bright side, she’ll soon start to grow into his winter clothes, which might just get her through the summer here.

Fortunately, we have extremely generous relatives. And friends. And friends of relatives. So we now have a full set of nice, new, warm clothes for the baby. To, um, complement our full set of nice, slightly worn, not-so-warm clothes for the baby.

What, I should just throw them away? There could be a heat wave.

So yeah, that simplifying thing is going really well.

* Really. They’re bright green. From Target. (I miss Target.)

Tax day

The spouse and I are both US citizens. So no matter where we live, we have to fill out US tax returns every year. (So will our kids. Kids, thank us later!)

Usually I don’t mind doing my taxes. Secretly? I even kind of like it. Because here’s what doing my taxes looks like:

- I figure out which questions I need to answer this year (past examples have included: do I need to pay tax on my untaxed student stipend, and what do I do about my “non-resident alien” spouse whom I married three days before the end of the tax year?).
– I research the answers to my questions.
– I use software that, while not perfect, at least does most of the calculation work for me.
– Sometimes I get to make charts.
– For a few hours’ work, I get a large chunk of money deposited directly into my bank account.

While here’s what being a grad student looks like:

- I figure out which questions I need to answer this year.
– I research the answers to my questions.
– I use software that, while not perfect, at least does most of the calculation work for me.
– Sometimes I get to make charts.
– For many, many hours of work, I get very little money deposited directly into my bank account.

I feel like the US system of taxation recognizes my true worth.

(Now, don’t tell me that my practice of overwithholding is essentially giving free money to the government while depriving myself of interest income. Interest rates are, what, 0.1 or 0.2% these days? The government can keep its handful of change, while I get the psychological boost of receiving what feels like the closest I’ll ever come to an actual bonus for a job well done.)

The process was a little less enjoyable this year, though. It was kind of like my second year of grad school: I spent far too long researching the answers to questions that didn’t really matter. For example:

Can I claim mortgage interest paid in another country? Yes – but only if I itemize – which it would have been nice to have realized would NOT be advantageous before I constructed a spreadsheet to calculate what portion of every mortgage payment I’ll make for the next twenty-five years will be interest rather than principal. (Why not just ask the bank, you wonder? Well, when I contacted my bank here to find out how much mortgage interest I paid in 2013… I got locked out of my online account. I still have no idea why. But it did put me off asking again. On the bright side, well, now I have a nice spreadsheet.)

Can Turbo Tax account for taxes paid on two or more sources of passive foreign income? Apparently not, at least not easily – or at least not easily enough to be worth the effort that I found myself putting into trying to claim back $18. Don’t even get me started on that.

And so on. At least I ended up getting quite a bit of money back, and I don’t think I did anything that could land me in federal prison. It helped that we had a baby two weeks before the end of the year who netted us an extra grand in child tax credits (score!), and also that we only actually had US-based income for a couple of months. But I still found myself looking shiftily around the room before I clicked ‘submit’.

Till next year, IRS…

Note: I am not an accountant or tax professional. Nothing here should be construed as “advice”, or even “useful”. Seriously.

Another leaving San Francisco story

One year and two days ago, I left San Francisco.

I miss it, I really do, but I feel like we made the right decision. (Most of the time.) We decided that although we had a great quality of life in San Francisco, things could be better here, and we seized the opportunity.

But sometimes leaving is much more complicated.

My friends Lupe, Ben, and their daughter Milu have a somewhat different story. Lupe wrote the piece below – and it’s not a nice read. I wish them the best of luck in Sacramento, and I really hope her clients get the help they need.

Lupe wants as many people to read this story as possible. Not all of the news out of San Francisco is about corporate shuttle buses or real estate bidding wars. If this story makes you angry too, then pass it along…

On October 28, 2013, I began working as a Mental Health Specialist for Horizons Unlimited of San Francisco (http://www.horizons-sf.org/). Horizons is a youth development and empowerment organization that has been serving at-risk youth and their families in the Latino and under-served minorities communities since 1965. Up until 2012, the organization had not had the capacity or the funding to meet their clients’ mental health needs. Many of the clients at Horizons are undocumented, and research shows that this population has been traditionally unwilling to pursue mental health treatment.

Being a Latina myself, I empathize with the barriers to treatment that exist within our community, such as limited access to Spanish-speaking and culturally sensitive mental health professionals. That is one of the biggest reasons why I was so excited to begin this position and fully immersed myself in the work.

Due in large part to the cultural connection, my clients at Horizons have had a huge impact on me. My two sisters and I were born here in California, but our parents were undocumented people that migrated here illegally. As with so many who immigrate to the US, their reasoning for putting themselves at risk was the hope that they would be providing us with a better life.

On February 27, 2014, I was fired and given no reason for the termination and immediately escorted off the premises—a humiliating and traumatic experience to say the least. I was fired 8 days after going to City and County of San Francisco and asking questions about the grant that was funding my position. In particular, I wanted to understand how funds were supposed to have been allocated for the grant, as I had evidence that funds were being mismanaged. The Executive Director, Nora Reddick, accused me of going over her head by going to City and County program manager to get clarification on the funding allocation requirements of the grant.

But what tears me apart the most is that I was forced to abandon most of my clients, one of them being 6 years old. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that my clients transition smoothly when therapy is coming to an end. Abandoning a client without any notice or consideration of their current mental and emotional state could potentially destroy any and all progress made by the client.

Unfortunately, I was only able to contact the clients whose numbers were in my cell phone at the time of my termination. This was only a very small percentage of my caseload. While I was being fired, I pleaded with Nora to please let me finish out my shift. That same evening, I had a client in crisis that I had planned on escorting to a Women’s center, but, after being terminated, not only was I not allowed to escort my client to the center, but I was not permitted to even speak to her and let her know what was happening or find her an alternative staff member to support her urgent need for housing.

I am continuing to see some of my Horizon clients on a weekly basis pro bono. But, as many of you know well, unfortunately San Francisco is an extremely expensive city. My husband, 15-month-old daughter and I are not in the right place financially for us to continue living in San Francisco if I’m not bringing in an income as well. So, the weekend of April 26, Ben, Milu and I will sadly be packing up our belongings and moving to Sacramento. Don’t get me wrong, we are excited to return to the city of trees and to get to spend time with dear friends and with my sister Mari and her girlfriend, Courtney. However, it is also extremely saddening and anxiety-provoking to have to suddenly uproot and leave our lives in San Francisco behind. I feel awful knowing that I will only be able to see these pro bono clients for another couple weeks and that I might not be able to help them transition to new therapists. Unfortunately, finding an organization that provides Spanish-speaking therapy is very difficult, even here in San Francisco.

What is also so very sad is that within two months of me getting fired, there were 3 other amazing and caring individuals also working at Horizons who also stepped forward to advocate for themselves or their clients and were terminated immediately as a result. All of us were fired and subsequently escorted out of the building, being forced to abandon our clients. Equally if not more troubling is that fact that we later learned that this practice has been in place at Horizons since Nora took over as the Horizons Executive Director approximately 16 years ago.

Last night, the San Francisco Mental Health Advisory Board allowed many of us to share our story and alert the Board to the many injustices and the ‘culture of fear’ that are so pervasive at Horizons. We were able to provide strong evidence and first-hand accounts of management abusing staff and clients and being negligent in a number of different critical areas. In addition, we believe that there is evidence to suggest that certain members of management have been systematically misusing and possibly embezzling funds for many years.

I would like to sincerely thank all of the current and former staff and clients from Horizons as well as friends of ours for supporting us in person and in spirit last night. We are trying our hardest to fight this injustice through as many channels as possible, and your support through the difficult time means the world to all of us on this case.

Lupe Rodriguez, LCSW 26961
Mental Health Specialist