Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Family accomondation at the Legion of Honor

Last August, we sent the following letter to the Legion of Honor:

August 25, 2013

To whom it may concern:

I have loved the Legion of Honor since I first saw it as a teenager in the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. When I moved to San Francisco after college, my dad bought me a membership. I spent many wonderful afternoons riding my bike to the museum, taking in a few rooms and maybe a coffee, and then biking home again.

My 2-year-old daughter and I love visiting museums. We recently spent a magical afternoon discussing the Diebenkorn paintings at the de Young (and I renewed my membership). We also frequently visited the SFMOMA. I was so looking forward to sharing with her the Impressionists now on display at the Legion. But, alas, the Legion seems determined to prevent families with young children from being able to comfortably see this art. They do not allow personal strollers.

At first, I was told (after we got our tickets) that the reason for strollers not being permitted was because of the crowds. I was relieved to see the rooms were only about half full when we got downstairs. Unfortunately, the supervisor I spoke with said they have “a lot of reasons” for banning strollers – though she did not name any of the other reasons. The Legion did provide a small, rickety umbrella stroller with a 40-lb. weight limit that would only be comfortable to push if I was shorter than 5 feet tall. My daughter thought it was a toy and wanted to push it around the exhibit bumping into other viewers. Because I was unable to contain her without our own stroller, she also attempted to push an “emergency door”, and the guard yelled at us.

Sadly, we left the exhibit without being able to view or discuss the art, and many of the other rooms at the Legion were closed. We strolled through a few, and she particularly enjoyed The Bath by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

San Francisco is a hard place to raise a family with the high costs of housing and childcare and the inconsistent schools with their lottery-assignment system. We struggle to stay because we love the cultural resources here, and I want them to be part of my daughter’s childhood. I cannot imagine the motivation of the Legion’s management to make life more difficult for families to see the exhibits – especially when the rooms are not even crowded. Shouldn’t educating our youth be everyone’s priority? Why obstruct art education? I would like to believe that we all want San Francisco to have a diverse representation of age among other things.

In short, I request the ban on strollers be cancelled, a strong reprimand for the management who created these dismal policies and for the supervisors who will not override them when they should.

I look forward to these problem being fixed quickly – as the Legion is otherwise a wonderful place.
Much to our surprise, it was picked up by the Chronicle (after we sent it to them... and they edited it).

Since then, we've exchanged some voicemails with the Director of Member and Visitor Services. I emailed her back today as follows:

Hi, Karin-
Thanks for your call back regarding your family policies. I did not realize until yesterday that an edited version of the letter I sent you on 8/25 was picked up by the chronicle about a month later.

Let me know if I have this right regarding the changes you are making:
* improved communication and website so people know the policy -- great idea!
* strollers allowed whenever possible -- what are the constraints here? no one has yet explained the reason for the restrictions to me.
* new loaner strollers sturdier and better quality -- I just want to clarify which museum you mean -- the problem we had was at the Legion.
* more baby bjorns -- The baby bjorns are a waste of your money. If parents can comfortably carry their children that way, they will already have a carrier with them. Generally, the highly-mobile children who need to be contained to focus on the art are too heavy for a carrier.

Other than noted above, that's a good start.

Thanks for your offer of tickets to Hockney. As I mentioned in my letter, I am already a member of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; it looks like members are free to that special exhibit. I also wanted to clarify that I have never had a problem with our stroller at the de Young. The problem was at the Legion of Honor.

I hope you will continue to work towards improving family access to both the museums. We love Friday nights at the de Young and find it very child-friendly. The Legion is magnificent and should be equally accessible.



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Recreation and Parks Department Vehicle Safety Policies and Procedures hearing this Thursday

This Thursday, October 10th, at 2 pm, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is holding a hearing on Recreation and Parks Department Vehicle Safety Policies and Procedures. We were shocked and saddened by the tragic and senseless death of Christine Svanemyr while she relaxed on the grass under a tree in Holly Park with her baby. Please attend the hearing.

We wrote the following letter to... well... everyone we could think of. We hope that some of these ideas will make a difference.

September 9, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

Like you, I am heartbroken and dismayed by the tragic killing of Christine Svanemyr in Holly Park last Thursday, September 5, 2013. I can’t imagine how such an event could even take place – and yet it has. The point of city parks is to be a safe haven for people to relax and children to play away from dangerous traffic. If that isn’t the case, as clearly it isn’t, we need to take a long hard look at our priorities.

I am on half a dozen local parents’ lists and the outcry over this tragedy has been overwhelming. Below, I have compiled a brief list of actions needed to change our broken system so that the parks can be safe and tragedies like this never repeat themselves. These concerns are compiled from a range of San Francisco residents and parents; I don’t pretend they are all mine.
  • Increase the effectiveness of the 311 customer service line: I understand from the parents’ email lists that people have been complaining to 311 about motor vehicle driving in Holly Park for some time now. I personally have been hung up on more than not by the customer service representatives whom I reach through 311. All customer complaints must be followed up and resolved. This tragedy never would have happened if that were already the case.
  • Prohibit motor vehicles from driving in the parks unless there is significant construction or object (like a large tree) removal: human power should be plenty for most regular park maintenance. Unless there is something significant and unusual going on, there should never be motor vehicles in the parks.
  • Use the smallest vehicle that will do the job: if a motor vehicle is needed for a specific, larger than usual, park maintenance activity, it should be very smallest one that can do the job. Unless a giant thousand-year-old redwood has died and needs removed, there is no reason for anything larger than a golf cart to be in the parks.
  • Enforce existing rules when motor vehicles must drive in the park: I understand there are a range or rules in terms of MPH limits, not driving on the grass, and having a second worker spotting the vehicle during any time they are within park grounds. I also understand that thousands of parents using our parks have seen Rec and Park workers ignore these rules.
  • Assign job responsibilities appropriately: the job of maintaining our parks is a privilege that should only be offered to workers who respect the vulnerable nature of recreational space. If a worker takes a different view of recreational space, I am sure the City can find another job responsibility for him or her.
We have lost more than a local mother; we have lost our ability to feel safe in our parks. Christy is gone. But significant action, including the items described above, can return our parks to their intended role as a place for safe recreation. We all grieve in different ways – mine is to try to address the cause of this tragic loss so that it never happens again.

Thank you for listening.


Urban Family SF

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Nanny or Au Pair Interview Questions

I promised some time ago that I would do a post in hiring a nanny. In the meantime, I came across this blog post on Interview Questions for Your Prospective Nanny or Au Pair which you might find useful.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"cup cakes" or "The very best muffin recipe for me"... and maybe you'll like it too.

I hate wasting food: throwing away uneaten bits, letting things rot, or even just not enjoying something enough. It's an abomination.

How delighted was I when I found this muffin recipe, and what's more, found out how incredibly flexible it is. Here is my modification:

1 1/2 to 2 cups leftover (hot or cold) cereal from the breakfast table -- obviously make sure no one spat out their food into their bowl and no one is sick. (can replace with quick oats and yogurt, milk or butter milk -- see link)
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (unless you are out in which case white sugar will do in a pinch. One time I even used honey but adjusted the other liquids to get the consistency right)
1/2 cup butter (unless you are out, in which case any fat without a strong savory flavor)
1 cup whole wheat flour, finely ground oatmeal, + some flax meal and/or similar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
as much dried or fresh fruit, cut small, as the batter will hold
a dash of vanilla extract, cinnamon or nutmeg if you feel so moved

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine first ingredient (in whatever form it takes for you) with any dried fruit. Microwave for 30 seconds. Let cool.

Mix together (sift if possible) dry ingredients

combine cooled cereal mix, egg and sugar, mix completely

mix in dried ingredients and then any remaining ingredients

make sure you have cute muffin baking liners -- although not too cute or your young child will try to eat it with the muffin like mine does. By the way -- we call these healthy muffins "cup cakes".

bake 15-20 minutes, makes 12-14 muffins


Monday, September 9, 2013

Harvey Milk Family Photo Exhibit

Harvey Milk Photo Center is inviting amateur and professional photographers to submit photos representing the many facets and forms of family within the Bay Area LGBT community. A variety of family units, such as those consisting of parents and children, significant others, friends, extended family members, and pets, will be showcased in this exhibition. Snapshots welcome!

Because this exhibit is celebrating chosen and extended families in San Francisco, consistent with the values of this blog, we promote it here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

on parenting teenagers

A new study finds that yelling at teenagers makes their behavior worse instead of better, says NPR. I don't have a teenager (yet), but I was one once. It was a terrifying and lonely experience. And I can confirm that my mother's attempt to berate me into being who she thought I should be only made me feel worse. I am sure the same is true of all relationships -- yelling at people makes them want to get away from you (and NOT to follow your loud and hostile instructions).

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The other side of Opting-In: what's best for children?

When I read the New York Times cover story about how many stay-at-home  moms end up regretting that decision and wished they had continued to work, at least part time, I had the same reaction as journalist What is best for the children? She followed up with an article in Slate called The Day Care Dilemma where she explores whether putting children into daycare is good or bad for them. As a working mother, the article sounded like an emotional ride for her. It was for me too.

She found, not surprisingly, that it depends entirely on the quality of the daycare. She said:"One crucial factor is how caregivers interact with the kids. Are they responsive and sensitive? Do they get down on the floor with the children or are they always standing in the back, looking bored? Higher quality care also tends to have a higher ratio of adults per child, fewer children per group, and staff is typically more highly educated." I clicked through some of the links to confirm the following basic list:
  • How the caregivers interact with the children (on the floor, for example, or at a distance, are they warm? calm? respectful of the children's needs? do they use positive discipline instead of blaming? do they consistently interact verbally with the children?)
  • The teacher:child ratio -- you want fewer kids per teacher (this is part of licensing requirements; so, is pretty easy to check up on.)
  • The education of the caregivers (this one is more difficult because child caregivers are generally so poorly paid).
Here's how Melinda reacted to these findings: "My first instinct was to cry; my second was to attach a camera to my son’s shirt to see what his days were really like; my third was to get really, really pissed at our government for not doing more to ensure that U.S. child care is higher quality." I think there are obvious warning signs if your childcare is sub-par. My daughter has told me she loves one of her givers more than she loves me. Children do this, but, of course, it hurts my feelings. It is also a sign that she has bonded deeply with her caregiver which likely indicates strong positive interactions. You see a lot when you come and go with picking up and dropping off you child, and that's something to go on, but ultimately there's no way to know everything that happens in daycare.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We opt in.

A SMC friend posted this article on fb: No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt In Forever—and Aren’t Complaining. I really enjoyed reading it. The SMC group's philosophy bears re-printing:

The word “choice” in our title has two implications: we have made a serious and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of raising a child by ourselves, and we have chosen not to bring a child into a relationship that is not a satisfactory one.

My friends tell me that agreeing with another person on matters as huge as parenting is challenging. I don't envy them having to maintain a relationship with another adult in addition to everything either. I used to envy parents who had the luxury of "opting out" of work, but I also know that they are often making that sacrifice for their kids and their partner's career, which is a lot to do for other people. One of my sisters once figured out, after years being a stay-at-home mom, that if she went back to work she might make more money than her husband. She realized, with glee, that that would give her the option to leave him.

My experience is limited to the people I know. This article represents the perspectives a larger group of women. It struck me that choosing single motherhood appears to be an urban phenomenon, and not just for cultural reasons, also for logistical reasons. I imagine it becomes more difficult to stay connected with your community, and have your social needs met, if you live in low-concentration land use.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sperm donor rights?

I listened with great interest for my lesbian and single-mother-by-choice friends who used donors to this morning's radio program, Forum: Should Sperm Donors Have Parental Rights?. The upshot appears to be that you must work with an experienced attorney to draw up your contract if you use a known donor, and you must abide the terms you describe in the contract for it to hold. Children have a right to know their biological heritage, and most people are honorable. But being a "daddy" takes more than a donation of DNA and/or money.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Frittata a.k.a. Pizza

We've been doing the 1-weekend potty training with the help of my mom. Maybe I'll have some insights on that, but for now I am just exhausted. Instead, I share with you a recipe:

"Pizza" (which is really a frittata)

I make this about once a week -- it's flexible (which, you will notice, I require), portable, and kid-friendly.

preheat oven to 350

1 to 2 cups of lightly-cooked vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, carrot, kale and/or potato, chopped small and cooled. (I usually wash, chop, then cook in the microwave in a covered bowl with a little water ~ 2 minutes.)
1/2 onion diced, sauteed and cooled
several cloves of garlic, pressed
6 eggs
1/2 to 3/4 cup milk, cream or plain soymilk
1 cup grated cheese such as Parmesan, Gruyere, mozzarella, chevre (not grated, but cut into small chunks) and/or similar
salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind the saltiness of the cheese you used)
cooked bacon or sausage cut into small pieces

mix them all together and put them into a 9-inch pie pan
cook for 45 min to 1 hour, check for done-ness of the eggs in the center

A popular option for any meal

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NYT: The Price of Urban Family Living

This NYT blog post brings up some interesting issues about raising a family in the city. Phan mentions the high costs of housing, childcare and food, but how she prioritizes raising her children in a culturally diverse location relatively near work over reducing these costs. A Berkeley native myself, I dispute the idea of Berkeley as "urban" -- it's a streetcar suburb like the one where I am raising my daughter in the southern end of the City of San Francisco. And costs are lower. But only a little bit.

Post Script:
I finally got around the clicking the link to the Family Budget Calculator. I too am rather surprised. Specifically, the rent, childcare and food all look very low.

Now, I am a very frugal person. I'm also a research-aholic, which is one reason I started this blog. As described in an earlier post, I checked every available childcare option. The very cheapest I ever found was $900, but the EPI is saying I should have found $720? It really depends on what you are looking for, but I feel confident saying that they should be reporting about double that.

You can probably find a studio apartment in San Francisco for $1795 but would you really live in one with your child.

Finally... food... and this is something I want to dedicate an entire post to exploring. You could probably spend $369 a month on food if you only ate beans and rice. Sure. That would be easy. When I first lived in the Mission, I was spending about $10/week on groceries. But I want my daughter eating good quality food. It costs more.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What to do when fruits headed to the dark side...

We get a CSA vegetable box every two weeks. Sometimes I wish it came more, and sometimes I can't keep up with our produce. We love going to the farmers' market, but I don't trust myself to go consistently. So, the box comes with produce we must eat, and we eat a healthy diet of produce. Everyone wins.

A few days ago, I noticed I had let the fruit go a bit too long. I ate 3 nectarines, 1 peach and 2 large plums for dessert one night. I thought only protein was filling, but I didn't need to eat again for the entire next day. We still had two pears which were too far gone to eat raw but not completely rotten.

Here's what I did:
  • preheated oven to 350 degrees.
...and with the fruit:
  • I used an apple corer to slice the 2 mushy fruits into pieces, and
  • mixed them in a bowl with some sugar (about 2 tps).
  • Lemon juice, cinnamon, and/or vanilla extract can be nice to add -- I added a small dollop of molasses.
  • Mix and pour into a serving-sized Pyrex bowl.

In the original mixing bowl (no washing needed), I:

  • melted about 2 tbs of butter,
  • mixed with about 1/4 cup of oatmeal and
  • 2 tbs sugar.
  • Cinnamon and/or vanilla can be nice to add .
  • Mix them all together, add some flour until crumbly but not dry.
  • Pat on top of the fruit.

Cook about 30-45 min with a cookie sheet underneath.

Enjoy with cream, yogurt or ice cream.

This incredibly flexible recipe can be done with almost any fruit (not melon, but you get the idea) and almost any grain and fat on top. Over the years, I've noticed that it's especially good when I add lemon juice, use very ripe fruit and butter, and cook it for a long time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

fingers crossed, knock wood

I first heard about this site on NPR. This woman's husband died unexpectedly in an accident. Think about it. It could happen any time. The site Get Your Shit Together summarizes the basic things you should have in order just in case (fingers crossed, knock wood). If you've got little people you're responsible for, it's that much more important.

Think about, for example, in the unlikely event of your death:
  • who will raise your children?
  • will you leave enough money so that raising your children won't be a financial burden?
  • when you calculate how much life insurance you need, take into consideration your social security benefit for your surviving dependents. You probably need less life insurance than you think.
  • are the passwords to your many accounts someplace where whomever is dealing with your affairs will be able to find them?
  • have you discussed your preferences with your family to minimize conflict as your affairs get resolved?
I'm going to write a separate post about selecting insurance carriers (life and others) and drawing up your will, trust and power of attorney. I'm a big believer in Murphy's Law: things don't happen if you are ready for them. Fingers crossed, knock wood.

Friday, August 2, 2013

ISO childcare ( infant / toddler )

Deciding where your child will spend her days while you work is overwhelming. It was for me anyway. Also challenging is figuring out what your priorities are for this care. The obvious include clean, safe, and caring. I also went into it prioritizing that she would be exposed to a language other than English -- which is pretty easy in San Francisco. I did not realize until later that I didn't want her watching screens (TVs, computers, smart phones) while I pay people to care for and engage her.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have found a nanny share with a like-minded family and similar-age child. I went back to work when my daughter was 6 months old. She is not a good sleeper, and quite possibly the only way she would have gotten her 3 naps a day was private care. But it turned out I couldn't afford an individual nanny. Unfortunately, I took too long to figure this out. Coordinating with another family in addition to a nanny just takes more time.

The least expensive option if you have limited means is a home-based daycare. I don't know if the babies get all their naps in this kind of setting, but it's possible. You find these through The Children's Council. I visited every single one I could reach in my zip code and zip codes nearby. Many seemed very dodgy to me, but there are licensing requirements. I noticed if the children seemed calm and engaged. I noticed of the corners of the rooms were clean. And I noticed if there were TV screens in the play areas. To secure a good one, you need to book months in advance. Because these are people's homes and you don't really know what goes on there, it was important to me that they would allow me to drop in unannounced anytime. Many don't.

I'll write another post on looking for a nanny, because it's a whole different barrel of monkeys. Ditto for preschool.

The institutional daycares have different issues. Most have websites you can find through savvysource, google, yelp or Great Schools. You can always visit them anytime, and the conditions are highly regulated. As I mentioned earlier, the problem I had with ours was the naps. Babies were expected to keep the same schedule as the preschoolers. Another problem was with the breastmilk; I hear every place has this issue. I pumped every 2 hours in hopes of getting enough milk, but it was wasted in all kinds of ways I won't even go into. When I toured daycares again when she was 2, I amazed at how often the kids didn't really seem engaged or to be getting enough attention in the programs. This observation is highly subjective; so, go with your gut.

When choosing childcare, it's really important to be honest with yourself about the following:
  • your work schedule
  • locations that will be convenient for you, because you will be picking up and dropping off every day
  • whether you can realistically provide food or if you prefer to have it included
  • if food is included, are you comfortable with what it is (organic? meat? etc.)
  • how much exercise and outdoor time will your child get, and will it be enough? Do you have a strong preference for an outdoor play area exclusively dedicated to your childcare or do you prefer/are you OK with a public park?
  • what personal qualities do you value in caregivers? (warmth, creativity, the ability to carry a tune, languages spoken...)
  • seriously, what can you afford? It's tempting to think "I will spend anything for my child be happy and get the best care possible." But isn't she better off if your household has some savings left in case you lose your job or worse (think family tragedy)?

Good luck.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


San Francisco has a lot of advocacy organizations. We have active, engaged people who know how the use the internet. I started Urban Family to express my family values, in hopes that others share them, in hopes of growing the movement.

Commitment to our values:
  • Public schools
  • Transportation by bike, foot, and/or public transit
  • Organic, locally-produced food
  • Beautiful, walkable neighborhoods: walk to shops and playgrounds
  • Relationship building through in-person communication (no screens or wires required)
  • Creative expression: music, dance, theater, art...
  • Diverse family structures: it takes love to raise a child not a specific gender or number of people.
  • Balanced living: working, parenting, sleeping, eating, socializing, and doing whatever you need to do to feel like yourself
  • Conscious consumption and no waste 
  • Flexible work schedules and self-employment 
  • Affordable housing and promoting home ownership
This is a work in progress. If these thoughts resonate, don't hesitate to submit your comments on how to articulate them better.

Blog posts will include:
  • time management techniques
  • parenting quandries
  • resources for childcare, enrichment classes, etc.
  • meal plans
  • advocacy on relevant issues 
  • financial strategies