Archive for the ‘life’ Category

I was not able to participate in a healthcare rally today, but instead I wrote about something that literally made it possible for me to have the career I do today. Something that won’t be there for other women if, by law or by economics, they are denied access to hormonal contraceptives.

When I was a teenager, every menstrual cycle brought nausea. I never knew how many hours I’d be too ill to do anything but lie down, or when it would happen. This was, apparently, “a thing that happens sometimes.” Supposedly I would grow out of it. My parents, who could barely discuss the rudiments of sex and female anatomy with me, seemingly weren’t interested in visits with any doctor other than my pediatrician.

When I started community college, I acquired both the legal freedom of being an adult and modest financial freedom from a part-time job. A romantic interest encouraged me to visit the local Planned Parenthood for birth control pills, “just to be prepared.” The boyfriend didn’t last, but the knowledge that hormonal birth control could control my cycle and reduce the nausea was amazing.

I tried to stay on the pill, but between sneaking out to go to the clinic and spending a good chunk of my tiny paycheck, it didn’t last. Back to trying to hide behind “No, really, I’m fine.” I didn’t grow out of it.

A few years later, it’s time to actually go to a real university and move out of my parents’ house. This means campus health services, covered by a mandatory student fee. It wasn’t insurance, exactly, but I could go to the clinic and see a doctor. I didn’t really think about it much, being more concerned with suddenly managing my own schedule, living with dorm roommates, and all the other normal things young people do going from family home to university campus. I had a Differential Equations class to pass.

The evening before my Diff Eq final, I had a particularly awful menstrual episode. I managed to drive back to the dorm from study group, but fell over vomiting outside the building. I wasn’t even surprised when people walked by saying only that I needed to sober up. (I don’t drink.) I crawled to my room and called a friend, who came right over.

And immediately called campus emergency.

I narrowly avoided being transported by the nice EMTs because I was able to muddle through the name, address, and number of fingers quizzes. They made me swear I would go to the clinic as soon as I could. The next afternoon, when I could walk without nausea again, I first told my Diff Eq prof I wasn’t going to contest the F for missing that morning’s final (I already wasn’t doing that great) and then went over to campus health.

When I signed in for a drop-in appointment, I said I had been ill but also wanted to speak to someone about birth control. That didn’t seem to have made it back to the doctor however. After going through my history and what happened, she asked if I had ever considered birth control pills. “That’s what I’m here for.” I needed to make an appointment with the Nurse Practitioner, who did the pelvic exams and dispensed pills, but they would get me set up right away.

The next semester was so much different. For the first time, I knew when I was going to get my period. Better yet, no vomiting! Ever! I could plan trips without concern I might get ill. I didn’t have to sit in class wondering if everyone (90% men) could tell that I wanted to puke. A whole part of my brain stopped having to worry about that anymore. That was 27 years ago. I have been on hormonal birth control continuously ever since.

In school, and later at work, my schedule was no longer unexpectedly interrupted by “Female Things.” If you think this is somehow all needless drama over trivial matters, try staying on good terms with your job when you can’t show up to work all the time, every time. There is a quiet horror in knowing that you’ll always have to tell your boss (male) and your co-workers (male) that you can’t come in today because of “Female Things.” It’s already difficult enough explaining that you, too, have an engineering degree and, no, you weren’t planning to go get coffee. Using all your combined vacation and sick leave for being ill is not a great way to look like a reliable, hard-working member of the team, worthy of desirable projects and promotions.

In the years since, I’ve had to go through all kinds of machinations to keep access to this medication. Doctors would write “nonspecific vaginitis” so the exam would be covered by my insurance. Occasionally one would ask why I wanted birth control if I wasn’t married. (I didn’t stay long with those doctors.) I’d move from job to job, from state to state, and from insurance company to insurance company, never entirely sure if I could get it covered until I came to California (where it was already required by state law.) Even now, it’s not a cheap medication to buy without insurance coverage. Back then there wasn’t even a generic version of the one I use.

The Affordable Care Act changed that. All of that. Contraception is a normal service, as are routine medical visits for preventive care. I don’t have to explain why and I don’t have to wonder if. It’s there. It’s a non-issue. I can apply my full attention to the important things in my life. Not where I’m going to come up with hundreds of dollars a year for something that allows me to work in my field, where a 40 hour week is laughably unrealistic.

There are so many other reasons the Affordable Care Act changed people’s lives for the better. This is just one part of my own story. Good health isn’t something nice to have if you can afford it, it’s the foundation on which we build a sustainable society where everyone gets a chance to find their own success. Don’t let it vanish.

We got home this afternoon from DC after attending the very surreal Comedy-Political show known as the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at the National Mall. (We were supposed to get home last night, but I will spare you that disaster.) Yes, we spent nearly 48 hours to attend a 3 hour event. It cost us a fair bit, we had to deal with several different and unrelated transportation meltdowns along the way, and parts were highly annoying, but the overall conclusion was it was completely worth it.

This evening I found this link to a survey for rally participants, to look at who participated and why. At the end are some free-form response boxes for two questions: “Why did you participate in the Rally to Restore Sanity?” and “What did you get out of it?” I started writing and found my responses were turning into a blog post so here are my answers.

Why did I go?

I’m tired of loud-mouth talking heads claiming to speak for me, “protecting” me (or my marriage) from modern multi-cultural America or telling me which vague monster under the bed I’m supposed to be afraid of this week. Or worse, claiming sole ownership of the banner “Real American” by virtue of political opinion, religious belief or geography.

The most obvious offenders on that account are currently conservatives. These are the people who have convinced my parents that Glenn Beck would surely have written the Federalist Papers himself had someone else not gotten to it first and to rail at lazy brown people sucking at the teat of tax-funded services while they themselves enjoy Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Their public school and state university-educated children, women in traditionally male professions, can only dream of such things for our future retirements. My sister would love to produce the oft-requested grandchildren if she were not the sole provider for her family and medically uninsurable without her billable-hours based employment and group plan. But that Obama health insurance reform, it will be the downfall of America, don’t you know. That same America their grandparents came to with hardly a penny to their names, demonized by previous generations of immigrants from elsewhere and many dying of preventable causes that because of government-funded research we now have ready solutions for.

There are a lot of difficult problems to solve in this country, but partisan bickering and stonewalling are only wasting hot air burnishing credentials with one’s friends, not saving one person from dying of preventable disease or ensuring one child’s education. Can we do everything? Of course not. But the loudmouths on the fringes and those pandering to them will not even try if it would mean missing an opportunity to make a political point at the expense of their enemies.

I could have participated in a local event but I am fortunate I currently have the resources to travel. (I remember all too well the times I didn’t.) I don’t want to be an activist, I’m just a modest someone going about her business but have found that I am forced by my anger into that role just to find a way to live my life on my own terms. I went to be counted, a pissed-off moderate irritated enough to put forth considerable effort to make a point. I also felt it important to go to DC and not just a local gathering in a liberal stronghold that is easily written off as “Look At Those Silly Californians!”

What did I get out of it?

In a practical sense, I got to spend orders of magnitude more time dealing with a poorly-organized and overcrowded transportation system than I actually spent at the event (where I couldn’t hear or see anything anyway.) I also have a big credit card bill I’ll have to pay next month. While I’m taking this survey, I’m watching the archived C-SPAN video to see what I missed.

But I’m a frequent enough traveller that I’m familiar with the potential, right down to the Metro meltdown and multiple cancelled flights. And as a rule, I don’t go to festivals for a reason. But this wasn’t about whether or not I expected to have a good time at a comedy show, or even that I was able to see family before heading back to the airport. (Efficiently combining trips is reasonable, you know.)

The organizers denied this was a political event, something I disagree with. It was not partisan but it was certainly political. Hundreds of thousands of people, many more if you consider those who could not make it to an event, saying “I’m tired of the Crazy and I’m not going to let you pretend to speak for me any more.” I got to be there to be part of that statement. If it’s true that “90% of life is showing up” then this was important enough to me that I was going to do whatever I could to show up. Yes, I was there. Yes, I was counted. I was disappointed that the crowd was so dense that nobody could see my height-challenged self holding a cleverly-made sign, but whatever. The rest is irrelevant.

WordPress isn’t letting me do what I want with the pictures so I have created a separate page for images:

No, we are not going this time but folks from Inveneo are. We have been working all week to get ready. I’ve been posting what I’m doing on Twitter and I’ll be posting some of the pictures I’m taking around the office here.

This weekend we went to Manresa, as guests of our friends for their wedding rehearsal dinner. This sort of thing is typically as much as I ever get of “Fine Dining” as we usually either cook at home or grab something from a nearby taqueria. (I recently mentioned to someone “I’m not sure the last time we ate anywhere that even takes reservations.”) But I do vaguely stay informed of trends, mainly to see how I might apply them in my own cooking. So you can take this in the context of someone who cooks, but is not a hardcore restaurant-visiting foodie. I had never heard of the place, and indeed it was the second choice for our hosts as the other restaurant had suddenly gone out of business. From looking at the websites of both, perhaps the other might have been a better option for the stubbornly picky eaters in the group, but so be it.

The location in Los Gatos hinted at a certain pretentiousness that I typically avoid, in the same way I don’t hang out in Noe Valley. On some tables there were large arrangements of roses, clearly awaiting romantic dinner dates to arrive. But we were greeted warmly despite having to move the reservation 30 minutes for being late and several in the party obviously uninterested in the suggested business casual attire. Our servers spent as much time as we needed to explain the menu, which was helpful. It was mostly taken up with the groom’s parents, although I was able to inquire about a few things that seemed dangerously dairy-laden. The way it works is once seated you order four items from the menu and they are served in something vaguely resembling a traditional sequence of courses. (I would imagine most people do get salad/soup/entree/dessert or thereabouts, but this is not at all required.)

First arrived the bread, which was a spectacular sourdough. If it wasn’t hearth baked, then that is some mighty impressive oven they must have there to get that kind of result: a touch of carbon on the outside and chewy and moist inside with huge holes. Yes, moist, which is damn hard to get in a yeast bread that has any kind of rise whatsoever. Made me wax nostalgic for my late, lamented sourdough starter. At any rate, I ate a lot of it.

Next were two different items: a strawberry gazpacho and some sort of savory cream made to look like an egg and served in an eggshell. I was expecting an amuse-bouche and thought the gazpacho was it, but then arrived the egg. I noticed our host (who is vegan) had something else entirely. I asked the server what it contained and when I politely pushed it aside she offered to bring a non-dairy option, a grape? granita with flavored soda of some sort. So that was nice (and I liked the granita) although being unfamiliar with the menu I wish I had known I could have requested more explicitly non-dairy options. (Mostly that was not a problem until it came to dessert.)

My first course was sea bream sashimi, with olive oil and seasonings. It was laid out in thin slices to cover the center of the plate in a circle, I have no idea what the little shredded tower of something was in the center (radish?) but it tasted good. I like raw fish. Next was a soup, a puree of greens poured over some vegetables, whole and in pastes, and a mustard sauce already in the bowl. The “mustard cream” had a little dairy in it but not enough to be a concern. I liked the texture of the crunchy sweet corn and getting a little of this and a little of that from the different flavors was fun.

Dillo had a dish of vegetables prepared several ways, cooked and raw that was exceptional. Little tiny vegetables of all sorts, although in the dim light I couldn’t begin to say what most of them were. There was reportedly a fennel bulb that Dillo much appreciated. The cooking broth was made into a foam, which I’m kinda unsure about, but it tasted ok. I understand foams are a hot foodie thing right now, so whatever. The veggies were enough right there. Our hosts, one vegan and one vegetarian, always have this dish. Then he had the lobster with cardoons, pickled green strawberries, foie gras and some other stuff I can’t remember. He wasn’t a fan of the duck liver but we liked the rest. Strawberries in a savory dish was unexpected. The parents of the groom ordered the same thing and were clearly disappointed their plates with a small bit of lobster mixed with other things didn’t come with butter, lemon and a bib.

Next I had roast pork, medallions of what might have been tenderloin with a layer of fat that was crispy and fried on the outside. Like thick potato chip crispy. Fried pork fat is yummy so I really liked that and the meat was good too. Not dry or anything. Dillo had chicken, I don’t remember quite what was with it but he set the chicken skin off to the side of the plate and dangerously close to mine, so it vanished when he wasn’t looking. About now we were really feeling sorry for the staff, who had to deal with the father of the groom sending back his chicken because it was “raw.” And after the second attempt we determined that his idea of properly cooked chicken is grilled until dry so his moist chicken breast was unceremoniously pushed away, uneaten.

The dessert selections were a problem, all of them featured stuff I can’t eat like ice cream and coffee. I ordered the apple dish with the ice cream on the side, thinking that would avoid most of the dairy. Well it came layered like a Napoleon with apple, caramelized sugar and cream. Very attractive, but more dairy than I was willing to deal with. I was able to pick it apart and give Dillo the cream part (swapping it and the ice cream for his beignets) but it was a little messy. Our host had requested something entirely different and vegan. Since we ordered everything at the start, I didn’t know what was going on when I could have more conveniently done something about it. I only found out later that our host had requested basically his entire meal specially made vegan. After all the fuss with the chicken incident, I wasn’t about to embarrass him any further by pressing the subject regarding my dessert. I can deal.

All in all I enjoyed the meal, even if my unfamiliarity with the menu and the chef made a couple things a little more of a surprise than I might have preferred. The portion size was modest, but with several courses plus bread it’s not like I was hungry after. I actually prefer that to having to choose only one thing and even then taking part of it home. (We were staying in a hotel, so this was less than desirable.) I was willing to experiment so I wasn’t intimidated by various stuff I didn’t recognize on the menu. This is absolutely the kind of place where you are there for the experience and to be entertained, not merely to count the nutritional values and see that they add up.

Our servers had everything totally under control, every course came out together even for a large party and no water glass was permitted to be less than half full. (I will note that the orchestrated service is a little less creepy for those not accustomed when you don’t feel outnumbered by the staff.) They also graciously handled cranky parents, although I would not choose to bring certain people to such a place. Whether or not we go back will depend on a great many other things (this was very expensive, getting to Los Gatos is a big pain and so is a meal that runs late into the evening) but I would be happy to make a return visit. If they were open earlier on weekends I would totally go mid-afternoon, as it was I was grateful to have taken a nap earlier in the day so I could make it past 9pm without threatening to fall over.

The office Dictator of Food has decreed all items in the refrigerator must be signed and dated else they face termination with prejudice. I already put my name on most things, but it’s kindof a pain to figure out where to write something in sharpie pen on a package already covered in writing. I’ve lost items before because my name was not prominently enough displayed and it was mistaken for shared food.


I went and bought myself a custom date and message stamp:


Now, with the help of some extra address labels, I can mark my lunch in an appropriately officious manner.

It was finally a clear day so I went for a walk through the hills. Next to the guest house where we are staying on campus, there is the Miramare train station and a path leading further up the hill.

There is a park of sorts in this steep area on the hillside. The first half is through trees, a few in the middle of the stairway. The stairs are old, but not that old, as there is a utility cable buried along the path. You can see it in spots where the stone wall has collapsed.

collapsed wall along the path to Prosecco

But in some places there are older stone steps surrounded by newer construction, so clearly they have been there a while. The finish and color of the old stone match those around Miramare so perhaps they are from the same period. There are about a million stairs up the hill, but the view is spectacular. There is a clear spot where you can see for kilometers around the Gulf of Trieste. If I can stitch together the panorama I’ll post it.

looking down the stairway to the sea

Further along there were a few small farms, an old stone well and then you come out on the outskirts of Prosecco where there is a community playground by a pond. I followed the road into the village to have a look around.

I was stopped on the street by an African guy carrying a big gym bag, who seemed to only want to wish me a good day. In English, in the middle of an Italian farm village. My brand new white sneakers and fleece jacket must have given me away. As soon as he said he was from Nigeria I knew I was in for a story.

He said he lived in Monfalcone, a town some kilometers away, and it’s very difficult you know to make a living when one does not have a work permit. So he and his friends bring some small items in from Rome to sell to make a few euro. At 7 euro for a package of socks I was not going along with it. Living in San Francisco pretty much cures you of giving in to sad stories and goods for sale of dubious origin. So I wished him good day and went off in a totally different direction. As quickly as possible.

Prosecco had more signs in Slovenian than down the hill and it is closer to the border. My Trieste bus map isn’t so good out there so I’m not really sure how far or in which direction. I had intended to walk to to Villa Opicina but I didn’t see a path except by the narrow highway. High speed road, stone walls on either side, no clear pedestrian path. I’ll explore that another time on the bus.

I took a tiny unmarked road down the hill, crossed another highway (Strada del Friuli) and continued down what looked like an oversized goat path which around here often passes for a public street. I was in Contovella. The road was paved, which gave hope for it going through somewhere. The other option was highway, so I figured why not.

I somewhat questioned that decision at various points, particularly when the road was closed for construction. Along the way there were several narrow staircases down the hill, some more scary than others but none had railings and the steps were not exactly in good repair. One was a private path, another was clearly well used by the trash left behind. All through here the road was a cliff on one side and the hill (or stone retaining wall) on the other. There was a vehicle that went off the road decades ago, now rotting in a tree.

old wreck along the road outside Contovello

Down the road I continued, squeezing past the barriers around the idle construction zone, where a new section of retaining wall was being built near some expensive looking houses. The road widened into a proper street here (although still narrow) with houses and small apartment buildings. Eventually it went back under the train tracks and let out in the center of Barcola.

I got a bottle of water from the same shop I went to yesterday, hung around in the park for a while (remembering to bring extra tissues for the public toilet!) and headed back out to Grignano.

I’ve been spending way too much time poking around online looking at census data. Yes, after 72 years that stuff you filled out is released to the public. It’s actually pretty cool and it encourages me to actually pay attention next time the census comes around.

After I got done finding my grandparents, great-grandparents and all their siblings and spouses in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census data, I started looking around at other things. It took some work but I found both streets we’ve lived on in San Francisco, the only place I’ve lived where old buildings are everywhere.

I found our current apartment in the 1920 census. I was not able to locate it in 1930 but I found the records for others in the same building. I can’t figure out how to locate the right area of the city in the 1910 census, so I don’t know anything from then.

In 1920, Hugh Haffey, his wife and their adult children lived here. Hugh’s occupation was noted as a “Watchman”, one son worked at a laundry, another was an elevator operator and a daughter also worked at a laundry.

Most of the households I found in this building for both 1920 and 1930 were couples with children, as many as five. All were renters. In 1930, apartments in this building rented for $27-30 a month.

Our apartment is about 700 square feet, with a large kitchen and dining room, a modest bedroom and a large parlor. There are also two closets in addition to the bathroom. We use the parlor as a bedroom and the bedroom as a computer room. The dining room is what would now be considered a living room (although I use it as a work area mainly.) There is no fireplace and the building has no garage or driveway.

Now every family wants to have one bedroom per child plus multiple eating, sitting and working areas so modern houses are huge. Much larger than I’d prefer, actually. (Who wants to heat and clean, not to mention furnish, 6000 square feet?) But from what I can tell this was a average family dwelling for those of modest means. Not spectacular, but not horrible either.

Several years ago I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York, one of the apartments on the tour was about 350 square feet and housed a large family plus a home dressmaking business, with a shared toilet in the hall. Another person on the tour humorously commented that add a coat of paint and it looked like some of the several thousand dollar Manhattan apartments he’d been shopping for.

I’ve been researching various parts of my family, with the end goal of submitting an application for Italian citizenship. We’ll see how that goes. At any rate, looking at old documents is interesting. It’s amazing how many different ways a census enumerator can mis-spell a name.

My grandmother shows up in various sources three different ways, none of them her actual given name (as it seems nobody used it.) Since the census doesn’t require any formal documentation, they take whatever you give them. I’m thinking it’s the same with Social Security as well, because they don’t have her birth name either. Oh, and Social Security tends to list the actual place of death (like a hospital) and states seem to use last place of residence instead.

Interesting things turn up. I remember a carved ashtray stand my father said was made by his uncle. In the 1930 census, I found an uncle with the occupation of woodcarver in the furniture industry. His brother, my grandfather, worked in a radio factory.

I vaguely recall a name mentioned in my youth that I thought was my great-grandfather. It seems I didn’t quite get it right, as it instead was his wife. Who lived much longer and remarried. At some point the whole family moved to New York, down the street from the girl who would become my grandmother. There were several documents that at first seemed doubtful because of name or date problems, but I was certain as soon as I looked at the actual artifact image and saw the address. For example, the eldest Laiosa girl of the 1920 census was, ten years later, found a few doors down living with her new husband and his father.

I have an image of the ship’s passenger manifest where my maternal great-grandfather came to New York, with a woman who may have been his sister. What happened to Maria Grazia Laiosa I may never know. Perhaps his single still living child (now 89) may remember, but then again not. I sent my father a copy of Giovanni’s draft registration and naturalization petition cards to give to her.

There are other observations on the nature of public record repositories. The state of Ohio started collecting birth records at the state level somewhere in the middle of 1908. I know this because I have to try several different agencies in attempt to locate my grandfather’s birth certificate. My first go didn’t do so well, so I’ve submitted a request for his elder brother for whom I have a more certain place of birth. Also the fees for copies of records appears to be arbitrary. New York City is hideously expensive and Columbiana County Ohio will do it for a self-addressed stamped envelope and the cost of the copy machine.

And then there is my mother’s family. In the 1930 census I found the household of my grandparents including my uncle, not a year old. But listed as my grandfather’s parents were two people I’d never heard of and my aunt says were related in some mysterious fashion. Four adults, two parents and two “sons” came to the United States from Eastern Europe, possibly at different times and with a collection of different names given to different officials. I don’t think anybody alive now knows exactly how these people are related.

If I’m going to go much farther, I’ll have to start getting documents. It will likely be less expensive to just go to New York and park myself in front of the microfilm reader than pay the search and copy fees trying to locate the right things. Fortunately my Italian family didn’t move far from Brooklyn for many years.

There was a lot of noise today about how much advertising the Yes on Prop 8 campaign was targeting at website visitors from California. Such that many people are pretty pissed that even their own websites were serving advertisements.

I checked spinnyspinny, the only site I have that uses Google advertisements, and nearly every one I saw was for Yes on Prop 8. How irritating. I promptly re-configured my account to block ads from their website and within an hour they were no more.