Sunday, March 28, 2010

Off and Running!

I've finally started running again and I feel great! Well, physically, I feel pretty good, but mentally I feel great, because I love running. And I've missed it for the last fews years.

I started running when I moved to Seattle in 1995 or '96, shortly after I left the Navy and I still think Seattle must be one of the best cities for running. Great running stores like Super Jock n Jill, an excellent regional running mag called Northwest Runner, and beautiful places to run like Green Lake Park.

The Bay Area is a great place for running, too, of course. I just feel sentimental about Seattle. Where else but SF can you go out for a run and see American Bison, a Dutch windmill and a Japanese tea garden all in the same day! I just need to get out there and start exploring.

The last real running I did was the San Francisco Half-Marathon in July of 2005. It was a great run for me. It wasn't a spectacular performance, but I ran most of the 13.1 miles and finished in 2:36:29! It really was a milestone in my life and I fully intended it to be just a step on my way to finishing a marathon...something I've been wanting to do for years. After the half-marathon, I was planning to take a week off to let my legs recover and just never went back to it, at least not with any real dedication. I've had a few starts and stops, but mostly I just stopped and gained 70 pounds.

I've thought a lot about why I quit running and why I let myself go. It's all emotional, of course, and I'm writing about this mostly for the friends and families of runners out there. If you know and care about someone who is a runner, please get out there and support them. Pick a spot on the route if you can and cheer for them, yell their name. It makes a difference. Most importantly, if you can do nothing else, be at the finish line to meet them and celebrate with them. It's important. When I finished the half-marathon, it was just me. I was in the middle of a crowd of people, with my shiny new medal and my legs getting stiffer by the second, and I felt really lonely because nobody was there to meet me and celebrate with me. It's maybe a little unreasonable to expect that anyone would have been there considering that my family lives 2000 miles away. I know Max would have been there if he could have and I didn't really tell many of my friends I was running, but I didn't realize how much I needed to have someone there. Lesson learned: tell everyone and ask them to come out to the race!

So, back to my current running! I just finished my first full week of training and I finished it with a 5K! This past weekend was the Inaugural Oakland Running Festival. I was so excited to see that Oakland was going to have a marathon that I immediately signed up for the 5K (with plans to run the marathon in a year...fingers crossed) and signed up to be a volunteer at the festival and marathon. I finished the 5K in 39:40, not too shabby for a weeks worth of walking and running (mostly walking) and the best part, my next race is almost guaranteed to be a PR!

Speaking of my next race, I'm already registered. I signed Max and myself up for the SF Giants Plate to Plate 5K on June 12th. It finishes at home plate in AT&T Park. If anyone wants to join us, please sign up! Or come out and cheer us on and join us at the after-run tailgate party.

Current weight: 205 lbs
Total lost: 4 lbs
Goal weight: 155 lb

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Like Proust's madeleine
"...the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us..." Marcel

At work, we often share tastings where we gather over a french press and try to pick out aromas and flavors in a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Like wine, coffee is an amazingly complex beverage but when people first start tasting coffee critically, it's not unusual to hear them say, "it smells like coffee". It's a smell we all know. But with practice you begin to pick out aromas that are floral or smokey, fruity or herbal. Smells of honey, peanuts, cedar, chocolate, blueberries...I've found all of these in a coffee cup. Still, I'm often stumped, even after years of coffee tastings. There will be a smell or a flavor that I know, that I recognize, but can't name. It's familiar, but elusive, until someone else names it. We have such an amazing capacity to remember smells and tastes, but it's not always easy to identify them.

Sense memory is a fascinating thing. Who doesn't have a catalog of smells from their youth? I remember the lilacs that grew in our back yard and the smell of a tornado coming and my dad's bay rum aftershave. He didn't actually smell like bay rum, but had a bottle. Dad smelled like black cherry pipe tobacco.

I remember that my grandmother's house had a very particular smell, and although I can't recall it exactly and would be hard-pressed to find a useful adjective to describe it, I'm sure it would be instantly recognizable even 20 years later as Grandma's house.

At one of our recent coffee tastings, someone brought along pastries to pair with the coffee and while eating a raisin-studded pastry, I suddenly was reminded of a taste from home, from years ago. It wasn't something I remembered fully, I just knew that I recognized this taste, the taste of burnt raisins, and it made me happy. After a couple of months, I had worked out that it was something deep fried and dense, with raisins, but that's all I had until I went to Iowa for Thanksgiving and brought it up. My mom knew instantly what I was talking about and quickly found my grandmother's recipe for vet bollen, little balls of yeast dough studded with apple, current and raisins, deep fried to a dark brown and rolled in sugar.

Vet bollen. As soon as she said it, I knew that was it, but still the memory was vague. My paternal grandmother was dutch and every year, on New Years Day, she made vet bollen. I've been waiting since Thanksgiving to make them and, like Proust and his almond cookie dipped in tea, as soon as I tasted one, everything about it was familiar; tart apple, the sugar coating, and of course, the taste of the raisins on the outside of the ball that get a little burnt and bitter in the hot oil. But even more than the tastes, I remember being happy. This is food that reminds me how lucky I am to have the family I have. Enjoy.

Grandma Sutton's Vet Bollen

makes about 5 dozen

2 c lukewarm water or milk
1/2 c sugar
2 tsp salt
2 cakes compressed yeast
2 beaten eggs
1/2 c shortening-softened
1 qt chopped raw apple
1 heaping cup raisins
1 heaping cup currants
7 - 7 1/2 c sifted flour

Mix as for bread sponge.
Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk.
Break off by spoonfuls and fry in deep oil at 375F.
Roll in raw sugar

That's the recipe as written. I've added some detail here:
This is a big recipe, but easily halved.
I used milk, not water, and I used pink lady apples.
1 cake of yeast is about 2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast. I used 2 tsp for a half-batch and the dough proofed nicely.

To make a bread sponge, mix the yeast with about 1/4 c of the milk and let sit a few minutes until foamy, just to ensure the yeast is active. Add the rest of the milk, the sugar and about half the flour. Mix well with a fork or whisk. Let sit in a warm place until the sponge is about doubled.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the sponge and mix well to combine.
Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let dough rise until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough and turn it out on a board. You can knead in a bit more flour if it's too sticky.
(I tried these after letting the dough rise for a second time and they were fine, but I preferred a single rise)

Pull off small pieces of dough and fry in hot oil until dark brown (take them past golden brown)
Remove from the oil, drain briefly on paper towels and roll in granulated sugar.
I like to shake them around in a wire mesh colander to knock off the excess sugar.
The vet bollen are tastiest and more full of memories when allowed to cool to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

In the process of getting my apartment organized last weekend, I ran across a short piece I wrote almost seven years ago about moving to Mexico...

Queer Alien

I'm beginning to feel comfortable here in Mexico. After one year, I'm starting to feel that I could call this place home. This tiny studio apartment with troops of ants that march en masse if even a crumb is left on the counter of what functions as a kind of pseudo-kitchen. A 'cocineta' in Spanish, a little kitchen. It is an appropriate description as everything in it is condensed; the tiny refrigerator, a two-burner countertop stove for those occasions when there is gas for cooking. The only thing full-size is the sink, a bit of irony in that we have precisely eight dishes to wash; three bowls, one cracked, a saucer without a cup, two coffee mugs, and two glasses which, when purchased, held candles. We do, of course, have silverware; eleven spoons, three forks, two butter knives and a steak knife. Most of these were left by previous tenants, I assume. The coffee mugs and the glasses are ours and I rather like the glasses. We will soon have a full set of four once the candles are burned out of the new ones.

Nevertheless, I'm starting to feel at home. It took me twice as long to feel as though I could settle in San Francisco and there I spoke the language. And had a complete set of dishes.

We live in Playa del Carmen, my partner and I, a quaint little beach town full of Italians and Argentinians, dive shops and jewelry stores, and our little room just one block from the beach. My brother told me it sounds romantic, but he was thinking of linen curtains blowing in the warm Caribbean breeze and the sound of mariachis passing in the street below. The reality is cockroaches the size of my pinky-finger and cleaning boogers off the wall left by the previous tenant and the only music comes from the pizza shack downstairs whose owner is fond of singing along with, but much louder than his radio. The curtains are not linen, nor any other natural fiber and they do not blow gently in any breeze milder than a hurricane force 3, but hang instead, stiffly, flowered and dingy. But I did not move here for the romance. I did, however, move here for love.

I moved to Mexico out of necessity and because the alternative was more than I could bear. My partner is Mexican. We met in San Francisco where we were both living at the time and quickly fell in love. Had I known at the time that he was illegal, I would perhaps have been more cautious with my emotions, more guarded with my affections. When he did tell me, I was already unwilling to break off our deepening relationship, barely two months old. I preferred to leave the country of my birth rather than leaving the man of my dreams. And so, I moved to Mexico, and I'm starting to like it here.

I do not fault him for keeping his secret. American society demands it. Immigration is a pressure cooker of an issue, complex enough that lawyers can specialize in navigating it's intricacies but which many view in black and white, them vs. us, American jobs and the illegal Mexicans who are stealing them all away. On the surface, a surface shellacked by misinformation, it's easy to choose a side for those unwilling to ask questions. In the US, blustering indignation masquerades as authority. Americans need a bogyman, someone to blame, and we want to be told who it is. And if our favorite talk radio host is indignant enough, outraged enough, we're convinced. No questions asked. Why put your index finger thoughtfully to your temple when it's so much easier to point it at the immigrants, or gays. In these times of intense patriotism fueled by terrorism and international conflict, anyone who is foreign-born is a potential enemy. There is a vocal minority that would gladly close our borders to new immigrants, legal or otherwise, and promptly ship out those who are discovered to have slipped across the border undetected or overstayed their welcome. America, it seems, is no longer big enough for the tired huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

My partner had lived in the states for nine years. He had extended family in California that he saw often, close friends who had known him when he was still struggling to communicate in English. He had a drivers license and a VW Jetta and paid his taxes. He was a young gay man living in the most progressive state in the nation and feeling for all intents and purposes that he had found his place in the world. He is fiercly proud to be Mexican, but he also felt like California had become "home". All he was lacking was the piece of paper that made it so. He would be the first to tell you that he went about it the wrong way, the illegal way. I would be the first to tell you it was justified and, to my mind, harmed no one. In my opinion it is illegal in the same sense that breaking the speed limit is a crime, both are borne out of sense of urgency. Double parking in San Francisco should carry a more severe penalty. I would happily round up all the double parkers and ship them out of the country to open up choice spots for Mexican immigrants. Ship them anywhere but Mexico, because I'm starting to like it here.

Moving to Mexico was not our only choice, but it was the only choice we could live with, together and without fear of deportation. Because we are a gay couple, our relationship is not recognized by the INS, or as it is now called the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). It does not matter that we call ourselves married or that we wear wedding bands as a symbol of our commitment. All that we have is
ours, not mine or his. It is a concept that applies not only to our personal belongings and our bank accounts, but to our struggles and successes as well. Our setbacks and our celebrations are shared because we are a couple, because our lives are shared. When I've been overly confident and adventurous with the food here in Mexico and been poisoned by some microorganism, he is the one who holds my head while I throw up or runs out to the pharmacy at 3 o'clock in the morning. It makes me crazy that he leaves the cap off the toothpaste and he chides me gently when my fingernails need clipping. When I've gained 30 pounds and fear that he might not find me as attractive as he once did, he hugs me tight and tells me he would love me if I gained 300 pounds. And I know, of course, he means it. I know when he is preoccupied and he knows when I am feeling crabby. We give each other advice and support, we talk to each other, and more importantly, we listen. Our parents welcome us, as a couple, into their homes. No rare feat for a Mexican butcher and his wife or blue collar small town Iowans whose exposure to gay men was previously limited to lispy effeminate stereotypes on Phil Donahue, circa 1984. I can count all the fights we've had, two years worth, on one hand and still have enough fingers left for the next two years. I love him unconditionally and yet, in spite of all of this, neither his government nor mine consider us a family or will allow one of us to sponsor the other for purposes of immigration.

The Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA) would finally change that for us and thousands of other bi-national same-sex couples whose circumstances are similar to ours. Although the bill has so far failed to make it out of subcommittee in the House of Representatives, it continues to gain bi-partisan support and was recently introduced in senate as well. Still, it could be another three years or more before the US government wakes up and rights this wrong. Until then, we will stay in Mexico. We have no other choice and that's okay for now, because I'm starting to like it here.

A lot has changed since that was written. Unfortunately, so many things have stayed the same. I spent three years in Mexico before we made the decision that I would move back to California and go back to work. In the 9 years that we've been together, that is the one decision I regret having made. We've managed to keep our relationship alive, in spite of the distance and the fact that we've spent less than 3 months together in the last 4 1/2 years. In a short time, however, we'll be together again in the states and although it's only temporary, it feels almost miraculous.

The PPIA is now called the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and although there was a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and the bill continues to gain support in the house and senate, it still has not made it out of subcommittee for a vote. If you haven't written or called your Senator or Congressman, please do.

Playa del Carmen is no longer quaint. It has experienced an enormous amount of growth and is now the third largest city in Quintana Roo, after Cancun and Chetumal. I would still recommend it over Cancun, though. It was an amazing place to call home for 3 years.

Monday, June 01, 2009

President Obama's proclamation of gay pride month
What he said...
"My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States."

The official proclamation is great, but I think it highlights Obama's unwillingness to fully commit to the "
equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity" that he goes on to talk about.

Civil unions for LGBT couples (as the alternative to gay marriage) isn't "equal rights for all". If it was, then he wouldn't have to call out "federal rights for the LGBT couples" in the same sentence. It would be implied. Obama is opposed to gay marriage because of his religious beliefs. That's not news. The fact that he can't separate his own religious convictions from his duties as the President of a country filled with people who don't share his specific religious views has always been a big concern of mine. I'm glad that Obama was elected, but I'm skeptical. If his religious views prevent him from passing legislation that would give me equal rights, I don't think he's the great friend and supporter of the gay community that this proclamation suggests.

Why doesn't the proclamation just say, "ending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the US Military...and why hasn't Obama done that, yet? Why was he silent on the discharge of gay linguist Dan Choi? Why does the proclamation say, "ending the existing...policy in a way that strengthens our armed forces"? To me, that implies the existing policy will be replaced with a new policy that isn't Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but will still keep gay and lesbian service members from serving openly. He should have said, "ending the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy to strengthen our armed forces". Period. No semantic tap dancing.

If Obama supports federal rights for LBGT couples, why can't I sponsor my Mexican partner for a green card, yet? The Uniting American Families Act would give me the same rights that my three brothers enjoy. They're all happily married to people they love while my partner and I are separated by over 2000 miles, maintaining two households, while our lives are effectively on hold because we can't live in the same country. This legislation would change that, but in 9 years it's never made it out of subcommittee in the house or senate.

Finally, when did the fight against HIV/AIDS stop including the search for a vaccine? Or is that all rolled into "reducing the number of HIV infections"?

The proclamation is further than Bush was willing to go, but it feels as though it's been word smithed to give it a "lavender" veneer while still remaining non-committal on real change. I guess it's an improvement over the silent treatment we've had for the last 4 months.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon responds to email inquiries regarding the removal of sales rankings:


Thank you for contacting

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles - in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

Thanks for contacting us. We hope to see you again soon.

Customer Service Department

Ham-fisted cataloging error? Right.
There are a few theories being reported, none of which I really believe (somebody in France misunderstood "Adult"? Yeah...right), but it's cool to see that the rankings are coming back.

I still think I'll use Powell's books for my on-line purhcases for the time being.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

So, the blog is He Knits, but he also reads and thinks. That means you're as likely to hear about my recent purchase of Cascade Alpaca Lace yarn (50g/437 yds of 100% baby soft) as you are to find me ranting about something completely unrelated to fiber or knitting...

Like and their homophobic new policy regarding sales rankings.

If you're a regular user of their website, you're probably familiar with the Sales Rank. On their FAQ's, Amazon describes it as "... an added service for customers, authors, publishers, artists, labels, and studios". . It's a numerical ranking based on recent and historical sales of every item sold on the website. For instance, the camera I want to buy is currently ranked 800 in electronics. You can find rankings for light bulbs and underpants (the 2xist Men's Carbon Trunk ranks 35,799 in Apparel). Every time sold...until very recently.

The Amazon Sales Rank no longer applies to every item sold on the website. This weekend, they started stripping the rankings from those books they deem "Adult". Here's the word from to Young Adult author Mark Probst, whose book 'The Filly' had it's sales rank removed:

"In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature. "

The obvious irony is that Young Adult fiction has been deemed "adult" material by The reason, of course, is that the book falls under the category of "gay and lesbian" fiction. Regardless of it's content, in the eyes of the Amazon, "gay" = "adult".

So what's the big deal, you may be wondering. I can still buy the books on the site. They still show up when I do a search. The problem is that they are just a little more difficult to find and they don't show up in the Bestsellers listings because those automatically created listings are generated from the rankings. So, glbt books and authors are automatically at a disadvantage when it come to sales simply because Amazon considers any gay content to be offensive.

Here are a few books that have been deemed to have "adult" content from which the general public apparently needs some protection:
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (1992 National Book Award winner for Fiction)
Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette (also a National Book Award winner in '92 for Non-Fiction and a book that played a pivotal role in my own coming out)
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Like People in History by Felice Picano
Running with Scissors by Augusten Borroughs
The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren

That's the tip of the iceburg, really. So, what's the point if I can still find the books on thier webpage? The point is that Amazon has made a policy change that overwhelmingly affects a specific category of books and unfairly and inaccurately labels them “adult content” based simply on the fact that they may contain gay themes. That's homophobia, in case you didn't recognize it.

To be fair, maybe the decision wasn't intended to be homophobic, but when you consider that the #1 book on is currently the "Conservitive Manifesto" of talk radio dj Mark Levin, something has me convinced that it probably was.

I, for one, won't be shopping there any time soon.