Saturday, November 5, 2011

Recent events

My eyesight is...improving?
A few days ago, it was time for my annual visit to the optometrist.  (Note to self: if you plan to get your eyes dilated, choose an appointment in the afternoon so you don't have to go back to work where you have to be able to see in order to be productive...)  While I don't mind having my eyes checked, I've always hated that machine that sends a puff of pressurized air into your eye to check for glaucoma (I think), a machine that my current optometrist does not use (thank God).  And when all was said and done, after making sure the receptionist did not charge me $35 extra for services covered by my insurance, I left with a prescription that was slightly improved than last year.  Having worn glasses since I was 14, and contacts since I was 21, I've been used to my eyesight getting worse every year, but this is the first time that my prescription has actually gotten better.  And since my insurance doesn't cover glasses and contact lenses, I'll be doing some shopping around to see what makes financial sense to claim this year.

I also left with a prescription for some antibiotic eye drops, which the optomistrist gave me because she said my tear ducts were clogged and causing my eyes to dry out, a problem she had noted in my file last year, but I didn't do anything about.  I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be surprised that they were still clogged after all the crying I've done in the past two months, or amazed that I was able to let loose the waterworks even with clogged tear ducts.  Regardless, after shelling out a $50 co-pay ("I'm sorry, sir, but it's not available in generic"), for the past two weeks, just before going to sleep, I've had to put a drop of this goopy stuff in each eye, and woken up with some crusty remnants in the morning.  Very attractive.

City living
My new apartment is in a great part of town, just one and a half miles from the office, which I have been walking most days, both ways.  There are tons of restaurants both on the way home and close to my apartment, but in the two months that I've now lived here, I haven't visited any of them.  While I know it's cheaper to eat at home, and you've seen my freezer, so lawd knows I have enough food, I think the greater issue is that I don't want to have to eat alone.  I know it sounds terribly cliched, but it's true.  And while I've been a social butterfly for the past few weeks, it's mainly been entertaining at home and showing friends my new place, which I've enjoyed doing, and which I've always preferred much more than trying to figure out a bill at the end of the evening.  But at some point, I'm sure I'll venture out and try one of the many places in my new neck-of-the-woods.  With a book.  Or a friend.  I haven't decided yet.

Adult learning
I have a love-hate relationship (well, more hate, really) with attending work conferences.  They always seem to be hit-or-miss for me (well, more miss, really), and I've always seen them more as networking opportunities than anything else.  I'm the type of person who learns by doing, which is really how I cut my teeth as I was starting out.  And, like many adult learners, you can put me a classroom or seminar session, but it's the practical application of the training that is more useful to me than anything else. 

This past week, I attended the annual conference for the local chapter of the fundraisers association.  While this conference was better than others I've attended in the past (and the food wasn't bad either, as evidenced by the five bite-size cupcakes and two cookies I consumed because I'm a sucker for any baked good that has cranberry in it), two things - neither good - stood out for me:
  • One smaller session featured a woman on a panel who said quite plainly that she wanted to give her daughter some work experience, so she gave a non-profit organization a donation to specifically hire her daughter in a quid quo pro arrangement, and then suggested that other non-profits use that as a way to get more donations.  I. Was. Horrified.  Not only is such an arrangement a tremendous conflict of interest (because there are way too many strings attached to the donation that ultimately has personal benefit to the donor and her family), but what possible benefit could there be to the non-profit other than having to create a position that they may or may really not need?  I can only hope that the representatives from other non-profits will not be so foolish as to pursue this dead-end of donations.  Seriously.
  • Stedman Graham (Mr. Oprah Winfrey) gave a closing plenary on leadership development that was completely useless.  Utterly, completely, terrifyingly useless.  Based on his book, the presentation was filled with esoteric platitudes that said nothing and meant nothing.  And yet some people seemed to lap it up.  An hour of my life I will never get back, yet desperately wish I could. 
The only other thing I noticed was neither good nor bad, but more...a matter of curiosity.  Out of about 400 attendees, I was one of only two people of Asian descent. This is pretty much what I'm used to in the profession, but it's always interesting to see in a large group setting like that.  Go figure.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A morning scene

Whenever I tell a non-Chicagoan where I live, they usually perk up their ears and say "the Windy City."  And while it's true that Chicago does indeed experience a great deal of wind, especially when it whips off Lake Michigan, legend has it that the term really came about because Chicago was said to be full of "hot air" in either boasting about some sports team rivalry with Cincinnati back in the 1870s, or in trying to lure the 1893 World's Fair (which Chicago won, and which apparently peeved New York - a losing competitor - to no end). 

Still, we do get a ton of wind.  A few weeks ago, an incredibly powerful wind drove high waves into the harbor (even with a breakwall), causing 20 boats to lose their anchoring, and smash into the promontory wall (the left side of the picture).  On Saturday, three remained submerged, and by yesterday morning, just one was still in the water. 


Ouch.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Change

The past six weeks have been all about change. 

Some of it has been about logistics.  Finding my way around a new neighborhood.  Exploring a new running path.  Setting up new utility accounts and finally getting internet access at home (no thanks to AT&T who couldn't get its act together, so I went with another provider).  Doing laundry in a much smaller washer and getting accustomed to the very annoying buzzer that signals the end of the dryer cycle.  (Did I mention that I thought my new dryer had lint-removing fairies who magically whisked that stuff away, and that I almost had the building manager place a service call to fix a dryer that didn't work anymore, until I figured it out? You'd think I'd never done laundry before...)

Some of it has been about my behaviors.  Learning how to sleep by myself again and be woken up by my cell phone alarm.  Getting accustomed to coming home to an empty apartment after work.  Making the time to write again when I would ordinarily have logged into my work e-mail instead at this time of the night.  Sitting on the sofa and reading. 

Some of it has been about how I feel.  Not caring how dorky I look when I wear black running shoes with my dress pants for my mile-and-a-half walk to work.  Not feeling like I need to be the "perfect" host when I entertain.  Starting to get out from under the overwhelming crush of guilt.  Trusting that it was the right thing to do, even though it was the most painful thing I have ever done - to me and to him. 

But some things never change.  Like my inability to have a freezer that is not filled. to. the. brim. 


Yes, there is only one of me, but yet I possess this inherent inability to pass up a good sale at the grocery store.  "Pork chops on sale? Why sure, I'll take four, even though I have four in the freezer already!"  I'm so used to cooking for four (dinner for two, with leftovers for another meal) that I'm still doing it, although now I save one portion for another meal during the week, and then freeze two portions for another time.  I've been pretty good about rotating through my freezer stock, so nothing's developed freezer burn (yet).  So tonight I decided to reorganize the freezer, thinking I'd have room to fit more.  Alas, no.  All I have now is a better organized freezer.  But still no extra room. 

Guess I'm going to have to finish one of those cartons of soy ice cream.  Sacrifices.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A fresh start

Wow...this posting is more difficult to write than I thought.  I've started it about a dozen times, and have been hitting the delete key continually. 

A month ago, I moved out of the house that I used to share with Matthew.

I know that this comes as a shock to many of you who haven't yet heard.  And the reasons are too many and too complex to tell, so I'm just going to leave it at that for now. 

But what I will say is that even though it was at my instigation, the day I left was truly the most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life.  I think I have shed more tears in the past few weeks than I have in my life, and while it has been challenging to figure out who I am and what I'm going to do, I am just taking it one day at a time, and have been working on starting to forgive myself for breaking his heart.   

I know it seems completely contradictory that the last posting I wrote was about wanting to be a father, and now the adoption plans are moot.  A lot has happened in the past two months.  And while I'm sorry that I didn't have the courage to do what I did earlier, and that I have hurt Matthew and his family, I know it was the right thing to do, especially if a child had been involved later down the line.  Nonetheless, I'm very grateful to everyone who offered their help and support while we were going through the adoption process. 

Being the one who left, I'm the "unpopular" one, in many eyes.  I've already noted a few defections in my Facebook friend list.  I'm sure there are people from whom I won't ever hear again.  I get it.  And I'm okay with that, because they have to deal with this in their own way.  And if I'm the bad guy in their eyes, then so be it.

I feel like I've spent my life trying to be good for someone else - a good son, a good brother, a good partner, a good employee, a good friend.  But I need to be good to me, and this was just the first step in what will be a long journey of healing - for everyone involved.

So here I am, with a fresh start.  Figuring out how to live on my own again.  Learning how to cook for only one person (which I clearly haven't learned how to do yet, because my freezer is filled to the brim - still.  I'll post a picture one of these days.).  Finding my way in my new neighborhood and figuring out where everything is.  Discovering a new running path along the lake, and getting back into a good exercise routine to try to stave off the 10lbs I lost during the move-out week.  (In truth, I don't think I've been this lean in more than 10 years...)  Walking 1.5 miles each way to work, and loving it.

And I'm looking forward to finding my voice again, on this blog and in my life.  I haven't yet figured out what to do with my prior blog entries.  Part of me wants to scrub them all, and start over completely anew.  And part of me wants to keep them, because they're a document of my life.  Decisions to be made.  Regardless, I'll be posting more frequently and hope you'll keep visiting.

So in the spirit of fresh starts, here's a picture of a fresh start: sunrise over Lake Michigan on my first run on the new path.  It was a good day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Networking

So I haven't written about our adoption plans for a while because...well...there hasn't been much to report.  In four months since we officially became prospective adoptive parents with the Cradle (you can read about the process here, here and here), we've been doing lots of reading on adoption and parenting, choosing an adoption attorney, researching pediatricians and asking friends who have kids for recommendations, and generally keeping a running list of things that we might need when we get called off the bench.  (Wow, I actually found a way to use a sports metaphor - go figure.) 

We had a very reassuring "check-in" phone call with our adoption counselor two weeks ago (something that we plan to do quarterly), and got an extra boost of courage and support.  And last week, we had our first six-month home visit, which is required in order to maintain our DCFS license that demonstrates we are capable of adopting an infant.  And we attended our first waiting family discussion group where we met up with our friends M and J, and got to meet some families that we've seen only through their online profiles.

We made a conscious decision when we started this process that we weren't going to keep any baby things in the house, except maybe a car seat (to bring our baby home on his/her first day), and some other sundries.  We just think it might be too hard to look at baby things every day while we were waiting.  And even though it could happen quickly (perhaps as quickly as 24 hours notice), we could easily dash over to Target to pick up everything we need in one shot.  But it's hard not to smile when we pass a baby clothing store and see all the cute onesies, especially those that say: "I love my two dads."

Personally speaking, I'm not anxious about the wait.  I know that for some waiting families, the wait itself can seem interminable.  But maybe it's because I'm confident that it will happen for us - that we will be the lucky adoptive parents of a child - that I'm not stressing out about it.  I'll be overwhelmingly happy to be a dad when it happens for us.  But in the meantime, we are going to keep living life, making our travel plans, having some work done in our house, enjoying the summer (hair-raising - quite literally - humidity aside), and remaining optimistic. 

Still, while we're tremendously happy to see that there has been a seeming uptick in placements in recent months, knowing that waiting parents have been matched, it's hard not to feel the teensiest twinge of why-not-us-itis.  For me to say otherwise would - quite honestly - be lying.

So here's where I need your help, please, gentle readers.   We've heard from the Cradle that a good percentage of matches between birthmothers/parents and adoptive parents are made through personal connections, so yours truly has finally set up that long-awaited Facebook page.  If you are on Facebook, please consider "liking" our page, and sharing it on your wall to help us spread the word about our plans to adopt. We'd be mighty appreciative of your help. You never know if your sibling's best friend's dentist's daughter's neighbor's BFF might be considering an adoption plan for her child and would be looking for a happy, stable couple in Chicago to be adoptive parents. 

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July

For the first time in three years, I actually got to enjoy a July 4th weekend without work last week.  In both 2009 and 2010, I was involved in large grant applications that were due shortly after July 4, which meant that yours truly (along with several other colleagues) were putting in long hours over the holiday weekend.  So this year, with no looming deadlines, we headed down to spend an extended weekend with the in-laws, whom I adore.  Over the course of our very relaxing stay, we watched three films:  "Meet the Fockers" (fell sleep); "Just Go With It" (ridiculous plot, don't waste your time); and "True Grit" (amazing film and acting, but put the subtitles on if you want to understand anything that Jeff Bridges' character has to say).  We also walked through the landscaped gardens of the local art museum, even though it was kinda hot.



And though we were afraid that traffic would be nightmarish on the way back into the city, the roads were unbelievably clear, even for the last day of a long weekend.  Along the crowded lakeshore, people were camping out to watch the fireworks, but they all managed to stay off the roads - which meant smooth sailing on our way home.  A great way to spend - and end - a holiday.

The end of June and the beginning of July have always held special meaning for me.  June 30 marks the anniversary of the day that my awkward 13-year-old self stepped off a plane into a new country and into the welcoming arms of my two aunts and grandparents who met us at the airport.  And how apt that the very next day was Canada Day - marking the day that Canada became an independent country.


21 years later, I'm still proud to be the snow-loving, maple-syrup-flowing-in-my-veins Canuck that I am, even though I've now lived longer in the US than I have in Canada.  And I think I feel that way because I grew up in Canada during the years when I was most impressionable (high school and college), and have always felt that moving to Canada gave me opportunities and options that I might not have had otherwise, including - most importantly - the freedom to find and be my gay ol' self.  With universal healthcare, to boot.
flag of United States
But July 4th is now important to me because it's important to my (second) adopted country.  And this past July 4 may be the last that I celebrate as a non-US citizen.  (Though if I were straight, I could have been sponsored for citizenship years ago and not had to go through the legal wrangling and bureacracy I have had to endure over the past few years.)  So, if all goes well, next year I should be casting a ballot in an election for the first time in 11 years.

On a Democrat ticket, of course.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Busy

Two weeks ago, it seemed like life pulled the rug out from under me, and then still had the audacity to kick me in the nuts.  Ouch. 

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but it was a tough week at work, having gotten pulled onto a major project with a tight turnaround, which entailed working late at the office, crawling home, working until midnight, crawling into bed, and then being back at the office by 7 a.m.  And while I was able to get done what I needed to do, I needed the following week to catch up on all of the other stuff that I had had to put by the wayside, hence the lack of (personal) writing/blogging.  So today, I took a personal day to recuperate a bit, which included a good run this morning (even with the bit of rain that fell during my last lap around the park), and about 12 miles on the bike. 

Here's a rundown on some of the things that have happened of late.

The garden
I am not known for having a green thumb.  In fact, I've been known to even kill bamboo.  Yes, my lucky bamboo that sat in a vase in my office - I managed to kill it.  (It went from a beautiful green to mushy yellow with black spots, so I figured it was a goner.)  So it's a frakkin' miracle that this year's vegetable plantings have not yet kicked the bucket under my watch.  I'm not a huge fan of summer (because the humidity makes my hair stand on end even more than usual), but I do love the annual ritual of planting flowers, vegetables and herbs, and watching them grow.  This year's crop includes three tomato plants (heirloom, cherry and grape - I think), a green pepper plant, basil, mint, rosemary and thyme.  Two of the tomato plants are growing like weeds, and are even outpacing the round cages we installed to support them; the third seems to be a bit stunted in growth, but is already bearing six beautiful cherry tomatoes that we're hoping will ripen soon.  The green pepper plant is showing five little buds that I hope will all turn into peppers, and the herbs are flourishing to the point that I've been sharing with colleagues.  And while I have no designs on being a farmer at any time soon, I have to admit there's something tremendously satisfying about watching nature at work and being able to say that we grew our own produce.

The screamer
On my route home, I occasionally have to share a bus with an older, stout woman, probably in her 60s, with grey, greasy hair.  I first saw her about two years ago on a different bus line, but now she seems to have migrated to my current route.  I call her the screamer because, well, that's what she does.  She speaks in some type of Eastern European language (as far as my non-Eastern European ear can tell), usually in a very loud voice to herself, and then - she screams.  Literally, she screams, sometimes at the top of her lungs.  And even though I'm sure she must suffer from a mental illness of some sort, it's very disconcerting to hear, especially since I'm on tenterhooks the entire ride, waiting for it to happen. 

Two weeks ago, when I was coming home late from another slog fest at the office, it was raining cats and dogs, and the screamer got on the bus.  (I was behind her in the line, and hadn't boarded at this point.)  The bus driver, who must have known who she was from prior experience, immediately ordered her off.  She wouldn't listen at first, and began screaming at the top of her lungs in protest.  It was - in all honesty - quite horrifying.  Eventually, after about five minutes, she got off the bus, and the bus driver took off without her.

I do feel sorry for her.  I don't know where she comes from, or where she's going.  I used to work for a social service agency that helps people with mental illness, so I like to think that I have an understanding of how debilitating mental illness can be.  Still, it's hard not to be alarmed when I see the screamer approaching, because I don't know if she'll be calm or agitated.  And when I'm coming home from a tough day at work, it's hard not to want a quiet, uninterrupted ride on the bus home.  I guess it's one of the perils of public transit.

Pride
This past weekend was Pride in Chicago, with the parade on Sunday.  In the past few weeks, we've seen the first civil unions to be performed in Illinois, and the gay marriage bill that passed in New York just last week.  And my blogging guru, Nofo, has a great post about why we - as a gay community - have much to be proud of.  And it's thanks to the gay activists, advocates, volunteers, and trailblazers who have led the way for the past fifty years that I am able to live my life openly - with my family, at work, in my neighborhood, on the WWW.

Still, I haven't been to the parade in years.  I'm not good in large crowds or in direct sunlight (no, I'm not a vampire), so I've tended to avoid the parade for those reasons.  But when I did go, what used to mean the most to me was not the glad-handing politicians trying to curry favor with the gay community, the gyrating muscle boys in skimpy trunks (even though they're nice to look at), the sequined drag queens, or any of the attention-getters who seem to find their way into the newspaper/media.  To me, the most meaningful of the parade participants are groups like PFLAG, the gay and lesbian associations of police and medical professionals, and the advocacy organizations that have worked so hard to win us the equal rights and acceptance that we deserve as gay men and women. 

To me, pride is about having my partner's picture on my desk at work, letting others know how important he is to me, bringing him to the office holiday party or other events, and never feeling like I need to hide who I am.  But I'm glad that we have a parade - in Chicago and around the world - because pride is worth celebrating.  I guess I consider my pride to be a bit more subdued than a once-a-year-on-a-parade-float event.  My pride is 365/24/7.

Loyal reader...s
So even though I know that my increasing infrequency of postings has led to dwindling readership, I was surprised to learn over the weekend that my dad reads my blog.  Hi, Dad!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Update

I've previously written about Tyler Clementi here, but since I was in the throngs of preparing for our SF trip, I haven't had an opportunity to provide an update on the arraignment of the sad excuse for a human being schmuck who now stands accused of the invasion of privacy that ultimately led to Tyler's death.

Dharun Ravi - whose name shall ever be dragged in mud - was arraigned on May 23.  For a 19-year-old guy who, at one point, had so much to say about his gay roommate (including inviting his friends online to watch the webcast), he was uncharacteristically wordless during his court appearance. 

While he has not been charged with having a direct role in Tyler's suicide, in my view, Ravi's heinous actions contributed to Tyler's death by bullying him, specifically because he was gay.  If Tyler was straight, I doubt that Ravi would have set up the webcam; instead, Ravi would have happily cleared out of the room, patted Tyler on the back and high-five'd him for a job well done.  But we all know what happened instead.

Even worse, Ravi is accused of trying to get a witness to not cooperate with prosecutors, erasing text messages, and replacing his Twitter messages that encouraged his cronies to watch his webcast of Tyler.

From the New York Times:
Mr. Ravi has been accused of setting up a webcam on Sept. 19, 2010, to view Mr. Clementi without his knowledge, then going to the room of Ms. Wei to turn the camera on remotely and watch. Ms. Wei and Mr. Ravi were high school friends from Plainsboro, N.J., and lived in the same dorm at Rutgers.
“Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” said a message posted that night on Twitter that the authorities attribute to Mr. Ravi. “I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” He is accused of setting up the camera again two days later, and urging others to watch.
Posts on a gay chat site, believed to be by Mr. Clementi, show that he learned of the spying and decided to report it to a resident adviser. “I feel like it was ‘look at what a fag my roommate is,’ ” he wrote on Sept. 21, adding that Mr. Ravi’s friends seemed more upset about his having a gay roommate than about his spying.
Despicable. 

Regardless of the outcome of this trial, like his co-conspirator Molly Wei, this will plague Ravi for the rest of his life.  Any potential employer, spouse, school, bank, or credit company is going to be able to see what he did, and it will likely (negatively) affect his prospects forever.  Serves.  Him.  Frakkin'.  Right.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Musical

I'm a big fan of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (as detailed here), so when planning our recent trip to San Francisco, I just about peed my pants when we got tickets to the final preview night of the musical adaptation commissioned and presented by the American Conservatory Theater


With a tummy full of a so-so hamburger from Lori's Diner, a pocketful of lozenges to quell the hacking cough that has still not yet learned how to quit me, and a very patient hubby by my side, I climbed the several flights of stairs and settled into my (steep) balcony seat in a packed house with much excitement and - in all truth - a little trepidation.  How do you capture lightning in a bottle?

Firstly, props to ACT for an amazing set design by Douglas W. Schmidt, primarily a three-level structure with moving (up and down) platforms and screens that seamlessly alternated between 28 Barbary Lane, nightclubs, office space, and even a cliff where one seedy character meets his demise.  (Or does he...?)  The set has the perfect combination of sparseness yet believability, and was well-suited to the production.

Of the cast, my favorites included Judy Kaye (Anna Madrigal), Mary Birdsong (Mona Ramsey), and Wesley Taylor (Michael "Mouse" Tolliver).  I thought that Kaye really captured the "den mother" aspect of Anna Madrigal, and, frankly, was as much like Olympia Dukakis from the TV adaptation as I could have wanted.  And I thought that Birdsong was the free-spirited Mona to a T (including revealing her boobies on stage), and Taylor was thoroughly believable as the eternally lovelorn/lovesick Michael. 

That being said, theirs were not the strongest singing voices (although Birdsong was pretty good overall).  I thought that honor went to Betsy Wolfe (Mary Ann Singleton), who has a big brassy voice, albeit a little thin in the upper register, followed closely by Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone (DeDe Halcyon-Day).

But, IMHO - and even though I desperately wanted to like it - the weak link to the show is the music itself.  Librettist Jeff Whitty and composers John Garden and Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters did an admirable job of crafting songs that fit the story, but I felt that it generally fell flat.  When I see a musical or a concert of any sort, I want to leave humming a tune, grabbing onto a melody.  But nothing from this show really stuck for me.  Maybe I'll feel differently if they release a cast recording in the future and I can listen to it again and perhaps come to appreciate it more.  Maybe I was thinking that it would be like Wicked, and I'd immediately fall in love with it.  Or maybe I was just expecting too much.

Still, I thought it was a good show overall, and captured the essence of the first book of the series (and parts of the second), even with some artistic license. (AfterElton has a good review here.)  The hubby and I had a good discussion following the show about the viability of the production in other settings; that is, could a show that is as geographic-centric as Tales do as well in other parts of the country, even Broadway?  With some tinkering and tightening up of the music, I think it could.  What has always drawn me to Maupin's stories is how family is who you make it to be - whether blood relative or otherwise - which is the case for many gay men and women, regardless of where you live.

So, survey says, go see the show if you're in San Francisco - it's been extended to July 24.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vacation

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, including a visit from the in-laws, and my first trip to San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend.  And thanks to a partner who always does an amazing job of planning our trips, we were able to hit all the major sites, despite my having caught a doozy of a cold on the Thursday that we left ORD.  By Friday, my voice had dropped an octave, and the chills hit me on Saturday.  And I'm still hacking up a lung a week later.  And hating the taste of cough drops even more than I did before.  Bleh.

First, a word about the actual flight down there.  This was my first time flying on Continental, which included confusion about where to check in because of the merger with United, a 1.5 hour delay, and one of the most uncomfortable flights I have ever experienced.  Scrunched seating, hardly any legroom (I'm only 5'9 and my knees still backed into the seat in front of me at all times), bad service (the first time the beverage cart made an appearance was about two hours into the flight) - ugh.  Never. Again.  As it is, we only fly United when absolutely necessary, a plan to which we will continue to adhere, to the greatest extent possible.  On the flight back, we were at least able to switch to aisle seats, which was slightly better, but not much.

We stayed at the Marriot Marquis, which was very conveniently located in the Union Square area, and a stone's throw away from the Powell BART station (the commuter train from the airport, which, at $8.10 per person each way, is still cheaper than a cab or shuttle bus).  We had requested a large corner room (thanks to Matthew's research), which was far from the noise of the elevator (and foot traffic), and gave us a great view of Market Street and the gate to Chinatown a few streets up.

We took three rides on the iconic (yet expensive) cable car, which was an adventure in and of itself.  The line to get on was extraordinarily long each time, and at $5 a pop (cash only), it's not cheap.  Still, it's hard not to enjoy the open air ride (although we had seats each time), especially as you get close and personal with your neighbors when you go up and down the hills.


Ding, ding, ding went the trolley...
 Apart from the barely-passable Caesar salad from CVS (because I had a fever and couldn't go out for dinner), we ate pretty well, with an emphasis on Asian food:
  • Dinner at an otherwise empty Lichee Garden in Chinatown, where we had a fixed menu meal ($13.50 per person) which included egg rolls, wonton soup, ginger chicken, stir-fried beef, and honey roasted pork.  All in all, the food was very good, although the hostess tried to push us to get another dish that I'm sure would have cost much more.  (While we were a bit nervous about eating at a place that had no other customers, it had been recommended in a book that I perused at City Lights Bookstore earlier in the day.)
  • Dinner at Ahn Hong, a Vietnamese restaurant which is supposedly known for its seven courses of beef, but which we didn't want to try that night because it just sounded like too much beef for one sitting.  What we ordered (eggrolls, grilled beef with fried rice) was m'eh, at best, and just made us all the more grateful for our favorite Chicago option in Hoanh Long.  And the only time our waiter was actually attentive was at the end of the meal when he waited for me to sign the receipt and leave a tip.  Asshole.
  • Dim sum at Ocean Pearl in Chinatown, which was bustling with Asian faces, even on a non-holiday Tuesday at noon.  We would have been shunted to the lower level/basement seating area (which we would later find out is where they seat all the non-Asians) had my particular non-Asian not requested seating on the upper level.  We enjoyed some of the usual dim-sum suspects, including surprisingly tasty shrimp-celery-cilantro har-gow, and egg custard tarts. 
  • Lunch at Mifune in Japantown, which is part of the large Japan Center Mall that we walked to.  For $10.50 each, we got a large "combination" meal, which, for me, was a bowl of miso-flavored soup with ramen, pork and fish cakes, with six pieces of California roll sushi.
  • Brunch at Luna Park, which was recommended to me by a colleague.  With high ceilings, dark wood paneling, and a low-key vibe, this place reminded me very much of something we'd find in Wicker Park or Bucktown.  
We also took several walking tours (oy, the hills!), including Lombard Street, the Castro, Chinatown, Japantown, the Mission District, and the amazing farmers' market at Embarcadero.


This famous, winding street comes with its very own Asian tourists.


The Castro's flame burns bright.

Harvey Milk's former camera shop - which hosted his gay rights community organizing and political office campaigns - is now home to an HRC retail store and The Trevor Project's help lines for troubled teens.

And on Sunday night, we caught the last of the preview shows for the musical adaptation of Tales of the City at the American Conservatory TheaterWhile I enjoyed the show overall, I'll have more to say about it in a subsequent posting.

And by Monday I had recovered enough from my cold that we were able to rent bikes, bike over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and catch the ferry back.  An amazing - albeit chilly - bike ride.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Disgrasian

Or, as Angry Asian Man would put it:  Asians behaving badly - ex-Rutgers edition.

Tyler Clementi was a young gay man, a violinist and student at Rutgers University, when high school friends and fellow Rutgers students Molly Wei and Dharun Ravi used a webcam to record his physical encounter with another man (which was apparently just kissing), and invited others to view the broadcast as a means to publicly humiliate him.  You can read the full story here.

Tyler Clementi

When Tyler found out about what they had done, he was so distraught that he committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.  His death, along with that of several other young men who had been bullied for being (or being perceived as) gay, prompted Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, to initiate the It Gets Better Project, which now has thousands of videos of men and women encouraging young LGBT people to remain strong - and stay alive - in the face of bullying.

Wei and Ravi were both indicted on charges, and rightfully so.  In particular, Ravi has been charged with hate crimes, because he intentionally targeted Tyler because he was gay.  Earlier this month, Wei struck a deal to avoid prison time, and will testify against Ravi: 
Ms. Wei was admitted to a pretrial-intervention program, in which she must perform 300 hours of community service over the next three years, testify at any proceedings, participate in counseling to deter cyberbullying and cooperate with the authorities. If she complies, the charges against her will be dropped.
 

Her attorneys - as to be expected - say that she is not a bully, and that she simply allowed Ravi to use her computer to remotely activate the webcam in the room that Ravi and Tyler shared. 

But the fact is that when she did so, she became an accomplice to Ravi's plan to invade Tyler's privacy and bully him.  She could have said:  "Stop, this isn't right."  But she didn't, because she thought it was fun.  And now Tyler's dead.  And her reputation is mud.  And for the rest of her life, long after Ravi's trial is over, and long after the name of Tyler Clementi may have slipped from people's minds, she will still be that girl who couldn't see past her own selfishness and played a role in someone else's death.  And, thanks to the WWW, potential schools, employers and spouses are going to be able to read about her role in this for what I imagine will be the rest of her life.

Did she drive Tyler to the bridge?  No.  Did she actively tell him to kill himself?  No.  But she didn't have to.  She allowed herself and Ravi to prey on Tyler's fears of exclusion and ridicule, and that was enough - quite literally - to push him over the edge. 

Tyler's family, who knew he was gay, was far more forgiving than I would have been in the same situation:
"Actions have consequences," the Clementi family said in the statement. "We wish Ms. Wei will become a person who will make better decisions, will help people and show kindness to those she comes in contact with."
I only wish she had become that person much, much earlier.

Ravi appears in court on May 23.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wheels

I've never owned a car, and although part of me has always wanted to (including trying to convince my parents to let me have my grandfather's hand-me-down 1987 Chevy Cavalier that went from zero to 60...in about an hour), there are many times that I'm glad I don't, and that I don't have to worry about finding parking, or that I'm going to come back to my car and and find that someone has sidewiped it and driven off, or that I'm going to get hit by a driver who's too frakking busy texting that he's not paying attention to the fact that he's behind the wheel of a car.  And I'm glad not to have to pay upwards of $4.50 a gallon these days. 

But since I live in the spread-out metropolis of the Windy City, it's a little unusual for someone of my age not to have ever owned a car, especially since I don't live downtown or within walking distance of a train station.  Still, public transportation works well for me (when it works), as I get to read the newspaper, or check e-mail (or come up with blog posting ideas), and since there's now a smartphone notification system for our bus and train routes, I'm much better at timing how long I have to wait.  And in the meantime, my bike has its own parking spot in the garage, next to the snow blower and the grill and the firebowl and the garden paraphernalia and the outdoor Christmas decorations...and you get the picture.

Still, every so often, we need a car to run some errands, pick up things that can't be delivered (for a reasonable price) or borne on the bus without embarassment (because the only people who need to know the brand of toilet paper I use are me and the check-out person), make a pit stop at the hallowed Trader Joe's, or head some place in the evening that would make it challenging (and/or expensive) to get home by public transit or cab.  So when the need arises, we head to our local Enterprise - as we did this weekend - and tool around town doing all the things that we don't normally have a chance to do without a car.

This weekend's wheels: a red Chevy Cobalt.  Not exactly my favorite car, but couldn't beat the rental price.

Like visit some of our favorite haunts, including Hoanh Long.  We discovered this Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall restaurant a few years when we lived in the neighborhood (sort of).  We were walking back from a lazy Sunday afternoon in the Borders where we had been hogging a cafe table at Borders while driving them into bankruptcy, and found this little place.  Best. Vietnamese. Food. Ever.  If you go - which I highly recommend you do - you should try numbers 1 (seafood egg rolls), 19 (marinated beef with rice noodles and fresh herbs that you roll up with rice paper wrappers and lettuce - messy to eat, but awesomely delicious), and 54 (squid in the house Hoanh Long sauce, whose heat can be tempered to your liking; we normally ask for mild because of my delicate palate). 

Or do our best impression of surbanites by making a stop at Woodfield Mall.  I hadn't been to Woodfield Mall in about ten years, and I can't say that I would miss it if we didn't go back for another ten years - the place is a mad house, and I cannot begin to imagine how crazy it must be at Christmas time.  But the real reason we went to Woodfield was to try out Todai, a Japanese buffet.  Chinese buffets are pretty common (especially in Toronto where I grew up, and where the competition is cutthroat), but it's rarer to find other Asian buffets, especially in the Chicago area, which doesn't have such a large Asian population.  So when I read about Todai, I knew we had to make the trek to Schaumburg.  Overall, Todai was not bad at all.  A pretty good selection of sushi (including salmon and red tuna sashimi, the ubiquitous California roll, and a surprisingly good "Hawaiian" sushi of pineapple, avocado and grilled salmon), hot foods (including shrimp tempura, pork gyoza, and chicken teriyaki), and - by Asian buffet standards - some wonderful dessert squares (mango mousse cake, tiramisu and cheesecake).  If I had one complaint, it was that the green tea ice cream seemed rather bland.  And then I just about lost my lunch when I had to pay nearly $30 for 5 gallons of gas.

So after a weekend of running around town, shopping, attending a birthday party, a food smorgasbord, and the (relative) freedom that comes from having a car, I was happy to drive the rental back to its home, and relinquish the keys.  And while I know we're going to need a car when we have a child, for the meanwhile, I'm happy to remain four wheels lighter.

Or at least until we run out of toilet paper.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Culture

(Apologies if you have already seen this, but this is actually a re-posting of something I wrote on Wednesday, before Blogger decided to have a complete system-wide brain fart and erased it.)

It was a relatively quiet weekend, the first that neither of us have had to work in a while, so we took advantage of it and went to see "Water for Elephants," which is based on the book of the same title.


 


M'eh. 

It was fine, but nothing extraordinary.  Maybe something got lost in translation from book to screen.  Not having read the book, I can't say.

But what I will say is that I definitely do not see what apparently most of the world sees in Robert Pattinson (or Taylor Lautner, for that matter).  Maybe it's because I'm not a pre-pubescent teenage girl who screams for Team Edward or Team Jacob, because Pattinson don't do nothing for me.  He just seemed kinda one-note to me throughout the entire thing.  And there was a definite lack of on-screen chemistry between him and Reese.  (But certainly not as bad as the cold-fish romance between Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns, even though I love the movie itself.)  But, hey, Rosie the elephant was cool.

And after a dreary Saturday, the sun came out on Sunday, and with it, our first bike ride of the season.  A few miles from us is an extensive bike and running trail through the forest preserves, which goes for about 20 miles each way.   And while it lacks the view - and eye candy - of the Lake Shore bike trail, I enjoy the shaded path and less traffic.  Ten miles round trip wasn't bad for a first-time-for-the-season ride, although I certainly felt the burn in my quads the next day.

And on Monday night, we took in a concert of classical chamber music, put on by the organization for which I used to work.  It was music by French composers, none of whom I was really familiar with, other than the Poulenc trio for trumpet, horn and trombone, which I had heard before, but never played. 

The thing is that I find myself not going for the music.  For me, it's more about the people.  It was my first job out of grad school, and while I had a musical education, I knew nothing about development.  So, I learned everything on the job.  And while it was stressful, and I put in far too many hours for far too little money, I really got to connect with many people, not just colleagues, but also board members and individual audience members.  And every once in a while, I attend a concert because it's like a shot in the arm - still being recognized, despite having left for another job more than four years ago. And though it made a long day even longer, it was still a great way to end it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vegetables

With four green and two yellow zucchini, and two sweet onions in the crisper, this weekend I decided to make a batch of grilled vegetables to accompany whatever I would be cooking for dinner this week.  I've been using this concoction for so long that I don't really even know the measurements anymore, so I'm providing these as guidelines, depending on the volume of vegetables you have.  This recipe works great with sweet peppers (e.g. red, green, or other colors), although you could use any combination of vegetables you'd like (broccoli, asparagrus, etc.).

Balsamic-vinegar grilled vegetables
  • Equal parts of balsamic vinegar and olive oil (1.5 ounces of each was enough for the vegetables on hand)
  • Enough dijon mustard to allow the vinegar and oil to emulsify (or they will just separate when the vegetables are marinating)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Herb seasoning of your choice (I used a combination of two teaspoons each of dried thyme and rosemary, combined and crushed in a mortar and pestle; you could also forego the herbs and add paprika instead)
  • 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic (not minced/sliced) (This depends on the amount of vegetables - and how much you want to be kissed/avoided in the morning)

Combine all marinating ingredients above and whisk until the vinegar and oil are emulsified.  Chop your vegetables into pieces that are still large enough to be skewered, and toss with the marinade.  Allow the vegetables to sit for 30 minutes or so, and toss occasionally to re-distribute the marinade.  Skewer the vegetables, and pour the remaining liquid into a small bowl.  Grill the vegetable skewers on each side for about 4 minutes, basting with the marinade on both sides.

I love how easy it is to crank these vegetables out, and how versatile they are.  They're great on their own as a side dish or salad, or chopped into smaller pieces and tossed with pasta.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Check-up

My office hosts a wellness check-up every two years, which essentially consists of a blood draw and analysis, and a health survey that tells me what I should be doing (exercising, and not surfing the WWW), versus what I shouldn't be doing (snacking on cheese and crackers, rather than carrots and celery).  It's pretty basic stuff, and while it doesn't replace my annual physical, I still participate because it's incredibly convenient (and a hell of a lot easier to get to than my doctor's office), and I get the results in a package that provides a comparison from the prior test two years ago.  Plus, it's covered by my health plan, with no co-pay.  And even though I love my personal doctor, she doesn't always have time to explain the results from my physical. 

So the bad news is that my triglycerides are still out of whack - 159 (rather than below 150) - and my overall fatness body mass index is 27 (rather than between 18-25), and has not changed since the last test.  Yes, ladies and gents, it's no secret that I could stand to lose 20 pounds.  And many, many more.

However, the good news is good on multiple fronts.  First, the guy who drew my blood did so very painlessly and did not go spelunking for a vein.  (This has happened to me in the past - not fun.)  And even though it was painless, I still couldn't watch as he filled up two vials with my red stuff.  And that's why I'm a fundraiser, and not a doctor.

Secondly, I appear to be in relatively good health (and I use the term "relatively" lightly) for someone who doesn't belong to a gym and who doesn't have an active dieting plan.  Well, unless you call "eat what you want until you're full" a dieting plan.  My blood pressure on the day of the test was 108/78 (below the recommended upper limit of 139/89), my good (HDL) cholesterol reading is five points above the lowest limit (yes, this is a good thing), and my total cholesterol reading is almost 40 points below the recommended limit.  And though my triglycerides are still higher than recommended, I've managed to bring them down a full 30 points since the last time the test was taken, which I attribute to actually getting off my butt and doing something.
 
Screw the apple.  Temptation looks good in a bag.

Why the higher-than-regulation triglycerides?  Well, I know I could be better at managing what I eat.  Though I eat a lot - as detailed here, for example - I have been trying to have the "bad" things in moderation.  Still, I'm addicted to salt, and my bad triglycerides can probaby be attributed to my love of chips, a habit which I cannot seem to break.  And though I do not really have a sweet tooth, I don't turn down dessert nearly as often as I should.

But I like to think that these vices are balanced out by the fact that I don't smoke (never have, never will), don't drink alcohol (see last week's post) or coffee (since 1996) or soda (for about three months, which was less of a conscious decision than a we-ran-out decision), and have been curtailing my love of orange juice over the past few years by diluting it almost equally with water to cut down on the sugar intake.  Add to that the 6-10 weekly miles I have been averaging since getting back my running legs a few weeks ago, and I think I will be able to get both triglycerides and BMI under the recommended limits.  

Just give me another year or so.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tea-totaler

So I'm a (gay) man of a certain age who has never had a beer or any type of alcohol.  Not even a glass of wine.

Does that make me a unicorn?  Or Mormon?

Let me preempt your rush to judgment that I'm religious (god, no!), or recovering from something.  (Sadly, the only thing I'm addicted to is salt.)  I have no moral or ethical reasons for not drinking alcohol.  I don't care if others drink themselves under the table.  Like tattoos and piercings, alcohol is fine with other people - I just choose not to.  And though I use a bit of wine in cooking (how else do I deglaze a pan and make a good sauce?) and baking (my eggnog cheesecake would not be the same without a little brandy), it's never in large quantities.

We never had much alcohol in the house growing up.  My parents would have the occasional glass of wine, and while I'm sure I must have tried it at some point along the way, I never had any interest in having more.  And throughout high school, none of my friends at the time seemed to be interested in alcohol.  Or perhaps they were, and I was wholly oblivious to it.  (Which is - in all honesty - more likely the case, since I was oblivious to much outside of music and swimming.)

Even when I went to college - completely liberated from home and parents - I never explored alcohol (even though I would have welcomed anything to dull the pain of living in the dorms).  Why?  Well, I remember a dorm party that ended with a drunkard finding his way to my secluded corridor in the basement and throwing up in our common kitchen (and which didn't get cleaned up until the next day - bleh).  Or the garbage cans that were thrown down the stairwell from the seventh floor to the first floor lobby, leaving a disgusting mess.  So I decided that I would get my kicks some other way.

But I think what really kept me from drinking was that I was terrified that I would accidentally out myself if I got drunk.  Even though I was living in a very liberal city, in a very liberal college, among very liberal friends and colleagues (who probably knew way before I told them), I was worried that my family would somehow find out that I was gay before I had the opportunity to tell them, however irrational that fear may have been at the time.  And lord knows, Asian men can't hold their liquor, so I was afraid that it would be one beer and I would be dancing on the tables and professing my love for broad shoulders and a hairy chest to the world.

But even after I had come out to my family, it seemed almost pointless to try.  And now, having chosen not to drink alcohol for such a long time, I almost feel like an old dog who can't learn any new tricks.  Maybe it's pride at having gone this long.  Maybe I'm just so frakking uptight that I can't bear the thought of ever losing control. 

So these days, I am happily the designated driver by default, and casual observer of what people do when they get tipsy or drunk.  Because it can be funny sometimes to watch the chatty drunks, and sleepy drunks, and obnoxiously-loud drunks, and dude-you're-invading-my-personal-space drunks.

And then I go back to nursing my orange juice.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meatballs

There are things that are good when blocked.  Like leaking pipes.  Or holes in canoes, or dams for that matter.  Spam e-mail or telemarketers.  Bad memories.  People who try to friend me on Facebook simply as a means to boost their friend count.  The kids who used to use our backyard as a shortcut, until we installed our six-foot fence.  Faux News.

And then there are things that aren't so good when they're blocked.  Toilets.  Arteries.  The end of our driveway, by the morons who are apparently blind, and oblivious to the fact that they're blocking a driveway (which has also happened when friends of ours had parked their car in our driveway).  The doors to a Wal-Mart on Black Friday.  The doors to a crowded train, by the idiots who don't move out of the way for those trying to get on or off.

Or my writing. 

Not sure what it is, but I've hit a bit of a blogging dry spell over the past week and a bit, hence the radio silence.  And the crickets chirping.  Plenty going on in the world and in my life, but the writing has not been forthcoming.  And I always feel that I should write something of substance, hence the four half-finished draft posts in my virtual outbox because I'm horrified by their tragic awfulness at the start.

But, over the weekend, with a morning run out of the way, a partner occupied by work, and several discs of Battlestar Galactica beckoning, I put in a few hours in the kitchen to process some food for the week and catch up with Starbuck, Apollo and Adama.  And with the dearth of snarky humor, adoption-related postings, or other musings, I will simply share with you with my recipe for meatballs, which is based on a Mark Bittman recipe.

2 lbs of ground beef (or any other ground meat, like pork or turkey, or any combination thereof; I use 95% lean beef, which is good for lower fat content, but requires more seasoning for taste)
1 cup of bread crumbs
1 cup of light cream (or milk)
1 half-cup of raisins (if they're hard, soak them in warm water for a few minutes to revive them)
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Other herbs and/or seasonings of your choice (the Bittman recipe calls for parsley, of which I am not a huge fan; I added some Worchestershire sauce instead)

Soak the bread crumbs in the cream for 5 minutes.  Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and form into the meatball size of your choice (I prefer walnut-sized meatballs - they cook faster and are easier to eat).  Brown the meatballs on all sides in a non-stick pan for just a few minutes - they don't have to be cooked all the way through, because they'll finish in whatever type of sauce you make.  I love adding raisins to these meatballs, as they add a moist sweetness to the mix.  These proportions of ingredients make about 50-60 meatballs, which, in our household, is enough for two five meals.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cupcakes

In my division at the office, we like to take the time to celebrate each other's birthdays, even when things are crazy (as they currently are while in preparations for our big annual event).  We try to surprise each other, but most of the time the surprisee can generally see it coming from a mile away.  (An unexpected meeting - why, sure!) 

This past week it was yours truly's turn to ante up the goods.  Now, I still feel a bit guilty from last year's cake fiasco for this particular colleague, because, in all honesty, what I made wasn't very good.  I had tried out a recipe for the first time for a dark chocolate cake with ganache frosting, but neither turned out very well:  the cake was dry, and the frosting ended up being very heavy.  And while I love my colleagues for not complaining, I've had baking anxieties ever since.  Don't know why - probably Asian guilt.

So this year, in the midst of work craziness, I know I could have simply bought something to ease the panic.  But I didn't, because I still have my pride.  And something to prove.

So the question was - what to make?  Fortunately the birthday surprisee had reminded me earlier in the week (in an unrelated conversation) that she has given up chocolate for Lent.  Or maybe she just told me that as a pre-emptive strike against any re-attempt at the tragic chocolate brick that I produced last year.

I had bought a bag of limes at Trader Joe's the prior week (as I like to have either lemons or limes on hand in case a recipe calls for them), and had a few of them left, so I found myself fixated on producing (non-Key) lime cupcakes.  And a brief search on the WWW led me to make these lime-coconut cupcakes with mango frosting.


I can't take credit for the recipes, to which I've linked above.  The lime-coconut cupcake actually comes with a recipe with a white chocolate frosting, which I would have liked to have tried, but didn't, because (a) chocolate was verboten this time around, and (b) I don't stock white chocolate in my pantry on a regular basis. (Oh, and I added a few drops of green food coloring to the cupcake batter in keeping with the lime theme.)

But what I can take credit for is the half-assed frosting job.  Seriously, I simply suck at frosting.  It's probably because I don't have the right tools (wah, wah, woe is me), and, since I don't make cakes and things that need frosting on a regular basis, I don't get a lot of practice.  This frosting's sad story is that I made it the night before the cupcakes, then microwaved it for a few seconds after it had been in the fridge overnight to get it to a spreadable consistency.  I dug out my cheapo, rarely-used frosting kit, lined the inside with a funnel of wax paper (which really helps cut down on the clean-up), and got it all filled with frosting and ready to make wonderfully big swirls of mango-flavored buttery and sugary heaven...only to find that all my available tips were too small.  Sigh.  It's been that long since I've used the frosting kit that I had forgotten its shortcomings. 

And so the stupendously horrible frosting job above was accomplished with the back of a spoon with a few passes of a four-inch spatula that was really not helpful.  But since I had filled the frosting bag already, I was at least able to use it to put a little rosette at the top to help stabilize the slice of lime for presentation.

But in spite of the sad looking frosting, the cupcakes themselves were a hit.  My taste tester - as biased as he may be - said that they were among the best cupcakes he had ever had, and everyone at work seemed to really enjoy them.  The coconut helps add moisture to the cupcake, and even though I am not a huge fan of frosting (neither eating nor manipulating), the mango added a bit of fruity tang that made it quite pleasant.

Redemption!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Obsession

A few random things that have been spinning around in my head of late:

Adoption - Ya think?  See here, here, and here

Brown rice - I've only recently discovered brown rice, and I like it, both for the nuttier taste and the fact that it's healthier than white rice.  But I find that I can't eat it plain, like I can white rice - plain brown rice just ends up feeling too heavy or chewy - so I've been mixing it with white rice in equal parts, which seems to be manageable for our household.  But I've read that it spoils faster than white rice (due to the oils in the outer coating that is otherwise removed for white rice), so I've been rotating our stock regularly.


Downton Abbey - I just found the first season of this Masterpiece Theatre show on streaming Netflix, and I can't get enough of it, so I'm going to be really sad when I finish the last episode of this seven-part series and have to wait for the second season (which hasn't even started filming yet, from what I've heard).  I'm a sucker for a good period piece, and this one has all the makings of a great soap opera, set in 1920s England.  It follows Lord Grantham, his American wife, and their three daughters, and the staff that manage the estate, including the conniving footman, Thomas (Rob James-Collier), who's in love with a duke.


It also features the incomparable Maggie Davis.  But she's not as pretty to look at as Rob.

2010 Kennedy Center Honors: Tribute to Jerry Herman - So I think I'm about to lose even more gay street cred here by admitting that I actually didn't know who Jerry Herman is until I saw last year's Kennedy Center Honors on TV.  Of course, I knew a few tunes from Mame (having seen our friend, Patrick, in a touring production a few years back), but I didn't know or remember Herman by name.  Of all the Center tributes last year, I think this one was by far the best.  Matthew Morrison - say what you will about his freakishly thick, apparently-Lubriderm-styled hair, but the man can dance and sing.  And Christine Ebersole and Christine Baranski are always a riot.  The only weak spot in this segment is poor Matthew Bomer, who's a cutie-patootie (and apparent member of the religion), but really can't hold up his end of the deal in his duo.  It's worth a watch to the end, particularly when the curtain raises on the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C.




I've been watching this at least two to three times a week on my commute home since I found on the clip on YouTube, even though it annoys the crap outta me when we hit a cell phone dead zone and it freezes up on my phone.

2010 Kennedy Center Honors: Tribute to Paul McCartney - I didn't care much for the McCartney tribute, except for this last segment, featuring James Taylor and Mavis Staples.  To me, the best part was seeing the entire audience up on their feet, waving those little blue lights together.  Awesome.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Process

So - where do we go from here?

Having officially joined the waiting adoptive family list, we're very relieved.  And a little anxious.  But sending out good vibes into the universe.  And here's a continuation of my terminology experiment as a way to guide my explanation of what happens next in the process.

The wait:  Until this past year or so, the average wait time between married and same-gender families for placement of a child was about the same, although we've been told that it's now 20 months for a same-gender family, and 14 months for a married couple.  But it could also happen much faster, or take longer - it really depends on if and when our profile falls into the right hands, and we become part of a...

Match:  From the long profiles (see my prior posting) of those families who agree to be presented as "finalists," the birthmother chooses an adoptive family for her child, without having met any families in person.  The decision is entirely hers to make (but only if she chooses to make it), and, at that point, you're considered to be in a match.  I had initially thought that it would be like a job interview - a birthmother would meet with several prospective families and then make a selection - but I think this way is probably better, in that it would be far too emotionally draining, both for the birthmother and the prospective adoptive parents to go through that.  (Families who are not selected at this stage are "released" back into the waiting family pool.  This may happen several times before a match occurs, so you can imagine the roller coaster of emotion that occurs each time you know you're being considered as a finalist, but not knowing if you're going to be chosen.  We've been told that the average wait time between the long profile being presented and a choice being made is generally a week.)

A match could happen at various points in a birthmother's pregnancy, typically in the third trimester, or it may happen after her child is born.  From my understanding, we would then have two in-person match meetings with her - the first being "getting to know you" (although she would know a lot about us already, having most likely read our long profile many, many times over), and the second to discuss other adoption-related items, such as the level of openness in the adoption; the amount and regularity of contact; and maybe even potential names.  Both of these meetings will be facilitated by Cradle staff.

If a birthmother does not want an open adoption - or if she does, but her circumstances or feelings about it change in the future - the match meeting could potentially be the one-and-only time that we get to meet her in person, so we know that it will be important for us to learn as much as we can about the birthmother so we can tell our child about her in the future. 

72 hours:  By Illinois state law, the birthmother cannot sign the legal paperwork making her adoption plan official until after 72 hours has passed after giving birth to her child.  She can, of course, take longer, if she is still mulling her options.  Until we actually go through this ourselves, I can only imagine what that period of waiting is going to feel like.  Once the papers are signed, the birthmother's decision is irreversible and cannot be challenged by law.

Change of heart:  It's a reality that a birthmother could potentially change her mind and decide to parent her child, even after having selected an adoptive family.  We're aware that there is always this possibility before the paperwork is signed, but of all the emotional ups-and-downs that may occur, I think this might be the most challenging.  But it is the birthmother's decision to make, and we respect that.

Placement:  This will be the moment that we take placement of our child - and when our lives will change forever.  I've been purposefully trying to avoid thinking about this in emotional terms, because I know it's going to be both amazing and mind-boggling at the same time, and I don't want to let myself go there - at least for now - because I think that it might add to my anxiety about this whole process. Logistically, one thing I'd like to at least try is to get someone else to come with us and record/photograph the placement, because I think that: (a) I'm going to be a wreck and probably unable to hold a video camera with a steady hand; and (b) I don't want to miss a single moment of it while trying to capture it on film!

At the request of the birthmother, and with guidance from Cradle staff, we may have the opportunity for a direct placement from the hospital, meaning that we could potentially take placement of a child shortly after birth, and before the 72-hour window has passed.  This will be a tough decision to make (for everyone - see change of heart above), although the birthmother does have the option of placing her child in the Cradle's on-site nursery until she has finalized her plans.  Should that happen, we would take placement at the Cradle itself, if and when the paperwork has been signed.  The adoption becomes official six months after placement.

And - should everything go well - that's how we would become dads.  Perhaps I'm not feeling as anxious as other waiting parents may be, but I think I'm definitely feeling a sense of powerlessness in this whole process, in that we don't know if and when a match will occur.  While we can - and will - do our best to get the word out there and network (because you never know if your dentist's son's neighbor's niece's BFF might be pregnant and considering an adoption plan for her child, and wants a really fantastic gay couple - like us! - to adopt her child), the decision is entirely up to the birthmother to make.  And so it's hard not to look at our fellow waiting families and feel slightly "competitive" (for lack of a better word); it's hard not to second-guess our profiles or photos if we're not getting chosen, but others are; and it's hard not having any control, when we have (or like to believe we have) so much control in other areas of our life.

So, in the meantime, we're going to keep busy.  Reading books about babies and parenting.  Getting around to setting up that Facebook group page we've seen other waiting families do.  Spreading the word about our plans to adopt.  Living life. 

And blogging about it ad nauseum.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Terminology

Firstly, thanks to everyone for your wonderful response - primarily through Facebook - to my news of our plans to build our family through adoption.  We're fortunate to have many wonderful friends in our lives, and it means a lot to me to know that we have your support. 

Secondly, I'm sorry for the long delay in posting something new.  I have much admiration (and a little bit of jealousy) of those who have the discipline to sit down and write - something, anything! - on a regular basis.  For me, the creative energy seems to come in fits and starts - hence the three postings in a row two weeks ago, followed by...deadly, reader-decreasing silence.  Truth be told, I've been feeling a bit "tapped out" lately, in the sense that we had been putting in so much effort into officially joining the list of waiting families that once it actually happened, I just needed a break for a bit. 

So, in coming back to the blog, I thought it might be helpful to perhaps explain a bit about how we got to where we are, not only documenting our process for myself as a creative outlet, but maybe also to provide a window into what it means to become an adoptive family - both from a logistical and emotional perspective.

As I said in my last posting, we've both wanted to be dads for as long as we can remember.  And over the past few years, we've taken steps to get to the "right" place to become dads.  From a purely material standpoint, that meant a house - because we wanted to more space and a backyard for our child - and working our way up our respective career ladders to a point where we feel stable in our jobs.  And though we had been researching it over the years, we hadn't taken any actual steps in kickstarting the adoption process until last year, when we said to ourselves - what are we waiting for?

We've been asked by some if we had considered surrogacy.  The simple answer is yes:  we considered it, and decided that it wasn't for us.  Adoption has always felt like it was the right path for us in building our family.  And domestic adoption is the only option that's available for male couples these days.  Many countries don't allow same-gender adoption, and regulations have been tightened around the world, making it more difficult (and lengthy) even for married straight couples to adopt internationally.

So, thanks to my partner's thorough research, we learned that there are three agencies in the Chicago area that work with same-gender families in domestic adoption situations.  Two of them each hosted an "open house," which I would recommend to anyone who is even remotely interested in adopting, domestically or internationally - just to get a sense of how the process works.  Our first session was with The Cradle in Evanston.  Truth be told, we immediately felt comfortable with the agency, even though we were there just for the first time.  The other agency, whose open house we attended a few weeks later, did not instill as much confidence in us, although we appreciated the speaker's candor about the emotional ups-and-downs that come with the waiting process.  And after experiencing these two (and liking The Cradle as much as we do), we didn't even bother trying to set up anything with the third agency.

And so we officially signed up to become Cradle clients.  It's a bit difficult to boil down a year's worth of effort into logical format (well, it's either that, or my brain is mush tonight), so I'm going frame it around some adoption terminology:

Adoptive family counselor:  As soon as we signed up, we were assigned an adoptive family counselor who guides families through the process of being prospective adoptive parents.  Over the course of the year, we met with our counselor several times, both jointly and individually, during which time she walked us through the process step-by-step, assessed our potential to be adoptive parents, and really helped us think through what it would mean to adopt as a same-gender, mixed-race couple.

Birthmother/birthparent:  I had always had in my mind that a birthmother might be on the younger side, so I was surprised to learn that while the typical age range for a birthmother is 18-26, they can range anywhere from early teens to late-thirties (or older), depending on her situation.  I was also surprised to learn that many birthmothers are already parenting.  Each birthmother who approaches our agency is assigned a counselor who helps guide her through the process of what it means to make an adoption plan for her child.  We learned that birthparent counselors need to be extremely mobile and flexible, as they have to meet birthmothers several times in what might be a wide geographic range. 

Open adoption:  Our hope is to have an open adoption, where our family would have an ongoing relationship with our child's birthmother (and/or birthfather), with regular contact.  Everything we've heard or read about open adoption has confirmed for us how important it is for an adopted child to have that connection to his/her birthfamily. We believe that knowing her birthparents will help our child know her background - medical, family or otherwise; our child will never have questions about where he came from, because he'll be able to ask his birthfamily.   But we also recognize that an open adoption might not be an option for us, depending on the circumstances.  And that's all part of the life-long journey of adoption.  An open adoption doesn't mean shared parenting, by any means.  The adoptive parents are the parents - there is never any question of that.  It just means that there are more people to love our child, and s/he will always know where s/he came from.

DCFS License:  Working with an agency is not only meant to help educate us about adoption, but also to get us licensed by the state's Department of Child and Family Services.  Because adoptions are not made official until at least six months after placement, any adoptive family has to be licensed by DCFS because you're technically taking an "unrelated child" into your home (even though the child is yours through placement by the adoption agency).  As part of the licensing process, we had to attend several hours/days of in-person classes and sessions (including infant/child CPR certification), several online courses, and a home study, in which our counselor came to our house and made sure that we had a safe environment with adequate space for a child.  (Which we do.  In case you were wondering.  And, as a point of pride, it's "immaculately clean," according to our write-up.)  To me, the most useful of the in-person classes was a session on what it might mean to parent a child that may have been exposed to several risk factors in utero.  I thought the presenter's advice was very helpful - for any parent.  For example, he said that babies sometimes need to "take a breather" from too much stimuli.  If you're constantly trying to get your baby's attention, s/he might start giving signs that it's too much - like averting his/her gaze elsewhere, coughing or sneezing, eventually escalating to crying - and that you just need to give your baby a moment to relax and regroup.  I would never have known...

Short profile:  Most birthmothers participate in the process of choosing an adoptive family for her child.  The first step is to look through the waiting family album, which is filled with two-page profiles of (licensed) families that meet her criteria (and vice versa).  She could be looking for a family that already has children, a same-gender family that lives in the city, a married couple that has no pets, or a family that sits down for a meal together every night - it's really all up to her.  And so part of our work was to compile this short profile as a way to introduce ourselves through words and photos - who we are as individuals and as a couple, and to provide a snapshot of our lives.  We don't know what might trigger in a birthmother that "connection" to us - she could have a gay best friend, or share my love of all things Buffy, or have a voracious sweet tooth like Matthew.  Regardless, we tried to tell our life story as authentically and as openly as we could.

Long profile:  After going through the family album, the birthmother will typically select five to six families about whom she wants to know more.  At this point, if we are lucky to be among this small group (whom I've nicknamed as "finalists"), we would be contacted by our counselor who would let us know more about the birthmother's circumstances and confirm if we wanted to have our long profile presented.  In our case, our long profile is a multi-page book that provides more detailed information and about 40 different photos that encapsulate who we are.  Our long profile took about three months to put together, although we had been working on the text and gathering photos even before then.  (My advice to anyone thinking about domestic adoption - start taking photos now.  Many, many photos, because the more you take, the more you have to choose for your profile as representative of your life together.)  And the long profile is how the birthmother makes her choice for an adoptive family - even before a face-to-face meeting.

There are many more steps and much more to tell, including what happens for us next, now that we're officially a waiting family, but I'll save that for the next posting.  If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments, and I'll answer as many of them to the best of my ability and (limited) knowledge.  Thanks for reading.