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Maksim and the Application

Maksim has been wanting to find a job. He wants the extra spending money, mostly, because he wants to buy more advanced editing programs and equipment to feed his YouTube video habit. (His channel is here, if you're interested: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbXLjLnKrmXIcFbsCA6suqg) He also wants to save money for college. (Go him!)

However, he's only fourteen, and most places don't hire until sixteen.  But the local grocery store has put out a sign that says they're hiring, and they hire courtesy clerks (baggers) as young as fourteen.  Maksim got excited.  He applied on-line, per their instructions, and also wrote an optional cover letter. He submitted it, and now we wait.

Fingers crossed!

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Unexpected Art Fair, with Pokemon

Over the weekend, I was called upon to run an errand to the outskirts Ann Arbor.  Darwin came along to keep me company.  After the errand was completed, we realized we were both starving, and downtown Ann Arbor has a great many wonderful restaurants.  We grab a quick bite there before going home.

Oh boy.

When we arrived, we ran smack into Art Fair.  Art Fair is Ann Arbor's annual massive street fair, and it takes over the entire downtown area. It's more than booths of artists--it's music and shows and street performers and political demonstrations and food.  It also means all the parking gets sucked up.

I thought Art Fair had already happened.  Otherwise, I would have suggested we just head home. By the time we realized what was going on, it was easier just to pay for parking and make a go of it.

By sheer accident, we passed by the building where my friend Sarah Zettel rents office space.  She's self-employed as a fiction writer and could work at home, but she finds going to an office both gets her out of the house and makes her more productive.  "Oh!" I said as Darwin and I passed the building.  "Here's the place where Sarah works.  Oh!  There's Sarah!"  She was visible through the window.

We knocked gently on the glass and made genteel faces at her, but nonetheless startled the bejabbers out of her because she was so deep into her writing.  Against all probabililty and better judgement, she let us in and we chatted a bit before Darwin and I moved on for supper.

After a tasty dinner at the Grizzly Pub, we were ready to head back home, but it turned out that Darwin had never visited Art Fair before.  Well!  We had rectify that.

We strolled among the booths, admiring the artwork.  The crowd was shockingly light for a Saturday.  We (and Sarah) suspected it was the heat--90s all day, with bright sun.  Things were cooling down a bit now, though.

I realized I was actually on a mission. I drink a lot of tea, but my teapot has a badly-designed spout that dribbles each time you pour.  I wanted a better one, and Art Fair is a good place to find something stylish.

I also played Pokemon Go.

Downtown Ann Arbor is RIFE with wild Pokemon for the catching. It's also packed with Pokespots and gyms.  For some reaosn, Drowzees kept showing up.  A powerful Pokemon called a Haunted showed up, but it escaped me, darn it.  (I learned from Aran that they're very hard to catch.)  I ended up with twenty-odd more monsters.  This alternately exasperated and amused Darwin, who doesn't understand the phenomenon.  I've actually had nothing to do with Pokemon until this app came out, and I kind of like it.  It's not something I go out of my way to play, but it's amusing to do on a visit to a new place or when I'm standing in line or in the car (when someone else is driving).  When you play, you become alert to other people playing.  Darwin is convinced it's a fad for children, but I kept pointing out other players as we passed, all of them well over 25. A trio outside a party store was posing for pictures while they caught whatever monster they found in the parking lot.  I like it.  It starts conversations with new people, it gets people outside, and it draws your attention to local landmarks.

Anyway, we examined and rejected a number of teapots (along with other art), and finally found a very nice one, reasonably priced, at Heron Pottery. Note the heron design on the side and the top:



I like it very much.

We also got ice cream, and still marveled at the light crowd.  But hey--it made life easier for us.  We only checked out a couple blocks, though. It was time to go home.

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The LED Update

A few months ago, Darwin and I started replacing the incandescent light bulbs in our house with LEDs. LEDs are expensive, and we couldn't afford to do it all at once, so we bought a bunch of LEDs and slotted them in as the incandesents burned out.  We also flatly replaced the lights we used most often with LEDs.

Darwin, who is in charge of bills, reported that our electric bill has dropped by about $25 per month.  If that remains consistent, the LEDs we're using so far will save us about $300 per year.  And we're using markedly less electricity, which always to the good.

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Cedar Point

Wednesday, I went to Cedar Point.

It's nice having a world-class amusement park only a couple hours away from your house.  However, the last few times I've gone to Cedar Point, it's always been with . . . complications.  See, I like roller coaster.  Darwin (and Kala, when we were married) doesn't.  Maksim and Aran flatly refuse to discuss the idea.  Sasha ran hot and cold--willing to try one moment, running away the next.

This meant when we went to Cedar Point as a family, I was in a group of people who refused to do anything I wanted to do.  I was always stuck doing wimpy-ass little rides.  There were a few times when we'd say, "Okay, let's split up and meet back here for supper," but because the lines were long, that always meant I got through maybe two roller coasters before having to head back.

So this year, I announced I was going to Cedar Point on Wednesday.  "I'm going to ride roller coasters all day.  Anyone who wants to come with me, can, but keep in mind that I'm doing what =I= want to do.  So we'll be splitting up the whole day if you don't want to ride roller coasters."

After some discussion among themselves, everyone elected to stay--except Sasha.  Sasha wanted to come partly because he wanted to get out of his apartment and partly because he wanted to work on his semi-fear of roller coasters.

All right, then.

I picked him up bright and early Wednesday morning and we drove down.

It was a delightfully perfect day, weather-wise: sunny and low 80s.  I also splurged for the Fast Pass option, which let us be the elite snooties-snoots who bypassed most of the lines.

Okay, I know this creates a two-tier system of customers, and that people who can afford the extra are allowed yet more privilege.  But man--speaking as someone who has, all his life, been the one who couldn't afford the extra, it was wonderful to get it this time.  It slashed the waiting time for rides from hours to minutes.  It meant that on this day, when I wanted to make up for riding all those roller coasters, I was able to do it, over and over.  I loved it, unapologetically.  So did Sasha.

The Valravn, Cedar Point's new showpiece, was a fantastic ride.  It's the highest, fastest, steepest dive coaster in the world.  It's also a suspension coaster, meaning your feet hang over nothing and you can see everything beneath.  At the top of the first Everest-sized hill, the train comes to a stop for three seconds, dangling you over the edge so you can see how far down it all is.  Then--whoosh!

The Gatekeeper.  The Raptor.  Sasha and I rode them all in some serious father-son bonding.  Sasha got over his fear of roller coasters (though he wouldn't go on the Power Tower).  The only coaster we passed on was the Dragster, and that was because it broke down four times while we were at the park--once while we were in line for it--and we didn't want to risk it.  It was a great day!

We agreed the Mean Streak needs to go--it's a spine-jarring, tooth-chipping monster, and when you're on it, all you can think is, "When will this end?"

We rode other rides, too--the train, the giant swings.  Sasha rode the Witch's Wheel.  (I love spinning rides, but they make me sick now, to my eternal despair.)  The Fast Pass let us ride over and over, enjoying the rides and each other's company immensely.

The unexpected centerpiece of the day was the Iron Dragon, though.

The Dragon has become irrelevant.  It was the first suspension roller coaster in America, but now such coasters are common-place and the Iron Dragon has become dull.  Sasha and I shrugged our way through the ride, and when we got off, we found a booth that proclaimed the park was re-jiggering the Dragon with virtual reality.  They were looking for beta-testers.  If you wanted to sign up, they would assign you a time slot.  The ride would close at 6:00, you showed up at your time, and you gave it a go.

We signed up.

At the appointed time, we climbed up to the coaster platform with the other testers.  The workers handed us white VR helmets.  There was a moment of concern when the worker told me I couldn't wear my glasses under it, but she showed me a focus knob on the front and assured me I'd be able to adjust it as I needed.  Okay, then.

Sasha and I climbed into the car and pulled on our helmets.  (They were cushioned and comfortable.)  Suddenly, I was looking down at the back end of a horse.  My own "hands" were holding the reins.  A video game castle in video graphics was all around me.  This was weird.  As other people who have tried VR, I found it odd that when I waved my hand in front of my face, I couldn't see my hand, but I could still see the scene before me.

When the coaster jerked forward, the horse started running, jerking ahead the "wagon" I was riding.  Suddenly giants attacked from all sides! They tore away the bridge I was crossing, and the horse was swatted away.  Out of nowhere, a giant bat swooped down and grabbed my cart. It labored to get altitude.  The cart was climbing.  (Meanwhile, I could feel and hear the real world coaster climbing the first hill.  It was eerie in that I also felt hot sunshine on my face but all I could see was a night-time fantasy landscape.  I thought for a wild second the park had arranged for blasts of heat because a dragon was going to show up.)

As the coaster rushed down the hill, the bat dodged and swooped us past enemies--dragons that snapped at us, armies that flung weapons, avalanches of stone.  When I looked up, I saw the bat flapping madly above.  If I looked down, I saw the rocky ground rushing by below.  The helmet timed it all flawlessly.  Two spears hit the bat.  It died.  With its final strength, it threw my cart into a castle gate and safety before it crashed to the ground.

The entire experience was incredible!  I basically tried the roller coaster version of an Occulus Rift.

When I pulled the helmet off, I snapped from a night-time fantasy world into a day-time modern world, and it was disconcerting.  Sasha, who'd had the same experience I did, descended to the ground.  He loved it!  So did it.  It was a creative and fascinating way to update an old ride.

We filled out a short survey back at the booth.  ("How long would you be willing to wait in line for this ride?" "Would you recommend this ride to a friend?" "On a scale of 1-10, how well did you understand the story?"  "On a scale of 1-10, how important is the story to the ride?")

At last, we both decided we were exhausted and it was time to head home.  It had been a lovely day, filled with roller coasters and male bonding.

Autism and the Police: Fury

I am speechless with anger over this:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/helping-autistic-man-black-therapist-shot-florida-police-044231095.html

The short version is, an autistic man with a truck was sitting in a Miami street, and his aid worker was trying to convince him to come inside.  The autistic man was white.  The aid worker was black.  Someone called the police and reported that an armed man was threatening suicde.  Two white police officers arrived.  They started shouting at the aid worker to lay face-down on the ground while his patient continued to play with the toy truck in the street. The aid worker, who was sitting down, lay on his back with his arms up and shouted that he was a medical technician at a group home, that the man next to him had a toy truck, that he was trying to help, that no one was armed.

So the police officers shot the aid worker.

It "only" hit his leg.  He's expected to be out of the hospital soon.  The officer is on administrative (read, "paid") leave.  When asked why he shot the worker, the officer replied, "I don't know."

Actually, we do know.  The officer is white, the aid worker is black, and the officer is racist.  Oh, if asked, he'd deny it six ways to Saturn, but it's true nonetheless.  Let me put it this way: if the aid worker had been white, does anyone honestly think the officer would have fired?

Obviously not.

I also wonder--the officer shot at the aid worker WHEN THE AUTISTIC MAN WAS RIGHT THERE.  The officer shot at one civilian when a second civilian was in the area.  If the officer had missed, the autistic man could have been injured or killed as well.

But it goes on.  Someone else caught more vidoe here:

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article90905442.html

The cops have the autistic man flat on his face in handcuffs while they frisk him.  I'm trying to imagine the awful trauma.  If this happened to Aran, I can't imagine how long it would take him to recover.

When you put your loved one into group living, you do it with the hope that they'll be safe, and that the police will protect them, not terrorize them and shoot the staff hired to help them.  The police in this country howl that they're being miscast as monsters, but over and over and over we see stuff like this.  What else are we to think?

If the cops want the public's good will, the officer who pulled the trigger will be fired, with malice, and never allowed to enter law enforcement again, and it will happen with great fanfare so everyone hears about it while the officer in question slinks away in disgrace while his fellow officers turn their backs on him.

But that won't happen, will it?  He was a white officer who shot a black man.  He'll be back on the beat within a week.

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Autism: The Waiting Game

Aran needs a place to live.  He is, of course, able to live here as long as he needs to.  He pays room and board out of his SSI benefits, and he's not difficult to live with at all.

However, he does want to live on his own.  I've come to the reluctant conclusion that he'll probably never have a fully self-supporting job.  It's difficult to say this, and I still hope things will be otherwise one day, but I can't see how he'd even get past the interview.  It looks like he's going to live on a combination of SSI and part-time minimum wage work.

These sources of income, however, won't pay for housing.  They simply won't.  SSI pays $733 per month.  That won't make rent on any kind of place in Oakland County or the surrounding areas.  So he has to be in some kind of subsidized program.

He has a social worker, a very nice lady named Anita, but her office works slowly.  I suspect it's more from overwork than carelessness--social workers are perennially overburdened with cases.  We've been emailing me, and she said she sent a copy of Aran's file to the Disability Network for Oakland and Macomb Counties.  A while later, a woman named Miriam called me to talk about his case.  Aran needs to live with room mates and have an aide check on him a couple-three times a week.  Miriam said she make some calls.

Now we're waiting.

Meanwhile, his job coordinator Pauline called about getting him his job at Kroger back.  He'd even be able to work Monday through Friday, with no weekends.  This was kind of a sticking point for Aran--he got it into his head that can't work weekends because he has to go see Kala on weekends and because people aren't supposed to work weekends.  At a grocery store, this is problematic, since wekeends are their busiest times.  I explained to Aran, using my best Autism Dad voice, that a lot of people work weekends.  His grandmother (a nurse) worked weekends for decades.  I work weekends as a writer.  Firefighters and police work weekends.  He agreed this is true, but he was still unhappy about the idea.  But now Kroger has said he can work weekdays, and he's happy.

I was hoping we could find gardening and lawn work for him to do, since that's what he trained for at MCTI.  There's a volunteer organization in the area that mows lawns for shut-ins, and I'm thinking Aran should get involved with them.  It would be a social thing for him, and it would get him out of the house more, and get him into the community.  It would also build a resume and keep his lawn skills sharp.  Since he'll only be working part-time at Kroger, he'll have time for this.  When I talked to him about it, he seemed tentative but willing.  We need to know what his Kroger schedule will be first, though.

So now we're in the waiting phase. Waiting to hear about the job.  Waiting to hear about housing.  Waiting to know about the volunteer work.

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Unexpected Steaks

Today, my ex-wife texted me to say she was at the store and they had Porterhouse steaks on mega-sale, but she couldn't cook them--her broiler doesn't work right and she has no grill.  Perhaps she could bring them over for a cookout . . . ?

Well, sure!

I popped out to the store and got some corn on the cob, broccoli, and the ingredients for cheese potato casserole.  I whipped up the latter and got it in the oven.  Kala arrived, and I finished prep on the other stuff, which included cubing a watermelon I already had.  When Darwin got home, Kala laid the enormous steaks on the smoking hot grill and grilled them to perfection just as the potatoes came out of the oven.  We all sat down to delicious steaks with cheese potatoes, buttery corn on the cob, fresh broccoli, and cool watermelon.  It was a summer delight!

Pokemon Go: Yeek!

Earlier I mused that schools seemed immune to Pokemon Go.  Aran and I had visited a couple-three schools in our area and found no Pokemon to catch, no Pokespots, and no gyms.  I concluded that Niantic had deliberately avoided putting schools on their map.

I was wrong.

Today on some errands, I discovered one of the middle schools in my district is housing a Pokemon Go gym.

Uh oh . . .

Autism Housing: The Call

Just now I got a call from the Disability Network for Oakland and Macomb Counties.  I've been trying to get Aran on their radar for weeks, and finally we seem to be.  The woman I spoke with has Aran's file now, and she asked what kind of housing we were looking for: a lone apartment, an apartment with roommates, a group home, what?

Aran wants to live with people so he can have some friends.  I agreed that he needs to live with people as well, since his default setting seems to be holing up in his room and interacting with people as little as possible.  Roommates or group living would force him to be at least a little social.  An aide who can check on him from time to time (two times a week or so) would also be necessary.  I'll check on him, of course, but I won't be around forever.

I also brought up Section 8 housing--Aran is eligible for it--but the woman said that no places were taking applications for Section 8 housing available right now.  I didn't know this kind of thing was limited.  Huh.

The woman, who was quite friendly, said she would make some phone calls and get back to me.  We'll see what happens . . .

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They Came!

These came in the mail today!



So awesome!  BONE WAR is the latest in the Books of Blood and Iron series:

From their sacred Garden, the three fates control all life and maintain balance in the world. But one of the fates has been captured by the evil elf queen, placing the future of every being, including Death herself, in jeopardy. And only one hero can defeat the elf queen: Danr the half-troll.

In order to rescue the missing fate, Danr must first acquire the fabled Bone Sword. Normally Danr would expect his companions to help. However, they are currently in pursuit of a mysterious creature who seems both oddly familiar yet dangerously unknown. But one thing is certain for all of the adventurers: failure is not an option.


It's available for pre-order now, and goes on sale August 1!  The audio version, read by PJ Ochlan, is also up for pre-order.

If you haven't read Iron Axe or Blood Storm (and why haven't you?), don't worry--the books are written to stand alone.

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