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Modified Treats

Everyone gets up in arms about artificial sweeteners. Whenever a new sweetener comes out, it comes under attack by the uber-granola crowd.  First it was saccharine.  Then aspartame.  Then sucralose. Then...

They cause cancer.  They cause diabetes.  They cause addiction to sweet foods.  They cause obesity.  They cause . . . they cause . . they cause . . .

Know what?  There isn't one shred of documented evidence for any of this.  Saccharine, for example, was indeed found to cause cancer in lab rats, but only when the rats were given nearly their own body weight in the stuff first.  But the headline SACCHARINE CAUSES CANCER got out, and suddenly everyone was screaming for it to be removed from foods.  Aspartame was used for decades and has absolutely no harmful side-effects whatsoever, as study after study after study has shown.  But thanks to the granola crunching crowd on the Internet, memes spread that it was somehow bad for you and the howling began.  Now the soda companies have removed it from their drinks and they're replaced it with Sucralose, which doesn't taste as good.

I really, really hate stupid people.

The only artificial sweetener Darwin can stomach in coffee or other mixed beverages is aspartame, largely because other sweeteners don't dissolve well. But it's getting harder to find thanks to the granola idiots.

And here's the thing: I'm breaking all kinds of granola idiot rules, to great effect.

DON'T USE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS IN BAKING, they howl.  Never, ever ever!

Yeah?  Bite my hairy long one.  Maybe you'll get a little protein out of it, granola ass-wipes.

A while ago, I bought a big bag of zero-calorie white "sugar" and zero-calorie brown "sugar."  The white is supposed to be used one-for-one as regular sugar, and the brown is twice as sweet, so you use half as much.

As an experiment, I made some chocolate chip cookies with it.  I followed the recipe pretty much as normal, but substituting artificial sweetener for sugar: 3/4 cups of white and about 1/3 cup of brown.  Because I was afraid of lost bulk, I added another 1/3 cup of white sugar.  I also wanted to reduce the amount of simple carbohydrates from the flour.  The normal recipe I use calls for 2 3/4 cups of white flour.  I changed this to 1 1/2 cups of white flour and 1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour and used 1 1/4 t. of baking soda instead of just 1 teaspoon to ensure a decent rise.  I also used dark chocolate chips, which have lower sugar than semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips.

The recipe:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup artificial white sugar
1/3 cup artificial brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 t vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 cups white flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
12 oz. (2 cups) dark chocolate chips or pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat butter and all sweeteners together until well blended at medium speed, approximately three minutes.  Stir in eggs and vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients and blend into butter mixture until just combined.  Mix in chocolate chips. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, usually about 12 minutes.

They came out tasting delicious.  Darwin and the boys said they couldn't tell the difference between these and regular cookies.

Yesterday, I tried the same thing with banana bread, once again substituting artificial sweetener for the sugar and using half white and half whole wheat flour.  I got the same result--banana bread that was indistinguishable from regular bread, but something the diabetics in the house could eat without spiking their blood sugar.

Throwing Food Away

To combat being diabetic, I'm working harder at losing weight. This isn't easy when you're 49 and your body says, "Nope--I'm done with that crap. We're good where we are."

However, I don't want to be on meds forever, and my specialist says I have a good shot at getting off them.

So I'm throwing food away.

It isn't easy throwing food away.  We're all raised to say, "Don't waste food!" If you throw a single potato chip away, a blue bolt from beyond will slice you in half like a salted ham.

But a bunch of foods I can't keep in the house.  Case in point: a while ago, Darwin and I were supposed to go out of town with friends, but the trip was canceled.  We'd bought some food to share, including a large amount of cheese dip.  It's perfectly good in that it's edible, but I can't eat it if I want to lose weight, and the boys show zero interest in it.  There's quite a lot of it, and we paid good money for it.  It's been sitting in the refrigerator because I don't know what to do with it.

Today I threw it all out.

Bye bye!  Gone.  Out!

I'm teaching myself more and more to throw food away.  The starving child in China will go without whether I keep it or toss it, so we can toss it.  No one will die.  If Americans throw out twenty trillion tons of food a year, no one will notice my extra pound and a half.



Name Change

Tomorrow I go to court to get my name changed.  Again.

When Darwin and I got married, I decided to take advantage of the situation and change my name. This was partly because I've never liked my birth middle name, and I never, ever use it, and partly to point out my marriage.

Per the State of Michigan's requirements when changing one's name at marriage, I signed our marriage certificate with my new name: Steven Harper McClary Piziks.  The "Harper McClary" parts were new.

Then the fun started.

When I went to the social security office to alert them to the change, they accepted it without a blink.  As far as the federal government is concerned, my name became Steven H. M. Piziks.

Then I went to the Secretary of State's office to change it on my driver's license.  (Michigan has a DMV, but it doesn't bother itself with actual cars or driving.)  They acted like they'd never seen this before.

"Where did this name change come from?" the clerk asked.

"I got married," I said.  "And Harper is an old family name I'm taking on while I'm at it."  (If I had to explain, this seemed easier than going into details about my writing career and pen name.)

"So you're hyphenating?"

"No.  I'm taking my husband's name as my middle name, along with Harper."

"We only have space here for one middle name."

"That's not true.  My husband's full name is Darwin Douglas Parks McClary, and all four names appear on his license."

"We can't change your name without ID."

"I don't HAVE ID.  You do understand that I got married last week, right?  So all my IDs are in my OLD name.  I just changed it to my NEW name.  Here's my marriage license with my NEW name on it, along with my NEW social security card."

"We can't accept a social security card or marriage license as ID."

I wanted to mash her face into her keyboard.  "How do you handle it when someone gets married, then?"

"They show their marriage certificate."

I tapped mine meaningfully.  "Ta da!"

"But you can sign any name on that certificate," she said.

"Yes.  That's the point.  I'm changing my name to match my husband's."

"We have no verfiication of that."

"How about a marriage certificate and a social security card?"

"We can't accept those."

"Supervisor, please," I sighed.

"We can't--"

"Supervisor, please."

The supervisor also acted like she had never seen this before.

"Look," I said, growing more exasperated, "you can't tell me no one gets married and changes their name and wants a new driver's license."

"We need official documents to show a name change," the supervisor said.

"Marriage license, social security card," I said.

"We can't take those. They aren't official."

"Even though this is stamped and sealed by the clerk," I said.

"Look," she said, "we can change your middle name to McClary, but this Harper thing--we don't have any verfication of that."

"What kind of verfication?"

"A court order.  Until then, your names won't match in the two databases, and we won't be able to renew your license when it expires."

"Then change it."

"I need official documents."

The argument went on. At this point, I could see that she wasn't going to make the full name change, but in a fit of malicious revenge, I decided to deliberately waste her time, so I carried on for a great deal longer than necessary, then made her change my middle name to McClary.

Eventually I filed the paperwork with the county court to change my name fully.  It cost over $300, and I have to go before a judge.

This seemed grossly unfair to me.  If I were a minimum wage worker, there's no way I'd be able to afford this.  I could barely afford it with what I have now.  In other words, someone who has money has access to a legal process that someone without money does not.  If I were poor, I'd be stuck with the wrong name and no way to correct it.  (Also note the hidden cost of going before a judge--this means time away from work.  Someone with a job that doesn't grant sick leave actually has to pay MORE than the $300 because they lose the day's wages.)

So tomorrow I go to court, and then I go back to the Secretary of State, where I'll demand to see the supervisor and make her personally do my name change.


Mr. Bitey in Danger

Bernard--Mr. Bitey--is having trouble again.  Bloody urine, litter box mistakes.  He's not moping or meeping in pain like before, though.  I'm going to change his food again and hope for the best.  Frankly, we can't afford thousands of dollars in vet bills for him.  The thought of putting him to sleep upsets Darwin hugely, but there's no way around it if he doesn't get better on his own.

We're watching him closely.


Yahoo and Sexism

On Yahoo's news little sliding news scroll today, the top stories are about a movie star's "appallingly vulgar" dress, Brittany Spears's "impressive splits" moves, and a female teacher's "inappropriate dress" style. Only after reporting about these earth-shaking matters of sexism does it get around to reporting on an arrest in the Florida mosque fire case.


Maksim and Driving

Maksim is gearing up for driver's education.  The youngest in the clan is going for his license!  Or his learner's permit, anyway.  And we began with a little instruction.

Nameless High School's parking lots are extensive, a network of roads and neighborhoods unto themsleves, really, which makes it the perfect place for a new driver to try out some moves.

Maksim is stuck driving our huge truck, since that's the vehicle that'll be most available to him when he does finally get his license, so that's we used.  I drove him over there, installed him in the driver's seat, and went over the controls.  (Unlike Sasha and Aran, Maksim never sat in my lap and drove the car when he was small and this was his first time behind the wheel, so he didn't really know where everything was.)

The main parking lot is several hundred yards wide, which was perfect for our purposes.  I had him drive forward the length of the lot, then drive backward the length of the lot.  Forward and backward, forward and backward.  Great-grandma speed.  A good dozen-odd times.  Once he was comfortable with this, we drove clockwise around the lot so he could get the hand of driving, hand-over-hand turning, using his turn signal, and checking in all direction.  Then we went counter-clockwise for left turns.  He did excellently!

And that was it!  We celebrated his first driving lesson with a soda at 7-11.


Is It Legal to Shoot Your Neighbors?

A new subdivision is going in next to our neighborhood.  To construct this new subdivision, the developers ripped out and flattened and devastated a beautiful forested section of land.  Everyone in the area is extremely upset about this, but (it turns out), not one of them has complained to the township board.  How do I know?  Because =I= complained to the township board at a public meeting, and they told me that mine was the first complaint they'd received about any development anywhere.  I've been urging people to complain, complain, complain, but apparently it's too much effort to write an email or make a phone call, because no one has.

Now that construction on said subdivision has begun, heavy equipment has started work at 7:00 AM every morning, and you can hear it in our neighborhood.  BEEP BEEP BEEP.  Vrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmm!  CRASH!  BEEP BEEP BEEP!  It goes on all day until 5:00 PM, when it abruptly stops.  If your windows are open for the fresh night air, it wakes you up bright and early.  Everyone hates that, too.

Which brings me to my main point.

Everyone hates the noise, the dust, the commotion from the construction.  They hate the ugliness.  They hate the machinery that thunders past the entrance to our neighborhood five days a week.  So on the weekends and holidays, when the heavy machinery falls silent, what happens?

That's right.  They make their own noise.  As I write this, one neighbor is power washing his driveway with an extremely noisy air compressor.  Another neighbor is running a hurricane-strength leaf blower.  Someone else is mowing the lawn with a mower that sounds like it hasn't been oiled since 1852.  When we finally have a day of peace and quiet, every freakin' person who complains about the construction noise creates machinery noise of their own.  And they don't even seem to notice the irony.

I can't do anything about it--they aren't violating a noise ordinance.  But I want to drag out a cannon and shoot it off until they complain, then say, "Oh!  Am I too loud for you?"

It's a real pity.  Darwin and I wanted to stay in this neighborhood until we retired.  Now we're making plans to move, and it's all because of the noise.

Getting Ready

Like most teachers, I've spent a chunk of pre-Labor Day time getting my classroom ready for the new school year.  It takes an entire day just to arrange desks, hang posters, make copies, and hook up electronics.  The latter includes putting together two computer systems (one for my desk and one for my SmartBoard--first world problems, I know).  Last year, the school's lease on the laptops expired, so we all got new computers.  This is nice in that the new computers are faster and more responsive, but it's bad in that a new computer is always time-consuming.  It takes hours to get all the software rejiggered so it's actually usable.  (Software engineers need to be beaten regularly until they write software that people can actually use instead of how they think people should use it.  For example, the new version of Microsoft Outlook, which I'm required to use for my email, came preloaded with a micrscopic San Serif style font that I simply can't read, and it took me more than an hour to figure out how to change it because the function for that was hidden deep within a sub-sub-sub menu, and then you had to change it three times for three different functions--reading, previewing, and composing--which makes no sense.  Why would I want three different viewing styles for these three integrated functions?  Hand me the beating stick, please.)

I also made extensive modifications to upcoming curriculum, fielded a pileup of email, laminated a bunch of stuff, sat through some pointless meetings, and more, more, more.

But now we're all set and ready to go!


un/FAIR Release Day

It's Release Day!  Release Day!  Happy, happy Release Day!  un/FAIR is officially available from booksellers everywhere.

It's difficult enough to live in the neighborhood "freakazoid" house. It's even more difficult when you're autistic and neither your family nor best friend really understands you. So when Ryan November wakes up on his eleventh birthday with the ability to see the future, he braces himself for trouble. But even his newfound power doesn't help him anticipate that the fair folk-undines, salamanders, gnomes, and sylphs-want him dead, dead, dead. Ryan races to defend himself and his family against unrelenting danger from the fairy realm so he can uncover the truth about his family history-and himself. Except as Ryan's power grows, the more enticing the fairy realm becomes, forcing him to choose between order and chaos and power and family. And for an autistic boy, such choices are never cut and dry.

Grab it now! It's a great read for the start of the school year!

Getting the Finger

Yesterday Darwin and I were invited to the house of some friends. Patti and David live on a lake, and it was the Labor Day Last Hurray, a day of barbecuing, boating, and swimming.  The weather was perfect for it: sunny and mid-seventies with a slight breeze.  It was, in fact, the first Labor Day in three years that wasn't cold and rainy.

We all went out on the pontoon boat, anchored in the middle of the lake, and swam.  The water was perfect.  Darwin and David, who didn't swim, huddled together under a small umbrella for shade.  They reminded me of Opus the Penguin and his little hat.  :)

Back on shore, it was delicious grilled steaks and veggies with salad.  For dessert was a cheesecake Darwin and I had brought.  I was wiping a knife to cut it with when my hand slipped.  The knife blade slashed the second finger on my right hand.  Oh, that hurt.  I dropped the knife and ran to the bathroom to run it under water, which hurt even more.  The wound was relatively deep, and it wouldn't stop bleeding.  Darwin brought me paper towels so I could compress it, and it soaked through one set.  When I started on the next set, we decided I had to go to a clinic.  It hurt like hell.

With the shortest of apologies to our hosts, we fled.  There was an urgent care clinic only a few minutes away, fortunately, and they were still open.  (It was 7:30 on Sunday.)  By now, the bleeding had slowed.

The clinic was very nice and well-appointed and they saw me right away. The nurse dinsinfected the wound and the doctor examined it.  He said we could tape it, glue it, or stitch it, though he didn't think it needed stitches.  We finally settled on tape.  That done, the nurse gave me a tetanus shot, and we were able to leave.

My finger is a little touchy today.  Showering with it is awkward--I have to wear a latex glove to keep the bandage dry.  But I'm getting really tired of doctors these days.


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