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Dear Yellow Pages:

So, wow. You followed me all the way to Atlanta. Not to be mean, but I thought we were done. I mean, I’ve been chucking you (and some other phone book that looked a lot like you, but was even less valuable) straight into the recycling bin for YEARS.

We haven’t had a real relationship since high-speed Internet became a reasonably basic service.

Come on. I didn’t even hook up my landline this time around, yet I came home one day to discover that you had arrived in the mail. It seems a tad desperate, don’t you think?

Oh, you say. But what if the Internet goes down? For DAYS. Then I’m going to sorry, right? When I need a big printout of indexed phone numbers and can’t get online to find them?

We’ve discussed this, and I remain unconcerned by your argument. If the Internet at my home and office goes down for days, there’s every chance that the power is also off, and I’ll have more pressing problems than finding the number for my hair salon.

Also? I rent now, so flipping through your many pages to find a roofer? Not a thing for me.

I feel I should also mention the fact that every contractor I’ve used in the past couple of years — including a tile guy, a painter and lawn care service — has exclusively used a cell phone for contact, meaning they’re not even LISTED in you.

If the Internet ever falls and the landline comes back to life, we’ll talk. In the meantime, please stop following me.

Old cat, new tricks

Lest we enjoy the cityscape without him, Yang now enjoys full balcony privileges thanks to his new Kitty Holster.

We’re 15 floors up in our new place, and I was pretty paranoid that he could fall off, seemingly crazy reasoning that was reinforced when our cat-sitter told us about another cat who fell from a balcony on a lower floor and broke his leg.

Thus, the harnessing of Yang.

I honestly didn’t think this was going to work. I mean, who puts a harness and a leash on a 17-year-old cat?

But we had to try. Every time we sat outside on the balcony, we faced a sad cat peering through the blinds, not understanding that we were outside and not just in another room. There are chairs out there, after all, and sometimes we were eating and drinking, all signs of normality, not kitty danger.

I expected either hysterics or complete collapse when we strapped Yang into the getup. Nope. He let me secure the Velcro and snap on the leash, and then he walked straight to the balcony door, all, yeah, this is what I wear when I go out on the balcony. LIKE A BOSS.

He gets tired of balcony time after a few minutes, but he’s happy to be part of the action. I don’t think he’ll be walking to the park, despite the many suggestions of friends and family, but he is certainly going to enjoy quite a few sunsets this spring, complete with cool breezes.

One of the best things about this move: I FINALLY got rid of the landline. 

I know, right? Why was that anachronism still hanging around, ringing every night at 6 p.m.? 

One word: bundling. 

The cable company had cleverly rolled Internet, phone and cable TV into one package when we moved in some seven years ago. Fair enough: The price for all three together was cheaper than buying Internet and cable separately. Our surfing and TV habits were totally subsidizing the phone line. 

The pricing strategy remained unchanged over the years, but having a home phone became nearly intolerable at times.

Have you ever noticed that hardly anyone with a cell phone actually has the ringer on? No one wants to hear the phone ring. Do we miss calls this way? Yes. Do we care that we miss calls? Sure. And by sure, I mean absolutely not. We look down at some point, realize we missed a call and call back. And by call back, I mean we send a text. Because 2014 means never having to talk on the phone.

But I digress. I was savvy enough to put our home phone number on the Do Not Call list. Unfortunately, this list doesn’t apply to callers with whom I have a “business relationship,” or those representing a charitable organization. So, at 6 p.m. sharp every night, the phone would ring and some form of “unknown caller” would show up on the caller ID. The unknown caller may have been one of our credit card companies trying to “upgrade” us on something. More likely, however, it was some organization selling magazines or otherwise trying to collect money for the firemen, the police or some sort of children in peril. (I’m not a monster – most of these telemarketing shops take way too much profit out of what they collect. If I want to donate to the police department, I’ll speed my way to a ticket.)

Why did I leave the ringer on, you ask? Well, sometimes I didn’t. But the husband’s parents used that number occasionally, and if I turned the ringer off I never remembered to turn it back on. Thus, the nightly fast-walk to the phone for the one-in-a-million chance that the ringing indicated a call we actually were willing to take.

All that is over now. The home phones are packed in a box, awaiting dropoff at the thrift store. The new cable company offered an Internet/TV package at a fair price, no phone required. 

The silence is beautiful. I haven’t heard a phone ring outside the office in nearly four weeks. If my phone buzzes, it’s almost always someone I want to talk to. My only cellular pest is the Red Cross; I made the mistake of giving them my number about five years ago only to discover that they will bother you literally EVERY DAY until you schedule another donation. I always DO schedule another donation, but their efforts are so irritating that I’ve considered changing blood donation entities.

Again, digression. The landline is dead. Long live the silence.

So … it’s been awhile. I’m back in Atlanta, this time with the husband and the cat, and I’ve returned to the job that I loved but had to leave last year to return to Alabama.

Everything is pretty awesome, overall.

We’re renting a two-bedroom condo in a very walkable part of the city. I can’t walk to work, mind you, but I can walk to a huge park in addition to several grocery stores, museums and restaurants. We have so many entertainment options that I barely know where to begin.

It’s the life-changing adventure that I wanted last year, but I guess I was too early.

Best news: Yang, pictured above, settled right into his city digs. I was afraid he would be too high up to really see anything, but it turns out that he likes to watch the cars driving around below. At night, he perches on his cat condo and watches the city lights, near and far.

Snowmageddon arrived on the third day I was here; like any survivor of multiple hurricanes, however, I was prepared. I stocked up on groceries well before the snow started falling and kicked back to watch the traffic build (I didn’t start work until this week). The husband faced a two-hour commute instead of his usual half hour, but once he was home we unpacked, caught up on “Justified” episodes and drank a lot of coffee (me)/hot chocolate (him). We attempted a romantic walk in the snow, but our trek was foiled when the snow quickly turned to slippery ice. That’s just how snow rolls in the South.

I feel like I’ve finally found  my home planet — not Atlanta itself, per se, but an escape from Suburbia.

This is huge. This is FUN.

It’s been about two months since I pretty much gave up artificial sweeteners. I say “pretty much” because I’ll sometimes find a packet hiding behind another pantry inhabitant, and I promised to quit after all of the packets are gone. These packets are, obviously, not gone.

Do I miss my little yellow packets? A little. They gave me free license to make coffee, tea and oatmeal obscenely sweet, without caloric consequence.

I’m glad I tapered off instead of going cold turkey. By the time I really cut myself off, I was accustomed to oatmeal flavored only with cinnamon, walnuts and raisins and cups of coffee and tea sweetened with only a teaspoon or so of sugar.

I haven’t gained any weight from using sugar instead of sweetener. I figure as long as I don’t try to make foods taste as sweet as artificial sweeteners do, I’m good in the calorie department. I can afford the 15 to 30 calories that real sugar adds to a cup of coffee or tea, especially considering I’ve cut back on coffee and tea consumption in general.

An unexpected side effect: My usual cravings for holiday sweets are non-existent. Of course, this may have more to do with the fact that I’m too busy to even THINK about making cookies, much less figuring out how to make eggnog that doesn’t suck.

chipsI should learn to ignore the siren call of Limited Edition Available Only at Target (I’m looking at you, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s).

I mean, the Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts weren’t that bad, but the candy corn soda from a couple of years ago? It should have been a huge lesson.

Really, the worst thing I can say about Lay’s chocolate-dipped potato chips is that I thought they would be saltier. The magical salty-sweet combination never gets off the ground, because it seems like they started with unsalted, or lightly (very lightly) salted chips.

It’s funny, because my worry had been that the chocolate layer would taste like it was laden with chemicals, and instead it’s the saving component of this product. You could put a thick layer of this chocolate over anything edible and it would work in a pinch.

Now, of course, I have the urgent need to purchase a bag of Lay’s Wavy chips and coat them in chocolate just to test my hunch that they’ve used inferior chips for this product. Very clever plan, Lay’s.

This announcement is more serious than it should be: I’m giving up artificial sweetener.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve stirred the blue stuff or the yellow stuff into my coffee, tea and oatmeal with utter abandon. (As for the pink stuff, seriously, how does that bitter mess still even exist?)

I took up the habit in college during frequent visits to my grandparents. My grandfather, despite never gaining all that much weight, had recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and my grandmother immediately traded out the sugar bowl for the blue stuff.

I quickly got used to sweetening my coffee and tea with chemicals. It seemed like the ultimate freebie: sweet beverages without bothersome calories.

I can’t tell you if the blue stuff had any ill effects on my grandfather or not. He died from advanced heart disease before the diabetes could get him outright, although I’m sure the two conditions didn’t co-exist peacefully.

Long story short, the increasing amounts of chatter about artificial sweeteners not being free of consequence have finally sunk in. It just makes sense that tricking your taste buds into thinking that they’re enjoying sugar might just be tricking your body that it’s about to have to process some sugar, too. Given my family history of adult-onset diabetes (my uncle developed it in his late 40s), I don’t need to play fast and loose with my pancreas.

Also, the husband, who has been trying to get me to give up artificial sweetener for years, finally emailed me a story on its possible ill effects with the subject line, “Please stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Nothing like a “please” instead of a “you should” to change a girl’s mind.

So, a couple of months ago I promised to taper off as I made my way through my final Costco-sized box of yellow packets. I began by cutting down on the number of packets I was using, adding only one instead of two to a cup of coffee or tea, and sprinkling only half a packet instead of a whole one over my oatmeal.

I soon came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Artificial sweetener had enabled me to become accustomed to foods that were way sweeter than they should have been. The husband had suggested that I replace the sweetener in my coffee with (gasp) actual sugar, but the amount of sugar required to make it as sweet as I had gotten used to would be obscene. Same with oatmeal: I had been turning a healthy breakfast food into a bowl of candy (albeit candy with few extra sugar calories).

I haven’t used sweetener at work in weeks, which has caused me to cut down on my coffee consumption overall. I can drink unsweetened coffee, but I don’t exactly look forward to it. And I’ve cut sweetener out of my oatmeal completely, meaning I now enjoy the flavors of the cinnamon, walnuts and raisins that are stirred into it.

And now, answers to the top questions that I get regarding this effort:

  • Do I feel better? Meh. I don’t think artificial sweetener was making me feel that bad to begin with. I worried about the long-term effects above everything else.
  • Have I lost any weight? No. I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I’m reasonably happy where I am. What I am trying to do, however, is avoid the seemingly inevitable post-40 weight gain that accompanies an unexamined diet and slack exercise habits.
  • Have I upped the sugar intake in my diet? Nope. I added maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of tea one evening to accentuate its cinnamon and apple flavors, but overall I’m adapting to eating a diet that just doesn’t feature that many sweet items.
  • Am I turning into some kind of sugar-hating weirdo? Double nope. I love cookies, cake and candy, but I also recognize them as a sometimes food, not a daily treat.

This effort is almost over. There are only a few yellow packets left in the cabinet (I hesitate to take the container down and count). I have to admit, what I’m going to miss most is not the super-sweet coffee and tea (although, man, there’s nothing like a cup of syrupy sweet hot tea on a cold, rainy winter afternoon), but the ritual. You pour your coffee, add a packet or two of sweetener, stir in some milk or half-and-half, and sit down to enjoy the morning paper and/or a nice leisurely chat with your housemates or co-workers.

Only I can’t even get a daily newspaper anymore, at least in Huntsville, Alabama. The husband doesn’t even DRINK coffee, and I haven’t worked anywhere in years where folks truly spent the first 10 minutes of work catching up over a fresh cup of java.

I can’t hold on to the ritual, so I might as well let go of the yellow stuff, too. Adios, sweet chemicals. It hasn’t been real.

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