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Drivers Ed

Calfgrit15 just finished up his 30 hours of drivers ed at high school. The schedule is a bit different than when I took it back in the 80s. I remember taking the class one hour a day for about a month, during the regular school day — I think it was during the PE/Health class time. But nowadays, (at least in this area), the class is after school, for three hours a day over two weeks. Although it is held in a high school classroom, it’s not offered as part of the regular school curriculum — we parents have to enroll the student on our own.

Another difference is what is presented in the class. I remember learning the rules of the road in the classroom, and then going driving with the instructor all in the same month. Now, though, the 30 hours he just completed were all classroom instruction, (no actual driving, yet). The instructor and a state trooper extensively covered the dangers of driving — especially texting while driving. They won’t actually hit the road in a vehicle for another month or two (or more).

The dangers of texting and driving were a very prominent aspect of the instruction. It’s a really big deal, I understand.

At the end of the two weeks, we parents were invited in for an hour. The instructor reiterated her plea against texting and driving, even showing us a YouTube video:

The instructor explained how our kids are watching us drive. As homework, she told them to observe their parents, and then she had them write down some bad habits they witnessed. She picked up a stack of papers and one-by-one, she read the bad habits the students had written down about us. Every single paper included texting. Wow. (I assumed she cherry picked the papers with that specific problem to make her point on the prevalence of texting and driving.) There were one or two other bad things, also, like speeding or putting on makeup. I wondered what bad habit Calfgrit15 caught me doing. Probably not coming to a full stop at stop signs, or maybe not keeping both hands on the steering wheel at all times — I know I sometimes do both those things.

I never intentionally speed, and I never text while driving, (and I very rarely apply makeup while driving). I’ve never been a speeder — my mother even thinks I drive slow (the speed limit!). And even if I was so asinine as to want to text while driving, I can’t read anything that small without my reading glasses on (which I don’t wear while driving). At the worst, if I must know what a text says while driving, (very, very rarely), I just ask Siri to speak it for me.

When Calfgrit15 is in the car with me, he doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to my driving. He’s either looking at his phone, reading a book (something he can do but I can’t while riding in a car), or talking to me about video games. He has shown no interest at all in driving, even when I keep offering to take him to an empty parking lot to let him practice a little. He’s driven once around a parking lot one time out of the dozen times I’ve offered. So I was interested to know what and when he actually observed about my driving.

As we were leaving the parent/class meeting, I asked Calfgrit15 what bad habit he saw me doing. “I didn’t really pay attention,” he said.

“Did you fill out the homework paper?” I asked. “What did you write down for my bad habit?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I just filled in something generic, like texting.”


“You said I text while driving? Oh my god.” I held up my hands in exasperation. “The way she preached against that, I’d be less embarrassed if you told her I shoot a gun at other drivers.”

I wondered, and I hope, those homework papers were anonymous. My son officially told a drivers ed teacher, (and maybe a state trooper?), that I regularly text while driving. O. M. G. !


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My Dad Was a Good Samaritan

My dad passed away almost exactly three years ago. Although we went through tons of paperwork and old family memorabilia during the first year after his death, I still have some boxes of . . . stuff . . . to be gone through. I was doing this over the weekend. In one box, among old documents and photos, I came across this 45 year old letter:

[Click to open larger image for easier reading.]
Thank You Letter

That $5 bill was still paperclipped to the letter.


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The Price of University Text Books

While on vacation a few weeks ago, the wife and I visited our alma mater — University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Classes are in session, so we got to see the whole campus full of “kids” and activity. There was even a hippie playing guitar on the steps in front of the library. Classic.

The core of the campus is essentially just as we remember it from when we studied there in the early 90s, but it has grown out quite a bit. There are lots of new buildings. If I remember correctly, there were around 5,000 students during our days, but we learned there are almost 15,000 now. It doesn’t really feel more crowded, but then, there’s more area for everyone to spread out over now.

There are bicycles everywhere, and skateboards, in addition to the normal walkers. When Wifegrit and I were students there, we lived in [separate] apartments just off campus, within walking distance. We walked onto, off of, and all around campus to get to our classes. We walked all over again, during this visit. We went to our old buildings and peaked into some of our old classrooms. I remember the buildings being much bigger than how they seem now. I know that’s a feeling most people have when visiting places of their childhood, but this is a college — I’m the same size now that I was then. It shouldn’t feel any different in size. Odd.

Walking across the campus and through the buildings, I felt strangely young and old at the same time. There were moments I forgot I was about 25 years older than everyone around us. I felt like we were just a college couple walking around. But then my mood would change, and I could feel the quarter century of life experiences I’ve had since these kids’ ages. I saw a few college couples around, and could see how they acted very different compared to us with our 20+ years together. Young people still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase of their relationships, versus us as a mature couple very much used to and comfortable with each other. Everything I saw while on campus just made me smile.

One interesting place we visited while on campus was the university book store. Although it’s in a different location than it used to be, it looked very much like I remember it.

University Book Store

But I did find something crazy different: the book prices. Holy shit books are ridiculously expensive! I remember books were expensive when I had to buy them — like $20-$50 each. Wifegrit had some books for her nursing classes that cost $100 or more, but they were notoriously expensive. Now, though:

University Book Prices

University Book Prices

University Book Prices

Those first two examples above are from my degree, (English); $183 for a new book? And the junior year biology book: $279?! You can buy a TV for the price of these books. And note that the BIO book is just one of three needed for that class. I bought used books back in my day, when they were available, (and they weren’t always available), but even the used price is insane.

I just checked Amazon.com for these books:

  • Technical Communications (new) = $113
  • Functional Anatomy of the Vertebrates (new) = $172

When I was going for a Computer Science degree, one of my professors literally wrote the class text book. He taught the class almost verbatim by the book — you could follow along with his every word in lecture, from the book. Had I known that at the time I had to purchase his book, I would have saved my money.

I would love to know how much money the text book publishing industry makes each year with their mandatory purchases from a captive audience that lines up to spend borrowed money on their education.

University Book Store


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Shadow the Guinea Pig

Wednesday, our sweet little family pet, Shadow the guinea pig, died. Calfgrit8 is heartbroken.

Back in mid 2011, CG8 started talking about wanting a guinea pig. He checked out guinea pig books from the library to learn about them and how to care for them, and he started saving up money to buy one from the pet store. We agreed that if he saved up enough for the pet, we’d help him with buying the house/cage. He was so excited when he finally had enough money saved up in his bank.

In November 2011, we took him to Petsmart. He picked out a cute little black guinea pig with some white and brown patches.

Shadow the Guinea Pig

We all picked out a nice cage for him, and gathered up all the bedding and food necessary for a healthy pet. Calfgrit8 named his little guy, Shadow.

From his books, he knew all about guinea pigs and how to care for them. He did a fairly good job of keeping the little guy fed and watered. And although Wifegrit did most of the big cleaning of the cage, CG8 did help as he could. (The cage was nearly as big as he.) For almost two years, Shadow was a part of this family. His cage was in the loft area, central to all the upstairs rooms and activity.

Shadow the Guinea Pig

We built a moderate-sized running area out of a big cardboard box, and CG8 created little obstacles out of shoe boxes and cardboard scraps. Every few days, and while cleaning his cage, CG8 or Wifegrit would put him down in the run for exercise. He loved having more room to wander around. And apparently he loved chewing the cardboard.

When all was quiet, we could hear him moving about in his cage, hear him drinking water, and occasionally he made adorable little squeaks. And when in his run, you’d hear the pitter of his little clawed feet running this way and that over and through the obstacles.

He loved Calfgrit8 as much as my little boy loved him. When CG8 was away for an extended period, visiting grandparents or off on a sleepover at a friend’s house, when CG8 came home and went upstairs, that little guinea pig would squeak to get his attention. He’d also squeak for Wifegrit. (Who doesn’t love Wifegrit?)

Almost two years with us. Then Tuesday, we noticed he wasn’t eating or drinking. Tuesday night I was sent to the grocery store to pick up a cucumber, (Shadow’s favorite vegetable), to try to entice him to eat something. But even placing his favorite food in front of him, he just wouldn’t eat. It was decided that Wifegrit would take him to the vet the next day.

Wednesday morning, the vet diagnosed Shadow had a respiratory infection. She gave the little guy some medicine at the appointment, and gave instructions on how to care for him to help him recover. But then that evening, about 5:00, Calfgrit12, big brother, called me.

“Hi Dad,” he said, sadness in his voice. I could hear crying in the background. “I don’t want to ruin your day, but we think Shadow is dead.”

“Oh no!” I said. “I’m on my way home right now.”

It was that quick. He went from seeming normal one day, not eating the next day, to passed away one day later. When I got home, the crying was over, and everyone was in bed with Wifegrit watching some cartoons. They were trying to get past the sadness. I found Shadow laying still in his cage. I petted him gently and felt his stiff, cool, little furry body. Awe man. That sucks. He was such a sweet little thing.

We all talked about what we needed to do. Calfgrit8 wanted him to be buried in the backyard, under a tree. I scooped little Shadow up, placed him on a paper towel, and took him out to the backyard. It took me several minutes to dig a grave through all the roots and rocks under the tree. Both boys came out to watch over Shadow while I dug. At last I had a hole big enough. The boys watched as I carefully lowered the pet into the grave, and then they left so as to not watch me shovel dirt on him. When digging the hole, I scooped up a small pine tree sapling in a big chunk of dirt. I made sure that marked the spot when I covered the hole up. With luck, that little sprig will grow as a marker for Shadow.

Wow, this all happened so fast. Just out of the blue. We lost a very sweet pet that our 8 year old son really loved. Over the past couple of days, he’s had a few sad moments. One time he just went from happy to crying, putting his head in his hands, sobbing, “My guinea pig died!”

Today he’s talked about wanting another guinea pig, which he’d name Shadow II.


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