Tuesday, July 29, 2014

B.R.A.K.E.S. driving school for our girls

As parents of a teen driver, we want them to be safe, courteous and know how to get out of bad situations. Here in Georgia you only need 30 hours of classroom lessons and 6 hours of driving to get your license. Of course you have to pass the test, but that isn't exactly a test of extreme conditions.
Last weekend I took both my daughters, 19 and 16 to B.R.A.K.E.S. driving school at Atlanta Dragway. This class is completely different than the 'check box' 6 hours the regular driving schools provide (to be fair, both girls did the default class to get their licenses and to lower the insurance.)
So what is special about this school? Instead of focusing on the things they need to know and do in normal situations, they expose the students to things going wrong. Such as a panic stop, turning while braking, skidding on rain soaked pavement and distracted driving. 
Our day started with my 16 year-old, who has only had her license 3 weeks, drove us from Kennesaw to Commerce. Yes, 75, to the Cobb Cloverleaf, across 285, over Spaghetti Junction and up 85 for almost an hour. She did great. (for the record she has over 100 hours of driving before she got her license so I knew she'd do well. Her sister has had her license 3 years)
First thing you see when you pull up is the 18 wheeler and several cars parked around it (including a gorgeous 2008 Mustang Bullitt) and a dozen or so Kia cars and 'cubes'. Registration was easy, of course we had to sign away all our rights, but I expected that.
Then we watched and heard the story of why B.R.A.K.E.S. exists. For those who followed NHRA Drag Racing in the 90's you'll recognize Doug Herbert. Second man to go 300 MPH in a Top Fuel Dragster. But also a father who lost two sons in a car accident. 
You can hear Doug tell the story of his loss and how he vowed to do something to help teens be better drivers.
After a few minutes of slides going over what situations they were going to put the kids in, and teach them how to recover from, they separated the kids into groups of 3 and got them out on the track.
While the kids were taking turns on the course, one of the instructors took Deb and I out on the course too. After him showing us what the situations are, we got a chance to drive. While it was fun, it was also pretty eye opening when driving a car we were not familiar with. When the anti-lock brakes fired, I wasn't expecting it, nor does the little Kia handle like my Mustang (or Deb's Odyssey!)
So here is a breakdown of the situations
First we accelerated as fast as possible for about 50 yards, then the instructor yelled 'left' or 'right' and you had to lock up the brakes and STEER around a cardboard cutout of a skateboarder.
Next we did a slalom around some cones, again as quick as possible to understand the weight transfer and how it feels to have the car move from side to side.
Next we did an 'offroad' exercise where we deliberately dropped the right wheels off the road and how to recover.
Next up was an avoidance exercise. Again we drove as fast as possible and at the last second the instructor said 'left' or 'right' and you were supposed to go around an obstacle and recover without stopping.
Then another slalom, but this one at a much higher speed so you could learn how to recover from over and understeer.
The last two the parents didn't get to do. First was a skid pad. They had a pumper truck dumping water on the road, then again the students went as fast as possible, the instructor said 'left' or 'right' THEN PULLED THE EMERGENCY BRAKE. Full slides, skids, the car rocking side to side the whole experience of losing control. They wouldn't let the parents do this since this situation chews up tires very fast. One of the guys later told me they go through a set of tires every weekend due to the skid pad.
The final course was the distracted driving. They setup several cones, a slalom, obstacles etc. then asked the kids to try to text. While playing with the radio, the sun visions, talking to them etc. Everything you'd expect in a car full of teens. Not one didn't hit something or totally lose track of where they were. Both girls told us it was a shock how quickly they were distracted.
For the next 3 hours the kids cycled through the different situations. Each getting several (4+) turns on each. There was at least one other kid in the car with them, and they rotated driving.
The instructors turned out to be a very interesting bunch. One guy does driver safety training for U.P.S. he, and all the others, are either professional drivers, or professional driving instructors. All very patient, very willing to explain to the kids and very knowledgeable. Just take a look at their bios: http://www.putonthebrakes.com/driving-schools/instructors/
Every kid we saw after they were done, mine included, were excited and scared by what they learned. Several of the kids, mine included, didn't want to be there when we started the afternoon and I didn't see anyone who didn't look like they learned something. I know I did.
B.R.A.K.E.S. is based out of Concord, NC but have schools in GA, NC, SC and Pomona CA. While I was there they were talking about courses in Florida, Alaska and other parts of California. 

The website is here: http://www.putonthebrakes.com/
The cost? Technically free, but you need to put down $99 to hold the spot, with a check. You can get it back at the end, but I didn't see anyone going to where the they had the checks, so basically you made a donation to them. For me $198 was nothing compared to what my girls learned.
Remember the truck I mentioned at the beginning? It was there for the kids (and parents) to climb up into and see how little a truck driver can actually see. From the driver's seat you couldn't see the Bullitt parked in front or the cars parked on either side. When both my girls were in the seat I went and stood directly in front and they couldn't see me until I put my hand above my head.
I strongly recommend you take your teen to this course. If they don't come to your area, see if you can get them to!
While we were waiting for the kids to do their exercises I started talking with Matt Reilly, who is the Director. We talked about a lot of things (including Marketing Automation software, since they are working hard on their marketing this fall) and how great it was to have Kia involved as a sponsor.
He told me they are struggling to get the word out about their school and to get corporate sponsors. (They could easily have had 6 more kids in our session, they had the cars and the instructors). So if you know someone in a corporation who would be a good sponsor (UPS, Coca Cola, Firestone, hint hint) please point them to the website or contact Matt directly to get the conversation going. It sounds like if they had the sponsorship they could bring the program to a lot more places.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Bucket of Rocks

It was another boy's day today. Deb took Meghan Prom dress shopping and Courtney had yet another all day Winterguard practice.

So after a couple of hours in the backyard, doing some raking, cutting down some vines etc. Christopher and I loaded up the Bucket of Rocks and went to the lake.

Bucket of Rocks? What is that you ask? One of my better ideas if I say so myself. Homer bucket from Home Depot and a 50 lb bag of rocks used for cement. Total: $9. 

Now he can go to the lake and throw in rocks without having to scrounge for them or take them from around the pool.

So he and I loaded up  3-4" of rocks and walk to the lake. We threw them one at a time, a handful at a time, high in the air, underhanded. You name it, we probably did it. 


After that he wanted to build a fire, so we came back, chopped some left-over wood from his sandbox and other projects and built a nice little fire. Of course what he REALLY wanted was to put it out with the hose, but I made him wait. 

After it burned most of the way we got the hose and played fireman!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Allstate won't insure my Autistic son

I recently updated my life insurance and got a nasty surprise from Allstate.

In the policy I have had for 10 years I had a rider for a $10,000 death benefit on each of my children. Nothing major, just more of a 'just in case' thing.

Well, Christopher was born in the last 10 years, so went I went to extend for another 20 (so he won't be a minor when the policy expires) Allstate told me that they wouldn't include that rider in the new policy.

Why? Because Christopher has a PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder, not otherwise specified). In other words, he is Autistic.

I was shocked, so I asked for them to put it in writing. And they did.

I am currently keeping the old policy to cover Christopher since the rider had a 'and any child not yet born' clause that covers him. But that will run out well before he is 18.


The policy was written by Lincoln Benefit Life An Allstate Company.

Next stop: Georgia's Insurance Commissioner to file a complaint. Then do some shopping around to replace ALL my insurance (house, car, life) with someone who doesn't have such barbaric policies.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Huge Sand Table

One thing that Christopher loves is playing with sand (and water!) but the little kid sand table we had wasn't cutting it any more. He couldn't stand up with it and couldn't get the big Tonka trucks in it either.

So we started looking around for a bigger sand table. Unfortunately most, if not all, sand tables are aimed at little kids so what was available wasn't going to meet our needs.

While looking online I came across a website about fire fighters building huge tables with layouts of canyons, valleys etc where there were fires. Looking at them, they looked like picnic tables with tops on them. Bingo. Ferb, I know what we're doing today.

Started with a trip to Home Depot. Found out the new van isn't as long inside as the old one, so we had to tie the lift gate down to get the 10' lumber home.

Using designs from online for a picnic table, I built one. Then put a piece of 4x6 3/4" plywood on top and boxed it in. Viola, the biggest sand table I've ever seen. So far 200+ lbs of sand and it is fine.





In hindsight I would have bought a table and added the plywood and box instead of building it from scratch. The cost of the wood (plus 5 hours of my time!) was almost as much as buying one off craigslist.
Next we sand it, router the corners and stain it (probably in the Spring). Oh and try to find a cover that won't get me in trouble with the HOA.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Hey 50 Cent, this is what an autistic child looks like

Some of the responses are more eloquent, but here's mine:

(not sure what this is about? Go here or here)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Cigna rejecting ABA as 'experimental' same day as US Govt says it isn't

I've been working with our insurance provider for a couple of years to get Christopher's ABA therapy covered. They finally decided last month that they wouldn't cover it. Official statement:

As we discussed, ABA is not covered under the plan for any indication because it is considered experimental, investigational or unproven.

Same day as the rejection, the US Government decided that ABA is NOT experimental and  is medical:

Autism Speaks hailed today’s announcement by the federal government, the nation’s largest employer, that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the most widely used behavioral intervention used to treat autism, is a “medical” therapy that qualifies for health insurance coverage, rather than an “educational” service.

So I'm going to talk to Cigna about changing their view, since the Government disagrees with them!


Autism Votes: http://www.autismvotes.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=frKNI3PCImE&b=3930723&ct=11775907

ABA: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/applied-behavior-analysis-aba

Cigna: http://www.cigna.com/

Friday, April 06, 2012

Fenced in the backyard

Yesterday we had a fence installed in our backyard. Not a big deal to most people, but something I swore I would never do. 

About 12 years ago a number of my neighbors had 'privacy' fences installed that totally hid their backyard and whatever their kids were doing. A few really needed it since they had no coverage to prevent everyone looking in their back windows, but I didn't like the others.

Why? 12 years ago my kids were 5 and 2 and always outside on our swings, riding bikes or walking. And they were always looking for someone to play with. Lots of times a 'walk' ended within a few minutes with them playing in someones backyard. Likewise many times kids would see mine in our backyard and come running.
With the 6ft privacy fences, you never knew if the kids were out playing nor could they see if mine were. You'd occasionally hear giggles and laughs but it was hard to tell if someone was outside. (Also at that time most of the kids had younger siblings or themselves took naps, so ringing the doorbell mid-afternoon was discouraged.)

So why did we get one? Well, Christopher has inherited my adventure gene, you know the one that ignores directions from parents to stay in the yard and he likes to go wherever he damn well pleases. Which is dangerous since he doesn't grasp the concept of traffic (and more than a few of our neighbors and guests drive WAY too fast.) He's also learned the 'drop all my weight to the ground and mommy can't pick me up' trick. Doesn't work on me but he'll do it to Deb when she catches up with him. So we need to keep him contained, at least long enough for us to get to him if he wants to wander.

Instead of getting the privacy fence, we went with a 5 ft picket fence that you can see right through, but is high enough Christopher can't climb it before we catch him.

The dog isn't thrilled. In fact Deb thinks she is pissed at us. Yes, we're getting teenager attitude from the dog. 
Christopher is a little confused but thinks it is cool. We'll see in a few days when the tried to take off and can't how he feels.



Sunday, February 19, 2012

Letter to my first Capri

(recently on the Internet there is a meme for auto enthusiasts to write a letter to their first car. Here in mine.)

To my first car, wherever you are now.

It was a fun, strange ride wasn't it? From my mom of all people bringing you to my attention to parking you on the grass at mom's when we moved to Georgia 5 years later.

I remember my mom coming home from getting gas in her fake-wood panel Ford LTD station wagon telling me she'd seen a car she thought I'd like. As a 16 y/o boy having your mom tell you she found a car that she thinks you'd like, I wasn't holding out much hope for what she found. Well, I was wrong. This was before the Internet, so I hadn't heard of a Mercury Capri before. But I was hooked.

Louie and I went to look at you and did a full inspection. Found a few things wrong but nothing that couldn't be fixed. I led my Dad negotiate the price and John and I went to pick you up (I didn't know how to drive stick yet.) I immediately washed and started compounding you, removing years of neglect on the paint.

As luck would have it, I couldn't drive you for a few days, mainly because it was Deb's 16th Birthday (you remember her right?) I distinctly remember pointing to you in the driveway when her mom picked me up for Deb's birthday party. (Deb has commented she didn't know that you'd be a rival for my affection for the next 5 years.)

As John taught me to drive a stick we spun the tires more than a few times getting the hang of it. I remember coming out of the parking lot at Danbury High School squealing up the hill! From there I never looked back. I think I put 100,000 miles on you in those 5 years.
As the owner of an 'unusual' car, I got pretty defensive when people called you a Mustang. Heck, even Deb got to the point where she's say 'It's not a Mustang!' when someone called you one.

Had to do a few minor repairs (including replacing the rusted doors!) but with a set of Kelly Charger tires on chrome mag wheels and black louvers you were pretty damn sweet!

We made it through Senior year of High School, a prom and that crazy summer. Deb and I would sit for hours in you talking (mostly :) Had to leave you behind when I went to UMASS that fall, but that didn't last long. 2+ hour rides to/from Amherst racked up the miles, but you were a blast to drive, even with the anemic 2.3L. Your propensity to fishtail in the snow made the rides to campus rather interesting, but still fun.

Even today Deb tells stories about calling the house to see if I was there (before cellphones) and my mom telling her I was outside working on you (usually the weekly wash and wax before we went out.)

The next stage in our relationship involved the engine transplant. Looking back (and lugging a few 2.3L Turbo engines around recently) I don't know how I got that motor home in your backseat. With a slightly peppier engine you were a lot of fun to drive. Still not sure how we made it down to that shop to fix the brakes after the transplant, but everything ended up okay, right?

And drive we did in the summer of 1989 to Houston TX. From entering Mississippi after a tornado (my first experience with the dead calm after such a storm) to driving around Houston with Connecticut plates and getting more than a few 'Yankee' comments, to the Hurricane that dumped 10 inches of rain in an hour and I was stupid enough to drive home in. To giving me a piece of home as I got lonely and tried to figure out what Deb and my relationship meant.

Our first introduction to 'Southern Summer' made it painfully clear to me that I needed A/C in my next car, which meant you probably wouldn't be with me much longer. We did make the most of that summer, going to a drag racing track a couple of times (yeah, 15-flat was fast in the 80's) and that crazy 24-hour drive back to CT with Pat. Including Pat watching the Ferrari blow past us like we were standing still even though we were well above the speed limit. (oh and I still want to know what happened to your passenger window ...)

When I got the offer to move to Georgia, I knew you weren't coming with me without A/C. From what I understand some of my cousins drove you until my Uncle Billy sold you to parties unknown.

Just so you know, I didn't give up on owning another Capri. Took a lot longer than I expected but I'm working on restoring one right now.

Oh and I'm going to try to get a custom tag you'd find funny: 'NO STANG'.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lego Mini-figs as party favors!

Christopher's 6th birthday party is tomorrow and we are going to have a Lego theme. A few months ago Deb and I had the great idea, give each kid a Mini-fig as a party favor. We found a nice, cheap box of figures and ordered it, thinking it would take a few minutes to separate them.

Well, not quite. None of the figures were assembled NOR WERE THEY EVEN PACKAGED TOGETHER.

All the boy heads were in one package, the girls in another and the bodies and legs in all five. Oops, this is going to take a while!

Dr. Frankenstein?

An hour and thirty minutes later, all assembled and packaged together.

Despite being a pain, I'm sure they will be a hit with the kids.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Christopher doing the Chicken Dance

I'm still not sure why they did this at school tonight, but he had a lot of fun: