Morgans et al in Florida – Day 1

All of Debi’s family came to Florida for a week long vacation in late May and early June.  We started the trip in Orlando and ended in St. Petersburg.  Here’s a rundown of our activities day by day.

The family was all scheduled to arrived in the evening on the 25th of May.  Debi, Toren, and I drove to the hotel in the Disney Resorts where we were staying to meet them, arriving early intentionally so Toren could spend some time in the pool, which he loves to do.  Since we only had a little while in the pool, I stayed out and took pictures while Debi and Toren swam.  Here are a couple of favorites (I posted some others on his birthday):

Most of the rest of the family arrived around 6:30 and we went to Chevy’s for dinner where Toren and Ethan got animal balloons (Andy and Maddie hadn’t arrived yet; their plane was delayed in Chicago).  There is a photo of Toren with his fish balloon in the gallery above.  It was his bedtime and he was grumpy.  Even though he liked his fish, he needed to get some sleep.

That pretty much did it for the first day.  We hit the sack after Toren did so we’d have some energy for the next day.

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dinosaurs at the zoo

The local zoo had a dinosaur exhibit recently.  We took Toren a couple of times, but he didn’t really seem to like it (despite liking Dinosaur Train); he was scared.  Here’s a picture of him by one of the dinosaurs:

He looks ready to go, doesn't he?

I, of course, had to get a picture of me taunting a dinosaur, since I’m fond of doing that:

I ain't afraid of no stinking dinosaurs!

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We spent most of Easter at the house of some friends where we had a delicious brunch and then went swimming (Toren’s favorite part, of course).  Our friends took a few pictures.

Here I am getting Toren dressed after swimming:

And here’s Toren kissing their dog, Chloe:

I'm assuming he'll grow out of this!

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I got a fracking ticket!  It actually happened on December 21st on my way to do volunteer consulting work for the Tampa Child Abuse Council.  According to the officer, I was doing 50 mph in a 35 mph zone (I was coming down a bridge on North Boulevard over the Hillsborough River and he was parked illegally on a one-way road to clock me).  I drive that road every day to and from school and during rush hour everyone speeds.  I just happened to be on the road during a time other than rush hour and I think that’s why I got ticketed.  Arghh!  He said he’d be nice and drop it to 45 mph.  (Ahem, nice would have been a warning!)

Anyway, whether or not I deserve the ticket, Florida has an interesting policy in place.  You can either: (1) pay the ticket, eat the points against your license (too many and you lose it), and see your insurance go up; (2) fight it in court; or (3) take a defensive driving course and avoid the points against your license and having your insurance go up.  When I first heard about option 3, I thought, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.”  Now, I’m not so sure.

There are some limitations.  You can’t have a commercial license.  If you have a commercial license, your SOL on this one.  You also can only do that once every 12 months and a total of 5 times during your lifetime.  Since I don’t have a commercial license and haven’t had a ticket in over 10 years, I qualified.  So, I decided I’d go this route.

But, of course, we left for Utah for two weeks right after I got the ticket, so I put it off until we got back.  You have 30 days from the date of the ticket to inform the Clerk of Courts what you’re going to do.  Once we got back, I started looking into this and found out that you have to sign an affidavit if you want to take the defensive driving course.  That seemed annoyingly cumbersome; I was going to have to fill out an affidavit just to take the driving course?  Turns out, one is automatically created for you on the Clerk’s website if you know where to look (hint: here).  The ticket doesn’t tell you that, nor does the Clerk’s website nor their rather uninformative phone message.  But I eventually figured it out.  So, I printed out the affidavit, signed it, and sent it with a check to the Clerk’s Office.  Theaddress was also not provided on the ticket; here it is:

Clerk of Circuit Courts
419 Pierce St.
Room #140
Tampa, FL 33602

Now for the class… We put our mail on hold while we were gone.  In the resulting stack I found six advertisements from various companies advertising their defensive driving courses.  It turns out that the defensive driving courses are all run by private companies that are approved by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.  The price of the course varies from about $25.00 to $40.00.  Each of the companies has a selling point: cheapest, longest in business, etc.  Two caught my eye as they claimed to be “funny” or “humorous” courses.  Oh, and the course can be done entirely online, though they set a timer so you have to spend 4 hours on the fracking course.

I tried one of the cheaper ones first, but their website hung when I tried to register, so I went with  The account set up was fine, then I started the course (Monday).  The timer at the bottom is pre-set for each section and you have to wait for it to count down to zero before you can move on (which means I did a lot of multi-tasking while waiting for it to count down to zero).  The course, while full of information, didn’t really include any information I didn’t already know (e.g., a red octagon is the shape of a stop sign; drinking and driving is bad, etc.).  It’s probably not a bad idea to refresh yourself with this information every so often, but I didn’t really learn anything new.  I just spent four hours skimming the information, answering the questions, and then taking the test to avoid points and an insurance increase.

Oh, and I know the question everyone is wondering: Was it actually funny?  The answer: No.  After every few paragraphs of text they would just insert a joke, including sometimes inappropriate jokes about drinking and driving or hitting pedestrians, on the very pages where those things were strongly condemned.  Hilarious!    😐

And while the price isn’t that steep (they all advertise $8.00 or so on their flyers with an “*” leading to disclaimers), the actual price includes various fees, liking printing up a certificate and a mandatory state fee.  At the end, they also try to upsell you by offering to email your certificate directly to the Clerk or fax it to you or various other things, each option costing another $10.00 to $20.00.

So, I’m torn about this.  I think I’m benefiting from a program that prevents points from going on my record and keeping my insurance company from raising my rates.  But this is highly commercialized and seems like it is just a money making scheme for these companies.  If the State of Florida made this driving course “in-house,” not only could they more closely screen the content (removing the inappropriate, undermining jokes), but they could make more money.  And since pretty much every state is having budget crises, that seems like a no-brainer.

What do you think?  Is this a worthwhile service that should be provided be third-party, for-profit corporations or should it be handled in-house?  And should it even be an option?

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Ski show in November?

What did you do over Thanksgiving weekend? I’m guessing there is no one else who reads this blog who did what Toren and I did (Debi included). We went to a water skiing show! Yep, it was a bit chilly (in the mid 60s), but still plenty warm for water skiing in Tampa. I’ve always wanted to attend a ski show and see pyramids and jumps, which they did.  The show was pretty impressive.  Pictures of Toren at the show on his own little fold up chair and videos below:

Toren on his chair at the water skiing show

A clip of jumping at the show:

Another clip of jumping at the show:

This clip is of the drill line:

This clip is of two trios (two guys holding one girl):

This last clip is of two pyramids:

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Another reason to like Florida

I walked out of my building yesterday on my way to my car to go home and saw this:

Plant Hall and the University of Tampa in November

I walk past this almost everyday, but rarely notice it.  The sun setting on Plant Hall struck me as very beautiful.  Oh, and it was 85 degrees yesterday.  Sucks to be me, right?!?   😉

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neighborhood activity

Our neighborhood has seen a little activity of late.  Unfortunately, the father of one of our good friends/neighbors, Mike Leon, passed away last week.  Mike had lived with them for most of the past year and a half or so, so we knew him.  It was sudden, even though Mike was 85.  We attended the funeral Friday.

And then there was the DEA raid on a different neighbor’s house on Wednesday.  That neighbor, while seemingly a nice guy, was one of the people involved in the pill mill that was raided by the DEA several months back.  A month or so before the first raid, he bought the house across the street from us.  Since he bought it, it has been a hub of activity.  I haven’t seen anything illegal and haven’t reported anything, but Wednesday morning the neighbor whose dad passed away called and told me to look out my front window.  Sitting in front of our house were four DEA agents.  There were half a dozen vehicles parked up and down the street.  They waited in front of our neighbor’s house all day (I’m assume waiting on the warrant).  They finally went in around 6:30pm.  I’m not sure if they found anything or not, but by the time they went in, there were probably 20 vehicles parked around the neighbor’s house and about 30 agents swarming the property.  I later found out that our neighbor was arrested and charged with various things earlier in the day.  We haven’t seen him since, though I believe he posted bail.  Like I said, he seems like a nice enough guy. I was really hoping that he’d clean up his act after the first raid.  Maybe not.

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Toren on the beach

In early October we attended the wedding of one of my colleagues.  It was on the beach in St. Petersburg.

Toren + beach = playing in the sand

Toren also got to run around during the reception, but he wasn’t particularly disruptive, despite running all over the hotel.

We spent the night in the hotel that night so we could stay fairly late at the reception. It was loads of fun.

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nice story about my brother Mark

I was chatting with my Mom over IM the other day when she told me a story about my brother Mark (well, sort of).  A little background is required.  After the funeral and the internment ceremony, there was a reception at my parents church (which is right next to the cemetery).  At the reception there were blue, helium-filled balloons.  Those who went to the reception were asked to write a message to Mark on a 3×5 card and staple it to the strings attached to the balloons.  At the end of the reception they were going to let them go.  We actually missed this part of the reception as Toren came down with a fever during the reception, so we left early and took him to a clinic in Ogden.  Anyway, the balloon release took place as planned, leading up to this story:

Eugenie: You know how we let the balloons go?

Ryan: Yeah.

Eugenie: Well, the next Sunday after church – that was 4 days later – Kristen (one of Mark’s sisters-in-law) looked up on the hill where his grave is.  There was one blue balloon hovering over his grave.

The nice thing about this story is that a it’s a touching story regardless of your worldview.

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