The Course Not Taken

By Sky

What class do you regret not taking?

While in graduate school in a non-medical field, I had the opportunity to take an EMT course for free, as long as I committed to a certain number of volunteer hours. Back then, I had the time for the class, but not enough to be sure I could do the volunteer hours.

Now I wish I had taken it, even if I had to pay for it.

I have had to deal with all sorts of minor medical kid emergencies, and I really have no idea how to tell a sprain from a break, or the start of anaphylaxis from bad hives. I’ve spent much more in unnecessary co-pays than I would have on the class – today’s jaunt to the x-ray for a possible broken ankle will cost me $800.

What class would you have taken if you could do it over again?

What would you take now if you had more time?


118 thoughts on “The Course Not Taken

  1. Hmmm, I think my “courses not taken” belong more to the hypothetical world vs. “course I could actually have taken in college.”

    I would love to have taken a history course that really tied together themes and stories instead of wars and kings and droning droning droning.

    I would love to have taken an economics course. But at the time, it was all “efficient markets” and statistics and rational actors. The stuff that interests me is the behavioral economics, which basically hadn’t been invented/discovered yet.

    If I could go back and do it all again now, I’d love to do a full “Great Books” approach, like they do at St. John’s.

    I want to get those “history of everything” class DVDs someone referred to here a few months ago.

  2. I would have taken a couple of linguistics courses as an undergrad, and perhaps have followed that academic path, although at that specific time the focus of the discipline was not particularly on historical linguistics, which is the sort of nerdy problem solving that I to this day like to pursue. And more logic courses – one educational high point was being able to prove Gödel’s theorem. OTOH, I would also have liked to have more physics and math available to me in secondary school. I might have figured out that I wasn’t going to pursue those subjects instead of trying to catch up in college and had time to try out the courses mentioned above.

  3. Also Latin and Greek. And an actual course in logic, as Meme mentioned, would be great.

  4. “The stuff that interests me is the behavioral economics, which basically hadn’t been invented/discovered yet.”

    Uhhh…yes it had, unless you are much older than I think you are. Richard Thaler, among others (he cites them in his current book on the topic called “Misbehaving”) was teaching this stuff at my grad school in 1983. Oh, and I recommend the book. Now maybe it wasn’t wide-enough spread when you were in undergrad to have someone on the faculty who embraced it, but that’s a different story.

  5. Probably stuff in Anthropology. Or maybe that’s more of an interest of mine now…the how did we get here? kind of question.

  6. I was so focused on getting out of school as quickly and cost effectively as possible, I did not take anything I did not absolutely need on my degree plan. I am not sure what I would have chosen then, but feeling that I had the flexibility (and funding) to taking something more than I needed would have been nice.

  7. There are a lot of other classes I ought to have taken, if only someone taught them:

    Dealing with Your Stubborn Toddler (not to mention the next levels, Your Stubborn Preschooler, Child, and Tween)

    Home Renovations: When to Give Up and Move

    How to Find an Honest Auto Mechanic

    Economics of Retail: Is That a Loss Leader You Need, Or More Clutter?

    Art of Persuasion: Adults with Dentist Phobias

    Cooking Five Different Dinners in Ten Minutes

    Laundry without Tears

    Don’t Drum with the Chopsticks: A Primer on Chinese Manners

    When to Butt Out and Stop Offering Advice (life has tried to teach me this one but I keep failing it)

  8. The one class I wish I had taken that would be helpful to me work-wise now would be accounting.

    Mostly I took classes in college and grad school based on a combination of whether I liked the teacher and if the class sounded interesting. In grad school, I picked a concentration with the fewest number of requirements which allowed me to take some classes in other schools like public health and urban planning. Overall, I’m glad I followed this approach.

    I majored in economics undergrad. I don’t remember behavorial economics being much of a topic back then – which is too bad because I find it fascinating now. It was certainly implicit in the micro econ classes I took – but I would have loved to have taken more classes in this area.

    When I retire, I’m looking forward to taking a variety of classes (through elder hostel programs or if I can audit classes at the university here) – like linguistics, art history.

  9. Along Sky’s suggestions – I’d also like to take a class called:

    How to keep your cool when your teen thinks you’re the dumbest person alive (complete with eye rolls and sighs)

  10. Welding.
    I went to art school, so the options for the Math/Science requirement were slim, but the fine arts electives were varied.

  11. LOL Sky!

    In courses that were actually offered? More French, more economics, and more (or any) math and science. Probably also some more English/literature classes. I could probably fill another 2 4-year degrees with the classes that were offered, without getting bored. :)

  12. Milo,

    The Navy has dispatched the destroyer USS Carney to help search for the kids.

  13. Sky – lol! I can help you with the toddler!

    I went to a nice Lib Arts school and was raised by people who truly value education so I took most of the classes that interested me. I would probably have been well served by a logic course. I think if I could do anything now, it would be a carpentry course. I’ve self taught a bunch, but would love someone to show me some of the more sophisticated stuff.

  14. LfB, this is the course but don’t buy it until it goes on sale! They all go on sale for 70% off at least once a year, usually a couple of times. I can only assume the “regular” prices are a form of price discrimination to try to catch the truly price-insensitive or the people who really, really need that particular course right then.

    If you’re happy enough to just listen without visuals, you can get it at Audible:

  15. I really wish I had taken an engineering stats course or other course that covered Bayesian statistics. I took the standard one semester of probability, one semester of plain ol’ stats, which never touched that material. It wasn’t a big deal until this past decade, in which the entire field of artificial intelligence has been transformed by, yep, Bayesian statistics.

    Other than that one, I pretty much took the courses I wanted and avoided the dogs. I was able to place out of both composition and literature. That meant I could take humanities courses that I wanted to take. I took a course on film, and two upper level courses on medieval art history.

    My biggest regret was not working a little harder in undergraduate. My grades were good enough to get into a grad program, but I could have gotten into a more prestigious one with better grades. Well, that would have meant I wouldn’t have met DH, so maybe it was for the best. But I found myself in grad school wishing over and over that I had paid more attention in certain classes, such as abstract algebra. At the time, it seems so, well, abstract. I couldn’t see the point. But when working on my PhD thesis, groups and rings turned out to be very important.

  16. Meme, Godel’sTheorem and linguistics? Are you a computer scientist in the closet?

  17. There are areas that I wasn’t drawn to in college that I find more interesting in hindsight, like design/architecture/visual arts and economics and psychology. Luckily for us, it’s easy to find a lecture series on most academic subjects, or YouTube videos on other topics.

    What I would really like is to follow around people with different jobs, especially those in the skilled trades, in professional kitchens, artisans, small-scale agriculture, and see what they do and how they do it. I’m nosy, or as I prefer to say, curious.

  18. Oh, and I also got to take an upper level straight medieval history course, which was centered on the 1000-1100 period. It was a very thematic course. We read a lot of writings by religious visionaries of the time, and discussed the medieval concept of justice and foreigness. I remember the professor was always using the phrase “the immanence of God”. I really liked that course.

  19. Sky–I feel for you on the broken bone thing! DS2 was wrestling with DS1 and broke his wrist in 2 places. 2 weeks after the final cast came off, they were horsing around again. I told them if their horseplay resulted in any additional injuries, I would make them pay the medical bills!

  20. I also really enjoyed a course on engineering design that I took. We designed lots of weird and wacky toys. And my mathematical logic course was great. Propositional and predicate logic, automated theorem proving, cool stuff like that. I still keep an interest in that area. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out my professor was considered to be a key figure in the field. I found his bio in a book of seminal mathematical theorist later on when I was in grad school

  21. I should have stayed in college another year, maybe, but even as it was, I had a ton of credits. I should have gotten a minor in statistics and taken a course in optics. I would have taken more history and economics classes, German, linear algebra, and the build-your-own-compiler com sci class. Unfortunately, of my chem e classes, only reaction kinetics was really interesting and useful. I correctly predicted that Florida would have the most problematic airbags of any state (climate + population are the key factors) before the newspaper article told me. (Louisiana may or may not have a higher per capita airbag problem. :)

    Moxie, you might check your community college for carpentry classes. Our community college has an “open shop” option where you pay a relatively small sum to use the shop and get advice from an experienced instructor. The instructors are usually VERY good.

  22. Mooshi – one the courses I did take was introduction to computing, in 1970. I programmed at a teletype in MACRO, which was DEC assembly language. Plus Fortran and some other stuff and a foray into the latest thing, which was LISP. The class was an Applied Math class with calc and linear algebra as prereqs. There were 150 students, 3 girls.

    It wasn’t until I started participating in TOS that I came to realize that I am fundamentally a somewhat socially challenged geek, and that my entire family and circle of friends are too. It has been liberating, to say the least, to embrace that identity and enjoy it.

  23. There are very good decision rules for ankle and knee x-rays as well as head CTs. Search for “Ottawa ankle” (or knee) and it can explain whether or not you need an xray better than an EMT. For head injury, “PECARN” rules can tell you if you need a head CT.

    I wouldn’t regret that missed EMT class too much – in my experience, EMTs are trained to see worst case scenarios and are heavier than average ER users.

  24. Awesome, Ada! If someone writes a book called, “Whether Your Child Needs to See a Doctor,” we would likely be consumers. Mr. WCE and I have this discussion fairly frequently. I am heavily on the “They’ll probably get better on their own” side of the spectrum.

  25. Unfortunately DD is not a reliable witness when it comes to her own injuries. If you ask her, everything hurts, and it is all 9 out of 10.

    During the pediatric visit I was struggling to find a way to say “this child is a drama queen” and finally stuck with “certain people have what you might call a very low pain threshold.”

    I’m hoping a note to that effect was put in the file….

  26. I have found that erring on the side of the medical visit, ER visit, x-ray, etc. to be the best course of action. Every time I think the injuries are minor, they need stitches, casts, etc.

  27. @Moxie — FWIW, this place is (somewhat) near you: — this is where DH got his start (I got us both an “intro to woodworking” lesson for our first Hanukkah post-marriage; he took to it, I didn’t). They do a variety of classes, but then (if they still follow the same approach) you can also get a membership that allows you to use their tools. DH decided pretty quickly that he was very into it and so it made more sense to buy his own tools, but that seems like a reasonable idea to try it out and see if it’s something you’re really going to do on your own.

    @Fred — wow, who knew? Even when I was in law school in the late ’80s, the hugely popular theory was the Judge Posner “everything is a cost-benefit analysis” that spilled over into law (IIRC, the Chicago School was really in ascendance then — but given my earlier comment, big fat obvious grain of salt). I wasn’t aware of anything to the contrary until probably the mid-’90s.

  28. Regarding broken bones, I recall my cousins and friends playing outside a lot but there weren’t any broken bones. There wasn’t any child proofing in the houses and the floors were tile without carpet, so no cushioning of any kind. Beds were lower but you fell on the hard floor.
    Injuries were lots of bruising and some required stitches but no casts. I sometimes wonder whether our kids’ bones are more brittle than what I experienced in my childhood in the home country.

  29. “Every time I think the injuries are minor, they need stitches, casts, etc.”

    Man, I just have such poor judgment on this. It seems like every time I run to the doctor, it’s nothing. But then when I tell myself I’m overreacting and try to ignore it, it’s something bad, and I should have taken them in earlier. Ugh.

  30. WCE- Great Idea.
    Laura – you just totally rocked my world! Thank you!!!

    “I told them if their horseplay resulted in any additional injuries, I would make them pay the medical bills!”

    I just got back from a funeral of a peer and have sadly had a few of these lately and I have learned that many things that make you crazy as a parent are the very things that are heartwarming stories that we all laugh at at funerals. We all have a good chuckle about the time my husband split his chin open on the front steps on the way to Mother’s Day Brunch. Remembering that helps me keep it together as a mom when I really want to throttle them. Kind of like the old “traged + time = comedy”

  31. Bones get micorfractures in them from stress (jumping off a platform, minor falls, etc) – those cause remodeling of the matrix to make it stronger. This is why weight-bearing exercise is recommended for the prevention of osteoporosis. I would suspect that some kids have less robust bones than kids in previous generations. Vit D exposure (per Rhett), may also play a role.

    I miss Anne from TOS – she was so bold about her self-reliance (and probably not truthful). I remember the day she wrote that she only takes the kids into the Dr. for the really severe fractures that she can’t set herself at home.

    If you ask a provider who works in acute care/emergency services, I think you would find they do less for their families than they do for their patients. One of mine had a fairly significant head laceration – blood everywhere, looked like a crime scene. I would have stapled it at home, but I didn’t have a stapler (a problem that has been rectified). I really didn’t want to take her in. I often tell people with lacerations that there are many choices and go over the risks and benefits of each option (suture, glue, staples, “secondary intention” – fancy term for do nothing). Almost no one ever picks “do nothing” – by the time they have waited to see me, they are going to do something. For my child, I did nothing – a combination of laziness and confidence. She had a terrible scab on the back of her head for about 10 days that she wouldn’t let me pick out. It finally fell off and she had a bright pink scar that looks like every stapled wound when the staples come out.

    I had patient with a minor cut over the ankle. For various reasons (infection risk, expediency) I decided to not close it, after weighing option with the parent. They had waited 4 hours for that conversation, and we did a nice job bringing the edges together with “butterfly bandages”. The kid (old enough to know better) picked the bandages off the next day, the school nurse called mom and said, “OMG! They should have put stitches in” and I got a formal patient complaint out of the deal. It biases me against the next time when stitches are not strictly necessary.

    My point is that one should not assume something needed to be done just because something was done.

  32. It could also be that broken bones just weren’t diagnosed. I had a leg X-ray earlier this year and the doc asked how I had broken my leg previously. Ummm in childhood I guess. I remember one sibling kicked me really hard, it really hurt, but I didn’t go to the doctor. I wonder how common that sort of thing was.

  33. Ada, that was Yankee, not Anne. Anne did not set her own fractures (and also allows jello).

  34. “I sometimes wonder whether our kids’ bones are more brittle than what I experienced in my childhood in the home country.”

    I also think it may be the increase in soda intake…

    OT – finished the math minor in College (I needed 2 more classes); more history classes (thematic; not on X date this happened, and then this happened); maybe even a few lit classes; I would have loved to take a film class;

    Classes that are never taught –
    -First time issues – like all the tips and tricks about renting cars (did not know that my personal car insurance covered rentals out of state in non-accident situations), finding the best loans, the best budgeting programs and why I should use them, stuff like that (maybe called all the things you learn by doing wrong the first time)
    -negotiating 101 (everything I learned I learned from you all – so thank you!)
    -this too shall pass – a look at all the things that seem huge but really aren’t (AKA how NOT to sweat the small stuff)

  35. ” If someone writes a book called, “Whether Your Child Needs to See a Doctor,” we would likely be consumers.”

    When I was with an HMO, every year I’d get a book that went over a whole litany of issues and symptoms and told us when to call the nurse, see the doctor, or take care of it yourself.

  36. SeattleSoccerMom, I took an evening accounting class at SCCC years ago.

  37. I took French through high school, but want to learn Spanish. I’ve been talking about this for a while now… There is a Spanish 101 class for the fall semester that I can audit at the state U branch campus near my house that fits in my schedule. Almost a perfect opportunity, but I haven’t signed up yet – partly because I don’t know how(!) and partly because I don’t know if I can walk the walk after talking the talk…

  38. Hijack – Saturday was a bad airline day for my DD. As I think we have discussed before the airlines have a wide variety of policies (and pricing) for traveling teens. Well, we were on the receiving end of a – you let them travel alone, no our problem on Saturday. The issue was the airline re-routed the teen who was eligible to travel as an adult on that airline, but not on the one they moved them to. The second airline declined to let my DD board, which upset her because now her original plane and the denied plane had left and she was half way across the country. In fairness, the airline that declined her did everything right – called me, made sure she ate, put her in a safe area, and got her rerouted back on the original carrier to get her home as soon as they could.

    When I tried to talk to the original airline at the airport, I was told – no supervisor today, please feel free to drive back to the airport and pay parking tomorrow when we will have a supervisor here; no we don’t have a number you can call or anyone you can speak to; and as a ticketing agent I wouldn’t know that another airline had different rules. And, the one that takes the cake – your complaint won’t change anything because we have no responsiblity to determine if a passenger is eligble for the flight we reroute them on. Yep, I just about exploded. On top of that, for this airline there appears to be no phone number that gets you to anyone who can take this complaint, you must do it online. Even the agents at the customer service number direct you to the wesite. Of course, COMPLAINT is not an option only “OTHER”.

  39. I really wish I knew how to speak Spanish, but I don’t want to go back to school or even listen to Rosetta Stone. I just wish I never took French, and that I studied Spanish instead during MS, HS and college. It would make my life so much easier because I can’t communicate with people in my own home. (a current experience due to my renovation). On a side note, the renovation is crushing me. I haven’t been this miserable, angry, depressed, stressed or sleep deprived since the financial crisis in 07-08. In some ways, this is even worse because I chose this contractor, and I paid money for this nightmare in my own home.

    I am going to take some free classes at Apple when I finally get done with this reno. There are just too many basic things that I don’t know how to use on my phone, or laptop. I live near two stores, and the classes are offered all of the time – so I just have to make the time and get to the classes.

  40. 2:48 — if your complaint submitted through the website isn’t getting any satisfactory response after a reasonable time, there are the options of writing an actual letter to their corporate offices; publicizing the experience on social media; and/or contacting someone like this guy (search the site first to see if this problem has come up before).

  41. Our bathroom renovation took a month rather than the projected 3 weeks. A number of little things extended the time, each one adding a half or full day on to the project. The last week, no kids were home, so it didn’t really affect us. Will say, our one cat was used to him coming (and walking through the project to “supervise”) and for the two days after he finished, the cat sat at the window waiting for him.

  42. Ditto to HM. I had a friend who had good results shaming the airline on Twitter (especially) and FB.

  43. I haven’t read all the comments, but I’m looking forward to seeing if anyone else is as shame faced by this post as I am. I had a chance to take a poetry class taught by Maya Angelou. I did not take it because I was afraid I would not be able to get an A. I think of this every time the discussion turns to grades and working to one’s potential. The line between “we expect your best!” and “take no risks!” can be wavy.

  44. Lauren – feel free to vent. In my first experience with reno 6 years ago (two bathrooms with construction, walls being moved, etc) , the contractor and delays were acceptable, and the results excellent, but in hindsight I overpaid by 20%. That is probably why he took all the glitches in stride, including mistakes by the required architect, wrong items delivered and issues with the subcontractors. However, I had no intention of having my home torn up again, so I went with a kitchen lite refacing/reno last year. In both situations, it was only a couple of workers for the subs whose first language was not English, and I don’t recall any communication issues.

  45. HfN, This is a hard trade-off. I wound up with a lower GPA because of the type and volume of courses I took. Like Mooshi, it would have kept me from getting into a top graduate program.

    I’ve come to realize I’m a generalist, and graduate school is for specialists. But in real life (WCE, please get this equipment working for all future cases of projects that we don’t know exist yet), being a generalist is kind of fun. Parenting is also for generalists, and combining equipment qualification with parenting is a juggle all its own. :)

  46. I’m done with high-minded academic crap. There are a variety of courses at the vo-tec college that appeal to me — sewing (though I already know how), upholstery, event planning, maybe some other stuff.

  47. I have no excuse for not taking almost any course, certainly any online course. There are so many options available to me, and I currently have the time. Obviously it’s just not that important right now. At the moment I can’t think of any I’ve regretted not taking in the past. I’ve taken many courses I wanted to, both in college and later on.

    Right now I’m googling how to get rid of ants in one of my sneakers, but I’m not sure if that would have been covered in any course! (After a hike this weekend I noticed tiny ants had invaded one of my sneakers, maybe attracted by the post-hike ice cream that dripped on my shoe. Weirdest thing . . .)

    Anon, I had good luck using Twitter to request a resolution for an airline problem.

  48. Lauren, we did a major renovation on our house in 2006. It was horrible, horrible, horrible. We were out of the house, in a one bedroom apartment, for 5 months. In the middle of it all, we had to go to China to get our new baby, and then we had to return to that miserable one bedroom apartment. The only good thing was that I was mentally prepared, because one of my co workers had just gone through a very similar, year long renovation on his house and I had heard him constantly complaining.

  49. My friend at UAL told me that they have a couple of people who just read the letters sent to corporate, compose polite responses, and then toss the letters. I guess they keep some statistics on the letter topics. But that is it. My friend had a good friend in that position, which is why she knew a lot about the kinds of complaints they got.

  50. I took an interesting class on mushrooms pre kids and then went to a mushroom festival on the Oregon Coast. The local extension service often has good information on gardening/vegetables/fruits for your area. I’m figuring I’ll have more time for all this again in 10 or 20 years.

    I like the Vitamin D topic a lot. I’ve pretty much decided that for all aspects of life, I’ll try to stay out of the bottom 20% and if I can be in the top half, well, bonus. The main two factors for osteoporosis are age and genetics. Being overweight (BMI > 25 but probably <28-30) is probably the most healthful choice you can make. I suspect RMS will be incredibly healthy, since she exercises regularly but avoids maintaining an extremely low BMI. Maybe we'll discover that "normal" (BMI 18-25) vs. "overweight" (BMI 25-30) is too crude a metric for population distinctions someday.

  51. MM – I am generally expecting that. It is just that it would seem to be prudent to me to have an internal control in their process – under 16 – verify they are eligible to travel on the airline you are rerouting the customer to.

  52. @Rocky — Awesome! I just checked, and my library has the DVDs — I just put in a hold request, maybe we can get them for Scotland this August. I figure the kids watch “How It’s Made” and the science-y stupid human tricks show (weird acts of science??), so this might go over decently with the whole family.

    Yeah. The geek is strong in this one.

  53. Anon,

    What do you want them to do? 20k FF miles? A refund of the ticket?

    I’d say tweeting would be my first option. I’ve had good luck with that.

  54. I don’t understand how people move out – even if you have all of the money in the world unless someone (designer or home owner) is here at least once a day. My contractor was given the wrong floor tile for my master bath. right tile, wrong color. they installed it and I told them they were given the wrong color. the tile store made a mistake even though the order was correct.

    Another day, my toilet paper holder for the powder room was installed in the hall bath.

    A room that was just supposed to be painted, had everything stripped from a closet. no shelves etc.

    i would love to disappear for a month, but mistakes are made EVERYDAY. My contractor actually has really nice guys here now, but they can only install what they are given….and there seem to be a lot of errors.

  55. I’m too tired to think about taking a class. I’m happy to come home from work, feed the family, tidy the house, and watch tv/read a book. Hopefully with a glass of wine or cup of tea. You guys are all very energetic and intellectually curious.

  56. “You guys are all very energetic and intellectually curious.”

    In my hypothetical alternative reality, where I have neither job nor obligations of any sort.

  57. Lauren,

    Couldn’t you have a list and go through everything every Friday afternoon with the GC?

  58. Houston, for whatever reason, I find watching a lecture on microbiology or geological wonders or something very soothing. Whereas tv dramas can put me on edge.

    Of course that’s totally different from actually taking a class, even an online class, where you need to do the reading, write the papers, and so on.

  59. We didn’t have a choice. The entire back wall of our house was open to the elements. There was no plumbing. We had to move out. Yes, we met with the contractor most days, usually around the time of school pickup (kids were still in our regular school district, so we had to trek down the Hutch every day to retrive them.). The worst was trying to deal with the contractor from China, and wouldn’t you know, that was the exact moment that all the tile was being installed. My DH ended up on the phone every morning at 6am talking to the contractor, and getting photos of stuff emailed to us.

  60. Rhett, problems come up pretty much daily, so the idea of a Friday meeting with a list is pretty unrealistic.

  61. Sometimes I feel bad that the last significant renovation we did was when my oldest (currently in high school) was a baby, but you’re making me feel a lot better about it.

  62. When you get the phone call telling you that the cabinets that actually showed up are beige rather than white, you can either decide yourself whether the color is OK or whether you can stand to wait another 3 weeks for the right cabinets to show up – or you can let the contractor decide. Most people will end up happier if they make the decision rather than leaving it to the contractor. When they discover a crack in the stone foundation that is going to cost you a lot more to fix, would you want the contractor to just go ahead? Probably not. When it is time to order the siding, you can do it right away so the stuff shows up on time, even if it is a Sunday, or you can wait 5 days for your regular Friday meeting, adding 5 days of delay to the project. Most people will want to keep the process moving by making decisions in a timely fashion.

  63. RMS…avoids maintaining an extremely low BMI.


    HM, I know just what you mean about those biology or geology shows. You know that nothing terrible is going to happen. No small child will get raped, no dogs will be kicked, nobody will get impaled on a stalactite. They’ll just show you the stalactite and speak instructively about it.

  64. When I did the bathroom reno I had to be there every day. There were always decisions to be made, such as how to position the towel racks. I ran out to the hardware store numerous times for small items that weren’t on the original list. The amount of one size of required tile went up when the tile guru came in and refined the design. It was on order, but sat on the customs dock for two weeks after arriving from Italy because there were bugs in the packing. (we actually went on vacation when the job ran long – they finished up, we did the walkthrough when we came back. This was pre-cats, of course. ) The architect tried to save money with a premade pan but it didn’t fit, so they had to build a custom tile pan. The painting sub contractor took forever and did poor work. They sent the wrong toilet. The plumber was a rude diva. They had to sister the joists to support the soaking tub. But the GC had one of the young guys running this small job as site supervisor in training, so he was there every day and eager to please.

  65. Mooshi,

    That makes sense. I guess that’s why people pay a premium for move in ready.

    With the caninets and tile, etc – is there no system of sticks and carrots to keep it on track? It will take 6 weeks and cost $100k every week it’s late will incure a $3500 penalty. If the cabinets are cream instead of white and that will drag things out three weeks the GC and the cabinet vendor can work out how to split the cost?

  66. Item #5 from the Angie’s list guide to negotiating a home improvement contract:

    5. Penalties for missed completion dates: Give yourself options to deduct or delay payment if completion dates are missed to encourage the contractor to meet your time frame. Be specific about amounts and clearly define terms.

  67. I believe payment schedules based on completed job items are pretty standard*, but it’s hard to imagine most contractors agreeing to forego payment because of a delay. Assigning blame is a challenge. So in the example of tile being delayed because of an error the supplier made, no one is willing to be docked for that, particularly for smallish (in the neighborhood of $100k) home remodeling jobs.

    * And some of us who’ve gone through the experience swear that the GC prices the job so that he still profits even if the last one or two payments are never made! At that point he usually has another job to start, and he can delay your job completion indefinitely.

    “There were always decisions to be made, such as how to position the towel racks.”

    In theory a designer could do this. We didn’t hire a designer, only architect & GC. I made drawings and wrote instructions on many details, including things like where to put the towel racks and where to position shower controls. However, between mistakes and unforeseen circumstances, many of those details required almost daily supervision by me. It’s a huge PITA.

  68. Rhett, you can put those terms in the contract, but when I broached it during the bidding process some were ready to walk out and either did or gave me the kind of crazy estimate that says they don’t want the work. Lauren’s in a similar market.

    We ended up using our GC’s standard contract even though I could have easily written it to be more protective of us. I added a clause addressing his ceasing work for more than ten days without our consent which would deal with his death, disability, or walking off the job, and that was it.

    Lauren, when I did this last year (luckily as a SAHM), I tried to be home every morning for the first hour of work, which is when most things were delivered and new workers arrived. I introduced myself to anyone new, looked at anything that arrived, and told them all that if there were any questions, however minor, to call my cell. Number was on the fridge.

    Most days I also stopped back in at lunch to look around and chat with the subs.

    There are some GC’s who hate that, but I had been up front during bidding about the fact that I am home all day and still living in the house.

    I was also scrupulous about communicating all changes and issues through the GC, even if that meant the sub stood there while I called the GC’s cell and texted him a picture of the issue. That kept the GC in the loop and ensured we didn’t unwittingly incur more costs or delay another part of the project.

    There was a really good book on managing your project and your general contractor which I can track down if anyone wants it. It saved us a LOT of grief.

  69. Also the remodeling “act of God” type stuff – there is no one to blame – isn’t going to be covered by the contractor. When they started to dig a hole for a new foundation for a small extension to our home it was discovered that our next-door-neighbor had a brick foundation (which was about an inch from our house), and because it wasn’t stable or could crumble or something like that, we had to stop and have a structural engineer come out and design some kind of work around. It probably took a week or so to get started again.

  70. “Unfortunately DD is not a reliable witness when it comes to her own injuries. If you ask her, everything hurts, and it is all 9 out of 10.” WHen I was pregnant the first time I asked the OB/GYN “Will it (giving birth) hurt a lot?” She said “Well you are young and haven’t been through much so yes, it will be the worst pain you have ever felt.” She was great

    Ada – you have reminded me that out of frustration and time, I now remove all stitches in myself and my family members myself with cuticle scissors. I’ve done it for neighbors too.

    Honolulu – WebMD has allowed me to self diagnose with both ALS and Scleroderma. I know just enough to rob myself of sleep for days.

    Grocery Bags, do it! Take the Spanish. Andele

    Anon airline mess – agree with shaming them on Twitter.

    Hour From Nowhere – what an absolute shame. I do often wonder what passions remained locked away or opportunities missed by kids who don’t want to risk messing up their GPA!

    Lauren – THE WORST! I hate to say this but if you are married sometimes it works best to have a man give them the business. Sadly, sometimes they just respond better. It is not the biggest feminist move but sometimes I abandon feminism in the interest of expediency. Good luck and remember, no on in the Sudan is complaining about the wrong Italian tile. When things get really dark, I always go to the Sudan for perspective. Poor Sudan.

  71. rhett, I am dealing with the GC. He had to fire the guys he left here for the first two weeks because they were so bad. It was one of his teams, but the head of that crew was really checked out with some sort of family problem. I just think my GC is spread too thin because he has some other jobs in the city right now. I had so many recommendations for this guy. I’ve been down this road many, many times because I renovated my kitchen and then I had to rebuild the entire back of my house when the tree crashed into my house during hurricane sandy. I am not a newbie, but this time…we went with a new contractor that my parents had recently used. Several friends had great experiences with him, and if you check Angies list right now about this guy – he has won numerous awards from them.

    The problem is just real life sets in, and he has some staffing issues in his office, and with his #2 guy. The tile store person goes on vacation for a week, and the tile people give the GC the wrong tile etc. You have to be here because these guys are not mind readers. They do have a lot of questions about where you want a sconce, or the type of light for a closet. The tile you order is suddenly out of stock, or the guy that needs to template and deliver your counter slab can’t make it because of a major storm etc etc. Also, they clean each day, but it would be so gross in the rest of my house if I allowed this dust to accumulate for two months.

  72. Moxie, I know you’re right. My friend was in a random car accident a week ago, and her whole life was changed in a second. I keep trying to remind myself that it is just a house, but it is hard when there is no place to hide. I did spend an hour in the library today, and I got a lot of work done.

  73. Lauren, not trying to minimize your situation, just trying to lighten it a little. This too shall pass, it may feel like a kidney stone, but it WILL pass!

  74. I just think my GC is spread too thin because he has some other jobs in the city right now.

    That’s where a performance bonus might come in handy. To Sky’s point: good, fast, cheap – pick two. If you want it done quickly and correctly, it’s going to cost more.

  75. Lauren – if it makes you feel any better, we found that the contractor we had who ran away with about $10K of our money was literally a crackhead. There are bad contractors everywhere!

    We have always acted as our own GC though (even that guy was technically just the tile guy, he had another person doing all the carpentry and we hired our own electrician and plumber).

  76. Lauren, it sounds like your GC is very good when he is running his own jobs, but is going through growing pains as he tries to grow his business, which means finding good people to whom he can delegate.

  77. We got off pretty OK with our GC. The work got done albeit taking about 2 months longer than planned. Part of that was due to a crumbling stone foundation wall they discovered midway through. It could have been worse. A family down the street from us ended up getting sued by the subcontractor because the GC wasn’t paying him. And another friend in town had to fire her GC this summer with all the siding off the house and some interior stuff gutted. She is starting over.

  78. Rhett, it is really hard to find a competent contractor here. If you start making demands or putting punitive clauses into the contract, you won’t find anyone, at least not anyone on the up and up.

  79. Our garage aka shed collapsed this winter from the snow, and so we are now in the process of getting bids and dealing with contractors again. This time, at least it is an exterior structure. But it is too small of a job for a lot of contractors so it has been hard to find someone. And it looks like we have to get a variance from the town, which will take months.

  80. So those missing boys were evidently supposed to stay in the inlet but instead headed out to the Bahamas.

    This is exactly why 14 year olds should not be out in boats alone. They may well have had the boating skills to be safe, but 14 year olds have poor judgement. It comes with the age. There is actually research behind this – teenagers do not have a fully developed ability to control themselves. These teenagers showed that typical poor judgement when they headed to open water. You can call me a helicopter parent, I don’t care. I can’t stand those free range parents that are always in the news anyway – they seem to me to be exploiting their kids for Internet fame.

  81. No one knows if those kids have omnipresent parental control or not. We get kids on our campus with severe depression who most certainly do not have omnipresent parental control. My students could actually benefit from more parental oversight. Depression is an illness that can strike anyone and kids whose parents ignore them kill themselves too.

  82. I actually think that girl needed more oversight. It was clear that the parents had no idea what was going on in her life. They never went in to talk to a teacher???? They seemed completely disconnected from her supposed college admission process too. Those parents were totally clueless and out of touch.

  83. Mooshi,

    They never went in to talk to a teacher????

    So, you welcome when parents meet with you?

  84. In My Day (TM) we still let 14 year olds get driver’s licenses (Well, almost my day – my brother got his at 14, I had to wait until I was 15). There were 14 year olds captaining the great steel land yachts. Of course, there were often deadly results (and thus, the change in laws). However, I have a hard time calling this the worse parenting ever.

  85. I am not sure my parents ever spoke with a teacher of mine after elementary school. And, English is their first language.

  86. Mooshi,

    I’ll give you this – It seems the boat didn’t have a radio. If it were me, I’d get them the beacon knowing that if you tell a neurotypical teen not to do something it just makes them want to do it more.

  87. Rhett, high school teacher. She evidently never graduated from high school, and failed classes, but her parents had no idea. That sounds like free range parenting, not helipcopter style.

    And actually, I like meeting my students parents. It usually only happens at certain events, but I wish I saw more of them. As I said, my students need more, not less parenting. They are not Totebag kids.

  88. Moosh, I am more in favor of free range parenting than not. I think even 14 year old boys need to learn how dumb they are– albeit, not with these consequences.

    I guess I think parents need to be aware of their kid. And push them to do what the parents know darn well the kids know how to do. Harping back to what we have discussed off and on for the last few days, my son and I are about to depart on an obligatory trip to see far-flung sisters. My son is 13. By this time, I would expect him to navigate an airport and a flight to a different city to meet a relative by himself. No way, sadly. Our flights require us to deal with the new American which can’t yet interact with their subsidiary, US Air, which in turn cannot deal with their subsidiary Republic (remember them?). Nobody can interact with the other or read their reservations, confirmations, luggage policy, frequent flyer plans or whatever. Of course what they can do is manage to seat Junior and me in middle seats 20 rows and an aisle away from each other.

    I thought my kid would be okay with this. He wasn’t. So I had to adapt. For the last week or so, I’ve been dealing with three airlines (they say it’s just one) alternately being as pleasant as I can be and as vicious as I can be just to get my son and I seats together.

    Similarly, I expect to retire from driving in two years. I’ve driven in my country too long and I’m going to stop. In my world, Junior will have his learners permit by then and I can sit in the back of my 2016 Lincoln Continental on a six-pack trip to Publix.

    But that really isn’t going to happen. My kid isn’t going to have the skills to know the rules to drive properly. So he won’t do it.

    But if he had those skills, I’d let him. I’m sure the parents of these kids (and apparently Joe Namath) trusted their kids and were sure they had the skills. (No word, I’ve seen about what Burt Reynolds thinks.) I wouldn’t let my kid out on any boat without an adult, but that is my kid and me. If my kid were a different kid, he’d be setting sail alone after homework each weekend to smuggle cigars for me from Cuba.

    On this one, I’m giving the parents a break.

  89. That sounds like free range parenting, not helipcopter style.

    It sounds like a language barrier to me.

  90. PTM,
    Move to Iowa and he can get his permit when he’s 14 and drive you around for 2 years.

    I’m feeling very fortunate to have a selection of good contractors. Your job might run over if they discover a foundation problem, but I don’t see that as the contractor’s fault.

    Mooshi, how much of your problem is building the shed and how much is dealing with permitting? Mr WCE built our shed in two or three weekends, including a cute little cupola on top. A kit would have been even faster but we wanted it to match our house and look like a miniature barn and have a loft with a door you could fit a sheet of plywood through.

  91. “That’s where a performance bonus might come in handy.”

    First house we built, the best thing we did was pure luck: we found out the contractor who owned the lot had already committed to entering the house into a charity home show with a fixed deadline. Didn’t matter what problems he ran into at any of his other houses — we knew ours was going to be done by October 12. :-)

    Now we are mostly in Mooshi’s situation — contacted several reputable contractors about our garage, letting them know we have plans and are ready to go ASAP; so far, the only guy who has called us back is the guy we used recently on a few other (smaller) things. He does good work, but he’s not cheap, and it would be nice to at least get a couple of other bids as a frame of reference. It’s pretty amazing that everyone’s so busy they can’t even return a phone call to see if it’s worth their while.

  92. These stories are part of why we waited for a recession to start interviewing contractors.

  93. Anon, twitter and post on their Facebook page. But as Rhett said, what do you really want them to do? At best you’ll get a voucher for future travel.

  94. My guess is that what Anon wants if for the airlines to fix their problems and not make them ours.

  95. Finn,

    As far as I know the best you can hope for is FF miles. Vouchers and cash are only for when you are denied boarding.

    Anon – was it weather that caused the cancelation?

  96. Finn,

    I think you can also get cash if the flight is delayed due to something under the control of the airline. In my 100s or flights this has never happened.

  97. ” By this time, I would expect him to navigate an airport and a flight to a different city to meet a relative by himself. No way, sadly. Our flights require us to deal with the new American which can’t yet interact with their subsidiary, US Air, which in turn cannot deal with their subsidiary Republic (remember them?). Nobody can interact with the other or read their reservations, confirmations, luggage policy, frequent flyer plans or whatever. Of course what they can do is manage to seat Junior and me in middle seats 20 rows and an aisle away from each other.:”

    “But if he had those skills, I’d let him. I’m sure the parents of these kids (and apparently Joe Namath) trusted their kids and were sure they had the skills. (No word, I’ve seen about what Burt Reynolds thinks.) I wouldn’t let my kid out on any boat without an adult, but that is my kid and me”

    You may say you are in favor of free range parenting (and boy do I hate that term), but your statements sound like my own philosophy. In other words, in theory it would be great to send a kid on a flight by himself, but the ridiculousness of the airlines precludes that, and sending a kid out on a boat without an adult isn’t something you want to do.

    I detest the whole free range vs helicopter parenting thing because I hate labels like that and I think that the best path is somewhere in the middle. I hate that free range family that is always in the news because quite frankly I think they set up those situations so the police will get involved and they can drive traffic to their website. As I have said many times, I deal mostly with 20 year olds who had a lot of free ranging and very little oversight, and it shows in so many ways.

  98. Moosh, I agree with everything you say. And, as typical, you said it well.

  99. What would I like:
    1. An apology – a real one, not the “Oh Sorry” that is thrown around without a thought.
    2. Them to put an internal control in their system to verify eligiblity to fly BEFORE rerouting someone. I had to input her age about 10 times into their system, so they clearly HAVE that information.
    3. We fly so rarely a “discount” or “voucher” doesn’t benefit us.

    As to the reason, still unknown – No weather delay, not overbooked (at least the first flight), it came in 10 minutes early. Planes had to be changed at IAH, so I don’t know if the second plane had the problem of overbooking, etc.

  100. Anon,

    Here is me holding my breath:

    What was the actual harm? That she had to sit in the airport for a while?

  101. Just a thought….does getting texts and calls from your kids make things seem way worse than they are ? I just read DS’s text that he sent me yesterday (he has just begun texting me). It said “Help, come pick me up, just got back – Battery running low”. Now, I must tell him never begin texts with “Help” unless there is an actual emergency.

  102. Rhett – I am not holding my breath, but if you never speak up, then for sure nothing will happen. This time there was no actual harm, other than an upset teen and the original airline foisting a problem on another. If we had booked the later flight and this had happened, she would have been stuck overnight. That would have been a huge problem as almost no one will rent a hotel room to a young teen.

  103. Louise – When the kids got phones we had a discussion about appropriate texts to mom and dad. Help – needs context such as “Help – I forgot my flute, can you bring it by noon to school?” or “Help – My ride isn’t fit to drive, I need a ride home.” The second one will get my immediate attention and action; the first one depending on the day, may result in the kid suffering the consequences. However, making something more urgent than it is can be a safety issue and punishment for “crying wolf” will be harsh.

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