Common Core Standards

Yesterday we went to a community festival and besides the regular girl scout troops, church groups, local politicians, and sub-par musicians you’d see at any similar event, there was a new group of folks dotting the crowd wearing anti-Common Core t-shirts.

They weren’t passing out literature or anything, thankfully, but “someone” was clearly trying to set an opinion.

I chuckled to myself a bit as I think much of the message they were likely trying to convey was lost based on the folks they’d convinced to wear their t-shirts. It would’ve been a pretty safe bet to say that out of the whole lot of them, maybe one had more than a 4th grade education.

Or a job.

Or taken a shower in the past week.

Regardless of who they’d (poorly) chosen to deliver their message, I’m not really sure what the big fuss is about — besides the blind apprehension to change some folks have — though I’m confident that there are great arguments supporting both sides.

I’m pretty indifferent on this one. I think?

One idea I’m pretty aware of is how a lot of vocal parents out there think their kid is “special” or ahead of the curve and “common core” will only hold back their potential.

I’ll keep it short and just say, I disagree.

And I’ve also seen a lot of propaganda out there on social media from my right-leaning friends about how long division (among other things) isn’t taught correctly anymore because of common core with ludicrous examples of how 10 divided by two is now equal to 4 or some such nonsense.

I’m not certain if it’s part of the Republican and Tea Party agenda to crush the concept, based on my social media experience, it just seems that way. It’s all Obama’s fault, all the time, after all.

I guess I support the idea of a common core education under the impression that the point is to give all kids across all school systems the same education. Kinda sad that somehow gets turned into a political issue.

Go ahead friends, call me a socialist.

Things change and education should too. My oldest smurfling, now 5, is learning how to tie his shoes these days. I was never taught the “bunny around the loop” technique when I was a kid and that’s what he’s being taught. I accept that.

I know the “bunny” method was around back when I was a kid too. I’d heard about it but my parents weren’t “fluffy” when it came to teaching me how to tie my shoes (in the pre-velcro era, I might add).

Even still, based on how often my kids shoes come untied compared to how often mine do, sorry, I think my way is better.

But if the “bunny” method happened to be a common core standard, well, I’m okay with that.

I know my way *is* better but the end result is essentially the same — tied shoes. And I think that’s the point that a lot of people are missing.

Sure, there are a few things in there, such as the bunny, that are just plain silly but, in general, it’s a good idea.

Regarding something that’s a lot more likely to be in the curriculum, when I was in third grade, we listened to 45′s on a record player in math class that played songs where the lyrics were times tables.

I can still hear it in my head now — “Six times Six is Thirty-Six!”

It was nothing more than memorization. We weren’t taught the concept at all. I didn’t know why it was 36 — I just knew…because of a jingle.

As far as I’m concerned now, that was a total failure on the part of the school system.

Sure, I figured it all out the right way eventually, but I certainly wasn’t taught multiplication — I just memorized it.

Do I want my kids to be taught the same way I was? Absolutely not.

Change, in this case and from my perspective, is good.

Now I know it’s unrealistic to think that every school across the country can be on the same page — logistically impossible — but I do think it might be a good idea that they’re all within the same chapter at least.

I switched schools, states, and even countries during my elementary and secondary school years. My first — and most difficult — switch occurred between first and second grade when I moved from Illinois to Connecticut.

Culture shock for a seven year old all on its own, sure. I was light years ahead of my Connecticut peers when it came to reading and writing. For math, I was a little behind — yes, even in a school system where they used a record player to teach us. Ouch.

My real Achilles heel, though, was alphabetical order (which was detailed in this post from years ago).

While I could read and write at a level far beyond anyone in my class, the entire concept of alphabetical order was foreign to me. It apparently wasn’t a priority or even a part of the curriculum in Illinois and, frankly, it made me feel like an idiot for my first few months in the new school.

Not the greatest mindset to have when trying to make new friends.

I think common core’s goal is to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening and — beyond that — set a REAL standard for what an educated person is and should be.

Really, I’m pretty sure I could’ve got my GED by the time I was ten years old. Yet, somehow it’s practically viewed as the equivalent of a high school education.

I can’t say I learned a whole lot in high school but I certainly came out smarter than I was in the 5th grade when I was 10.

I also think that most of the opposition — right leaning or not — to a common education system is coming from people who have never known a different school system than the one they were a part of.

When I graduated from high school, I’d venture to say that over ninety percent of the kids in my class had been in the same school system since kindergarten and I think that’s generally the case across the country.

You don’t know what you don’t see or encounter.

I’d bet that every kid that ever moved from one town or state to another knows exactly what I mean.

And it has nothing to do with how great a school system is. I graduated near the top of my class from one of the best school systems in the country. I aced the math portion of the SAT. My reading/vocab portion was sufficient but certainly lower than what I would have assumed a top student in a top school would muster.

Even with the crappy, in my opinion reading/vocab score, the perfect math score propelled me into the 95th percentile and I was accepted at all but one of the universities I’d applied to.

And when I got to university?

Complete and utter failure.

My midterm mark in APSC-171 (which was integral calculus for engineering students) was 12%.

And that was with a 46 on the actual mid-term exam so it kinda (sadly) made it appear as if I was getting myself back in the game.

I went to class every day. Did all of the homework. I studied as much as the typical student. I was never much of a socialite and didn’t really enjoy the party scene but I was a failing student pretty much from day one. To my credit, I wasn’t alone.

But how could this happen?

Well, it’s because all school systems were NOT teaching the same thing. I was so unprepared when I got to university, it was almost comedic.

How could a guy with a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT only muster a 12% in a frosh level math class? Seriously.

Thinking back, it’s a shame that my high school wasn’t using record player jingles (or a cass-single) to teach me the formulas for derivatives and integrals. I’d have been prepared then as calculus really is nothing more than memorization.

Twenty plus years removed from it all now, I now know why the school system I graduated from was so heralded.

We were trained how to take standardized tests, plain and simple.

Our town routinely lead, and continues to lead, the State of Connecticut on them and places incredibly high across the entire nation.

To this day, on, I see that all of the schools I attended in Connecticut have a 10/10 rating. Where I live now, the schools are rated 6 and 7 on the same site.

As you may have guessed, from the last 10 one-sentence paragraphs, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I came from an elite program only to learn I was truly far below average.

But really, I just hope that the common core concept helps level the playing field — not just from the university application aspect but for society as a whole.

It’s not dumbing down the smarter kids. The smart ones will learn, and excel, no matter what. Anyone with a brain knows that.

The concept is solid.

Posted on August 17th, 2014 at 8:12 am by Brainy Smurf
Current Events, Rants | 1 Comment »

Is this thing still on?

Okay, so this past Saturday morning on my way to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to renew my license — an unwieldy task in and of itself — the radio DJ had just finished up some overplayed (for 30+ years) Steely Dan song and said, “I’ll have another great driving tune in 30 minutes…” and then proceeded to play “The Sign” from Ace of Base.

30 minutes?

Try 3 seconds!

I belted out the entire tune like it was 1994 — nearly wearing my voice out. There are only a handful of songs that hold this status for me and as cheez-pop as it sounds now (and did even back then) — and it’s certainly not really in my preferred style of music — the song is timeless.

So how do I know all of the lyrics? Well, I’ll tell you…

I happened to be in high school in 1994 when the song came out.

At the time, my musical tastes leaned more towards Phish, Live, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and my beloved They Might Be Giants. I even had a soft spot for even bands like Megadeth. Hardly Euro-Pop.

Now, as I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I was distance runner on the track team. You know, one of the skinny guys that can run in circles endlessly.

Well, to the casual observer, it may have seemed like we were weaklings but truth be told, we were in the gym on a daily alongside the huckers and chuckers (the meathead discus and shot put throwers).

So, it was a pretty small weight room — a spot for squats, a couple of benches for free weights, and this giant Solo-Flex thing that had like 8 “stations” for all kinds of things. We distance runners basically rotated around this one universal machine before pounding the pavement.

Anyway, this windowless former uniform storage closet was a pretty mundane place to “work out”. One guy had a boom box (a what?) to listen to tune except we were technically in an underground bunker where we couldn’t get any stations in — even with tin foil all over the antenna.

There was one very cool feature on this boom box though — it had a tape deck (a what?) that would auto-flip (huh?) automatically kinda like cassette players in your car (in your where?) would do.

Cassettes were still a hot commodity then since no one had a CD player in their car — cassettes or the radio were your only options — so no one was willing to sacrifice one for the weight room.

Until one day, a cass-single (seriously, what are you talking about?), still in it’s cardboard wrapper, magically appeared.

A sign.

I mean, “The Sign.”

With the high end technology of that boom box and that poor cass-single, I must’ve heard that song hundreds of times with a 45 pound weight hanging from a chain between my legs connected to a weight belt as I struggled through 3+ minutes of dips.

And that was the beauty of the song — it’s tempo was perfect for doing weights and clocking in at just over three minutes, it was also a perfect timer for when to change stations on the universal…

So, yeah, to most of the school, the weight room seemed like a scary place that only jocks hung out in after school and during study hall but, in reality, it was a meeting place for bunch of guys who pretended not to like Ace of Base.

Really, though, to this day, I’d bet everyone single member of the 1994 State Champion Track team still belts it out on the rare instance that it’s still played somewhere.

Speaking of Ace of Base, we’re about due for another double dating Swedish musical act to take the world by storm, no?

Posted on August 15th, 2014 at 3:56 pm by Brainy Smurf
Music, Retro | 10 Comments »

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

It’s been a long and unnecessary hiatus on here so if you’re still with me — I’m talking to you, Angie, out there in Arizona — thank you.

I still like to think of this place primarily as a personal finance blog overflowing with an abundance of incredibly useful advice though I must confess it did turn into a bit of self absorbed mommy blog towards the end.

But, really, you should see my Facebook page.

But I think the best response I ever received from a reader was along the lines of “You could write the phone book and make it a fun read.”

I should probably stick to my true strengths, huh?

Finances are fun for me, and I’ll still write about them, but I know that they’re pretty mundane for the masses.

My kids are fun too but I know how painful it is to look at a family photo album full of people you’ve never met. I’ll still write about them — and probably include photos of them too — whenever I think there’s something worth telling.

But, really, I’m going to try to post more often on things like current events, witnessed road rage incidents, unusual items spotted on public transit, and poor fashion tips along with the occasional “how to” article.

Like, how to get your kid’s soccer shin guards on while also driving.

Those bring in a lot of traffic for some reason…

And now to clean up nearly a year’s worth of spam comments…

Posted on August 15th, 2014 at 5:30 am by Brainy Smurf
Blogging? | 5 Comments »

Basement Oil Tank Removal Update

Oil Tank Removed

Well, would you look at that?

Sure, it only took 4 years and the whole house kinda sorta smells funky right now but it’s gone.


Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 1:30 pm by Brainy Smurf
Home Improvements | 3 Comments »

What Does the Fox Say?

Yeah, this is a little old now but it’s so catchy.

Actually, I’m just putting it up here so it’s easier to play for my kids — who both know all of the words — and so my mom will know what they’re talking about.

Posted on November 14th, 2013 at 9:06 pm by Brainy Smurf
Current Events, Music | 3 Comments »

Basement Oil Tank Removal Cost

Okay, so does anyone remember that elephant in the room that occupies my basement?


Well, here’s the photo that accompanied that post 4 years ago.

Pretty awesome, huh? Back then, we’d planned to have it taken care of — as in, removed.

And, well, here’s a photo of what that side of the (still scary) basement looks like today.

Basement Oil Tank

Not much to report.


Yep, we’ve been harboring this “environmental disaster waiting to happen” for nearly a decade now.

There are 200 gallons of heating oil in that rusty thing and there hasn’t been a week gone by that I haven’t feared hearing the sound of the sump pump kicking on to pump out a flood of heating oil.

I’m not certain what would occur if that scenario ever became a reality but I imagine it’d be a lot like the move E.T. where they’d wrap our whole house in plastic and send men in space suits in to “clean it up”.

Either way, it’d likely be financially damning.

But I have some good news to report — the tank (and the oil inside) will be gone in a matter of days.

For real, this time.

Dude, this loooooong overdue $500 project is happening.

Posted on November 11th, 2013 at 10:03 pm by Brainy Smurf
Home Improvements | No Comments »

Attention Walmart Shoppers

Sharknado at WalmartSo, yesterday, we took a family trip to Walmart.

We don’t go there very often, partially cause of how busy it always seems to be but mostly because of the people that shop and work there.

I’m not one to judge but… Wait, yes, I am one to judge…

Really — you might think websites like “People of Walmart” are a gross exaggeration of reality for comedic sake but, I’ll tell you, there truly is no other demographic like the Walmart shopper.

Stereotypes exist because they are grounded in truth.

Walmart takes it to another level.

So, anyway, while I was digging through the $5 DVD bin with Duncan in search of Sharknado (don’t judge — where else would I find it?) an announcement comes over the loud speaker.

“Attention Walmart shoppers…”

Yes, it really started like that, but not all cool like it would have sounded at K-Mart. Imagine it in the voice of a barely literate 20-something male hillbilly lacking front teeth.

Yeah — somehow Walmart brings out the hillbillies of Connecticut. Really, there was a shopper in there wearing a cowboy hat. In CONNECTICUT!?

The message continued, in the cadence of a first grader reading out loud, “In two minutes, [insert sponsor here] will be giving away one razor sharp paring knife to everyone in the store over the age of 21. Supplies are limited. Please visit the red kiosk at the back of the store near the baby aisle. First come, first serve.”


First of all, a quick visual survey of the people surrounding me made it pretty unsettling that they we’re about to hand out “razor” sharp knives.

There might even be a stampede — the word “FREE” in Walmart is almost like “FIRE” in a movie theatre.

Further — they’re doing it in the baby aisle?

Are you kidding me?

I don’t know about your local Walmart, but in all of them around here, the “baby” section is in the back corner. The “kitchenware” aisle is usually part of that middle section where lots of just random household stuff is. In short — they’re not close to each other.

Why would *ever* you hand out knives to the gutter of society in an aisle full of diapers?

You can’t make this stuff up.

Making things even funnier, err scarier, while we were checking out, there was an announcement asking employees to do a “safety sweep” of their departments…

Hmmmm… must’ve been a report of someone wielding a “razor” sharp knife or something.

Back to Target we go…

Posted on November 10th, 2013 at 7:48 am by Brainy Smurf
Bargains, Rants | No Comments »

(More) Required Documents for a Home Equity Loan

And then the corporate incompetence rears its ugly head.

So, after receiving a letter from TD Bank to fax a couple documents — w-2s from the last two years, two tax returns, and our most recent pay stub — to a fax number that wasn’t listed anywhere, on Friday morning I received an email where they’re now asking for 30 days worth of paystubs.

So, to recap… Earlier this week they asked me for, among other things, my most recent paystub.

Today, they asked me for 30 days worth of paystubs.

Couldn’t they have asked for that in the first place?

I swear, the number of pieces of mail we’ve received since initiating this process is borderline obscene.

This is the list of documents we need.

Oh wait, this too. And this.

Oh, and we forgot to mention this — send us that too.

And to expedite things, fax it to the number we never gave to you.

If it were my company, I’d have a standard letter to send out requesting everything I needed in ONE envelope. Not 15 envelopes over the span of 10 days.

I’d list a fax number too. Just sayin’.

My first impressions of the simplicity of working with TD were wrong.

So, while gathering older paystubs isn’t that big a deal — I have them handy — it’s certainly not convenient. TD’s slogan is, afterall, America’s Most Convenient Bank.

Further, I assume they’ve already confirmed my employment but a simple calculation on the paystub they originally requested would show that my last paycheck was the same as the one I provided to them.

Yep, just divide those Year-To-Date totals on the right by 22 and you’ll see that I get the same amount every two weeks and that it lines up exactly with the number I provided on the original application.

I don’t look at pay stubs all day long like I’m sure someone over there does but even I could figure that out. If it were an hourly wage listed on the stub, well, sure, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. My stub clearly says “SALARY”.

In other news, the email also mentioned that there was a $99 application fee, which I have no qualms with, and that the entire process would take between 30 and 45 days.

Merry Christmas.

Posted on November 9th, 2013 at 10:19 pm by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan, Rants | 13 Comments »

Revised Home Equity Loan Offer

So, even before we’ve got all of our ducks in a row, TD Bank has revised their offer from the original offer.

I know this would happen as even the hard copy printed estimate numbers are just barely more that the teaser offers they openly advertise.

I remember when I leased a VW Jetta back in 1997. I was in the dealership with my dad and I was getting ready to sign the lease when we looked at the bottom line. My payment would be $251 per month.

Confused, we pointed to the poster on the wall — with numbers 3 feet tall — that said that VW Jetta’s were $199/month. I still see car ads that hawk numbers like that… No clue how they get away with it — it’s never true.

Anyway, back then, we met half way between their advertised number and their offered number.

Today, for the home equity loan, they said the appraisal on my house came in lower than what I said it would. I kinda figured that would happen but no harm in aiming high, right?

Now I didn’t go all out and lie about what I think my home is worth. In fact, I used the Zillow zestimate which generously lists my house as the most expensive on my street. And this is BEFORE the garage is built!!!

In reality, as far as I can tell, Zillow is boosting the value of my home (in comparison to the others on the street) based on square footage and lot size.

My house isn’t the biggest — maybe 3rd largest — but it’s on the biggest lot. To them, that’s worth as much as a renovated kitchen — which I don’t have but most of the other homes on the street probably do.

No worries — the garage addition will still not price my home outside the rest of the neighborhood. Sure, my house will take the crown, officially, as the best on the street but it certainly will NOT look grossly out of place compared to the others.

So the amount I’m borrowing ($70k) is the same, the term (15 years) is the same, but they jacked the interest rate by about a half percent.

If I take all 15 years to pay it down, which I won’t, this’ll “cost” me an additional $3k.

No big deal.

It’s still a go.

Posted on November 5th, 2013 at 6:52 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | No Comments »

Home Equity Loan Terms and Conditions : Pre-Payment Penalty

Okay, so the ambiguous disclosure (in my eyes, anyway) of the pre-payment penalty for the home equity loan has been cleared up.

No joke, for the past 4 days, we’ve received at least two more envelopes from TD Bank with additional (and often redundant) paperwork. One of the funniest/annoying aspects of the whole thing, besides the fact that they could have just asked for everything all at once, is that all of the forms so far have said to return the “documents” or whatever to the store or fax them to: ________________.

No joke, the fax number isn’t listed out. Just a blank where it’s supposed to be.

Now I understand that the fax machine is going the way of the record player but for this sort of thing — you know, transmitting documents — it’s still kinda effective.

Either that — or email. Really, I’d prefer to not have to print and mail 100+ pages worth of tax returns when a simple PDF attachment in an email would do it. They don’t offer that, apparently, either.

So, anyway, back to the pre-payment penalty.

It’s a $450 penalty if the loan is paid in full with-in 24 months.

That’s not gonna happen anyway so I’ve got nothing to be concerned with.

Posted on November 4th, 2013 at 1:38 pm by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | No Comments »

The Devil is in the Details

823 Credit ScoreSo, we received our package from TD Bank that lists out a few details about the loan and one single page document (regarding an attorney) that we need to sign.

Easy peasy.

One of the pages in the packet, though, indicates that there *is* a pre-payment penalty.

Well, you know me, I’m not gonna take 15 years to pay this off. I’d say it’s a safe bet to be done in less than 10.

Anyway, to that end, what the packet fails to disclose is what, exactly, the pre-payment penalty is.

If we’re talking $500 or something, well, that’s a drop in the bucket. If we’re talking 10% or something, well, that’s a different story.

So we’ll need clarification on that.

I’m not sure, having never done this before, but maybe it’s a standard practice with second mortgages. I just don’t know.

We’ll see.

And, yeah, nothing gets the “I’m gonna pre-pay this thing” juices flowing like having it clearly listed out in black and white that a low 5% interest rate still works out to paying $30k in interest.

Borrow $70k and pay back $100k?

Yeah, I don’t think so… I’m planning on paying maybe $10k in interest before this one is off the books.

In separate envelopes, my wife and I received copies of our credit scores. I don’t recall this being the case with other loans we’ve taken as I flat out asked what my score was when we bought the car a few months back — maybe it’s a new regulation/disclosure type of thing — but I kinda like it.

Anyway, my score came in at 823.

So, while I might feel, and often sound, like my finances are in complete disarray, the banks think otherwise…

Posted on November 1st, 2013 at 12:26 pm by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | 1 Comment »

And then Borrower’s Remorse Sets In…

Oh Snap!So, we’ve yet to even hear back from TD regarding our loan application and my wheels are already spinning.

Back in 2010, we had $40k worth of work done on the house. We’d saved up a bit — maybe $15k? You could look it up on here — but most of financing came in the form of 0% credit card offers.

In the end, the entire project (including a new tv and furniture) was paid off in full in less than 2 years, if I remember right… Again, if you care, it’s documented in the archives here on the site…

So now I find myself on the cusp of borrowing $70k but it’ll take 15 years to pay off?

Could that be right?

Sure, I could’ve done a ten year term but wanted a lower payment for added flexibility.

Even still, where did our ability to pay down debts so rapidly disappear to?

I don’t feel that, for even one second, we could pay down that kind of debt in, say, 5 years even…

Yet, for years, I made it a habit of paying down my debts to the tune of $20k per year…

The cost of daycare is the only thing I can think of that’s “new” since the days when I was able to do that so of thing…

Not with ease, mind you, but it was do-able.

Oh wait, we’re currently paying around $24k per year for daycare…

Now I get it…

We’re gonna be fine.

Posted on October 31st, 2013 at 5:59 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | 1 Comment »