Vehicular Perception

Nissan/Datsun PulsarIn 1983, my family joined the ranks of a the two-car household. I was 7 years old.

Weird, thinking back, as we’d always had a house with a two car garage but never had two cars.

In fact, 90% of our neighbors only had one car. Strange to think houses were “ahead” of the times back then.

Anyway, the “new” car was a Nissan Pulsar hatchback that peculiarly still had Datsun branding here and there.

It was, ahem, brown.

Not the branding…the car was brown. The whole car. Inside and out.

Not tan. Not gold. Not even copper.

Brown.

Now, a brown car may have been a status symbol of sorts in the funky 1970’s but by the 1980’s, well, let’s just say I was never keen on being seen in this car.

Brown?

Really, Dad?

I remember pleading with him to get a blue one instead to no avail.

Hilariously, in 1988, I made all of the same arguments when my dad purchased a Ford Bronco. Also, you guessed it, brown. Ugh…

He even tried to talk the salesman into replacing the Bronco tire covers (which were traditionally black and white) with a brown Eddie Bauer edition one. You know, to complete the brown-ness or something.

Horrifically, the upholstery inside the Bronco which was, obviously, also brown was accented with orange stripes. OMG!

1988 Ford Bronco II

Yeah, just what a 12 year old in the 80’s wants to be seen in… two brown cars.

We’re talking sparkly brown, too. It was traumatic.

So, I was in high school when I first heard the term “POS” and it was used by some of the older kids in reference to my dad’s car coming around the bend to pick me up after track practice.

It took me a bit to figure out was a P.O.S. was. Okay, no it didn’t. Even 20 years before things like BFF, LOL, and WTF became trendy and common, POS set the “lets over abbreviate everything” craze off.

The very not cool Pulsar was on it’s last legs by then but even the day it rolled off the lot, though I hadn’t used the term that far back, it *was* a POS, through-and-through.

The equally uncool Bronco “could” have been cool if it’d been blue or something.

Or white — OJ Simpson was still a pretty cool cat back then!

So from 1983 through 1990, I was shuttled around in brown cars and, clearly, it scarred me for life.

To this day, I have never owned a brown car and can pretty safely say that I will never purchase a brown car. Ever.

Can’t do that to my kids — even if some of those brown Kia’s do look pretty sharp.

And speaking of my kids, perhaps it’s because they’re still a little too young to care (or notice) or maybe it’s just that I’ve always driven AWESOME cars (in my opinion) since they’ve been around but they don’t seem to have any negative feelings towards any of our vehicles.

If only I could have been so lucky.

Thanks, Dad…

RELATED NOTE:

In the past on here, I’ve posted that I like to attend car shows. Since I’m in no way a gear head and muscle cars do nothing for me, it’s mostly because they’re outdoors and have free admission.

Anyway, one of the shows I’ve brought the kids to each year only includes Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bugattis, and Maserattis.

Sorry, Porsche — you’re ghetto and are turned away at the gates.

Scissor Door SkepticismDuncan, my oldest, even had the opportunity to ride in a Countach a couple years back — and though I’m not one to get all excited about riding (or even just sitting) in a fancy car, that was pretty cool.

So, that show only happens once per year since the owners of that type of vehicle aren’t usually the type looking to show off their wheels.

They have the funds, they buy a neat toy, and then drive it every so often and usually for charity events. That’s what this specific show is all about.

The regular car shows (seemingly on weekly basis) that happen around here are pretty much a collection of American muscle cars and wannabe “too fast too furious” Mitsubishi’s with wheels the size of skateboard wheels.

You know, bitchin’ Camaros with racing stripes, Mustangs with the blowers coming through the hood, and t-top Firebirds that even have the bird painted on the hood — mostly driven by short fat guys with hairy backs in Confederate flag tank-tops.

And then on the other side of the street, the primer gray Hondas and Mitsubishi’s mostly made out of bondo crowd — guys and girls, rail thin, vaping, and wit and abundance of cheap jewelry on — blaring tunes with so much bass, their license plates rattle as loud as the engine does.

You get the picture.

I enjoy the people watching at these events — what a collection!

Perhaps I’ll start calling them people shows instead of car shows…

Anyway, at one of them late last year, I asked my boys to show me which car they though was “better” than our Z3 because, certainly, even at the primarily domestic muscle car shows, there are some really nice (and unique) vehicles that I’d trade my BMW for in a heartbeat.

To my surprise, they both agreed — it was the Ferrari. I wasn’t surprised they liked the Ferrari, you know, I just patted myself on the back for giving them good taste — I was just surprised they actually agreed.

But a Ferrari? Here? Where?

They walked me over to a maroon 1980’s style Ford Mustang — you know the type that looks just like a Ford Escort of the same era except the Mustang had goofy plastic shutters down the rear window… This, apparently was their favorite car.

Yeah, my kids thought it was Ferrari. So much for good taste…

Horse Logos

And that might seem pretty funny but, honestly, what the hell was Ford thinking in the early 1980’s? The entry level Escort and their flagship muscle car looked nearly identical. Sheesh…

The best part was that the meathead owner of the car seemed a little offended at their mis-identification… I thought it was hilarious!

I give the kids a lot of credit for semi-“recognizing” the logo but quietly explained (our of earshot of the owner, of course) that while the logos are similar but that this car’s logo was more of a pony than a horse.

And Ferrari’s don’t come in a colour as ugly as that.

Ever.

Posted on May 24th, 2015 at 10:25 am by Brainy Smurf
Life, Parenting, Retro | No Comments »

33 Years and 13 Minutes of the Moonwalk

Michael JacksonI’m not certain how it came up but recently my two older children have become interested in what I thought was “cool” when I was their age.

No, it’s not like they want to use my old Speak-n-Spell… Wait, actually, I should bust that thing out. They’d freakin’ love it…

Okay, a better example is how they’ve have little interest in the crappy Star Wars action figures I had back then or even playing COMBAT on the Atari 2600.

What they’ve been asking, though, are things like “Is this song from when you were a kid?” or “What did McDonald’s have before McNuggets?” and “What number were you when you played soccer?”

Yes, for the record, I’m old enough to remember a time before McNuggets. I’m pretty certain the term “Chicken Finger” had yet to debut.

You wanted chicken? Go to Kentucky Fried Chicken…and order chicken. There was no original recipe then. It was all just… chicken.

Anyway, while driving home one night, we caught the tail end of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean on the radio and I’d mentioned that it was my favorite song when I was their age…

I exaggerated slightly as I was 6 when it came out but…after 3 decades, that’s close enough, right?

They both seemed to show real interest in it, you know, being something that I really liked when I was little.

Truth be told, I can’t IMAGINE my parents as children.

I think part of that is due to the fact that I essentially know nothing about their childhood — as far as I’m concerned, they “started” when I was around four years old and they’ve never really shared any of the details of what occurred before then.

It might also be because the things that interested them never really interested me. I mean, I liked playing soccer in elementary school but I’m pretty sure neither of my parents ever played soccer, like, ever. Very little overlap, I guess.

So, I’m going to try my best to make sure my kids know that I really was a kid too — and share with them as much as they’re interested in.

So far, anyway, outside of SpongeBob, our interests are almost a 100% match.

Not sure if that’s a sign of good parenting or not…

So, listening to MJ in the car that night had me reminiscing of the night I first saw the moonwalk.

The next day, all of us at the bus stop were talking about it. Trying to imitate it. And eagerly awaiting the next time Michael Jackson would be on tv.

Mentioned this all to my kids and they asked…

“What’s a bus stop?” and “Why did you have to wait for it to be on TV?”

Yeah, I hate when we’re listening to the radio and they insist it play a certain song… Ahhhh… products of the “content whenever I want it” digital age…

Last night, on YouTube, I pulled up this MJ video with 13 minutes of moonwalking all compiled into one video.

I was a little disappointed it didn’t start with one of his early ones (I thought it was interesting how he slowed the beat down as he aged…) but even still, the kids were transfixed.

Crazy, the first moonwalk I ever saw (at the 12:20 mark of the video) was barely three steps. Some of them in this video are all the way across the stage with some sideways thrown in too.

So, less than four minutes in, both of my kids were laughing and giggling while trying to do it.

Just like I did 33 years ago at that place we used to wait for a bus to pick us up.

Vintage Youth Soccer ShirtPIAC Addendum:
For the record, my older son does ride the bus to school each morning but I suppose no one ever refers to it as a bus stop anymore…

Probably because it’s practically a door-to-door service now. Didn’t I blog about that, like, forever ago?

Oh, and my middle son Henrik, after just 15 minutes or so, practically has it. Even with shoes on, he does a better moonwalk than I ever could. Crazy how fast this species of ours is progressing!

Speaking of the soccer number (way up in the fourth paragraph), my older son thought he looked so cool in that 30+ year old youth soccer t-shirt he wore at soccer practice tonight. I mean, nothing but pride on his face.

Sure, call me a hoarder but I’m certainly glad I held on to it.

Err, all 20 of them.

Posted on May 22nd, 2015 at 9:01 pm by Brainy Smurf
Music, Parenting, Retro | No Comments »

Debt Solutions: Stay On Course, Stay Motivated

I’m now four weeks into to my 20-week auto loan payback plan and, while I stumbled out of the gate and ran out of money early on, things are feeling pretty good right now.

Just knowing that I’m 20% of the way there, already, has me motivated to keep going and I think I’ve managed to settle in to this new budget.

To date, I haven’t been able to send in an extra dime over what I’m already aggressively paying down on a weekly basis but I’m sure that as the balance remaining falls within a striking distance, I’ll be able to scrounge additional funds somewhere to rid myself of my largest monthly non-mortgage expense.

At worst, just 16 weeks to go.

My gut tells me it’ll be gone 12 weeks from now — week 16 below.

Weekly Payment Plan

Posted on May 20th, 2015 at 10:06 pm by Brainy Smurf
2015 Goals, Finance, Motivation | No Comments »

Dude, Where’s my Toe?

So today was Emmet’s toe’s appointment with the miniature guillotine I’d imagined would be used to chop his extra toe off.

Fortunately, it didn’t quite go down, err, come off like I’d thought it might. Or maybe it did? I dunno, but it was really cool.

Here’s the “after” picture.

Before pictures can be seen here and the fun and exciting backstory is here.

It all went down pretty quick. Doctor came in, drew on his foot a little with a sharpie, then injected novocaine in a couple of places around that pesky extra toe which resulted in some minimal tears. Then we nervously waited…

Any one remember that awesome waiting room post I had back in 2008? It wasn’t like that I all, I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, the doctor came back in after a few minutes, and from my vantage point, I swear, he pulled the damn thing right off with a pair of giant tweezers with one abrupt tug and dropped it into a pickling jar.

I mean, it was quick and powerful. No nonsense.

The truth of it is, he used some fancy scissors down at the base (according to my wife) but I couldn’t see that behind his “tweezer” hand. I’ll keep on thinking the dude just yanked it off. Old school awesome.

Emmet didn’t make a sound. I mean, I know I would have shrieked — this kid is tough.

Moments later, the doctor stitched him up and, having seen stitches going in before, I’m always amazed at how it’s possible to just sew a person back together like they’re a ripped pair of pants. I dunno, it just seems like we’d “tear” but for whatever reason, we don’t. Crazy.

So now he’s got more traditional looking feet.

How about that?

Posted on May 15th, 2015 at 3:36 pm by Brainy Smurf
Health, Smurfling | No Comments »

Smith-Lemli-Opitz Test Results are In

Toe-ing Away PartySo, tonight my family had a ‘toe’-ing away party for my infant son Emmet as, tomorrow, he’ll be having that, ahem, extra toe removed from his left foot.

The procedure has been planned for a few months now and the plan tomorrow is just to have the “extra” toe removed but not separate the two toes on each foot that are webbed together.

The extra pinky toe has to come off if he ever wants to wear shoes but the webbing issue is only cosmetic. Apparently there are tons of people with webbed feet walking among us. Who knew?

Anyway, both would be covered by health insurance but we’re not vain enough to put him through any unnecessary pain simply for the sake of what will likely just end up being ugly feet anyway…

Tonight, to celebrate his extra digit and give him support, we played tic-tac-toe, pin the bandaid on the toe, and painted our toe nails — it was a lot of fun as you can see in the picture below.

As for tomorrow, well, I’m a little apprehensive about it, honestly — it’s sure to hurt like hell – but also kind of excited for him too.

I mean, not that he’ll remember any of this but it’ll be nice for him to have semi-normal looking feet for his first summer. It is getting to be flip-flop season, afterall…

In related news, the test results for the syndrome that had me concerned that he could potentially turn out to be an evil swashbuckling tiny headed sloth creature that swims like Michael Phelps and loves Rocky Road ice cream turned out to be nothing to worry about at all.

Results were negative for Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLOS) so instead of being potentially “sick” (or evil, or swashbuckling, or tiny-headed) for the rest of his life, he’ll just be “that” guy with the cosmetically altered (meaning beautiful) feet that tells the story all too often about how he used to have eleven toes.

Or was it nine toes?

It’s complicated.

Either way, he’ll always be a little mutant to me.

And I’ve got the pictures to prove it!

Polydactyly and Webbed Feet on an infant

Posted on May 14th, 2015 at 9:45 pm by Brainy Smurf
Health, Life, Smurfling | No Comments »

Financial Woes? Yep, already.

Wow, just a couple of weeks in and I’m already feeling really, really, really cash-strapped.

It’s sunk in now how far “out-of-game” I’d allowed myself to get over the past couple of years of not posting on here.

I unveiled that really aggressive plan to pay down my auto loan just, what, like two weeks ago and, ALREADY, I’ve had to dip into my savings account to cover my regular bills.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

I mean, I’m an expert at this sort of thing, right?

I used to be.

So my stumbling out of the gate is clearly a result of my finances going nearly unchecked for the past couple of years. If I wanted something — and I could justify the costs — I bought it. It’s pretty simple, really.

In my head, two weeks or so ago, I though, eh, I’ll just move some automatic payments around to knock out the auto loan, you know, and things will be just like they’ve been for what feels like forever. No big deal.

But then I see something I’ve gotta have on eBay. I spend a couple hundred bucks on my business. The auto insurance bill comes in. I buy a new tablet for my son’s birthday. You know, stuff.

Add all of that up and, well, hmmmmm…that was all of the extra money I’d had slated in my plan to go towards the auto loan.

Crap.

I can’t have it all.

Even still, I haven’t stopped the payment plan.

I didn’t even hit pause.

To get me through this rough patch, I brought over $500 from my savings account to get me by until my next paycheck.

And, hopefully, from here on out, I can curb my spending back to where it needs to be to make this all work…

Posted on May 8th, 2015 at 5:56 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Mistakes, Savings | No Comments »

Debt Management Strategy: Lowest Balance or Highest Rate?

I’m often asked why I’ve repeatedly chosen to pay down my some of my lowest interest debt ahead of all of my other “higher cost” balances.

Actually, that’s not true at all.

I’m almost never asked about money since most people are afraid to talk about it. But, I’m going to pretend people ask me that all the time anyway…

It’s about options — and having more of them to choose from.

For most people with pretty decent credit, the debt with the lowest interest rate attached is pretty universally a car loan.

I mean, I could go out and finance an $80k Range Rover Sport this afternoon at a crazy low rate. Probably even drive it home tonight…

It’s cheap money that’s readily available.

Sounds great, right? Well… it sort of is and sort of isn’t.

Nearly everyone can afford a sweet ride. Not everyone can afford to keep it.

Anyway, in my “real-life” case, I’ve got an 2.9% auto loan with a little over $10k remaining on it. And I also have an outstanding $3500 balance on my credit cards with an APR over 10%.

Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, Clark Howard, any televised money guru, really, would recommend that I pay off the lowest balance or the highest rate first.

In my case, the credit card wins on both terms — it has a low balance and a high rate.

I understand the methods — Ramsey wants people to gain momentum and accomplish things quickly. Basically, wipe one balance out quickly to get yourself going.

Totally get that.

The mathmatically sensible thing to do, though, would be to pay the highest rate balance first since it’s “costing” you more each month than the lower rate balances.

And, clearly, that makes sense too. There isn’t any grey area when it comes to math.

But what those two ideologies are overlooking is — insert menacing fanfare here — the minimum monthly payment.

Say that again in a monster truck commercial voice.

MINIMUM. MONTHLY. PAYMENT.

So, back to my real-life example…

Credit cards, by design, have insanely low minimum monthly payments. I mean, their whole business relies on you not ever paying them back in full — that’s why there is no term.

They don’t want you to default…but they want you just short of defaulting…forever. That’s how they make money.

In my case, the minimum payment on my $3500 balance is $55. Hardly budget busting.

In contrast, the minimum monthly payment on my auto loan is $444.

That’s the equivalent of 8 months worth of credit card payments…in the span of two biweekly pay periods.

Financial freedom is all about having options — you know, money available to spend on what you choose to spend it on.

With that in mind, wouldn’t freeing up a mandatory $444 monthly expense be the faster path to financial freedom?

I mean, once that’s gone, I’ll be able to make double minimum payments to the credit card and still have an “extra” $400 to use in my budget where ever I choose.

That’s freedom.

Eliminate the big (non-mortgage) bills first — regardless of the balance or the rate.

It’ll make everything that follows so much more manageable.

Posted on May 3rd, 2015 at 9:26 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Motivation | No Comments »

Net Worth Update: May 2015

May 2015 Net WorthWould’ve been neat to see my progress during the past couple of years when I was essentially “ignoring” my finances.

‘Ignoring’ is too strong of a word. Let’s just say…I didn’t have any direction. Now, hopefully, I’m back at it.

So, unlike when I previously did this, I’m going to ignore assets like the house and the cars.

Mostly because it was such a hassle to calculate their values but also because the values I came up with could so easily be questioned.

I mean, that Land Rover valued at $4500 only really got me $1500 as a trade-in. Kelley Blue Book – you’re dead to me.

Honestly, though, I’m also leaving them off because I know I’m currently in the black without them… No need to “pad” the numbers.

Hooray for getting older and wiser, err, wealthy!

(pretty sure everyone gets wealthier as they get older… if only I could’ve been where I am now when I started this place 8+ years ago…)

Here’s the breakdown:

Checking
My day-to-day cash lives here. It’s also where I deposit my paychecks. Basically, I just try to keep this above $1500 at all times since that’s the threshhold where BoA will start charging me maintenance fees. Most months, I come within a couple hundred bucks of getting charged.

Savings
This looks awesome, doesn’t it? Well, truth be told, a vast majority of it is money I owe on a home equity loan so it kinda cancels itself out on the liability side of things. The plan is to use all of this (and then some) to finance building a HUGE addition on our home.

401k
Considering I barely contribute to this (as there hasn’t been a match for years now), I sure am glad that I got as much in there as I did when I was still in my 20’s. Really, this is a testament to starting early on a nest egg. Not necessarily continuing (as I have not), but starting early.

Stock
Not sure why I still have this paltry amount sitting in a Sharebuilder account. While I’d love to brag about how much money I made selling my Tesla, Chipotle, Lululemon, and SolarCity stock, well, those earnings may as well be ancient history at this point…

Auto Loan
Primary target here — this thing is dropping fast. While I’m barely a week into my aggressive payment plan, this 5-figure sum will be reduced to nothing before the summer is over.

BoA Credit Card
This is a business card that I use as a business owner mostly to make tracking my business expenses super simple since they’re all on one statement. Thankfully, I’ve gotten to a place where I pay this one in full each month — that is, if my clients pay their invoices promptly.

Chase Credit Card
My card of choice lately which is why it’s carrying a balance. It doesn’t have the lowest rate or the best rewards program but they sure do make it easy to pay them back and, often times, they have the best “transer your balance” offers. As a result, I’ve had this account open since I was 21 years old. For those counting, that’s 17 years ago.

Citi Credit Card
This is my other go-to card. It has a pretty sweet rewards program but the interest rate is ludicrous compared to my other accounts. As such, since I’ll be carrying a balance for a few months, this card doesn’t venture out of my wallet much these days.

Mortgage 1
My primary mortgage, the one that, post-refi, has a $498/month payment. Staying the course on this one as I’m sure that in 10 more years, a trip to the grocery store will be comparable in price. *So* thankful I refinanced when I did.

Mortgage 2
This is what’s left to payback on the Home Equity loan we secured back in December of 2013. We still haven’t used the money so, in theory, I could pay it back tomorrow.

Posted on May 1st, 2015 at 5:58 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Net Worth Updates | No Comments »

Auto Loan Payment Plan

In the past, I’ve documented how making WEEKLY payments instead of monthly payments can really drum up some extra motivation when it comes to paying your debts.

Yeah, I know that’s stating the obvious, I mean, of course paying weekly pays debts faster than monthly. Hello?

But it’s more about the mental side of things — and “solving” that side of things can really pad your wallet in the future.

Instead of being saddled with this car loan for what feels like an eternity — I can eliminate it completely in… 20 weeks.

Twenty weeks versus three more years. Yeah, that gets me pumped to get started.

Here’s the week-by-week plan:

Weekly Payment Plan

Okay, so that’s a bit longer than the original 3 month window that I proclaimed I’d wipe it out within but 20 weeks will be my baseline.

I still think I can squeak this one sooner than that with a few more extra payments here or there. My red zone mentality will take it up a notch as I near the finish line.

Now, don’t get me wrong and don’t think I’m just super wealthy or something… The ability to pay $452.50 per WEEK to an autoloan blows my mind too. That’s A LOT of money.

Based on my perceived comprehension of my biweekly paycheck and my monthly expenses — I certainly don’t have an “extra” $452.50 each week to toss around.

Or do I?

See? There’s the catch.

While you may not think you have much “extra” money available to attempt an aggressive pay down like this, chances are — if you follow a rigid plan — you’ll find that you actually do.

Apparently, while I’ve been financially in cloud cuckoo land for the past few years, I’ve probably been blowing the near equivalent of $452.50 per WEEK on incredibly stupid stiff like gummi bears and dirty polyester.

Okay, that’s not entirely true (most of the time) but you get the point.

Even $25 extra per week makes a HUGE difference on something more long term like a mortgage — the key is that you need to do it weekly. WEEKLY! And stick with it.

Posted on April 30th, 2015 at 12:38 pm by Brainy Smurf
2015 Goals, Finance | No Comments »

Polydactyly – My Baby’s Birth Defect

So, again, since it’s been so long since I’ve updated things around here, I should probably mention that there are no longer two kids in the family… now there are three!

Moments after he was born, I called my mom with the news…

“Mom and baby are doing fine except that he has 11 toes. Well, actually, he only has nine. Um, it’s complicated.”

I kinda wished I could’ve broken that news to my dad — he’d have found it both fascinating and hilarious.

So, an extra “digit” or polydactyly, as the doctors like to refer to it as, is pretty obviously a birth defect — something the doctors in the delivery room nonchalantly pointed out as if it were no big deal.

But hearing “birth defect” merely seconds after birth totally gets your head spinning with thoughts that, the baby might have a second head, a tail, or even gills behind their ears or something.

I didn’t even get to the point where I was imagining John Merrick — who was actually named “Joe” Merrick.

And while news may get out that I nearly fainted in the delivery room this time, it was NOT this unexpected turn of events that made me queasy. It was the claustrophobic get-up they made me wear… No, seriously, it’s not easy to breath with a plastic bag strapped to your face…

So, anyway, my little guy has an extra toe (with a toe nail, even!) on his left foot.

That makes 11 toes.

His pointer and middle toes on both feet are fused together. The doctors called this “webbed feet”.

Having never actually seen webbed feet on a human, I was more expecting them to look like a duck’s feet. It’s not nearly as cool as that would have been and, honestly, I’m not sure it’ll make him a better swimmer a few years down the road. Maybe.

So, to sum it all up, he has 11 toes total but two pairs are fused together.

That makes 9 toes.

Weird, right?

So the nurses in the hospital played it down like it wasn’t a big deal — “We see extra digits and webbed feet all the time…”

In my head, I kinda called BS on that.

I mean, I’d heard of webbed feet and was aware of the 6-fingered man from the Princess Bride movie that Inigo Montoya wanted to face so badly but…I’d never actually SEEN someone with webbed feet or and extra toe or finger.

Apparently, they’re walking among us. Creepy, huh?

Then I got to thinking, what was I going to tell the kids?

“Hi guys, your new brother is a mutant.”

“Yes, just like the ninja turtles…”

“No, he’s not a ninja. Or a turtle.”

“No, we can’t get a turtle.”

In reality, the nurses did what they could to put us at ease claiming that it wasn’t a “big deal” but it still kinda simmered in the depths of my mind — is this going to be a problem?

I mean, they don’t call it a “defect” for nothing, right?

And then came the news that I kinda knew was coming…

Yep, they wanted to do some genetic testing to see if it was a “sign” of something far more damning than never being able to model strappy sandals.

You know, they always call it a high risk pregnancy if the mother is over 35. And by high risk, they mean like you have a one in 600k chance of having an issue. I don’t know about you, but 1 in 600k doesn’t sound too high risk to me.

I felt that way with all of my kids — which is why, besides the first one when we were naive and stupid, we didn’t have any of the invasive pre-natal testing done. Amniocentesis is the common one as well as the CVS test.

And while I’m certainly not a fan of rolling the dice and hoping for the best while ignoring modern science and medicine, the results of the amnio on my first child provided less than assuring results and far, far too late to do anything about it should it actually have reported something concrete.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I didn’t feel the testing really ruled anything out — or in. The whole thing seemed nearly pointless and, actually, I think it caused us even more needless concern.

Just what a pregnant woman needs, right? More to worry about.

Even still, this time, with mom being over 40 now and all the talk about it potentially being something we genetically passed on kinda makes you feel like crap, you know, what have we done? What should we have done? What could we have done?

(For the record, an amnio wouldn’t have helped us in this case…)

Primarily, they were testing for Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome, which is often abbreviated as SLOS and makes me think my baby is going to turn into Sloth from the Goonies.

Yes, everything in my life has a corresponding reference originating from an 80’s movie.

One of the other “physical traits” of the disorder — besides messed up feet or hands — is a small head. Ever seen the waiting room scene in Beetlejuice?

Holy crap. I need to sit down.

My baby is going to turn into a evil swashbuckling tiny headed sloth creature that swims like Michael Phelps and loves Rocky Road ice cream.

So, we had the testing done (just a blood test) and are still awaiting the results. I’ll update on that when the results come in.

He’s also visited a cosmetic surgeon (with all kinds of boob job pamphlets in the waiting room) to attempt to spare his future career as a flip-flop spokesman and model.

The truth of it is, I’m not that worried about the results of the test.

He doesn’t have a small head. He has no problem eating. He makes the same noises my other kids used to make. He squirms around the same way. He cries the amount. He makes eye contact and smiles.

Really, to me, he appears to be a standard baby.

And as offensive as some overly sensitive folks might think saying this sort of thing is, well, he doesn’t look “off”, if you know what I mean. There’s life behind those eyes and, for me, that’s the best indicator out there.

It might not be an exact science, but you really can read a person by their eyes even when they’re so dirt brown like mine that the pubils almost disappear…

So the boob doctor will be removing the 11th (or 9th, depending on how you count) toe on May 15. Emmet, the baby’s name, will be just over 4 months old.

We’ve opted to NOT have the connected toes split apart since that’s like a million percent cosmetic. Still covered by insurance but certainly not necessary.

And, before you ask if we could just leave the extra toe in place too, unfortunately, it’s not lined up quite right to be an extra pinky toe (other wise, I’d consider it) so finding shoes for him would be downright impossible.

For that reason, it’s gotta go.

No worries — I’ll share pictures!

Posted on April 29th, 2015 at 5:41 pm by Brainy Smurf
Health, Life, Smurfling | No Comments »

Don’t Call it a Come Back…

Okay, so it’s been a bit…and for that I apologize but I’m getting excited about paying down debt again.

Seems that once I reached my goal of being debt free, well, the excitement my finances brought kinda waned.

Hey, I’ve never wavered from the fact that I’m a lot more skilled at paying down debt than growing savings

Anyway, as you may have already guessed, I’m carrying a considerable amount of debt again so it’s time to put my head down and eliminate it…again.

Let’s get down to business.

Briefly, a rundown of my current debt situation is this:

  • $3k in credit card debt at 12.9%
  • $11k in an auto loan debt at 2.9%
  • $154k across two mortgages both below 5.5%

And here’s the plan…

Though the credit card has the lowest balance (which would take almost no time to eliminate) and the highest rate (which means it’s costing me the most to carry), it’s not my primary target.

Reason being, its minimum monthly payment is tiny so it has almost zero effect on my budget.

Yeah, it sucks paying finance charges each month but I can totally handle an extra $26 or so tacked on to my balance each month.

Sure beats the old days when I was dropping over $400/month in finance charges across multiple cards…

The mortgages are what they are.

Did you remember that my primary mortgage payment comes in at under $500 per month? Yep — my housing payment is amazingly low for a four bedroom house.

So low, in fact, that during my blogging hiatus, I took out a home equity loan to help finance that garage I’ve been talking about for so many years.

It’s not built yet…but most of the money to get it done is already in place.

So, as I’ve repeatedly stated in the past, there is ZERO benefit for me in paying down the primary mortgage at an advanced pace and the second mortgage balance doesn’t cause me sleepless nights either though that’s likely due to the fact that I still have the entire balance sitting in a savings account (so it really doesn’t feel like debt…yet).

So that leaves the auto loan…

Remaining balance on the loan is $11099 and the monthly payment is $444.15. Interest rate is 2.9% which, unfortunately, is the highest interest rate I’ve ever had on an auto loan.

This loan originated back in April of 2013 when we bought the Swagger Wagon to replace my beloved (in a nostalgic sort of way) Land Rover Discovery. Original balance was $24k.

Having never lost my love for paying down debt quickly, I’m so far ahead on this loan that I don’t actually have to make another payment on it until April 2016. Yeah, an entire year.

That said, it’s minimum payment (not that I need to pay it or anything) is pretty chunky in my opinion.

Sorry — paying almost $450 per month for a $12k balance just rubs me the wrong way…so I want it GONE.

Ready for this? My plan is to have it PAID OFF in four months.

The method of attack is tried and true for me — every last dollar goes to paying this off.

EVERY. LAST. DOLLAR.

Extra payments to the mortgage(s) are halted. Credit card payments are just covering my current purchase expenses plus the minimum payment — essentially keeping the current balance relatively level.

And that’s okay because once the auto loan is paid in full, the credit cards are next and within striking distance of a full payoff the following month leaving just the mortgages.

Let’s do this.

Posted on April 28th, 2015 at 6:06 am by Brainy Smurf
2015 Goals, Finance | 1 Comment »

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 Zillow.com, 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 | 4 Comments »