Personal Finance 101

19 Feb

Hello, I wanted to start a new topic on my blog addressing both personal finance and rental investments.  I love personal finance.  I wish I could volunteer  to help people budget and organize their finances.

Personally We (hbbynand 8) did not come from money and when we graduated college, we both had student loans and hubby got a job that didn’t pay well and I went to graduate school after being in another low paying job.  Hubby made in the high $20k and I made in the low $20k and once I was in school, we only had his $20k to live on and had a baby on the way.

I learned to live frugally and even now that we make more, I still live frugally.

So how much does one need to live comfortably?

What are the essentials you need to live on?  While some people msyndefine the list differently, I will work with the goal of living on $6100 month, this will be our NET pay som we have already had ntaxes taken out, paid for our medical insurance, put money in a flex accoutnro cover the rest of medical, and paid for our 401k.  So overall, we are assuming, a total annual salary of $75,000.  The area you live in dictates how much things costs as well as the size and needs of your family.

Here s a general dea of my budget for $6100 per month: (*This is hypothetical to some extent and also uses some,of my own personal expenses either now or in the past).

Housing costs $2300. (I chose  a 15 year loan to pay off early but with the cost being 1/3 my total monthly pay, it makes things tight and a 30 year would have given me more breathing room).  * Note in CA, this covers a 1 bedroom apartment but in NC, you can have a 3000 SF 5 BR house.

Utilites will include heat, gas, trash, sewer, recycling, phone, cell phone for six people, internet, direct tv : $800  *would be less with smaller houses, less people in house…

Car costs: includes car payments, insurance, repairs, gasoline for three cars : $500

* For me, this is low, we have three cars but all are paid off, so I pay for gas insurance, repairs, and save some for my next new car as I don’t like having car payments.  Others, however might have all these expenses and two car payments.

Life Insurance (outside of work policy), :$ 200

* For two people, important while you have kids

Saving for college :$200

* with 4 kids that is a lot f college money, some people don’t save and just leave the thing up to the kid but, it is important to us, so we are paying and they are going


credit card debt :$61

* This may be a lot higher for others but I don’t keep balances, interest is too high, this balance is at 0%.

eating out: $250  * see notes below

Groceries: $1500 * depends on number and of people too

Purchases $100 * we all buy stuff, even if it is just stamps or makeup

savings (future problems fund)  : $100  * sh be in every budget

vacatation savings : $50 * always save to give yourself a break, you deserve it.

Misc :$64  * what s left?


*Things to notes, many other typical expenses are already being taking directly from my check before I get my $6100, so I am not paying for medical costs, 401k costs, and even prescriptions many eye glasses I have prepaid for with a flex spending account.

This budget overall makes me uncomfortable, I have very little buffer and am living month to month without building a savings.  I did this for a long time.  So… what would you suggest changing ?  The money is average and I don’t have to pay extra medical and I am saving for my 410k.


I would tell myself to reduce eating out to once per month and only order water for drinks (never got sodas or beers when was low n money mwhen wemwneout to eat), also try sharing a plate, they give big portions, one dish is  often enough for two (can help you lose a few pounds too) and never get dessert.

i would also look at what grocery store I shop at, some are more pricey, switching mstores ormbrands can save you a ton.  Look at what you buy and the cost and see if you can find more affordable dinners for two days a week to cut down the grocery bill.  Buy big bags of things and let kids make there own snack size bags rather than buying the snack size bags, thing like that can save a lot of money.


Refnance to a 30 year loan if your bills are tight, having extra money each month is worth it.  If you get a bump in salary later, go back to the 15, planning for a debt free retirement is great.

Continue and always have the emergency savings fund and don’t use it for other stuff, when your AC breaks or you suddenly need a water heater, you will have the money and won’t be in a panic. Plus it feels good seeing that add up, knowing you can save.


Feel free to share your budget or for more security, email me at and I can give you feedback free.  Learning how to get ahead financially is easier than you think.  It takes some desire and discipline but can be done.

i have lots of other tips,on how to get extra cash too…

… there is mystery shopping f you have time, pay outs are small but they add up and if you have time, why not?

…; open accounts at banks, they will often give you free money

…. get a side job…. but be your own boss, do you clean well?  People always need people who clean well with attention to detail, it can be really easy to pick up just me or two side,clients for extra money.  Have a skill?  People always need people who are good at skills that work hard…Make a webpage or face book page and get second job going, just get some insurance.

Once you save enough, getting involved in rental properties can be very lucrative, tune in for more on that later.









AP courses: Has the teacher prepared your student for the exam? A guide for parents and teachers

15 Jan

AP, or advanced placement classes are a great way to challenge students academically and for them to earn college credit while in high school.  In order to get credit, the college must accept AP credit and the student must score high enough.

Question:  Why doesn’t my child’s school accept AP credit?  There can be many reasons but one reason is that the AP course is not rigorous enough to equal the college class at that college.  For example, Calculus BC does not go very deep in its curriculum and an engineering student relying only on what he or she learned in an AP class would be behind their peers who took the college class at a competitive engineering school.  Examples include AP Calc BC only has students do a few basic integration techniques and typical Calc 2 classes add more techniques and go deeper into the ones the AP Calculus teach, for instance,  the AP class just introduces like partial fractions while colleges goes into partial fractions in many different forms.

Even if the college a student is attending accepts the credit, a student may find that he or she has gaps that will have to be filled in even if he or she scored a 5.   However, most students in that situation would be capable of the self learning needed to fill in the gaps. However, I would be hesitant with a 3 or a 4 in such a situation.

As for the courses themselves, we want students to be successful.  There are many times where the course is not a prerequisite for future courses and getting that credit allows a student to take other classes instead or take a lighter load or even graduate early.  So, what do we look for in a teacher who is successfully preparing students to get strong AP scores.

First, we want them to be familiar with the curriculum and the test.  They need access to both the test questions and sample scoring.  They should have questions (both multiple choice and free response) that go with each unit so that as students work through a unit, they get practice with questions from old AP exams.  The teacher should be going over these questions with students and having students practice free response questions on their own.  The teacher should then have students award points as they pick through the things graders will be looking for to award points.  In English, essays should be graded and students should have class discussions on why certain scores were awarded and what was missing should be used as teaching examples.  In English, there are some great resources that show what essays deserve what level points and why, this should be part of the lesson.  In math and science, making sure the intermediate steps, units, significant digits, etc. are visible are important.

Each unit should be divided into time to learn the material and time to review and practice the material with an eye to how the test assesses you.  The exams for the student can then be all AP questions (mix of multiple choice and free response) or at least 50% AP questions and 50% teacher made questions that help students further retain important material (remember, testing can be a method of learning if done right, not just assessment).

I would make the same recommendation for the final to teachers. Choose a variety of years rather than the most recent test as students might just study that.

Parents, if your child is in an AP class and has not been consistently doing AP problems, i.e. the teacher is not using an optimal approach, you will need to take matters into your own hands.  Get a couple different prep books from the beginning of the course, have your child work problems that match what the teacher is covering, if they can’t, get a tutor.  Better to take care of things now then try and cram at the end when there is not enough time to change things.  Look online, there are many old tests available.  Three weeks before the AP exam, your child should be practicing full AP tests, correcting them, finding mistakes, and taking another.


Tom took AP chem at a school with a teacher who wasn’t the best.  He did do some practice problems from AP exams so his parents thought it would be ok as he was getting an A.  However, the teacher moved too slowly and only covered 3/5 of the curriculum and by the time his parents realized this and started sending him to a,tutor to learn the material he wasn’t going to get to, there wasn’t enough time.  He scored a 2 on the AP exam.

Sandy took AP Calc AB with a teacher who never taught it before.  Her teacher never had them do any practice AP problems and also got behind in teaching.  Sandy’s parents got her a tutor right away and kept her one step ahead of the class and had her practice AP and CLEP practice problems.  When her teacher ran out of time and skipped over all the importance applications that Sandy knew would be on the AP exam, she and her Mom decided to study for the CLEP test and switch to taking Calculus at the community college rather than continue taking AP Calc BC with this teacher.  Sandy feels that the kids who were in her class will not be prepared at all for the material on the AP exam.

Jeff took AP Physics 1 at his high school.  His school did not offer the Calculus based AP Physics C class but he decided to start with AP Physics 1.  Like Sandy’s teacher, Jeff’s teacher never once gave them an AP question.  She rarely gave them tests and instead assign projects, he didn’t even have labs.  He skipped class a lot since most of the time his teacher did nothing, despite this being an AP class.  He never even had homework.  He scored an A without an effort but saw no point in taking the AP Physics 1 exam, instead, Jeff bought two Physics books, a college text and an AP Physics C prep book.  He is spending his time learning to link and expand the physics he did learn in Physics 1 and the Calculus he knows and is planning on taking the AP Physics C test instead this spring.

Sam took AP computer science online.  His teacher had the write programs every day.  He had quizzes every week and the quizzes were AP computer science questions.  Each test was AP multiple choice questions and the midterm and final had both AP multiple choice and AP free response questions as well.  He also had a homework assignment with AP free response questions. So, when it came time for Sam to take the AP test, he had already had lots more of practice.  Sam scored a 4 on the AP exam and will get college credit.

Chris took AP environmental science, his teacher had them write answers to free response questions from old AP tests in class all the time. Her exams were also a mix of AP questions.  Before he took the exam, Chrismtoo, had a lot of practice and he scored a 4 on the exam.

Cara dexided to self study for AP English Composition.  She bought a prep book and studied all the literature terms and practiced the multiple choice.  She felt comfortable with her score there and focused more on her essays.  She learned about each type you have to write and read examples of good ones and why they were good and then looked at bad ones and why they were bad.  She would practice each type a couple of times with her parents offering feedback based on what other had written in her book.  It only too 3 weeks to a good handle on this t and she scored a 4 on the test.

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Wake County School choices, Magnet and Charter 2016

12 Dec

It is that time of year when you start looking at school choices for your children.  Most of you will select the base school and not look back.  What are the benefits to that?  For one, convenience.  It is close to home.  Two, most of the other kids are doing the same.  If your child has already been a base school student, you will hear, “I want to stay with my friends.”  Valid?  Maybe.  It depends on the base school.  In Wake county if Green Hope or Panther Creek were my base schools, I might be more inclined to go with the base.  Green Hope, especially, has a good reputation.  Other schools have less to offer and if you are really invested in your child’s academic experience, you may want to consider other alternatives.

Overall, any base elementary will give you a good start.  I don’t have a magnet experience from elementary school but the base schools were good, although a bit slow for a gifted child.  For a highly motivated gifted child, you might try Sterling Montessori or Poe Montessori.  They can work at their own pace.  Poe is magnet and Sterling is charter.

Your next big window for a spot comes in sixth grade but don’t forget to consider stealing a spot in fifth grade.  With many families not willing to move their kid during their final year of elementary school, it may be a time to grab a spot when competition is low.

Middle school is a great time to get into magnets.  Your child (in their head, they will be fine in any case) will survive making new friends easier from fifth to sixth than from eighth to ninth.  In base middle schools, you typically get to choose from 4 electives, things like band, PE, the wheel (learn about career choices), and keyboarding.  It isn’t really a choice, since you have to take keyboarding.  In seventh and eighth grade you can add a language as a choice but you see how limited your electives are.

In magnet schools, you choose,from 60 electives and the choices are wide and interesting, pet vet, math patterns, mythology, sculpture, piano, volleyball, dance, robotics, fantasy football, etc. There are still classes in keyboarding (required), health (required), and the option to take three (instead of 2) years of a foreign language.  Additionally, there may be a theme, like field trips, Academically Gifted, Leadership, Languages, etc.

There are also many charter schools that go from K to 8 and they usually have a theme, like Sterling Montessori or Exploris Elementary and Middle, etc. ; visit these schools and see if they fit your child.  We have had kids at both.  We were very happy at Sterling and had a good first year at Exploris (6th grade) but it changed too much with the new director for a good fit for us but could be a good fit for others.  Be sure to fully investigate though do two reasons, one is that Exploris does not use a traditional approach to teaching, make sure your child learns that way, it is not direct and that was hard for my ADHD son, second, sometimes charter schools are  over run with a special needs population that they are not equipped to handle.  Sterling actually excelled in that area where Explois failed.  Just things to keep in mind.

Even when if your child is only in fourth grade or sixth grade, you need to be thinking about the path that includes high school.  High school is the biggest and most important decision.  If your child is considering a traditional path that includes college, where they go to high school is very important.  Choosing a place that they can be academically successful, meet strong academic goals and also have a great social experience should be the goal.  One is not good without the other.

There are a few charter schools that are good, Raleigh Charter HS, Research Triangle HS, Longleaf School of the Arts are some examples.  There is Triangle Math and Science Academy (not to be confused with the state funded School of Science and Math in Durham) that is highly focused on academics but from what I know, lacks the social component needed so I don’t recommend it.  Raleigh Charter is known for being rigorous and because of that seems to have a reduced social atmosphere (I had a child go there).  Research Triangle is supposed to be a STEM school but offers almost no STEM electives.  This is also a problem with most charters, the choices in electives is very small.

As for magnet high schools, you will find many more electives.  Base schools offer some but in many cases they are over crowded and hard to get into the popular ones so kids take your basic ones like foods, teen life, weight training, and other random classes they get put in because it is all that is available.  In the magnets, you will find a much wider variety, more sections, and more interesting classes.  Enloe is known as the strongest academic magnet.  They offer almost every AP class and from what I hear do a good job with those classes.  They have a four year computer programming sequence and a biomedical program in addition to many classes in the arts.

In the past, I had written positive reviews of Southeast Raleigh high school as a magnet choice.  They have Engineering, Biomedical, Cybersecurity, and a good arts program.  The teachers my son had the first two  years were great but we lost almost all his teachers this year (administration issues I hear).  I have not been as happy this year academically.  He s now taking many AP classes with teachers who are not qualified to be teaching AP.  The good news is he gets no homework so I am able to use that time and supplement what he should be learning if it is a subject we can teach (Calculus and Physics) but he was on his own in AP Chemistry so although he got a B in the class, he only scored a 2 on the AP exam (which was probably one of the high grades).  Instead of taking Calculus 2 with his teacher, however, they are letting him take it at Wake Tech next semester.  He enjoys the flexibility, the students are very nice, and he has been very involved in theater and for that aspect, I can still give it a high rating but academically right now, it is not something I would recommend to someone unless they want to supplement their child’s education.  To put it in perspective, though, I would still choose it over my bases school (Apex).

There are many benefits to looking outside of your bases school.  The window to look is now, magnet registration opens in January and most charter school lotteries are in February or March.

Good Luck.

Lynne Gregorio, Ph.D,


oldest went to: Sterling Montessori (K-6), base (just 7th grade), Raleigh Charter (9-10),

homeschool (8th and 11th), base (2 classes senior year), Dual enrollment WTCC, graduated UNCC, degree computer science

next went to : Sterling Montessori (pre K -8 th), base (9-12)

next went to: base, Exploris, homeschool (3rd and 8th), Southeast Raleigh Magnet, Dual Enrolled WTCC

youngest: went to: base, Sterling Montessori, base, Moore Square Middle, considering Enloe for high,school


Update on Whiskey

05 Nov

Whiskey will be 4 in December 2016.  It is hard to believe that we have had him for almost 4 years now.  He continues to build trust and make progress.  His response to strangers continues to get better.  It is all in the person’s energy.  People who are dog friendly but respect his boundaries without pushing him, do really well.  Tonight we had a house full of strangers and he was off leash among us.  He also went and took treats from my sister in law, jumped up on her and crawled into her lap for treats.  She was able to lightly pet him while he was being fed treats.  This was a huge accomplishment.

He still doesn’t like dogs but is getting more relaxed about them too, he will come to me when he sees them rather than stay barking at them.  I feel that we could possibly introduce him to a puppy or really relaxed dog.  Each day that goes by and he learns that nothing bad happens to him, is another day for improvement.


Moving to North Carolina, want to know about the schools in the Triangle area? Reviews here, Magnet, Charter, Public

11 Aug

Wake County Schools, Research Triangle Schools, North Carolina School System, Magnet Schools, Charter Schools, Public Schools – how good are they, what you need to know.

As a blogger, educator, and owner of a tutoring center, I will from time to time get emails or phone calls from parents who are moving to the area or have just moved into the area who want to know more about schools in North Carolina.  You will find some individual reviews of schools on my blog but I wanted to write a more general review to help guide new families.  Many families do not know the difference between public, charter, magnet, and private schools, so I will start with that and get more specific.

Public Schools:  North Carolina Public School system is not ranked in the top 10 nor is it ranked in the bottom 10 of schools in the United States.  However, so much depends on WHAT schools you are talking about, specifically in what county and at what level.  Also different individual schools have better reputations than other individual schools.  If you want to consider a public school and have not bought a house yet, then looking at what schools are assigned for that area would be important, although, these lines can change.  Since North Carolina is growing rapidly, especially in the urban areas, new schools are constantly being built and hence students are being shifted, so you cannot assume you will be at the school you planned on unless you are in the magnet or charter system.

The public schools, however, are funded by the State of North Carolina.  Teachers in our state are no paid very well, however, and we have high teacher turnover.  We have some GREAT teachers but we also have some teachers who are just collecting a paycheck (small as it is) and many who leave for other states or other jobs in general because they cannot live off the salary.  As a general rule, however, most elementary teachers are all very good and I have never seen an elementary school in Wake County (my county) do a bad job.  Once you get to middle and high school, however, you really need to be more selective.  The content and expectations of learning have increased and with poor teachers, students get lost and it has a negative impact on their future.  This is not to say we don’t have good middle and high school teachers, but you need to be aware of the schools that are better and those that are not and if needed, get a tutor when you get bad luck and get a bad teacher in a subject like math that builds on itself.

A few schools, although you cannot choose to attend these, you have to have this as your base school AND you have to apply and get selected by a lottery drawing will have an academy within the school.  One school has an AOIT academy, Academy of Information Technology, another has AOE, Academy of Engineering.  These are kind of like a minor at the school where you take 1-2 required classes in the Academy related to that field and do an internship before you graduate.  Examples for the AOIT might be taking classes in Microsoft Office Suite and Programming.  In AOE, you would take classes called Project Lead the Way and take Introduction to Engineering and Principals of Engineering, etc.  Each academy has 4-6 class course requirements plus the internship.

As far as academic knowledge, North Carolina sets the bar very high.  Many students coming from other states end up BEHIND because our expectations and standards are high.  This is both good and bad.  The good is that smart kids get the chance to live up to those expectations and be well prepared academically for college.  The bad is that students who struggle academically, get pushed through the system and everything falls apart for those kids.

We also have block scheduling in most high schools which may not be common in other states.  Block scheduling is where high school students take classes similar to the way a college student would take classes on a semester schedule.  The year is divided into two 18 week semesters.  Each semester, high school students take 4 classes that meet for 90 minutes, so four classes in the Fall and another 4 in the Spring.  People not used to this think it is terrible but personally, I like it a lot.  For one, it gives more time in class to focus on content, second students are only dealing with and studying for 4 classes at a time so they have more time to devote to those studies, and third it allows students to take 8 classes a year which gives them amazing elective choices in addition to the core courses which are not possible with a traditional schedule.

Magnet Schools:  Magnet schools are part of the public school system except that they tend to be in poorer socioeconomic area (but we are not talking high crime or bad neighborhoods).  Part of the school is made up of a regular base population, just like your normal base school but a certain percentage of the school is saved for “magnet” students.  The word magnet is used because the school has special themes and resources used to attract students from greater distances to this school (in this lower socioeconomic area) to attend.  There are magnet schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.  Examples of elementary school magnets might include:  Montessori, Leadership, Academically Gifted (AG), Gifted and Talented (GT), IB, Language Immersion, or a combination of these.  Examples of middle schools are some of the same although there is not a Montessori or Language Immersion at the middle level (in Wake County) but they have schools that are located in downtown Raleigh that are AG/GT/Museums , this means it is a combination of all three and the museum aspect is that students often get walking field trips to all the museums in downtown Raleigh due to its proximity.  There is also an all girls and all boys academy that flows into the Early College model for high school that starts with 6th grade.  (North Carolina middle school are grades 6,7, and8).  High school examples include:  Early College options such as a Health Science Early College, the Girls and Boys Early College Academies, and a STEM Early College; all of these have students attend high school for 5 years instead of 4.  They partner with a college and during grades 11, 12, and 13, the students attend college classes and graduate high school with both a high school diploma and an Associates Degree.  Other high school options include a 4 year Tech College partnership for those interested in Cosmotology, Airconditioning Repair, Computer Game Design and Development, and more.  These students take college courses in grades 11 and 12 and graduate with at least a years worth of college credit in addition to their high school diploma.  All the Early College costs are covered completely, so if your child attends, there is no cost to you.  More traditional magnet schools will be Leadership and Technology or Academically Gifted / Gifted and Talented, IB Schools, and more.  These schools will have programs such as specific academies within school like a Biotech Academy, Engineering Academy, or Cyber Security academy that your child can take part in where it is like a school within a school.  These are similar to the ones mentioned in the base public schools but are much easier to get into if you are a magnet student.  They also have a significant number of elective choices that you won’t find at the base schools.  The AG/GT/IB school will have multiple languages, every AP and IB class possible, as well as piano classes, guitar, dance, many more art classes than one would normally have, and things like an entire department of classes in computer programming.

Can anyone become a Magnet Student?  First, not all counties have magnet programs.  I can only speak about Wake county (those mentioned here are from Wake County).  I doubt there are much in the way of Magnet schools in any rural counties.  Second, you must apply to get into the magnet program and you may or may not be selected.  It depends on what school you want to go into, there is VERY high demand for some schools and less demand for others.  Once you ARE a magnet student, however, it is easier then to transfer to a different magnet school, you will have priority over new students applying to get in.  The process is to usually go to the Magnet fair that is held the first weekend in November every year and then go take tours of the magnet schools.  You then make sure you are signed up to attend the base school and put in an application with a list of choices for magnets.  You get to list your top 3, more if you list an early college as they select those before the rest.  Early Colleges are the hardest to get a place in although I believe the Health Science Early College is the easiest of all the early colleges to get a spot at.  We did apply to two early colleges and did not get a spot but got a spot in a regular magnet for 2 of my children.  If you have twins and apply with both, you have a much better chance!  Applications have to be sometime in January or early February, I believe (don’t hold me to that!) and results come out in early Spring.  If you get a spot, you have to take it (at least as of now, it didn’t used to be that way, although I believe you can just not show up!)

What are your chances of getting selected?  I will answer in a little more detail.  It is NOT just a straight lottery.  They have a system and give priority to many different things.  Siblings, of course, get first priority, then other magnet students, then students who are coming from schools that are high performing (they want your high performing kid!), and then overcrowded schools, and then anyone else not in those categories (or something along those lines…).  Of course, if select a school where they have plenty of open spots, there won’t be a problem at all, if you select a school with only 3 open spots and you fall into the “someone not in one of the high priority categories,” your chances are slim to none.

So what school have open spots if you just want to get INTO a magent (and then maybe move to a better magnet in a year)?  I would call and ask, they will usually tell you, they want to fill those spots.  I remember once getting a letter saying that CONN elementary had spots and if we wanted one, we could have it but we were already settled at that time so we didn’t move into magnets until middle and high school.  As I said, at the elementary level, the base schools do a decent job!

What about SAFETY at these Magnet Schools?  I have done open houses for my son’s magnet.  The racial makeup of the schools can vary depending on the school, the number of magnet spots, and the location of the base population.  Some will be balanced racially (50% white, 50% non-white) and others will be less balanced (20% white, 80% non-white).  My son is at a school that is less racially balanced, we heard all sorts of rumors, etc.  So, we took it upon ourselves to go there during a school day and be in the hallways.  We even got some teachers to let us go in their classrooms, we talked to other parents of magnet students, and we talked to kids (magnet and nonmagnet) that went to the school.  Nothing felt unsafe or negative.  In fact, even the superintendent said, this school has less fights and issues than other schools with more balanced or a more-white student makeup.  I haven’t met one kid at that school that wasn’t super friendly and nice!  My son feels safe and has a ton of friends of all colors and I am very glad to have chosen the school.  So, don’t let race be an issue and as for safety, check out the individual school yourself and make your own judgment, don’t listen to rumors!!  All the negative ones we hear are from people who “would never send their kid there,” who are they to judge vs. those of use with kids at the school who all say it is a safe, friendly place.

My experience has also been that teachers at magnet schools as a whole are better than teachers at base schools.  Now there are good teacher and bad teachers at ALL schools, however.  After running a tutoring center and seeing kids with teachers from all area schools, I am much more impressed with the teachers from magnet schools.  The only negative and this is all of NC, is the teacher turn over rate and that we lose teachers!

Charter Schools:  So what is a Charter school and how is it different from a Magnet school?  Both school types are under the rules of North Carolina and must meet North Carolina standards and use NC curriculum and testing requirements.  However, Magnet schools (and base public schools) are also governed by the county they are in.  As I mentioned, most of my experience is in Wake County Public Schools.  So, all the schools in Wake County (Apex High School, Holly Springs High School, Green Hope High, Cary High, Wake Forest High, etc. AND the magnets, Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, Enloe, Stem Early College, etc.) all follow both the rules of NC and the rules of Wake County.  Charter Schools only follow the rules of North Carolina, they are their own LEA (forgot what that stands for.. Local Education Area, I think…).  Charter schools get funding per student from the state put the state does not pay for their building expenses, etc.  So they have to come up with a lot more resources than a public school.   They still have to follow the state guidelines but if you live in Wake County you can ONLY go to Wake County schools.  You cannot decide you want to go to Chapel Hill High School.  However, since charter schools are not county specific, you can live in a different county and go to a charter school.  I can live in Wake County and go to a charter school in Durham County or I can live just over the line in Chatham County but not want to put my kids in Chatham County schools, so I send them to a charter school in Wake County or even in Durham County.

What do Charter Schools offer?  Well, besides the location flexibility, they are similar in many ways to magnet schools.  They are theme based and you usually pick a charter school that has a theme that matches your educational philosophy.  For example, one of my kids went to Sterling Montessori Charter School from Preschool through 8th grade (that is where it stops).  Many families with special needs kids find charter schools to be great as they tend to be better at providing more reliable services to special needs students, although this is not true for ALL charters.  In our case, Sterling offered amazing 1:1 resource help for our son with an IEP!  He would have sank in a traditional setting!  However, on the other hand when my other son went to Exploris Charter middle school, there were so many kids with “issues,” he had a hard time really finding his groove and making good friends.  The school was also very “granola” for lack of a better word, which fits many families and kids but not mine, we ended up leaving part way through 8th grade as doing daily Yoga, instead of traditional PE, just didn’t fit him.  So, it is important to really look for a good fit with the charter schools.  My oldest attended Raleigh Charter High School, it has been ranked as one of the top ten academic high schools in the country year after year.  He was very book smart and he did well there.  However, we knew that it would have been the wrong fit for another one of my kids, even though it is a highly regarded school and instead he is excelling in the magnet school in the Engineering Academy and having options like Theater and Robotics.

That is another drawback to Charter schools, they are a lot smaller.  This can be good and bad, your child will be in a smaller class and get to know teachers well but there will a lot less electives to choose from.  One of the really good charters in Durham County is call Research Triangle High School.  My son, the one in the Magnet school, was accepted there and we had to make a choice.  RTHS is known as a STEM charter but has no electives in any STEM areas and only 1 STEM club, it is not the school’s fault, it is just that the school is so small.  If he went there, he would have gotten some really good solid academics (I really liked the teachers) but he wouldn’t have had any electives he would have enjoyed, he wouldn’t have been in any plays, he wouldn’t have had as many people to meet to find the “right” ones to click with.  So, although the teachers seemed amazing, the entire environment was too limiting so we chose the magnet and it was clearly the right choice.  Making academic choices requires one consider lots of things and is a personal decision, my own thoughts on the matter is that school is not only about academics but about learning, growing, and experiencing new things – so I try to keep this in mind as I consider what option will best fit my kids.

Private Schools:  In many areas of the country, parents immediately plan on sending their kids to private schools because there are no other good options.  I don’t feel this is true in the Triangle area of North Carolina, especially Wake County.  I often tell people that Wake County is the best county to choose for schools because we have the most options – all the charter schools are options, we have magnets, base schools, and there are always private schools.  I will talk more about areas in a moment but back to private schools.

Many families that are well off, choose Cary Academy.  I hear it is very good, it also costs as much as or more than it costs to send your kid with room and board and a meal plan to a public four year NC college. Since personally, I only have funds to get my kids through college once, it isn’t on my radar – but if it is for you, the campus is beautiful and I believe it is a decent school but I can’t say too much.

Other private schools people choose are often religious based, if you have a desire to go that route for religious reasons, you don’t really need to be reading any of this since that is probably your number one driving factor.  *Stop reading now as I am about to give an honest review based on experience and I don’t want to be negative about something you are moving towards doing*  If you are just considering it as an option for academic reasons, I will tell you that you will get a better ACADEMIC education by choosing a magnet or charter school or one of the stronger base schools.  I have tutored children from some of the religious based schools and they are not rigorous.  The kids, when compared to public school kids, are academically behind, so if you want a more rigorous choice that will better prepare your child, I would not select one of the religious based institutions.  Now, if a religious based institution is important to you, your kid can still do fine but I don’t see any National Merit Scholarships coming from our Catholic High School, etc.  He or she will still go on to college and if studious, make it in the world and as I said before academics are not the only reason to select a school.

Areas to live in 

So, do you choose Wake County, Durham County, Chapel Hill, Chatham County or somewhere else?

As I mentioned, I don’t know much outside the triangle, so I can not speak too much on that.  However, most of what I have heard says Durham County schools are not good, everyone I know who lives in Durham seems to have kids that are past elementary school age in a charter school or private school.  Everyone I know who lives in Chatham County, puts their kids in charter schools.  I have heard good things in general about Chapel Hill schools but the taxes in Chapel Hill are very expensive, they have less choices and if you have a child gifted in math, they will be forced to stay on the slow track until they are a junior in high school (unless they make changes in the future).

Currently in Wake county, a student can be single subject accelerated and work one grade level ahead in math or Language Arts OR by the time they get to 6th grade they can take 6th grade Compacted math which is 6th/7th and half of 8th all in one year, then in 7th grade they take High School Math 1 – also finishes math 8 (Alg. 1) and in 8th grade they take High School Math 2, so by the time they start high school they have two high school math credits and start in Honors Math 3 as a freshman.

In Chapel Hill, they will not let students fast forward through middle school math until 8th grade, advanced 6th grades take 6 PLUS math, 7th grades take 7 PLUS math (which I believe is 7 and half of 8), and they can’t take the first level high school math until 8th grade where they take Math 1 (and finish math 8).  In 9th grade they enter with only 1 high school credit and take Honors Math 2.  They can speed up in their junior year by taking Honors Math 3/Pre Calc combo class.

My kids would have been BORED in the Chapel Hill approach but that is what they feel is important.  As a Ph.D. in Math Education, I think some kids are just ready earlier and we shouldn’t make them bored, it just makes them dislike the subject.

So, my vote for areas to live in is Wake County because it gives the most options.  You should also consider looking at which high schools are best rated if you are not going to do a magnet or charter.  Green Hope and Panther Creek have really good scores and I would personally look to live near the best high school rather than worry about an elementary school.

I hope this information is helpful and Welcome to all of you who move to North Carolina!  It is a great place to live!

Lynne Gregorio, Ph.D.

Mathematics Education


What to know before you consider a tummy tuck / Adominoplasty

22 Feb
  •  This is a very difficult surgery.
  • Don’t compare it and how well you did in other surgeries.
  • Don’t listen to your friend , Sally, who was at work in one week and running in 5 weeks. Everyone is different.
  • Know the different ways the surgery can be done, drainless, drains, or quilted with small drains.
  • Know the doctor really well, make sure you are comfortable with his practices if the worst happens. Ask him, if I have complications, how often will you see during those times.  how will I know what complications to look for? How often can I call or text or see you if I am having problems?
  • Ask about scar revisions and how those work.
  • Read all paperwork and make sure you know the risks, what they mean, what to look for, what will happen, how they fix them, etc.
  • After your surgery, your surgeon can have very different ideas of care than other doctors.  It is wise to trust your gut and get second options if needed.  RealSelf is a great resource.
  • Understand what is being done.  How long is the surgery.  What other procedures will be done, for example, lipo and where?
  • Know what to expect after surgery.  Will the lipo areas hurt and be bruised.nnhow how long does that last?  Should it swell?  How long?  What happens if I fell a lumpy area or squishy area or a really hard area?  What if I have certain types of pain that are different from the regular pains.
  • If I need wound care, how often are you going to see me?  Can I text whenever something worries me?

Before re getting a TT know that this is a BIG surgery.  Expect 2-4 weeks down and then slowly building recovery from there.  Everyone is different, some heal faster, some even slower.  You also don’t know who will have wound issues.  You need good home care and support.

Things to buy are:

  1.  A walker, it will save your back
  2. lip balm
  3. books or music or movies but stuff to do while hanging out bored
  4. eventaully need scar cream, I like Mederma advanced scar gel.
  5. you also should have a shower chair
  6. you also might like coconut oil to massage stomach with and can use on the scar.
  7. throat lozenges (you don’t want to cough)
  8. protein for healing
  9. zinc, vit c, and bromelein for supplements


Know now things like that you are most likely getting a vag lift … This means, your pubic hair line goes up to your scar now and you have a lot more hair than before.  It also repositions the vaginal opening so sex feels different.  The angles are off, it takes some getting used to.

Know that your mons pubis area can get quite swollen and look distirbing.

Know that many people have belly button problems.  Swelling can last for a long time.  It gets the worst between weeks 3 and 8 and then starts to get better but you still get swelling at the end of the day or after exercise,

Read my post on wound care, look at the photos, this happens to people, could you deal with it if it was you?  I liked drainless but drains may have saved me from all my wound problems, so I don’t know. Ideally, I would want a quilted approach with 1 small drains at the flap.

There is tightness, numbness, healing, etc issues to think about.  It really take at least one year to recover, that is a long time.  At 2 months now, I still have some swelling, lots of swelling at my open wound, I have one wound still open and another closed, I have a belly button trying to heal, and I have a ton of tightness in my lower stomach.  I also have hard scar tissue forming in large areas near the scars that are painful.  It is less flexible and will throbb.

It it is a big surgery. More than just, yeah, let’s go get my stomach flat today.  Good luck with your choice.  Most women don’t regret it but do wish they were better informed about what to expect.





Caring for and packing an open wound

22 Feb

Wound Healing Tips:  Photos / Images of wound healing over time


You can get an open wound from many different reasons, in the end however, we are all dealing with the issue of how to get it to heal quickly.  Many wounds come from surgery when an incision does not stay close or there is tissue death, necrosis, that must be managed. It can also come from an infection.  My wound came from a seroma of fluid putting pressure on my incision and therefore, causing it to open.

I will give advice in general and in story mode based on what happened to me.  Your wound could be any size.  It will have a length, width, and depth.   It also might tunnel through closed layers of the skin and have a width with in the tunnel.  What matters most is knowing the dimensions so you can measure progress.  My wound was about 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 6 inches deep in a tunnel that had a diameter of about an inch.  It was pretty big.   Suggestion: Measure and record your wound size.

Initially, my wound looked terrible, it had black stuff in it (pic 1) and it was unhealthy looking.  It actually needed something called debridement.  This gets rid of unhealthy tissue so new tissue can grow.  The doctor felt around with a long Qtip and packed with wet gauze and saline.  Later, I had to replace the gauze and do this twice per day.  This action does help slowly debride the wound but better and faster methods can be used such as lightly scraping with a scalpel or using Medihoney, which I eventually used and this helped debride the wound very well.


Wound needs debridement – pic 1

Wet to dry dressings

Wet to dry dressings pic 2


I have a video link on YouTube that shows me doing the wet to dry packing of the wound.  Remember that this is a deep hole, so it is like a magic trick of disappearing scarves. The link is at

When doing these wet to dry dressings, I would have to cover the wound up with something (the dry part of wet to dry dressings) to catch all the fluid.  It was a mix of exudate and serous fluid.  In the beginning, there was a lot of it.  I would cover it with a maxi pad or even two at night and stick them to the side of my underwear to hold them in place.


First two weeks not doing much, pic 3

For the first two weeks, the wound only got bigger.  It was looking healthier but it did not get smaller at all.  You see in pic 3 that it didn’t do much but by pic 4, the skin is pinker and healthier but the size looks a little bigger.

Once we saw the healthy smooth, red granulation tissue, we knew that healing could start taking place.  I would intermittently use regular saline gauze and the gauze with the Medihoney on it as you saw me do in the video.  I also purchased Medihoney  rope so I could completely pack it with Medhoney.  It was about $60 for the rope,and about $16 for each tube of the paste.  I bought on Amazon.  They sell all kinds of Medihoney products.  The gel and paste are similar but the gel is thicker, I found the paste worked best for putting on a gauze before packing.  The rope is long sheets of honey on a gauze-like alginate that you pack directly with and the honey melts into the wound and then you pull out the gel piece after a day or two.  Read all the benefits of Medihoney and you will be impressed.  It speeds healing, decreases pains, gets rid of infection, and helps keep you from getting an infection.  After 2 weeks of wet dry packing and Medihoney, I started feeling the wound tighten on the inside. Read the rest of this entry »


Can a tummy tuck help my back pain?

20 Feb

Photos from before and after at end of post.

There are a few studies that show an Abdominoplasty or tummy tuck has helped improve back pack in some patients but most evidence is subjective.  If you ask a plastic surgeon, they will tell you it might happen but not to count on it.  I felt strongly that a tummy tuck, specifically the muscle repair was going to provide me relief.  The reason was based on my specific back pain issues.

As I began searching for the causes of my back pain, I kept coming back to a couple of things.  My pain was a lot of musculoskeletal pain from being out of alignment. I would joke that I was a car that just needed a front end alignment, you know what, I was right and didn’t even realized it for a long time.  My legs were off so I walked with a wobble, this set everything else off and my hips were off, my knees hurt, my legs hurt, and most of all my back hurt.  Doctors would tell me that I had to use my core more to hold up my back.  One PT had me tighten my core, to be honest, I couldn’t find my core.  There was nothing to tighten because the muscles were so separated that they didn’t work.  I don’t know why any of these doctors or specialists couldn’t see the big picture and say, hey, your abdominal muscle separation is causing you a huge problem or at least, if your muscles were repaired, your core would be able to support your back so much better. I really had almost no core support and on top of that I was forward heavy.  You know how women with very large breasts get breast reductions to help with back pain, well, all my insides were essentially herniating between my separated abdominal muscles and pushing out giving me this giant belly that caused all this forward weight on me and ruined my posture, hurting my back.  I may have looked like I had a fat stomach but my weight told a different story.  I wasn’t that overweight.  And after I had the surgery, if it had been fat, my stomach would have remained rounded and it didn’t. It just needed everything pulled back behind the abdominal wall.

After looking at my situation:

  • Posture is terrible, leads to pain
  • Posture can be fixed with less weight pushing forward from belly
  • Weight is reasonable so bulge is most likely from ab muscles not holding organs back
  • Cant get any contraction of core muscles now
  • Doctors stress tight core will really help my pain

It seemed to me that I could medically benefit from a tummy tuck / admomhinoplasty with muscle repair.  Could I get insurance to cover it?  Maybe but doubtful.  It would take so much work and effort and even if they found it medically necessary for me they don’t want to,set a precedent so they would probably deny for that reason alone.  I cared more about my health than fighting an insurance company so we just paid out of pocket.

Results?  It has only been two months so the jury is still out.  I have noticed a significant difference in my posture. I have core strength that I did not have before.   My body is adjusting to the new posture and I feel changes.  My right knee used to hurt, now my left knee hurts, but hopefully that means I am putting more even pressure on my joints.  My hip pain and back pain is currently down 40%.  That might change as I am dealing with complications from the surgery and have open wounds and scar pain right that hurt more than the back, so I haven’t been able to fully cut back on meds to see if I can go lower because I need them for the wound pain right now.  In another 6 months (or a year at most) I hope to have this wound and scar stuff fixed and can better evaluate the original pain.  However, so far I am very encouraged.  I also look much nicer now that my abs hold back my other organs.

stomach protrudes

stomach protrudes


abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery

abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery


Abdominoplasty / Tummy tuck for core strength to help back pain patients

30 Dec

Living with severe chronic back pain is very difficult but there are many of us out there. The problems I have found comes from a small checklist of known items that can be seen on a scan the hat cause pain and if you see a doctor and your scan does not show one of those known items such as a slipped disc or stenosis, then you are out of luck. No one has the ability to go beyond that list, after that you get shots and physical therapy, and in many people those are also ineffective.

Personally, I find it frustrating as I have begun to piece together my problems but there is no doctor who treats my issues…. I am structurally out of alignment and each out of alignment piece causes wear and tear and then pain on other pieces. A chiropractic is the closest person who figured me out, only they can only pop me into place for a day and then I pop back out… I need a permanent fix. I tried physical therapists but they are so by the manual, no one can look at my pain and issues individually rather than look at a “back pain” means this treatment. That doesn’t work when my back pain is stemming from overall skeletal misalignment.

So, I continue to be my own best doctor and research to try and put the puzzle pieces together for myself. I have a misaligned pelvis and this gives me one leg shorter than another. I have problems with my hip stability and si joints and my psoas muscle. I have no core stability and overwork my surrounding muscles to try and offset my weak core. Yet efforts to improve core strength have not gone well and are hindered by my overall misalignment and pain.

If only I could rebuild myself somehow, I thought. Well, then I started reading about the diasastis recti, the abdominal muscles that get pulled apart, often by childbirth. My internal organs poke through terribly and clearly set my back off balance just from my posture alone with my large chest and my big tummy. I tightened my muscles (the best I could) and sucked it in and realized it didn’t take much for a big change.

So, I took my hypothesis to the internet. Do people with back pain get relief after muscle retightening in a tummy tuck procedure? The answer was, anecdotally,”yes.” No doctor would make that promise because in part it depends on what is causing your back pain but in my case, it seemed logical that starting that alignment process with something we can fix, align, and rebuild, it would bring me things that my back were lacking and could provide some relief. I was not expecting to be cured but a reduction of 10-40% would be a success in my opinion.

I also knew that worst case and I don’t get relief, at least, I will get a better looking body so there was no downside. If I felt I had a chance to fight the insurance for payment for the medical necessity because of my back, I would have but after losing another fight that was clear cut that we should have won, I learned it isn’t about showing you can prove this or that, they will just say no and don’t have to have a good reason. So I just paid for my procedure with money we had saved for medical expenses.

The typical tummy tuck patient (news to me) is a thin woman who has an area on her tummy that is no longer perfectly flat after having children. In my eyes, these ladies all still had great bodies, especially compared to what I saw when I looked in the mirror but everyone has the right to have their bodies exactly as they want them and so they want to get back that perfect flat tummy and a tummy tuck will do that for them. Most plastic surgeons want you at your ideal weight before surgery and want to know you can hold that weight. I didn’t know much about the procedure but I did learn it is not a weight loss procedure. The doctor may cut off 1-5 pounds of skin but 5 is actually on the high side. You can request extra lipo if you want, some doctors don’t think it is safe to do much lipo during a tummy tuck.

So, I met with a PS and told him I wanted a TT with muscle repair, in hopes of helping my back. He scheduled me for a drainless tummy tuck with a shot of Experal. The Experal was supposed to make the first few days easier. They still hurt like hell so I don’t know, I guess it would have been worse. I needed a walker to walk for the first week. I had to wear a compression garment for two weeks. I didn’t have much swelling the first week but by week two, the swelling doubled and lasted for 10 weeks.

I normally take oxycontin for back pain and I was taking a higher dose for the first week but after that I was able to drop to my old dose with ibuprofen in the middle.

My back pain is currently down about 40% but I am still numb, dealing with other pain, not on my regular movement and exercise schedule so I am waiting to see how things change as time goes on.

Physically, I was very shocked to see how much my body was impacted by that 3 cm gap in my muscles. It is a shame that insurance doesn’t care that this muscle repair is a huge medical issue for some women, not just cosmetic. Even my bowel habits seem better. You also feel full sooner and now my weight matches how I look.

There are going to be many more benefits that I am going to discover from this adventure that I didn’t even realize. I have a whole new respect for this surgery and women who want to do it for whatever the reason.

Update:  I added two new posts to this series, another where I talk about back pain.  Another one is about the wound issues that I had after the surgery.  Not everyone has complications but I did (as did a few others who were having surgery the same time as I did).  It took over 2 months to get through most of the wound issues and I am still not “done” with it but hopefully, I am on the road to being better.  I would still do it, however, as the impact on my back pain was worth it.

My weight now falls in the normal BMI range, I lost 14 pounds since before I went into surgery (5 was skin) and I like how I look (minus the scars) and once the wound pain ends, I am anxious to fully assess my back pain but right now, my guess is about 40% better.

Here are some photos:

stomach protrudes

stomach protrudes

abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery

abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery


Posted in Medical


Whiskey is turning 3 – Border Collie / Dog Fear Aggression Blog

16 Nov

Our sweet border collie will be 3 in a few more weeks, wow, how time flies.  It is late so I will keep this update short – but here are our most recent stories:

Whiskey Meets a Lab Face to Face

We have this neighbor who has an invisible fence.  It freaks Whiskey out since all he sees is dogs that are loose.  When she has friends over with dogs, they are often let loose with her dogs.  They may get a collar too but haven’t been trained with it so they still run right through the fence, zap and all.  So, I am walking Whiskey and a Lab comes charging over from their yard (not the first time).  I panic a little (got to stop doing this as I am sure it doesn’t help Whiskey).  I yell that my dog will EAT their dog… okay, I don’t say but I say they better get their dog fast because Whiskey is “not good with dogs.”  She is too slow to get over and Whiskey is face to face with the lab – I wasn’t prepared.  Whiskey didn’t know what to do!  He did nip at the dog but baby nips, no outright attack, nothing the dog even felt at all – it was very minor.  The lab did not even know what was going on.  I was trying to keep Whiskey away from the lab – I should have tried just walking away, I don’t know if that would be better or not but I was trying to just put myself in the way… maybe not smart either but I didn’t think the lab meant any harm and Whiskey wasn’t going to intentionally bite me… so finally, the lady comes and gets her lab and apologizes to Whiskey – asking if she can pet him, HA?!  No…  The good news was that it was not a terrible experience, Whiskey was face to face with a dog, he did not get bit and he did not REALLY bite the other dog.

Whiskey Walks by Dogs Closely

We have also been in more and more situations where Whiskey has had to walk by dogs or have dogs within just a foot of him.  He has handled it very well.  He had concern but was not overly anxious and was able to ignore and move on quickly when I asked him to.

Talking to Whiskey

More people have been talking to him lately, he doesn’t growl anymore when people do that!!!

Bonding with my Oldest

When we got Whiskey, my oldest son was away at college so Whiskey did not know him and he was not trust worthy.  He did come and stay with us so Whiskey learned to accept him in the house but they had an agreement to just ignore each other.  Now if we are on a walk and away from the house but see my oldest away from the house and tell Whiskey that it is “ge ge” (what we call him, Chinese word for oldest brother), he wags his tail and runs up to him!

Called off from the Cat

Since Whiskey moved in, the cats had to move their domicile to the second floor.  Whiskey would chase the cats and I don’t trust him with his high prey drive.  The cats learned they stay upstairs and the dogs always stay downstairs.  Sometimes, the cat comes down on the stairs and sticks her head through the rails to meow at me about something and Whiskey sees her and starts to chase her, running at the stairs – however, I have been able to call him off mid-chase!  This is good so that maybe, if ever needed, I could call him mid-chase from chasing a dog or something.

Final Update

He continues to improve!  We are going to be talking to a new trainer and either way, we will continue our work to make him a non-reactive dog someday!