Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Protecting Yourself from Equifax Credit Breach

When the news first broke out about the Equifax Credit Breach I was extremely concerned (still am) and I did some research to find out what steps we could take to protect ourselves from possible identity theft.  Every bit of personal and financial information for almost everyone in the country has been stolen.  They say that these criminals will place it all on the "dark web" for other criminals to buy. They can get all your information for $50 and then start opening credit cards, take out loans, empty bank accounts, use your driver's license info to run up tickets, use your social security number to compromise your retirement . . . the list goes on and on.  If anyone does get your information, your life will be consumed by phone calls trying to undo the damage they have done. And they aren't going to open just one credit card account at a time either. A girl on the news said twelve accounts were opened in her name and it was up to her to contact all these companies and try to close them. So there is plenty to worry about.  There are some steps you can take to protect yourself or at least make it much more difficult for criminals to use your information if they get it.  This is what I learned.

These are things you should consider doing and some must be done before freezing your credit reports.

1. Get free copies of your credit reports for a baseline record of your credit at this point in time from for you and your family members and print them.

2. Change your passwords on your bank accounts to make them more secure, that includes retirement plans you have at work.

3. Monitor your online credit cards and bank accounts for fraudulent transactions so you can report them immediately.

4. Sign up for paid credit monitoring/Identity Theft protection and then give them time to check your credit report before freezing your credit reports.  We are using Identity Guard Total Protection with first 30 days free and discount from this link a couple would cost $23 a month with this link.   

They will monitor many things including SS#s and address, bank accounts, and credit cards for any changes.  You must do this before freezing your credit with all three bureaus so they can access and monitor your credit.

Discover provides some free monitoring services and Credit Karma is also free if you want additional monitoring

Credit Freeze is the last step after you have fully completed the credit monitoring process. 

5. Call all the credit bureaus and place a freeze on your credit reports so no one can get a copy. Freeze will stay on indefinitely and has to be removed a few days before if you want to take out a loan or open an account. You can also place Credit alerts on your credit but they only last 90 days and must be renewed.  You can contact the credit bureaus online or by phone.

Equifax 1 800 349 9960  Had to do Equifax online here  Then print out the page with your pin number

Experian  1 888 397-3742  They will email your pin numbers to you

Transunion  1 888 909-8872  They will ask you for a 6 number PIN so have one ready to tell them or they will end the call. Then they will send you an email with that 6 digit pin # for your files

I have been assured by several small savings banks that the only way to make withdrawals is with a passbook at the bank.  There is no online access. You may want to consider that if you have a large sum of money in the bank that you aren't using. 

6. File TAX RETURNS early so no one can beat you to it and get your refund.  

If you don't have time to bother with all this and want a short cut solution I would recommend getting an online credit monitoring service and, once that is in place and has access to your credit, then you should freeze your credit with all three major credit bureaus.   

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Unsolicited Motherly Advice . . .

Mom with her granddaughters

When I was younger and my mom would give me her unsolicited "advice," I would to roll my eyes and most times thought I knew better.  I usually took it as criticism or maybe she thought I didn't have a brain in my head, because she felt the need to remind me about the simplest things. She would make suggestions about what I should eat for lunch when I was at work.  She would tell me to bundle up the baby because it was cold outside. She always had to advise me on so many annoying little things, and not just one time.  Sometimes my patience would wear thin and I would tell her I wasn't stupid or ask why she was always criticizing everything I do. She seemed taken aback at my reaction because she explained that wasn't her intention at all, she was just trying to be helpful.  I didn't get it back then. So we spent many years in this cycle.  She insisted and I resisted.  

Today, with hindsight and years of motherly experience, I don't see things quite the same way. I realize my mom was just being a "mom," the same mom she had always been. She didn't know how to back away and adjust her motherly ways so they were more suitable for adult children. She wanted to feel useful, protective, helpful, nurturing, which were all the ways that always defined our relationship as mother and daughter. But there were times when all I could feel was that she was being intrusive and overbearing, and didn't approve of my way of doing things. It's a shame really because now she isn't here for me to tell her that I understand what she meant, how she felt, and why.

When your children grow up and go off on their own, we are supposed to continue the process of letting go. After all, we've done our best to teach them everything they need to know to get along in the world and now it's up to them to live their own lives. This is great in theory, but like many theories, it falls short when applied to real life.  How do we tell our kids that while they see adults when they look in the mirror, we still see that little girl who twirled her hair with her finger as she dozed off for a nap?  They really can't appreciate what we are trying to do with our well meaning words at this stage of their lives. That we still want to feel needed and we need to nurture. They don't know the emptiness we are feeling even though we are happy for their successes. One day they will figure it out, look back to the past and appreciate what we tried to do. 

And now I know my mother meant well and always had my best interests at heart. And I know she always wanted to protect me from harm in all it's forms. And I know that when anything happened to me, whether it be sickness, financial issues, problems with other people, heartache, that if something hurt me, it also hurt her heart so many times more just knowing and watching me go through it. Instead of digging in my heels and resisting her well meaning gestures, I should have embraced them, acknowledged them,  and thanked her for caring so much and devoting her life to being my mom.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Greatest Christmas Treasures . . .

Christmas 2017
All of us

The greatest Christmas treasures are not always under the tree.  Some of them are memories the eyes can't see. Some come without paper and bows. Some don't even come from a store, but from the heart. That's what I have tried to do every year for my children. It's a little tradition I started before they were born. Making them their own stockings and ornaments every year to preserve their childhood Christmases in unique "heirloom" pieces they would have forever.  

This year, as my older daughter is married and has her own home, I will take down my tree and pack up all their childhood ornaments in separate boxes I bought last year, for them to keep. This is the last Christmas they will hang on my tree.  They will be carefully preserved until such time as my children would like to display them or just look at them, and hopefully be reminded of all their past Christmases.

This is the letter I will place each box for them.

Dear Melissa and Lauren:

In the box I am giving you are all the Christmas ornaments I made for you over the years. I could've bought annual ornaments from the store, but I wanted you to have your own one of a kind ornaments. I did the same thing with your stockings, taking things from various counted cross stitch patterns and putting them together to make one unique design. Each year that I made a new ornament I chose a "theme" for Melissa's ornament and then when Lauren got to that # Christmas, I found a different pattern to use for hers with the same theme. So, for example, Melissa's first Christmas ornament was a little stocking parodied off her big stocking and I did the same for Lauren for her first Christmas. I loved coming up with different ideas like the horse heads, purses, angels, Santas, trees, chairs, snowflakes . . . thinking one day, when you had trees of your own, you would put them up and have reminders of your childhood Christmases in your homes for years to come. 

The Stockings

Melissa used to complained that Lauren's stocking had a lot more designs on it when she was little. She didn't realize I had gotten more experience over the years and it was easier to be more creative and figure out the placement of designs. Lauren always complained that Melissa's stocking was bigger and could hold more presents, even though I put the same number of gifts in each one. She also didn't realized that I freehanded the pattern/shape of the stocking and they were supposed to be the same size. The difference was unintentional and not what I was going for at all. I also wanted them to be the same size and shape, but when things are handmade no two things come out identical.

Some of the annual ornaments

Every year we took family vacations, I tried to remember to get a souvenir Christmas ornament for each of you to hang on the tree also as a reminder of the memories we shared as a family every year. I was so happy when I could find tiny ornaments with your names on them to hang on the tree that year. It wasn't always possible, but it was just a little tradition I tried to keep up with.  Of course, you were both more concerned with the presents going under the tree than the little keepsake and handmade ornaments that were hanging on it.  

A lot of love and thought went into each little stitch. I wasn't just thinking of the moment or that particular Christmas. I was also thinking of the future and how you would unwrap each ornament and show them to your children and tell them how I would make these every year for you. I made them to try and capture and save the memories that I cherished so much. I made them to remember the happiness and joy we all shared each year. And one day, maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day, I know you will open this box of treasures and realize what I tried to do and that maybe these little handmade things were really the greatest gifts you received every year.

May all your Christmases be full of love and happy memories.  Love you both so much.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Revisiting The Mother of The Bride Speech . . .

Last year I was asked if I would like to make a “speech” at my older daughter’s wedding (which was a long time coming). I hadn't given it any thought, but when she asked, I happily accepted. I spent hours thinking about what I wanted to say on this special day. I researched online what should be included. It’s not every day you give your daughter away. I became a little nostalgic reliving so many sweet memories of her as a child. When it came time for me to sit down and write my thoughts, my speech was clearly too long . . . nine minutes or so long. I mentioned it to my daughter, who asked me if I could cut it down by 50%. Of course I obliged. There was a perfect division in the speech that allowed me to cut out the first half and just use the second part. By the way, the entire speech, unedited, is also a blog, in case you missed it. When everyone was seated I was called to the microphone. I was startled because I didn’t know I would have to speak so early. I had my notes and told everyone who was standing, with their drinks in hand, that they might want to sit down for this one. Then I proceeded to speak from my notes. It was a heartfelt, well thought out speech. I have no regrets. So why this blog?

Well, it seems that while most people found my speech very touching, there were some who thought it was too long (obviously they weren't listening). And since then, some have mentioned it from time to time, “teasing” me about it in a way that I didn’t appreciate. I can take a joke, but sometimes a joke doesn’t feel funny after it’s been said in a passive aggressive way and more than one time. Then it’s not a joke any more, but a ridiculing criticism. I take offense to that. I wasn’t asked to make a simple toast, I was asked to make a speech. There’s a difference. Anyone can make a toast, but only one person at that wedding could have said the things I had to say, and I did. Even my daughter, who had managed to hold back her tears all day, told me the words I had said brought her to tears. I know that years from now she and her husband will still appreciate those words even more than they did on their wedding day.

Now what wasn’t in the speech, or in the blog I wrote about it, is something no one knows. It’s about my fears and my internal dialogue. A year before the wedding I was diagnosed with a benign growth in my neck which was affecting my nerves, specifically it could affect my voice or my ability to speak, among other things. The doctor has me on a “watch and wait” plan, not wanting to do surgery until it becomes necessary. During the course of the year, between the engagement and wedding, I had been experiencing some minor symptoms. I realized one day I might not be able to tell my daughter all the things I had in my heart to say. But this wedding gave me a special moment in time to do just that and I wasn’t going to waste it. So I wrote and delivered my “speech” with all the love in a mother’s heart. To those of you who appreciated what I had to say and offered kind words, I thank you. And to anyone who didn’t like that I took five freaking minutes to tell my daughter and son in law how I feel well . . . they can kiss my ass.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

First Anniversary Gifts . . .

When you give a gift, sometimes people may wonder what the thought process was to picking out something, especially if it’s a handmade piece of art. My daughter and son in law’s first wedding anniversary was coming up and I wanted to give them something special. My daughter is all about tradition and paper is the traditional gift for a first wedding anniversary. Months ago I had gotten them a book to record the details of each anniversary along with a picture.  This is the book I chose.  

I had to ask her for their favorite wedding photo for page one, in order to have it ready to present to them on their anniversary.  I also picked out a few others so they have a choice of which one they want to use.  This way they would have a keepsake of all their anniversaries in one place and it’s all paper. Here is the picture she sent me, which I placed in a matted frame, as a little extra gift.

But because I started so early, my mind kept wandering off to what else I could get. this past Christmas they wanted a large canvas map so they could place pins in all the places they visited and plan to go.  Here is that map, their first work of art: 

I was thinking of what I could get them that would match nicely with this piece and also commemorate their anniversary in paper.  I came upon this item which to me seemed perfect. It's a  handmade, cut out, 3D tree with the lyrics of their first song printed on it. It would have two or three hearts hanging from a branch with their names on it and the date of their anniversary and would come already framed and ready to hang.  Here is a sample: 

I customized my gift so that the tree color would be turquoise (like their names on the map), the hearts bright yellow, like the compass, and each heart would have their names printed on it and a third, smaller heart would have the date of their first anniversary.  

Why did I think this would be the perfect gift? First it's made out of paper. When I looked at it I saw their first dance as their first memory as husband and wife. The words to the song, “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz, hold much meaning for them and would be a constant reminder of how they felt about each other on their wedding day. I picked turquoise for the tree because I wanted it to match their map and represent the "waters of life," which are sometimes calm and sometimes rough. The lyrics would be in white, like the foam. I saw the tree itself as symbolizing both their families and their roots; the branch with the hearts as the new family they were creating together and adding on to it. I picked yellow for the hearts to match the compass on the map. I hoped it would symbolized that, like a compass, they would help each other navigate through their journey of life together, guiding each other in the right direction. Yellow also reminded me of the lyric in their song, a "beautiful sunrise," that they see in each other's eyes. 

And, I had to stray a little from traditional paper in order to make this crocheted Aran Heart Throw that I had my eye on for a long time.  It took about a week to make. It's not perfect, but it's made of love. I think it will look great in their new home.

Another thing made of paper is, of course, the card. I have been very unsuccessful finding beautiful, meaningful cards for special occasions and often have to settle for what's there. Even Hallmark has been disappointing in their selection of special cards. So, I had to get creative if I wanted to give them a keepsake for this anniversary milestone.  I investigated the art of paper quilling that involves rolling up pieces of paper to create pictures. I ordered myself a basic kit and created this card for the special couple.  

I can't wait till my daughter sees this! Considering it was my first and only try at quilling, I think it came out very nice.  Maybe now I will terminate my relationship with Hallmark. 

So the day of the celebration arrived and here are the photos:

The Quilled Card 

Favorite Wedding Picture

Anniversary Picture Album

Art: Tree with words to wedding song with hearts with
names and date of anniversary

Heart Throw Blanket

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Reflecting on Our 34th Anniversary . . .

Today my husband and I celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary.  And, while it doesn't seem like yesterday when we took our vows, the years have passed by much more quickly than we would've liked.  We've been blessed with two beautiful, intelligent daughters who have made our lives full, rich and complete. They have given us joy and happiness every day of their lives. We've lost our parents and other loved ones through the years, and have gotten through the rough times with each other's love and support. We have shared countless happy moments with family and friends. We worked hard for everything we have, made many wise decisions and some mistakes along the way. We've gotten through some significant health crises through prayer and by being there for each other. Looking back, I am amazed at all we have lived through to get to this point. 

Someone recently asked me what is the secret to a long marriage. I think it's a combination of things. For us it was having a good foundation that began with a friendship that we built on. Friendship grows into love and trust. Without trust, all the love in the world will not make a marriage survive. Without love, all the trust in the world will not make you happy. You need an unwavering commitment to work through your problems. You need to communicate with each other so there is understanding. Our focus was always on each other and our family. We spent quality time together as much as possible. We weren't materialistic. Things will make you happy for a short time, a solid relationship will make you happy for a lifetime. Decide to stay out of debt. Money issues are stressful and destructive. Better to have a little less and no debt, than to be burdened with paying bills for a lot of things. As far as working overtime, if you don't really need the extra money, limit the overtime. The time spent with your children will make you richer than any check. And, no one I know ever got rich from working overtime. It's a matter of priorities. Before you know it, the years will go by, your children will be adults, and you will see they have adopted all the good family values you modeled for them.

In two weeks my older daughter and son in law will be celebrating their first anniversary. As I listen to them and watch them together, I can see that they are on the right path. They have been brought up to appreciate marriage and family and everything that means. I have no doubt that, when the the time is right, they will be wonderful parents and raise their children in a loving, supportive family just as their parents have done with them. I couldn't ask for anything more.

If my husband and I had our lives to live over again we would do it in a heartbeat. When you are with the right person, thirty-four years goes by way too fast. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Preserving Family Recipes . . . and Turning 30

Front: Pictures of my Sicilian Grandmother, my mother, me and my daughter,
four generations.

My older daughter has been interested in preserving all the told family photos, oral history, documents and genealogy of our family for quite some time now. Although she has taken a break from it to plan her wedding and work extra hours to save up for a home, I know it's never far from her mind. But I really didn't know how much it really meant to her until I asked her in the beginning the new year what she wanted for her 30th birthday. Traditionally we would either go out to eat at a nice restaurant or I would cook a favorite meal at home. Since this was her 30th birthday, a milestone, I wanted to know if she wanted to do anything special and told her to think about it.  About a week later, while we were talking the phone, she announced, "I know what I want for my birthday.  I want to cook grandma's recipes."

Top: Map of Italy where our maternal recipes originated

At first I was stunned. Speechless. I wasn't expecting that at all. Selfishly speaking, I wanted a nice day out where I wouldn't have to cook, and here she wanted to do nothing but cook. After getting over the initial shock, I said to her, "We can't do all that cooking in one day. You'll have to decide what you want to make and we'll do that." All the while my mind is swimming with all the meals my mother cooked over the years and how I hated some of them so I never paid any attention to how she made them, like lentils and pasta.  But, my daughter made her request clear and she was serious about it, I could hear it in the tone of her voice. It's my job to make her wish come true and suddenly I regretted not asking my mother to write down all her recipes for me.

Sides: The top one is her paternal grandmother who came here from Malta
The bottom picture is her paternal great-grandmother who came from Austria

So, without telling her anything, I compiled a list of all the things I remembered my mother making. Then I got the brainstorm to get a recipe box to decoupage with the faces and places where her recipes would come from. I got my materials together and watched youtube videos on how to decoupage on wood. I ordered recipes cards and dividers and even a binder with pages, so I could have two complete sets of recipes for her. I planned to write them all out and present her with the whole two sets of recipes on her birthday. I hoped this would put her mind at ease that the recipes would be well preserved for future generations. I even had some recipes hand written by my mother and mother in law that I slipped into plastic sleeves to preserve for her with her family tree notes and charts.

The inside: is me and my daughter on her wedding day.
Behind us is a copy of my mother's "fig cookie recipe" which we made together.

The question remains, "Which recipe do we make for her birthday?" As I thought about it, there was only one clear answer, one choice above all the others, and that was my mother's tradition Sunday sauce.  Sunday sauce is the most important recipe we will ever make. It's the meal we grew up on, the meal that means home and family and love. It's handed down from generation to generation. You can find recipes for all the other meals in books or online, but you can never find one for your family's Sunday sauce.

The back is my son in law's mother and maternal grandmother from the Philippines;
and his paternal grandmother from England.

Now, I had shown her how to make the sauce about 15 years ago when I was going through a medical crisis and I wanted to be sure both my girls knew how to make it. It's not written down anywhere, it's in my mind's eye from watching my mother make it every Sunday throughout my life. Back in the day, when kids only had 6 channels on tv (no computers, no smart phones, no HBO, no Netflix, no cable, no nothing), we had nothing better to do than watch our moms cook. That was our reality TV.  And as we watched them we would talk and they would explain what they were doing and we would learn. Not today. Most kids only go into a kitchen when they need a snack, and even then, they probably have their eyes glued to the phone. However, after 15 years I'm sure she has forgotten everything I taught her about making Sunday sauce. So, I am fairly sure this will be the recipe we will start with.

The bottom 

Sunday sauce is a basic meat sauce that includes lots of meatballs (a little job in themselves), Italian pork sausage, and pork meat in chunks. However, there is more to it than that. For example, if you want to make a lasagna (another big job) you have to make the Sunday sauce first and add loose chop meat to the pot so the sauce that layers the lasagna is full of meat. This is true for baked ziti too. Then there is another Italian delicacy called braciole, which is thin slices of beef stuffed with salami, hard boiled egg, raisins and sliced onion, rolled up and sealed with toothpicks. This is something usually reserved for holidays and special occasions. Suffice to say that Sunday sauce and everything that goes with it, is the most traditional and most important family recipe we have.

I remembered some of the other recipes and for others I drew blanks. There were things my mother made that I never ate, so I had just a flimsy idea of how she cooked them. I went online and looked for recipes that would jog my memory and fill in the gaps so I could complete the recipes for the collection. I would compare two or three recipes to try to get as close as I could to my mother's cooking. I spent a couple of weeks writing them out in a notebook and going over each recipe until I was satisfied that I had captured the essence of what my mother did in her kitchen. Now, I just had to recopy them all on cards for the box and pages for the binder and get them ready for her birthday.

Now to fill up these cards!

Writing all the recipes two times, in neat handwriting, wasn't easy. I'd write a couple a day wanting them to be perfect, but of course I made mistakes. Thank God for white out!  I could have typed them all, but it wouldn't have been nearly as personal as I wanted this gift to be.  Slowly, but surely, I finished all the recopying and now I just have to wrap all the items and place them in a box.  I picked up a small rolling pin that holds recipe cards so you can stand them up when using them. I think she will a kick out of that.  

And now all that remains is for her to open her gifts and capture her reaction.

The BIG day arrives and we begin by cooking the sauce.  We set up the pot, stuff the braciole, fry up the meats (sausage, pork meat and braciole) and add everything to the pot.  Then we make the meatballs, fry them and add them to the pot.

And there's more to come!

A small bangle bracelet with cooking charms.

And then came the gifts. What Baby wants, Baby gets.

Gold Hoop earrings

Recipe box filled with old family recipes

Binder filled with old family recipes

The Cake!

Happy 30th Birthday to my Baby!