Getting Your Finances Organized
Getting Your Finances Organized - By Lynn Brenner (as printed in Parade Magazine, September 17, 2006) (Spire/Revell, 2006)
You carry your basic financial information in your head-like the name of your bank, the location of your checkbook, where to find last year's tax return. (OK, it might take a while to put your hands on that return, but you know where to look.) But does anyone else know what you know? No? Then create a one-page crib sheet. It's the smartest, easiest way to prepare for the unexpected. If anything happens to you, it will be vital to your survivors. And if you're ever forced to flee a natural disaster, it will help you reconstruct your financial records.
What You Should List
Contact information: Write down the names and phone numbers of family members, your closest friend, your doctor, any professional advisers (layer, tax accountant, broker, insurance agent) and the person who handles employee benefits where you work.
Financial accounts: List your accounts and the institutions where they're located. For example: "Checking and savings accounts, First Citizens Bank, 124 Bank Street." No need to list account numbers if you put down your Social Security number; that should be enough to identify your accounts.
Where to find your important personal documents:
- Current bank, mutual fund and brokerage account statements
- Employee benefits information
- Life insurance policies
- Marriage license
- Prenuptual agreements
- Birth certificates and adoption papers
- The original copy of your will (the only copy that's signed and witnessed). A photocopy won't do. If your original will can't be found, the law assumes that you destroyed it because you had changed your mind about what it said. Your heirs must convince a court that that didn't happen. If they don't succeed, your assets are distributed according to state law, as if no will existed.
- The forms naming your retirement account beneficiaries. It's these forms-not your will!-that determine who gets your retirement accounts. If you don't have your own copies, ask your account custodians for new beneficiary designation forms. "Fill out two copies," advises Ed Slott, a tax accountant and IRA expert in Rockville Centre, N.Y. "Mail them back to the custodian with a cover letter asking the company to return an acknowledged copy for your files."
Where You Should Keep It
Make three copies of your crib sheet. Keep one for yourself. (Tell your spouse where it is!)
Give one, in a sealed envelope, to your sibling, adult child, best friend or lawyer.
Mail the third to someone you trust who lives in another town-preferably one
unlikely to experience the same natural disasters.
As for documents on your one-page list, relocate them to a fireproof file cabinet, with
active drawers (for current bank statements, for example) and inactive drawers
(for long-term papers, like insurance policies and passports).
If you have documents stored in a bank safe deposit box in your name alone, ask the bank
how your survivors could gain access to it. (Getting authorization can be time-consuming.)
Better to keep documents like your will at your lawyer's office or in a locked file cabinet at
home, where they will be immediately available to your family.
The "Disease" To Please
"Everyday Cheapskate," Newspaper Enterprise Association, Mary Hunt, 7/27/05
This "disease" can certainly be costly…
I could never be a medical transcriptionist. My problem would be the symptoms and medical conditions. I'd have all of them.
Knowing this about myself, I wasn't all that surprised to end up with yet another condition after watching a recent episode of "Oprah" - the disease to please. I passed their little "Do You Have the Disease to Please?" self-diagnosis quiz with flying colors. Actually, I wouldn't expect anything less from myself.
The first questions: "Do you ever say YES when what you really want to say is NO?" Well of course I do-doesn't everyone? Or how about this one: "Is it extremely important to me to be liked by nearly everyone in my life?" Don't we all want to be liked? I whipped through that quiz in about 10 seconds flat, answering every question "yes," "yes," "yes," and "yes"!
I have to admit this need to please played a huge role in my own experiences with getting deeply into debt. I rarely spent for myself. I was forever buying for others, picking up the tab, giving the best gift. I wanted recognition, approval and acceptance. That can create a lot of pressure.
I am learning that this "disease" starts with wanting to be a good person. You want to be liked. You want to be chosen first, never last. You respond to everyone's requests and just keep doing more and more with promptness and perfection.
After all, aren't we called to generosity out of hearts of gratitude and service? Isn't it selfish to always say "no"? Yes, but there is a huge difference between authentic service and using it as an opportunity to manipulate. The test is to ask "What's my motivation? Is my action pure, or is it a sneaky way to get something in return?"
Analyze your motivation. Before you say "yes" to anything, do a quick self-analysis. What am I doing this? Why am I buying this? What am I expecting in return? If you can answer "nothing in return," then your motivation is pure. If there's another answer, it's probably some form of manipulation.
Experts say that time is the best antidote for the disease to please, whether that's five minutes or five months. Never answer on the spot. Nothing is so urgent you cannot take time to think about it. Acting to please can be noble and gratifying as long as the decision to do so for the joy it brings, not for what you expect to get in return.
What To Do When You Have Lost Your Wallet
It happens to the best of us. What can you do ahead of time to minimize the damage when you lose your wallet, and what should you do afterwards?
Suggestions for Security:
- Photocopy the contents of your walle - both sides of all cards.
- Keep all the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel
with the photocopies.
- File the list in a safe place.
What To Do if Your Wallet is Stolen:
- Cancel all credit cards immediately.
- File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen.
This proves to credit providers you were diligent and is a first step
toward an investigation if there is one.
- Call the three US national credit reporting organizations immediately
to place a fraud alert on your name and SS #. The alert means any
company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen
and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
- Fraud line: US Social Security Administration: 1-800-269-0271
- Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Stopping Junk Mail Before It Starts
Getting organized is also about eliminating waste in your life, and I'm all for getting rid of junk mail BEFORE it comes into the house! -Bet
From the Bucks County (PA) Department of Consumer Protection:
Q: I've been getting solicitations in the mail for refinancing and other financial services. I don't give out my personal information and I always opt out of these type of notices. So how did I get on this marketing list?
A: They may have gotten your information from one of the credit bureaus. They sell your personal information, including how much your home is worth and how much you owe on it. This is probably why marketers know so much about you. Some consumer advocates have been trying to stop this practice and the issue may go to court. Our suggestion is to contact the credit bureaus and opt out of these programs. Call (888) 567-8688 or go to www.optoutprescreen.com. You'll need to provide your Social Security number and other personal information. This should stop the solicitations.
Ways To Avoid Identity Theft
Concerned about working online? Worried about identity theft?
Here's a few tips to help protect yourself and your family.
- Check your credit report annually (annualcreditreport.com)
a. You may receive one free report from each of the three bureaus
every year. It is recommended that you choose a different bureau
once every four months. You will have to enter your social security
number at this safe site to receive the information.
b. There is a fee if you wish to get your credit score.
- Use caution with e-mail - Avoid unfamiliar e-mails and be very cautions
about e-mail with Internet links or attached documents
- Keep your computers secure
a. Keep your operating system up to date
b. Personal firewall - free - zonelabs.com
c. Virus protection - free - grissoft.com
d. Anti-spyware - free - lavasoft.com or spybot.com
- Stop receiving convenience checks - Call your credit card company and ask them not to mail or shred those that you receive
- Stop mailed credit offers - Or shred those that you receive
- Avoid telephone scams - Never give caller personal information if you did not make the call. Remind others, especially the elderly, about scams.
- Buy a home shredder - Shred anything with any personal information that is to be disposed, especially old checks, statements, tax returns, etc.
- Buy a secure mailbox - or use a PO Box. Never leave outgoing bills in an unsecured street mailbox.
- Stay informed - Google yourself to see what, if any, information is "out there" on you.
- Use the Internet, but with caution
a. Pay bills on-line (safe and avoid sending checks through the mail)
b. Use credit, not debit cards, for online purchases
c. Expect stronger security measure from bank web sites (additional passwords, security phrases, etc.)
d. Look for secure site when purchasing online. Look for "https://" in web site address (the "s" stands for "secure") and the lock icon on the task bar.
e. Be very cautious about "pop-up" web pages that you did not open
- Copy the contents of your wallet - front and back of all cards, etc. If your wallet is stolen you will know what was in it and who to contact.
- Watch for your bank and credit card statements - If they do not arrive in the mail within reasonable time call the financial institution. They may have been taken from your mailbox or your address may have been fraudulently changed in order to hide unauthorized charges.
Excellent information is available at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft about Avoiding Identity Theft. This is the Federal Trade Commission's site.
What to do if you are a victim:
- If you recognize a credit/debit card charges that you did not authorize, call company immediately and identify fraudulent charges! If you suspect that your personal information has been compromised or that some has used your personal information to establish credit:
- File a police report (necessary for seven year alert with credit bureaus)
- Call one of the three credit bureaus - place a ninety day fraud alert
- One call triggers all three
- Review credit reports (you'll receive after fraud alert)
- Send policy report by certified letter to all three
- Request documentation of fraud (credit application, receipts, etc.)
- Close fraudulent accounts immediately
- Remember, time is not on your side!!!
Credit Bureau Contact Information
- Experian - (888) 397-3742 - experian.com
- Equifax - (888) 766-0008 - equifax.com
- Trans Union - (800) 888-4213 - transunion.com
Tax Time Help
Tax season stresses everybody out. Here's a few websites to help save you some money. Find out the value of your donations to charitable organizations so you can itemize on your income tax:
Planning Your Childs Birthday Party On A Budget
By Liz Martin
- Decide what you can afford to spend on the party. Stick to it.
- Pick an inexpensive location. Parks and backyards are great for warm weather; inside the house or a public building (church, fast food restaurant with play land, etc.) for cool weather.
- Invitations: Handwritten or computer-generated invitations work well and add a personal touch to the party. If you like, you can even give them out by hand and save a few dollars on stamps. Or, if your child's friends (or their parents) all have e-mail addresses, consider using an online service such as Evite.com.
- Food: Try to make as much of the food yourself as you can, even if it’s not fancy. This includes the cake, if possible. Enlist the aid of grandparents, family members. Purchase any premade foods in bulk, and remember that kids are usually happy with inexpensive foods like hot dogs and pasta salad. Have plenty of snacks such as goldfish crackers and pretzels on hand, too.
- Beverage: Serve juice, punch or soda from large bottles, rather than offering individual containers or juice boxes.
- Games: Play classic games such as Red Light, Green Light or Hide ‘n Seek. For games with “props’, see if you can make any of the components yourself. Prizes for preschoolers are not necessary; if desired, consider offering a “service reward” such as allowing that child to pick their goody bag first, have the first piece of cake (after the birthday child, of course!), etc.
- Entertainment: Expensive, expensive! Consider having Dad or Grandpa dress up as Elmo if you need to have this!
- Make a pinata yourself instead of purchasing one. See www.e-how.com Fill it with inexpensive treats sold in bulk.
- For theme parties, choose a few paper goods to purchase in the (expensive) print and then fill in the rest with coordinating solid-colored paper goods. Same goes for balloons – pick one or two mylar ones and fill in the rest with less expensive latex ones.
- Try incorporating some items you already have on hand as part of the decorations instead of purchasing (expensive) party store decorations. Not everything needs to come from the party store so think outside the box and be creative!
- Use paper lunch bags as goodie bags. Decorate with stickers or rubber stamps. Or have the birthday child decorate them for his friends.
- Pick a few areas to splurge for those “must-haves” but watch your spending in other less important areas. Be sure to stay within your set budget!
My favorite web sites:
- www.coolest-birthday-cakes.com (hundreds of birthday cake ideas)
- www.orientaltrading.com (great for party goods, goodie bags, crafts,
- www.birthdaydirect.com (great party supplies for less)
- www.e-how.com (how to do just about anything…literally.)
- www.birthdaypartyideas.com (real life testimonies with ideas for any
Breaking Bad Habits
By Abigail Walch - adapted from the March 22, 2015 edition of Parade Magazine
Snacking late at night, skimping on sleep, nail biting, binging on House of Cards—nearly everyone has vices. That’s because, try as we might, bad habits are maddeningly hard to break. On the flip side, good habits, such as eating more healthfully or exercising regularly, never seem to stick. The upshot: Most people throw up their hands and surrender.
But now a new book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, (Crown, 2015) by best-selling author Gretchen Rubin, offers some insightful solutions. (Warning: There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy.)
“It would be so great if there was a magic answer that would do it for all of us, but it doesn’t exist,” says Rubin, 47. “We know that because we’d all have great habits if there was one thing we could all do. You have to take it back to yourself.”
Rubin, who fascination with habits evolved during her exhaustive research on happiness—which resulted in two blockbuster books, The Happiness Project (2009) and Happier At Home (2012)—found that our inability to master unwanted behaviors was a major downer. So, after guiding millions of readers down the path of true contentedness, New York City-based Rubin, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, turned her investigative skills towards habits.
Her most revealing find? Change is possible if we do some soul searching and identify how we respond to expectations. And, just about everybody falls into one of four personality categories: Questioners, Obligers, Rebels, and Upholders. (To find out more about your personality type, visit parade.com/habits to take Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz.)
Rubin believes herself to be a classic Upholder, someone who forms habits relatively easily because she responds well to both other people’s deadlines and her own.
As to the other types, Questioners will only form a habit if it makes sense to them; Obligers work hard to meet other people’s expectations but often let themselves down. And Rebels resent—and resist—habits.
The trick, says Rubin, is to “tailor your habits to suit yourself.”
After acquainting readers with tendencies, Rubin poses questions in the book to help tease out more nuanced personality puzzle pieces. Are you a lark or an owl, a love of simplicity or abundance, an underbuyer or an overbuyer, an abstainer or a moderator, a sprinter or a marathoner?
“Think about the habit that you want to form and then think, What’s everything I could do to set myself up for success?” says Rubin. For example, if you want to exercise more and you’re an Obliger and a lark, call your friend who lives across the street to meet at 6:30 every morning for a walk.
At the end of the day, good habits free us from making decision after decision and from exerting self-control. “The more [things] you can make into a habit, then the less you have to drain yourself using your willpower,” she says. As Rubin sees it, better habits pave the way for growth—and growth leads to greater happiness.
And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Working It Out
Here's some advice about putting more exercise in our lives each day. Exercise helps us to think more clearly, feel better physically, and once done, gives us a great sense of accomplishment which carries through to other activities. Looking and feeling great helps our self-esteem too. Although the article is reprinted from the July/August, 2006, MomSense Magazine and is geared toward young mothers, I thought the time-management tips and help to overcome obstacles would be applicable to anyone!
Working It Out - Health Matters - by Carrie Carter, M.D.
- Q: With my busy "mom" schedule, I can't always find the time to exercise. And when I do work out, I often feel bored with my routine. Do you have any suggestions?
- A: Moms everywhere can relate to your exercise dilemma, since motherhood can consume every minute you have, and the last thing we want to do when exhausted is take time to fit in boring exercise!
Why Find the Time?
But there are big reasons why exercise is beneficial. If you spend even a few minutes doing exercise you enjoy, you will relive stress, strengthen your body, bones and heart and likely get a "second wind" after an exhausting day. Want to lose weight? Exercise burns calories, revs up your metabolism and builds lean muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even when you are asleep. Plus, many other remarkable benefits await you that only exercise can provide.
Clear the Roadblocks and Myths
With these benefits to motivate us, what keeps us from exercising whenever we can? Here are many roadblocks and myths that block the way:
- No time - Commit to workout for just one minute each day. Then add more.
- It's expensive or complicated - It's as simple as a 10-minute walk or dancing at home.
- Ineffective unless exercise is 20-30 minutes straight - False! Short sessions combined are just as effective.
- Have health problems - Work with your doctor to find what you can do in bed or a chair when ill, pregnant or disabled.
- Too out of shape - It's not too late if you're still conscious and breathing! ANY bit of exercise helps.
What about "Exercise is boring?" If this is your belief, it means you've not yet found the exercise that you enjoy! Exercise isn't supposed to be a life sentence to do activities you hate. The key is to find what activities you love to do and make these your exercise. You're on the right track if while exercising you think more about the fun or activity and less about your exertion.
Your Exercise Personality
What activities did you enjoy before motherhood? Were you a dancer? Liked rollerblading, swimming or bicycling? Did you play team sports or individual sports?
Honor your exercise personality: If you're competitive and run, train for a 10K race. If you're social and love dance, enroll in tap or ballroom dance classes with your spouse or a girlfriend. If you're low-key and social, try bicycle outings with friends. Check with your local recreation department or YMCA for various classes and team sports. Also, with DVDs/videos of everything from calming Pilates and Salsa workout to kickboxing, you can choose your fun and work out at home.
Beware the lure of joining an expensive gym unless you know it will work for you. Perhaps it's the perfect retreat for you. Many have day care available. If gyms are new to you, ask about a free trial membership. Also consider lower-cost community gyms.
Similarly, before buying expensive home exercise equipment, be certain you'll use it. Inexpensive home equipment that I highly recommend to help you strength train includes: 5-pound hand barbells, resistance bands and a large exercise ball. Put the barbells where you'll see them and pick them up one to three times a day and do a set of arm exercise. The benefit will add up quickly.
You Can Do It!
There are plenty of valid excuses why many of us don't exercise regularly, but you can wipe most of them away if you:
- Do something that you love/enjoy when you exercise.
- Start where you are and add one little nugget of fun exercise to your daily routine, then expand from there.
- Break up exercise into short sessions throughout the day, and it'll add up to significant movement.
- Honor the fact that your health is important enough to make exercise a priority. (As your husband or friend to watch the kids.)
- Now let's go play!
Note: Please check with your doctor before starting a strenuous exercise program or if you have health problems.
Dr. Carrie Carter is a mother and national speaker on health issues. She served as a pediatrician for more than 10 years in San Diego, California and wrote A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle (Spire/Revell, 2006)
Time Management and Achieving Goals
When we take the time to set yearly, monthly, daily goals we save time, energy, and money in the long run. Much of my information comes from several books on time management: The Time Trap, by Alec Mackenzie, The Unofficial Guide to Managing Time, by Dawn E. Reno, Conquering Chaos at Work, by Harriet Schechter, and Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald
The real purpose of time management is to allow us to live less stressful lives, have a balance between work and home life, to increase productivity, and to make progress toward goals. Just hearing the words "goal setting" makes some people uncomfortable. As Alec Mackenzie says in his classic book on time management, The Time Trap: "Setting goals for significant accomplishments you want to achieve in your life, both personal and professional accomplishments, costs you nothing. Failure to set them can cost you plenty."
Goals may be set for you as outlined in your job description. You also have goals new goals set in a performance evaluation process. Let's define a goal and flesh it out. Webster defines "goal" as "the mark set as a limit to a race. An aim or purpose." Goals are an end result-what you want to accomplish. They are defined by objectives that then set priorities that affect daily activities and decisions. But it all starts with a goal.
A goal must be:
- Demanding-it motivates us to do our best.
- Achievable-don't make your goals unrealistically high.
- Specific and measurable-a way to know if you've achieved it.
- Must have a deadline.
- Agreed to by those who must achieve it.
- Should be written down.
- Should be flexible. Re-examine your goal and make adjustments upward or downward. Don't be quick to lower your goals without first learning how to work smarter. What we're most interested in here is the practical application of goal setting. If we set goals, how does that fact affect our daily lives?
Let's take a very simplistic example:
The Director of Dining Services at a university has a long term goal to daily serve nutritional, taste-conscious, visually appealing, timely and cost-effective meals to the faculty and students. This basically becomes his or her mission statement. It will determine how he or she will spend time. The Director will then set objectives or intermediate targets to achieve that goal:
- Speaking with the dietician or nutritionist
- Learning about and purchasing the best equipment
- Researching low cost, yet good quality food sources
- Learning about presentation and color appeal
- Hiring experienced cooks and line personnel
- Training servers and wait staff
- Getting feedback from people as to how he's doing in achieving his goals.
Then he or she will set up monthly or daily priorities from those objectives. These priorities will determine his or her activities. When some activity is presented to him or her that will NOT help achieve this goal it can be eliminated, disregarded without guilt or dilemma. An activity that will not help achieve the goal should not be an activity at all.
- Start with long range goals and objectives.
- Relate the days' activities to those goals.
- Assign priorities to the days' tasks according to their contribution to your overall goals.
- Schedule tasks according to priority and to the degree of concentration required.
- Stay on track, using your goals to guide you through crises and interruptions and help you make daily activity choices.
Managing Time At The Office
Need some help managing your time at the office?
- Set goals
- Track your time for one week. Are you meeting your goals?
- Are your activities are vital, important, or trivial? Levels
should be determined by your goals.
- Eliminate or delegate those actions that deter you from
- Need more time for strategic activities? Delegate the details
- phone calls, meetings, filing, reading.
a. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
b. Describe the task you are to delegate
c. Train the person to do the task
d. Let the person do the task
e. Follow-up and evaluate
a. Schedule time into your day when your door is closed: Rearrange your office so your desk is not in plain view as people walk by; put a sign on your door that you are not to be disturbed.
b. Simplify communications - limit the ways people can contact you. Install a system outside your office for papers to be dropped off. Wall pockets labeled and color keyed with different forms to be returned, picked up, etc.
c. Carry paper and pen with you if you must travel in the complex, write down the comments, problems, etc. but do not try to solve them on the spot. Say you will get back to them within a reasonable amount of time.
- E-mails: Check e-mails twice a day, and combine as many responses as possible to eliminate extra mail.
- Phone calls:
a. Have your assistant get all pertinent information (not just who called and when) BEFORE you return the call. This eliminates much phone tag.
b. Tell the person "I've got 5 minutes to talk." in the beginning of the conversation.
c. Keep to the facts.
- Desk dumping: To eliminate your big pile at the end of the day, have color keyed files on/near your desk so people do pre-sorting for you.
- Meetings: Combine meetings, delegate leadership at meetings, and eliminate meetings-use e-mail or memos
- Maintenance time
a. This is important because if something isn't maintained it may stop working or become unsightly. (Think of your garden weeds.)
b. 10 minutes once a day eliminates one hour after 6 days.
- Evaluate your current filing system. Can you find things quickly enough?
- Are you using your assistant to your best advantage?
- Energy levels can be helped by eating lunch and including a late afternoon protein snack.
Healthy Fun In The Summer Time
Here's a few tips from "Real Simple" magazine (realsimple.com) to help make your summer fun, healthy, and great!
- Cool down: During hot summer months, pop your skincare products-face and body lotions, eye creams, cleanser-in the refrigerator before hopping into the shower. They'll feel even more refreshing after you step out.
- Prolong your manicure: Stay away from heavily pigmented browns and beiges that tend to chip faster because of high levels of iron oxide and titanium dioxide. And always apply a new topcoat to nails every other day.
- Exercise anytime: No time to get to the gym? Lunges, which tighten the glutes, can be done just about anywhere. Do a walking lunge down the hallway in your home. Or lunge in place when you're picking up toys and books.
- Soothe your burn: Repurpose ice trays you haven't used since you bought the new refrigerator with the ice maker. Freeze aloe vera gel into single-serving sunburn relief. The ice cools the skin instantly, and the aloe helps soothe the burn.
- Chill out: Freeze berries in an ice-cube tray to use in place of ice. They look stunning in fizzy beverages, won't water down drinks, and provide a burst of flavor-not to mention a dose of antioxidants.
- Make a slushie: Set up your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Pour in one 12-ounce can of cola and start the machine. When a thick slush has formed (after 10-15 minutes), scoop it into 2 glasses and serve.
- Upgrade your drink: Freeze slices of lemon, lime, and orange, then use them to add a cold blast of citrus to your iced tea, lemonade, or plain old glass of water. Slide a piece of plastic wrap between slices to keep them from sticking. They'll stay fresh for up to two months when stored in an airtight container in your freezer.
- Keep flowers upright: Extend the stems of roses to fit a vase. Place the bottom of each stem inside a straw, then arrange the flowers as you normally would. Your blooms will stand up tall, even if you've been overzealous with the trimming.
- Refresh your flowers: To revive a tired-looking arrangement, submerge the flowers completely in a sinkful of cold water for an hour. And to prolong the lives of delicate flowers, stick them in the refrigerator at night.
- Preserve guacamole: Squeeze a little lemon into your avocado dip and give it a stir. The lemon eliminates the browning that occurs when guacamole sits.
- Perk up dessert: Fruit salad is healthy but ho-hum. But you can fill a waffle cone with fruit salad, and you've got an instant party dessert. Bonus: no bowls to wash.
- Grill smart: Really hot grill bars equal dramatic grill marks on your porterhouse. To concentrate the heat and keep it from escaping, lay a sheet of foil over the grill for 10 minutes. Peel the foil off before cooking (it cools fast), scrunch it into a ball and use it to scrape any reside or ash from the bars.
- Set a summer table: Worried your dinner table will look like a four-year-old's birthday party if you use paper plates and plastic utensils? Elevate the simple to the sophisticated-literally-by placing fruit and just-picked blossoms on shoe or small gift boxes that have been covered in white gift wrapping.
- Keep tissues dry: A peppermint tin is perfect for keeping tissues clean and dry in your purse or beach bag. Just fold over the pocket-pack size and pop them in. You'll always have a supply of fresh tissues, minus all the lint, dirt, sand, and rumples they usually attract at the bottom of your bag.
- Save your summer memories: Many photo websites (like shutterfly.com) will put digital photos into an album for you, and Together Book (togetherbook.com) will take photos you send them and bind them into a hardcover linen album.
- Plan a party: If you have to entertain guests but don't have time to plan an elaborate party, assemble a memorable cheese spread. It takes just one trip to the store, and everything can be purchased and set out in under an hour.
- Create instant atmosphere: To set a cool mood at a party the easy way, use pinking shears to cut strips of blue paper long enough to fit around the outside of thick glass votives, then attach with double-sided tape.
- Get a perfect scoop: Before digging into the ice cream carton, wet the scoop, then shake off the excess. Too much water can turn into ice crystals and make ice cream crumbly.
- Serve something special: What dessert could be easier than a cupcake? But easy doesn't have to mean boring. Votive holders make perfect containers for bite-size cupcakes. Bake the batter in mini-muffin tins, dust the cakes with confectioners' sugar, and insert candles. Then just make a wish.
- Put the world on hold: Take some time to recharge in your own home. Turn off the ringers on your phones. Stop the newspaper. Stash all your clocks in a dresser drawer. Eliminating reminders of time helps wipe away the stress of the daily grind.
- Protect with style: A basic white cotton T-shirt gives you the equivalent of only about SPF5. The key to sun protection is the fabric's weave: the tighter the weave, the better it blocks UV rays. Color also plays a role: darker shades absorb UV light, so less radiation makes it through the fabric to the skin.
- Warm up: When preparing your body for an activity this summer, do a similar activity that's slower and gentler. So, if you're going for a run, start with a walk, then gradually increase your intensity. Leave stretching until you cool down to avoid the risk of injury.
- Condition your hair: Run out of conditioner and need something in a hurry to smooth your summer hair? Use a mashed avocado or ½ cup of whole milk. They contain fats and oils that will coat and moisturize your hair.
- Pack light: When packing makeup, save room by using a days-of-the-week vitamin holder to hold several different cosmetics. And use clear travel pots for moisturizer, facial cleanser, and hair products.
Travel With Confidence And Comfort
Did you know that the Thanksgiving holiday is the most heavily traveled weekend of the year? Whether you are flying, driving, taking the bus or train, you may experience disruptions and delays in your schedule. Power blackouts in airports, vehicle breakdowns, and other unexpected surprises can be less upsetting if you are prepared for them physically and emotionally. Here are some tips adapted from Barbara Hemphill's "Tips for Travel Disaster Preparedness."
- Carry a paper printout of your travel reservations. Computer systems may be down and you may have no way of substantiating your reservation. Having documentation with a reservation number on it may be used to get your boarding pass.
- Travel with cash. Cash machines and credit cards require electricity. If the power is out your ability to buy food directly relates to the amount of cash you have available.
- Keep your cell phone charged and a calling card handy. Although cellular service at best can be sketchy, without a battery you have no chance at all. Payphones may work intermittently. Also, you'll need coins to pay for the calls when you get the chance to use the phone.
- Carry a flashlight.
- Pack some snacks such as protein bars. Even if there is no disaster, never rely on the airlines to feed you.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Keep in mind that temperatures vary widely - the airport may be incredibly hot and the airplane freezing. Walking long distances and up and down staircases in heels is not only exhausting but could be dangerous. Carry wet wipes. Running water requires electricity.
- Keep physically fit. You may have to climb up escalators that aren't working while carrying your luggage.
- Take an extra battery for your laptop. In spite of the chaos you may actually be able to get some work done.
- Carry a good book.
- Be gracious. Getting upset won't solve any problems and it may create more.
- Whenever you think you've got problems, just look around. Other travelers may be sick, elderly, physically or mentally handicapped or traveling with children. Help others whenever you can.
What to do After the Loss of a Loved One
The unthinkable happens…a loved one dies. Here is a helpful guide adapted by Bet from the winter issue of Thrivent magazine and written by Nancy Fitzgerald.
- Call one family member or trusted friend and ask others to place the rest of the calls for you. People really want to help. Let them help with some of the practical things that need to be done.
- Call your pastor who can offer compassion, care, and help planning the memorial service for your loved one.
- Call a funeral home. Working within your budget, the funeral director can help you make necessary plans.
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy food and drink. Accept the care of family and friends. Give yourself permission to take as long as you need to adjust to your loss.
In the weeks ahead:
- The estate will need to be settled. Set up a filing system with a folder for each financial institution or task. This can be in a filing cabinet or an easily transportable storage box.
- Order multiple copies of the death certificate. You’ll need to send them to insurance companies, banks and others. You can order these from the funeral home.
- Locate the will, trust, and/or any related legal documents and discuss the estate with an experienced attorney. If there was no plan in place, speak to your attorney about the next steps.
- Cancel credit cards and stop automatic payments when applicable.
- Notify Social Security. Surviving spouses are usually entitled to a one-time payment of $255 toward funeral expenses. Do not cash any Social Security checks made out to your loved one after he or she has died.
- Notify the employer, or, if retired, the retirement plan administrator.
- If your loved one was a veteran, notify Veterans Affairs.
- Have all valuables, such as jewelry, paintings, tools, and equipment professionally appraised for tax purposes.
- Try to wait at least one year before making any major financial decisions, such as selling your house.
- Give yourself time to process your emotions.
- Avoid making decisions in haste without good counsel.
Put your own affairs in order. Ask yourself these questions:
- What would you want done in regard to medical treatment in the event of a life-threatening illness? Have a “Living Will”.
- What kind of funeral or memorial service would you like?
- Are you willing to donate your body or organs? Have you made arrangements to do so? Contact your state government to receive donor cards to keep in your wallet.
- Do you need to change the beneficiary(ies) on your life insurance contract, IRA, annuities and similar assets? For example, did you update these documents after a marriage or divorce, or after the birth of a child?
- Are your real estate holdings, stocks, bonds and other financial instruments titled so that they can pass easily to those you wish?
- Do you have an up-to-date will? If so, does your family know where it and other important papers, like bank account records, are kept?
Protect Your Pet From Disaster
Disasters can strike without warning. If you have a pet, here's some tips reprinted from Parade Magazine, July 9, 2006. - Bet
You Can Protect Your Pet From Disaster - By Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson
When Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast last summer, many evacuating residents were forced to leave their pets behind. Animal-lovers won't soon forget the images of thousands of lost pets, alone and afraid, wandering the abandoned streets. Any of us could be forced to flee in an emergency. With 163 million dogs and cats depending on us for their care, we need to plan for our pets as we plan for ourselves.
ID Your Pet:
Lost pets are much more likely to be reunited with their families if they are easily identifiable. All animals should have ID tags that include a cell-phone number, since your home phone likely will be useless in a disaster. Microchips can provide fail-safe proof of ownership. Injected under your pet's kin, these rice-sized chips contain an ID number and other information. The implant remains forever, readable with a hand-held scanner. A clinic may offer microchips at low cost. Check with the nearest shelter or your veterinarian. Also take several pictures of your pet. Be sure to get front and side views, and groomed and ungroomed photos for long-haired dogs
Pack an emergency Pet Box:
- You should have a special travel box ready for your dog or cat. In addition to basic first-aid supplies, here are some essentials:
- Food and clean water to last several days. For water, a SteriPEN (sold at camping stores and on the Web) uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria, viruses and protozoa.
- A small box with some lightweight litter for your cat. (Make sure it's a brand he or she knows well.)
- Copies of your pet's records. Proof of vaccinations (especially rabies), a list of medications, photos and other ID information should be stored in a sealed plastic bag.
- A list of emergency numbers of veterinary clinics, shelters, nearby friends and hotels that accept pets.
- Any other "can't live without" item. A familiar toy can make a big difference during a bad time
Be Prepared to Evacuate Quickly:
- During a crisis, there's no time to hash out transport plans. Leashes and collars for dogs and harnesses for cats (all with tags!) should hang with car keys by the door. In an emergency, you may need to confine your animal in a carrier. If he resists, you might be forced to leave him behind. Training your pet now to accept a crate or carrier could save his life.
- If you must leave your animals behind, bring them inside and leave them loose in the safest part of your home with as much food and water as possible. Self-feeders and automated water bowls can supply food or water over many days. (Pick a food your pet isn't wild about, so he or she won't binge on it all at once.) Set the food and water in a corner, away from doors and windows. Also affix a sticker to a window or door indicating the number of animals inside your home and your contact information.
- Congress recently introduced the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which would require state and local authorities to make plans for people and their animals to safely flee in a disaster. Check your town's evacuation policies and lobby to have them changed if they do not accommodate pets.
- Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson are animal trainers and the authors of several best-selling books on pet care, including "Good Owners, Great Dogs."
Helping Your Child Excel In School
Reprinted from the September, 2006, newsletter of the Penn Foundation, Behavioral Health Services in Sellersville, Pennsylvania
Summer is over and school has begun. Helping to make the back-to-school transition smoother and to enable your child to excel in school begins in the home with building self-esteem and responsibility. There are many things you can do to help your child build self-esteem and become more self-confident. Here are a few strategies:
- Give your child daily or weekly chores-this will help him/her to develop a sense of responsibility and success in doing something well.
- Let your child teach you or others; kids love to teach and help.
- Encourage your child to become an expert in something that interests him/her; provide opportunities to accomplish this. Let his/her teachers know about his special knowledge.
- Play with your child…children learn best (and the most) by playing! Remember to have fun with your child.
Remember that excelling in school is not all about the academics. School is a place to learn, make friends, and participate in arts and sports as well as a place to help children grow. When you take the time to help your child, it can (and does) influence school success. Some tips to encourage success in school are:
- Encourage him/her to participate in clubs, sports, art and/or music-whatever fits with your child's interest. Collaborate with coaches and group leaders about your child's learning/emotional difficulties.
- Set a study time and stick to it. Involve your child making the schedule. Turn off the TV and radio so there are no distractions.
- Be available to help if your child has questions about his/her homework. If you do not know the answer, it can become a project in which you work together to solve it.
- Talk with your child daily and really listen to what he/she says. Ask about new ideas he/she has learned or other projects he/she is working on.
- Get to know your child's teachers, counselors, and principal. Let them know you are interested in your child's progress in school.
Success in school is not always measured by the grades your child receives. Success is better measured by how well you have helped and supported your child to do his/her best, by how well you have instilled an enjoyment of learning, and by setting realistic goals and celebrating achievements and successes. With each success, children gain confidence in themselves and in their abilities that will spill over into other areas of their lives.
Some helpful websites for parents from Forbes/Business Digest:
- Kidshealth.org - a huge collection of age-appropriate articles by pediatricians
- Familyfun.com - a web version of the Disney magazine brimming with crafts, recipes and activities
- ACDE.org - (American Council for Drug Education) - an informative, no nonsense primer about drugs; gives tips on how to discuss drugs with your kids
- About.com/parenting - plenty of links, chats, news and features on a wide scope of parenting topics.
- Familyeducation.com - bring together families, educators and schools
- Screenit.com - this mom and pop team screens films in astounding detail
Skills For Helping Students Stay Organized
Here's a few tips to help you or your student get organized and stay organized; organization is a key to success!
- Backpack cleaned out every day.
- Place in kitchen--basket, folder, file on wall--for parent(s) to see papers, sign papers, return papers, leave messages for teacher, etc.
- Have a place that is reserved at a certain time of the day for the student to study. Preferably a desk in his/her room. If a kitchen table have paper, pencils, erasers, dictionary etc, available nearby so the student will not "roam" looking for these items. Have them in one drawer or in a basket that can be put on the table for the student.
- If your student has trouble concentrating, make sure all distractions are turned off--tv, radio, computer games. Some students need a little noise in the background to concentrate. Observe your student's ability to keep to the task under different conditions and make his/her study area conducive to those conditions.
- Have one day a week when their study area must be cleaned up and put in order. The easy way to bring order to a messy area is organizing by "subject". School supplies in one drawer. Pending assignments, like book reports or term papers, in another drawer. Be consistent. Keep related items together. Go through piles of paper to weed out old out-dated items.
- Have a bulletin board in your students' room so important items can be seen and not lost.
- Have a large squared calendar easily accessible to your student to write when reports are due.
- Keep their room clean and attractive so they will want to be there to study.
- Block out time to talk to your student every day about the progress being made on assignments. Have a time you talk about problems with school or friends so they know you care about all areas of their lives. Problems with friends can affect their school work.
- Let them pick what is for dinner one night a week, within your budget. They only get this privilege if their room is clean before the meal is eaten.
Gift Suggestions For Seniors
Have a senior family member, neighbor, or friend? Looking for a nice way to thank, award, or bless them? Check out these gift suggestions for seniors. These will ease their days, add excitement to their lives, or make them feel special and appreciated.
- Gift certificates for their favorite grocery store, deli, or pharmacy.
- An assortment of greeting cards for birthdays and anniversaries, as well as get-well and sympathy cards.
- Gift certificates for haircuts, manicures, dry cleaning, restaurant meals, theater tickets, videos and department stores.
- Prepaid long distance phone cards.
- Bus passes or coupons for senior transportation or taxis.
- Postcards or lined stationery and envelopes with a generous supply of stamps.
- A "paid in advance" certificate for ten lawn mowings or snow shovelings by a neighborhood youngster.
- A "certificate" for a service you can perform that is difficult for them-a thorough house cleaning, a month's laundry, a handyman visit for home safety inspection and minor repairs.
- An offer to rewrite their address book in larger, more legible print, or better yet, to put it on Rolodex cards so updating is almost effortless and much neater.
- A month of Sunday drives to church, or to the country, the museum or the park.
- A subscription to their favorite magazine or the daily newspaper.
- A basket of goodies assembled especially for them-cans of
ham, tuna, chicken, hearty soups, chili and stew, instant
coffee and tea bags, crackers, instant soup mixes.
- A selection of their treasured, tattered photos retouched
and placed into a new album, with captions.
- Large print calendars with family birthdays, anniversaries,
etc., marked and personalized with family photos
- Payment of utilities for a month or two can be sent directly
to the utility-then let the recipients know they have "extra"
money to spend as they wish.
- A cordless phone or answering machine or service
- Membership in a gym
- Anything they won't have to dust!