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IDENTITY THEFT: WHERE TO START

IDENTITY THEFT: WHERE TO START

By MARY ELLEN KALUZA Identity theft is one of the most frequent complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission. If you haven’t been a victim, you likely know someone who has. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was created in 1914 to protect the public against unfair commerce practices, and was later charged with much broader consumer protection duties. Side note: It is important for the public to file consumer complaints with the FTC. Not only do they publish an annual report of consumer issues, the more complaint data the FTC has, the more resources Congress allocates for them to address problems. Here’s how you can protect yourself from identity theft. IDENTITY THEFT PREVENTION Preventing identity theft is, of course, Step #1. Some tips: Don’t carry every credit card or medical card with you. (Medical ID theft is a real thing.)Leave your social security card at home in a secure location.Do you use the same password for everything? Well, stop.Long passwords that include capital letters, special characters, and numbers are best.Set up alerts for transactions with your financial institution and credit cards.If available, use two-step verification with your online accounts. (You get a text, phone call, or email with a code you must enter after your password to get into the account.)Be hyper leary of unsolicited emails with attachments - scrutinize email addresses for misspellings or other oddities (.com when it should be a .org, for example).Shop online only at known businesses.File your taxes early, especially if you expect a refund.Know that the government or your bank will never call you asking for personal information or threaten you.Switch to online banking - mailboxes are easy targets for thieves.Review financial statements regularly for unknown activity. You have limited time to report unauthorized transactions to minimize your losses.Review medical bills and insurance Explanation of Benefits. (See April 2022 issue of the alley [...]

A Bit of Good News About Your Medical Bills

By MARY ELLEN KALZUA No, President Biden is not forgiving them. Sorry. The good news is that beginning July 1st, paid medical bills will no longer appear on your credit reports. The three major credit bureaus also announced that starting July 1, medical bills now have to be a year old (previously 6 months) before they can be reported. Plus, starting January 2023, only medical bills $500 or more will be reported. The announcement came after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released findings that medical bills comprise the majority of reported collection accounts, to the tune of $88 billion, keeping credit scores down like a cement block in water. I’ve seen credit scores drop nearly 100 points from a medical collection of less than $25! A 100 point drop is devastating. It means a person may suddenly no longer qualify for a mortgage or be able to rent. They have to pay more for car insurance and their phone. They are charged higher interest rates, which can mean paying hundreds or thousands of dollars more than before that medical bill hit their credit reports. And, even if someone paid that collection immediately, it could still be on their report for 7 years. Talk about kicking us when we’re down. So, yes, this is good news. The cruel “But” is, reported or not, the bill still exists. Ignoring medical bills never makes them go away. Bills over $500 will eventually be reported. Collections can end up as judgments, which last 10 years and can be renewed! Judgments open a person up to bank account and wage garnishments. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see where that leaves a person. Tax refunds can be captured. Patients can be denied care from a provider due to unpaid bills. Sadly, we still have a battle to fight before we have an affordable healthcare system. Until then, here are some steps you can take to (maybe) avoid the nightmare: If you don’t understand the bill or don’t agree with it - contact the provider. Take [...]

Interview With Musician Andrew Naranjo

Interview With Musician Andrew Naranjo

Backyard concert for friends and family with the yet-to-be-named band / all photos by Francisco Naranjo Andrew during a live performance at a local church Andrew with a djembe drum in Peavey Park By MARY ELLEN KALUZA I first heard drumming emanating from Andrew’s house last year. I’ve been able to track his progress through the walls and am greatly impressed. It is clear he loves drumming! Over the four years his family has lived across the street, I’ve come to know Andrew as a very cool and interesting person. I really appreciate the breadth of his interests. How old are you? What grade are you in? I’m 11 and going into 6th grade. Describe your art or interests. Drumming and soccer. What inspired you to take up drumming? When did you start? I saw people doing it on music videos and at church. It looked cool, so I’m trying it out. I started a year ago. I love it. When I play drums it makes me feel happy, and you can do whatever you want. And soccer? There’s a soccer team at my school. I wanted to try it out starting in kindergarten. I like playing it because I have a lot of friends in it who encourage me when I'm playing. It's fun but it's very hard work. Soccer is over now, but we will start again when school starts. We play in Peavey Park and at my house. Do you have a favorite place you like to practice drums? My drum set is in the basement, so that’s where I play. We have a band with my cousin, my mom and my sister. We practice in the basement. We try to do it 2 times a week when it isn't so busy, like with school. Is there a type of music you like to play? I like to play any kind of music. Rock and Pop. I like to listen to music with drums. Do you have favorite musicians? TobyMac and For King & Country. And soccer? I look up to Javier Hernández with LA Galaxy, Lionel Messi with Paris Saint-Germain F.C., and Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal National Football Team. I watch a lot of [...]

Save Money – Eat Your Weeds

Save Money – Eat Your Weeds

Purslane Violets By MARY ELLEN KALUZA Eating well is expensive even without high inflation. Save money by foraging around your backyard, neighbor’s yard, or other overgrown areas. A small pile of free greens can easily save you $5. Here are a few common weeds that are delicious and nutritious. (Always look up the plant to safely identify and prepare. Harvest in areas you know are not treated with chemicals. Get permission, if necessary. Rinse thoroughly.) Lamb’s Quarter: My neighbor turned me on to lamb’s quarters years ago with quesadillas stuffed with them. Yum! They are also quite tasty on their own, lightly steamed with a little salt and pepper. Lamb’s quarters contain oxalic acid and you don’t want to eat too much of them raw. (Cooking removes the acid.) Purslane (verdolagas in Spanish): Purslane can be a pesky weed in the garden. Or in your sidewalk cracks. I get particular pleasure eating this weed because its stubborn tap roots and bazillion seeds make it hard to control. The plant is delicious raw or cooked with a light lemony flavor, eaten around the world. I recently had a green chili stew with purslane and it was the BEST green chili stew ever! Nettle: Last month Nikki Fleck shared a fabulous nettle recipe, and included the myriad of nutritional benefits the plant provides. Find it May’s alley online: https://alleynews.org/. Nettles are at home in fancy dishes or simply sauteed in butter. (Note: Handle nettles with gloves until cooked.) Dandelion: Four decades ago I had newly arrived Hmong neighbors. The grandmother of the family often visited my sister and me in our garden. We didn’t speak the same language, but we learned a lot from her. In particular, she taught us to eat our dandelion greens - a powerhouse of nutrients. Dandelions are a little bitter raw but cooking cuts the bitterness. Pigweed: A member of the amaranth family (as is lamb’s quarter), it is not the showy type of amaranth that makes you pause [...]

Artist Interview With Sha’Vontie Rose Juneau Jackson Hosfield

Artist Interview With Sha’Vontie Rose Juneau Jackson Hosfield

Youth Performance Company production of Ruby: The Ruby Bridges Story in February/March 2020. Cast is performing the song When the Saints Go Marching In. Sha'Vontie on the right.Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Youth Performance Company Sha’Vontie recording a song with her cousins in summer of 2021.Photo credit: Janelle Hosfield By MARY ELLEN KALUZA Sha’Vontie lives a few blocks away and she often walks by with her dad to visit her cousins near me. She always has a cheerful greeting when she passes. Makes me smile. Last summer I was invited to the cousins’ backyard for a concert the kids were putting on. That’s where I first saw Sha’Vontie sing and play piano. I was very impressed with her poise and confidence on the stage, on top of her lovely voice. I had no idea I only saw a fraction of her many talents and interests until we met for this interview. How old are you? What grade are you in? I’m 11 and in 5th grade Describe your main art form(s). I like to sing and dance - dancing first, then singing. And sometimes I like to play piano. I practice it every day and take lessons because adults told me I would be happy I did later on, so I do. What inspired you to dance and sing? I think I’ve always done it. We have videos of me dancing at 3 and 4 years old. There are stories of me dancing at 13 months. My mom sang to me when I was little, and my mom got her voice from her mom. Do you have a favorite place you like to sing or play music? Everywhere! Church, school, with my friend Caleb - we sing all the time. Is there a type of music you especially like to sing or play? Hip Hop and Pop. I like to play hard stuff on the piano. Is there a singer or musician that you particularly admire? Yes! I like Dua Lipa, Demi Lovato and Flo Rida. I love music videos, especially BTS and Zendaya. Do you have a mentor or teacher? I have a piano teacher, Christa Lachell. And I am part of a youth choir called Known. The [...]

Interview With Local Artist Orren Fen

Interview With Local Artist Orren Fen

by Mary Ellen Kaluza Last month the alley debuted a new feature highlighting young artists in Phillips. Within moments of having the idea of a regular featured artist, I knew I had to talk with Orren Fen. I first met Orren a few years ago, in pre-COVID times. I was visiting their home and they showed me a project they were working on: a puppet stage made out of cardboard, maybe 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. I was blown away by the clever design, the creativity, the engineering — both structural and mechanical. Orren explained all the parts, moving and stationary, in great detail. Like I said, I was blown away! Lucky for us, Orren graciously agreed to be interviewed for the alley. How old are you? What grade are you in? Fourteen, and I'm a freshman in high school. Describe your main art form. I focus mostly on puppetry and performance art. What inspired you to take up your art? I grew up two blocks from In the Heart of the Beast Theatre, and participated in the May Day parades since I was two years old. It's always been part of my life. I've also participated in BareBones Halloween Extravaganza since a young age. Where do you get your ideas? I have a lot of random creative ideas that pop up. Sometimes I delve into them, and sometimes I keep them tucked in the corners of my mind. Do you have a mentor or teacher? I grew up with Mark Safford, a puppeteer who has been a mentor to me through BareBones. And Harry Waters, Jr., a person I met through the May Day ceremony, and more recently I have worked with Harry on multiple theater projects. Are there other art forms you want to try? I really enjoy puppetry because it is a very fluid and adaptive art form that involves so many other art forms – painting, sculpting, acting, sewing. What other interests do you have? I'm very interested in costume and set design. I'm also very interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of theater, but puppetry is a very good way to be involved [...]

Procrastination Saves Lives!

Procrastination Saves Lives!

overgrown bench/ ben heath By MARY ELLEN KALUZA Early in my gardening career (some 4+ decades ago) I cleaned up the garden each fall, pulling everything out, cutting down plants and stems so that everything was ready to go in the spring. That didn’t last many years. By first frost I was soon ready to be done with gardening and looked forward to just shoveling snow for a few months. Clean out was left till spring. I soon noticed birds feeding on the dried seed heads left standing during the winter. So, I now had an excellent reason to not clean away the dead plants: feeding the birds. Also, in spring I found last year’s vegetable plants munched down to nubs with abundant rabbit turds left behind, presumably in thanks for getting the bunnies through the winter. Rabbit poop is an excellent fertilizer with four times more nutrients than cow or horse manure, and is twice as nutritious as chicken manure. It is not a “hot” manure like horse, cow, or chicken poop - it doesn’t have to be composted first. And the rabbits handle application for free. All I have to do is put off cleaning the garden! Recently I’ve learned that delaying garden clean up longer into the spring pays off, too. Turns out many bee species make their winter nests in the hollow stems of last season’s flowers, weeds, and branches. Some overwinter in the leaf matter left laying around or burrow into the soil for their winter get-away. Bees emerge at different temperatures after winter, depending on the species - at minimum with a steady 55º - 60º for several days. When I absolutely have to get moving on planting, I will carefully pile stems off to the side or make a stem display in a flower pot. By mid June everyone should have left their cozy stems and I can finish the clean up. Or not. When those bees do come out, they need to eat! Which brings us to another bee life-saving procrastination tactic: No Mow May. No Mow May is a growing movement, and it is simply that [...]

Understanding Your Health Insurance and Medical Bills

By MARY ELLEN KALUZA Understanding your health insurance policy can be an exercise in crazy-making. Very few of us have insurance policies that cover everything. What isn’t covered shows up in medical bills. A little knowledge can help make sense of it all. INSURANCE PLAN TERMS Premium: This is what you pay to have insurance. Insurance through your employer is deducted from your paycheck. Otherwise, it's a regular bill like auto insurance. Copay: A fixed amount you pay for a medical procedure or an office visit. The copay amount may be different for different services. Not all insurance plans have a copay. Deductible: This is the amount of medical bills you must pay 100% before your insurance kicks in to pay expenses. This amount can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Knowing how much your deductible is will help you plan for medical expenses. Coinsurance: After you have satisfied your deductible, your coinsurance kicks in. Typically, plans will cover 80% and you are responsible for 20% of the bill - your coinsurance. These percentages can differ depending on the medical procedure or provider. In-network or out-of-network: In-network providers have an agreement with your insurance company to provide services at a certain cost to their policyholders. You usually pay more to see an out-of-network provider. Out-of-pocket limit: This is the amount you must pay each year before your insurance will cover you 100%. The amount is often in the thousands of dollars. The out-of-pocket limit does not include your premium payments. MEDICAL BILLS Medical billing isn’t uniform, so if you go to different clinics or practitioners, your bills may look totally different. And you may receive extra bill-like notices to help increase your blood pressure. Statement: You could get multiple statements for the same service. Your provider sends a bill (aka claim) to your insurance company and may send you a statement, too, with a [...]

Interview with Local Artist Noelle

Interview with Local Artist Noelle

By MARY ELLEN KALUZA Late last summer my 19 year old cat died and I was sad. I told my neighbors and their four children about it. They were sad for me. One day the young neighbors came over with something to help cheer me up. They gave me beautiful paintings of things they knew I liked: butterflies, bees, flowers. And fairies. (I had been asked the previous week if I liked fairies. I replied incredulously, “Who doesn't like fairies?!”) Noelle and her siblings were taking art classes online at the time – a COVID inspired pastime. Besides being very touched by their kindness, I was immensely impressed with the paintings, which then inspired this new feature in the alley highlighting young artists in our Phillips Community. Noelle's creations that were gifted to me are featured here. I recently sat down with Noelle at her home to ask her about her art and herself. And, I had the great fortune to see several more of Noelle's paintings while we talked – all beautiful! How old are you, Noelle? What grade are you in? I'm eight years old and in 2nd grade. Describe your art? What do you like to do primarily? I usually do paintings and sometimes drawings. What inspired you to start painting and drawing? Frida Kahlo, and our friend Mac from church. He's an artist who does comics and illustrates them. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist . How did you learn about her? My dad is from Mexico, maybe from him. Or, a book at my school Emerson. What do you like about Frida Kahlo or her painting? I like that she's Mexican. And she drew herself in a mirror. You and your family have traveled to Mexico. Have you visited Frida Kahlo's home, the Blue House, la Casa Azul? Not yet. I want to go. Maybe in a couple of years. Do you have a mentor or teacher? Miss Patty. Sometimes on video and sometimes on Zoom. She has a website. Where do you get your ideas? From around my house – like that plant , the ukuleles , flowers, things [...]

Got Heat and Electricity?

By MARY ELLEN KALUZA Can you imagine life without electricity and heat? During a Minnesota winter we’d be going to bed at 4 pm in December and sleeping under a pile of smelly bear skins. We take our access to electricity and heating for granted, but there is a lot happening on the other side of our utility meters that impacts the what, where, and how we get that access. Regulation  Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is charged with regulating policies, rates, and services for utilities like electricity, natural gas, and landline phone service. This includes approving rate increases for our energy. The PUC members are appointed by the governor and their responsibilities are determined by state law. Most of the regulated utilities are for-profit entities whose purpose is to maximize return to stockholders - like CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy. You can imagine, then, the pressure they exert on the PUC to allow rate increases. Learn more about the PUC at: https://mn.gov/puc/.  The Citizen Utility Board (CUB) of Minnesota, a non-profit organization funded by grants and donations, advocates on behalf of consumers for reasonable rates and regulation of the utility industries. Besides being at the table for us, CUB also promotes energy efficiency and clean energy, and provides direct consumer assistance, such as reviewing utility bills. CUB Minnesota travels the state speaking to citizen groups about how to understand their bills, informing us of programs and rebates to offset the cost of energy in our homes, promoting ways to reduce energy use, and offering guides on renewable energy sources. Find upcoming events and subscribe to their blog on the website: https://cubminnesota.org.  Your Bill Everyone has felt the significant increase in energy prices. Much of this spike is thanks to price gouging during the record low temperatures across The South last year. The natural gas supply infrastructure in Texas had not been [...]

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