All posts by Long View

Our Illinois and Iowa monthly e-column on health and insurance subjects written by our community liaisons.
New Year's Reset

Long View & Vantage Point: New Year’s Reset

Happy New Year, everyone! Here is hoping that 2019 is your best year yet. Now, I am sure my readers are thinking my next line will be something about what my New Year’s resolution is going to be. No, not this year.

I have a different take on 2019 that I would like to share. Resolutions make us obsess about outcomes. The outcomes are sometimes tied to successes, but they’re also sometimes tied to failure. So this year, I am substituting the term “New Year’s resolution” with “New Year’s reset!”

It seems like every year, many of us find a way to ring in the new year, like watching the ball drop on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” with the countdown “3-2-1, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!” Or maybe we skip staying up all together because this whole New Year’s Eve thing is overrated. Nevertheless, the next day, we close the book on last year, and just like that, we are on to a brand-new year and a brand-new start.

Starting that diet? Setting the goal for financial freedom? Both? These are the good old New Year’s resolutions, the imagined future, where we all vow to make a change. Our minds are set and ready to move on to a better us! “This is the year that you are going to do it,” we tell ourselves.

What I have learned over all the years is that my ready-set-go approach is good for maybe the first week or two (maybe the first month or two if I’m lucky). The adrenaline is high. I go out and buy all the organic fruits and veggies and local health food to fill the fridge. Then, I head out to the mall to find sweatpants and a matching headband, maybe even a new pair of shoes to walk and exercise away all those pounds (all on sale of course because I am trying to cut down on spending, too!). Now, it’s all set, and I can’t wait to start!

Next thing you know, good intentions are interrupted. In the mail, there’s an invitation to the wedding event of the year (with of course, lots of food and drinks to be served), and no doubt, I have to find the perfect dress and accessories to wear to the big gala. Or maybe it’s the annual Super Bowl party invite with more food and drinks (at least sweatpants are fine for this occasion). There go the resolutions, just like that! And here come the struggles and guilt with all kinds of mixed feelings! What about the diet and saving money? Why do I do this every year?

Why put yourself through that?

This year, wouldn’t it be easier if we lived in the moment and not the imagined future? If each day, we took a short, mindful pause? Stop and reset? What is going on around you right this minute? You might see the most wonderful sunset or maybe kids sledding down a hill. Maybe you hear the humming sound of the fan or just that peaceful serenade of silence.

You don’t have to worry about the entire year or even tomorrow, just be in the moment. Mindfulness is putting the attention on the present, and doing it purposefully. You aren’t imagining it, you are living it! Go out for a walk or take that spare change to the bank. Make it intentional! It’s that small space in time that you can slow down, replenish, and reset your mind and body.

In 2019, maybe we can all learn to hit the reset button and find how the power of taking just a few minutes of each day can lift your spirit, boost your mind, and achieve successes! Here’s to a wonderful start for 2019!

Jessica Arroyo, born and raised in the Wenatchee Valley, is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance Northwest, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off, she enjoys spending time with her husband and infant son.

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

Fond Memories of the Spirit of Christmas

Long View: Princess of Christmas Past

As a child, my favorite time of year was Christmastime. It was not just Christmas day, but the whole season surrounding it. The spirit of being joyful, grateful, loving, and caring was something I thought should exist all year long.

The spirit of giving was my favorite of all. Everyone felt like a prince or princess waiting to receive their heart’s desire. It gave me joy to give someone a gift and see the expression on their face when they opened it, especially when it was thoughtful or something they really needed or always wanted.

The season also came with beautiful and vibrant decorations. Some of my favorites were the candy canes and stockings. I remember the candy-filled, clear plastic candy canes with the solid red hook. They could be filled with any kind of candy, from gumballs to M&M’s or even Sweet Tarts or jelly beans.

I also remember the red see-through netted stockings filled with both candy and small toys. I thought to myself, “Why would they make a stocking where I can see the goodies in it but then tell me I can’t open it until Christmas?” It was too tempting to not try and sneak some candy out of it ahead of time. Although I was anxious to open it, the wait built patience. And patience is a virtue.

More of my favorite memories include choosing our real, live Christmas trees. My daddy insisted that we get a real tree and not an artificial one. “Nothing can replace the scent of fresh pine in the house,” he explained. 

Our tree was even more special because it was decorated with not only store-bought decorations of lights, bulbs, and tinsel, but also ornaments I had made at school. And the tree had to be as tall as the ceiling with either a shining start or an angel on top.

My most memorable times at Christmas were when my family came together at my grandma’s and granddaddy’s house on Christmas Eve. I got to see all of my cousins, aunts, and uncles. Of course there was lots of food. My favorites were the turkey, dressing, and peach cobbler.  Everything was homemade, and I could tell it was made with love.

It’s my goal to carry the spirit of being joyful, grateful, loving, and caring into the present and the future. With or without the candy canes, stockings, or decorations, the memories of family and love are most important to me.

The material things pass away. The candy is consumed.  The stockings are thrown away. The light bulbs eventually burn out. The tinsel gets tangled, and the pine needles on the real tree dry out. But memories of family love will continue to live in our hearts.

Everyone here at Health Alliance wishes you and your family a joyous holiday season and a very Merry Christmas. Share your memories with someone you love, especially those older princes or princesses in your family who have years and years of fond memories on their minds this time of year.

Sherry Gordon-Harris is a community liaison at Health Alliance. She is a wife and mother of 2 boys and enjoys traveling, collecting dolls, and hosting princess parties and princess pageants.

An App for Better Dental Health

Long View: Dialing In to Better Dental Health

I have a confession to make. My toothbrush talks to my cellphone, and I’m pretty much OK with that. I’ve brushed my teeth well over 36,000 times in my time on this planet, and suddenly now, in my 50th year, I need my phone to tell me if I’ve been doing it correctly.

Having good teeth is a genetic gift I inherited from my grandmother. She grew up in an era before there was fluoride in the drinking water, and her father didn’t believe in traditional medicine. I wonder if she ever even went to the dentist as a child. And yet, when she passed away, well into her 90s, she didn’t have a single cavity.

I’m lucky to have inherited her teeth DNA. I’ve only had two cavities in my life and both came after a pregnancy and were so shallow I didn’t even need Novocain. So they don’t count.

This is good news because I have a very low gag threshold and can’t stand having any kind of metal dental instrument in my mouth. Just getting X-rays at the dentist once a year is traumatic for me. I have to give myself a pep talk while biting down. “Just breathe and don’t throw up, just breathe and don’t throw up.” If I had to withstand anything more exotic than a quick cleaning, the dentist would probably have to sedate me.

Getting back to my talking toothbrush, thanks to Bluetooth technology, an app on my phone tells me if I’m brushing long enough, too hard, too soft, or not long enough in a certain area. How my phone knows this is pure sorcery in my opinion, but I’m taking my phone’s advice and trying to do a better job of brushing. After all, good oral hygiene is a part of our overall health and well-being.

In my line of work, I get a lot of feedback from seniors on Medicare. Time and time again, one of their questions is, “How am I going to pay for my dental care?” This is a valid question because original Medicare does not pay for dental care. Without purchasing a separate dental insurance policy, the expenses of cleanings, X-rays, cavities, root canals, crowns, partials or even dentures must come out of your own pocket. (Whew, just typing those procedures made me queasy.)

Some people get to remain on their company’s dental insurance policy when they retire. Others will decide to purchase private dental insurance as part of their overall retirement health insurance expenses. Many people that don’t have these options are kind of left wondering what to do now.

There are many Medicare Advantage plans that offer members a set-amount dental benefit along with medical coverage to help offset some of the expense of dental care. It won’t provide as extensive of coverage as a private dental insurance policy does, but the benefit does help offset some (or all if you have teeth like my grandmother’s) expenses of good dental care.

If keeping your pearly whites in working order is a priority for you but the extra expense of full-blown dental insurance isn’t, a Medicare Advantage plan might be a solution. While you’re at it, you can consider looking into one of those high-tech toothbrushes like mine. As your mother always told you, the best dental care starts with good brushing habits.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Helping Your Loved Ones with Advance Directives

Long View: Helping Your Loved Ones Even After You’re Gone

I have been very self-directed for quite some time, which is one of the reasons I recently got all my advance directives in place. It took some education and investigation, but I feel comfortable with the decisions I’ve made. I was relieved to be done with it until a longtime friend asked, “Hey, what about your obituary?”

Ok then. It took some consideration, but I started to realize it was my opportunity to share what was important in my life — the special people I have known and loved and what I was passionate about. Maybe everyone didn’t know my favorite color was orange but might think it’s okay if they found out after the fact.

This was also my opportunity to suggest where donations, if any, should go and why I felt a particular charity warranted their attention. Many of you can guess it would be food-focused in nature.

I would also get to share all the places I have lived, including Mobile, AL, Eugene, OR, and Perth, Western Australia, among others. Listing these remote locations would make it seem that I was slightly more fascinating in life than most people would have suspected.

I also made arrangements to have my earthly remains (ashes) sent to family in Mobile to be scattered into the Gulf of Mexico, which is close to the place where I was born. I understand there may be laws that prohibit this activity, but my family is resourceful and will honor my wishes I am sure.

In short, I am comforted to know that my wishes will be known and respected after I am no longer concerned with such issues. These types of directives are most useful to those we leave behind. Relieving a little of the burden from your loved ones is probably one of the kindest actions you can take now. All it takes is a little planning, information, and forethought.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. He is known for his inability to parallel park, and if you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange (and he paints!)

Remember September

Long View: Remember September

Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh-so-mellow.

Many of you may remember this Andy Williams song from years ago. For me, it rekindled some fond memories of a younger time. Did you read the lyrics, or sing them (as I did)?

September is a time when we welcome autumn and say so long to summer. Living in the Midwest for most of my life, I love the change of seasons, especially this one! The shades of nature are a mixture of both summer and fall.

It’s a fun time in fashion when colors start to pop as wardrobes transition. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear plum opaque tights with a pastel-colored summer frock, a cozy navy sweatshirt with those favorite khaki shorts, or even a pair of gray light wool pants with some snazzy, strappy sandals! (Is white OK after Labor Day these days?)

One of the most prominent colors of the season that you will see displayed this month is purple. Did you know that purple is the official color of the Alzheimer’s movement?

September is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and here at Health Alliance, we participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in many of our communities throughout Illinois. These wonderful walks are intended to raise awareness of the disease and to raise funds for care, support, and research. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disease that progressively and slowly destroys a person’s memory and mental skills to the point of not being able to carry out the simplest task.

Finding a cure for this disease is the focus of Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and developing prevention along with treatment is part of the process. Check out the dates and towns for the 2018 walks near you. It’s a nationwide annual event, with more than 600 communities across the United States participating.

There are many way to help, even if you don’t want to walk. Take your first step and go the official website at Act.ALZ.org/Walk.

Here are some of the 2018 local walks where you may spot Health Alliance:

  • Champaign – September 22
  • Decatur – October 6
  • Mattoon – September 29
  • Bloomington/Normal – September 15
  • Peoria – October 13
  • Rockford – September 15
  • Springfield – September 22

Come up with your own transitional outfit to wear (maybe add a splash of purple,) and hope to see you at a walk!

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

Down the Rabbit Hole to Play

Long View: Disappearing Down Rabbit Holes

A few years back, some friends and I were camping just after Halloween at Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska.

The prior weekend, the park had hosted a “haunted” park drive-through where ghouls and ghosts good-naturedly jumped out to scare you in good, old-fashioned Halloween fun. While hiking on some trails high up above one of the park roads, we came across a straw-stuffed witch on a broom tied up by a rope to a tree. Untying the rope let this funny-looking witch fly out over the road and spook any car driving by. You can guess what happened next.

Brenda and Cathy (both grandmothers, by the way) agreed to be lookouts for approaching cars from around the bend. Vicki and Jackie lay down on their stomachs in the weeds to hide and relay the “get ready” sign. My buddy Fara and I held tight to the rope waiting for the “go” sign. When a car came up the road, we let our witch fly, shrieking with glee like 8-year-old naughty little boys and waving furiously at the cars we’d managed to scare below. Later, Fara marveled that she had not “played” like that in years. That statement has stuck with me all these years.

Why don’t adults play anymore? We pay money to take yoga and tai chi classes to try and clear our minds of the clutter of life. Self-help gurus tout their books about “living in the moment” or striving to “be present.” Really, isn’t that just playing? To me, playing is a special state of being where one loses all track of time and disappears down a rabbit hole that has nothing to do with lists, responsibilities, or errands. Playing definitely has nothing to do with CNN, the newspaper, or our Facebook page. Playing is the single-minded pursuit of something that does nothing but make us happy or relaxed or at peace.

I recently traveled down a rabbit hole on a Sunday afternoon and found myself wandering through a small-town cemetery looking for the graves of my great-grandparents Benjamin Hugo and Millie. I didn’t wake up with that idea on my agenda. I actually woke up that Sunday with no agenda at all. My yellow lab, Harvey Benjamin (named after my grandfather), and I had a lovely afternoon just wandering up and down the rows looking at names and noting dates and family connections. Happily, I not only found Benjamin Hugo and Millie’s graves but also the grave of my great-great-great-grandfather Hans Detlef, who was born in Germany in 1800 and died in Iowa in 1887.

No timelines, no reasons, just hanging out in a cemetery, which is probably weird to some, I agree, but it was a special day spent thinking about nothing much for me. It felt wonderful. It was like those worn-out areas of my brain that have to plan and decide and be a grown-up got a chance to power down for a while, to rest and recharge while running on power save mode in the background.

The amazing thing about it was I was deep into writer’s block at that point. I had no idea what I was going to write about for this monthly column. While that part of my brain was running on power save mode, the topic presented itself. Isn’t that cool? I also think my next dog might be named Hugo, although I recently found some ancestors in my tree named Ichabod and Wubba, so I might need a lot more dogs.

There is actual science behind the value of adults taking the time to play every now and then to reduce stress and improve their overall well-being, so let’s start playing.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Kids and Energy to Burn

Long View: Energy to Burn

I tried to talk my parents into buying me a paddle boat when I was 11. Oh yes, I did.

We used to spend the summer on a little island at the south end of Mobile Bay in Alabama. The first thing my younger brother and I wanted to do when we got there was to go to the concession stand and rent paddle boats. For those of you who are not familiar, they are kind of like riding a bike but on the water, seriously.

The rental was kind of expensive as I remember, but the folks let us ride as many times as we wanted. My idea of buying one to save on the rental just didn’t float with Mom and Dad.

The following year, we discovered the paddle boat concession had been wiped out by a hurricane. We were inconsolable until our Dad presented us with 4 new Frisbees. We got the neighbor kids out on the beach and played for what seemed like hours. When the inevitable boredom set in, we often walked to historic Fort Gaines on the far eastern end of the island. There were lots of walls to climb and ramparts to scramble up. It was like a huge jungle gym. The fort had real cannons too.  Signs discouraged people from climbing on them, but we did it just the same.

After supper, the family often walked to the western end of the island, which was quite a jaunt for our little legs, especially in the sand. By the time we got back to the house, we were ready for a well-deserved night’s sleep.

It took me a while to realize that my parents were geniuses. They knew how to engage their 2 somewhat hyperactive boys and make sure we burned off enough energy to settle down in the evening. Sometimes we volunteered to go to bed early, which gave the folks a much-deserved rest.

When I talk to people who are older and wiser than me, I keep in mind they probably have insights and wisdom far beyond my own. Giving an older friend or family member a chance to share their insights is our chance to learn from someone else’s experience.  My parents might not have been geniuses, but they were most certainly practical and insightful when it came to raising kids.

I recently checked out the cost of a paddle boat, with an awning of course. It was affordable. However, I realized what a wildly impractical purchase it would be, so I bought a Frisbee instead. Lesson learned.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. He is known for his inability to parallel park, and if you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, (and he paints!)