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14 Jan

More Birthdays: A Reason to Celebrate!

Recent survey results released by the American Cancer Society reinforce, once again, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and the findings are definitely cause for celebration. The online survey, which showed a strong link between health and attitudes about birthdays, revealed that people who say they are in excellent health are more likely to consider birthdays special and exciting events.

In addition, the survey found that people who say they are in excellent health are nearly twice as likely to love celebrating birthdays, generally consider them fun and feel more special on their birthday than people who say they are in poor health.

Clearly, these results are another reminder about the benefits of leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Not only will you look and feel great, but you’ll also be a brilliant birthday party guest!

The results are part of the Society’s Official Sponsor of Birthdays campaign, which asks people to imagine a world with more birthdays. More birthdays mean more time with our friends and family, and more opportunities to celebrate the important milestones in their lives.

A big part of the American Cancer Society’s effort to create more birthdays is helping people stay well by making healthy choices in their daily lives. Whether you’re planning a party for a child, an adult, or yourself, there are fun and creative ways to make your celebration one that will help create more birthdays for years to come.

Get Active.
To get your guests moving, pick an action-oriented theme for your birthday celebration — pool parties, soccer games, dance parties, or scavenger hunts are great fun for kids and grown-ups alike. There’s nothing like a little healthy competition!

Be Prepared.
If you’re hosting an outdoor party, have sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and extra hats on hand for guests who might have forgotten them. If you’re hosting your celebration indoors, find a smoke-free restaurant or venue or have it at your house and remind guests that cigarettes aren’t welcome.

Stay Food-Smart.
We know birthdays are about celebrating, but you can have your cake and stay healthy, too. There are plenty of healthy and delicious foods you can choose to share with your guests. Consider serving low-fat snacks like popcorn, pretzels, and baked chips and salsa and healthy meal options like grilled chicken or shrimp skewers. You can bake healthier, too, by making your birthday cake from scratch so you can control the ingredients and make smart substitutions like swapping butter for applesauce.

Give the gift of more birthdays.
Joining the movement to create a world with more birthdays isn’t limited to your own special celebration. By giving birthday gifts to friends and loved ones throughout the year with health and wellness in mind, you can help the people you care about look forward to more candles to light. Here are some creative gift ideas to help people stay well:

For cooks or want-to-be cooks
:
Package flavored oils and vinegars in a large bowl made for salads.
Create a basket filled with healthy cooking utensils such as an apple corer, zester, lemon/lime juicer, garlic crusher, ginger, and nutmeg graters.
For the portion size conscious cook (and eater), consider giving a food scale, measuring cups, and/or attractive measuring spoons.

For foodies:
Create a basket with cheese, crackers, and fresh fruit, with perhaps a decorative cheese spreader.
Package dried fruits and nuts in a unique serving dish with pretty cocktail napkins.
Collect your favorite healthy recipes and give them in a recipe journal so they can also record their own.
Give a cooking class gift certificate.
Give a subscription to a favorite healthy cooking magazine.
Give a gift certificate to your favorite local healthy restaurant.

For those wanting to be more active
:
Give a gift certificate to a local athletic shoe and apparel store.
Include a step counter/pedometer with an mp3 player.
Package a jump rope, exercise band, set of hand weights, and/or workout ball for an all around healthy workout.
Make coupons for babysitting so your friend can work out while you watch the kids.
Make workout buddy coupons and commit to get up three days a week to walk before work with your friend, if that’s what she wants to do.
Give a gift certificate for a tennis lesson, packaged with a water bottle and flashy colored tennis balls.
Give a gift certificate for a golf lesson, with a book on the best public courses to play (and encourage your golfing buddy to join the USGA Walking Member Program).
Give a gift subscription to a favorite health magazine such as Fitness, Runners World, Walking, Golf Digest, Bicycling, etc.
Give an exercise mat and workout tapes or CDs for home use.
Volleyball net and ball.
Badminton racquets and shuttlecocks.
A yearly pass to a local or national park.
Croquet set.
Baby jogger.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the American Cancer Society, eleven million cancer survivors will mark their birthdays this year. What’s not to celebrate about that?

To join me and the Society in the movement for more birthdays, visit www.morebirthdays.com.

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07 Jan

Time Well Spent: Volunteering in the Foster Care System

Time is a commodity. It’s been compared with money. We only have so much of it in this lifetime, so time is precious. And how we spend our time says a lot about what is important to us. Recently I’ve had a big change in where I’ve been finding my time spent – and it has surprised me, in many wonderful ways.

 

I’ve done the career thing, a couple of times over in a couple of different incarnations. And I’ve done the mom thing — wholeheartedly: from carpools and karate, to homework and heartache and everything in between. And all along the way I’ve been involved with some kind of service. But it was always secondary to the job, or the kids, because there is only so much time to go around, especially for a working mom.

 

When my boys left for college I found myself with time on my hands. This is something that hasn’t happened since I gave birth. Yes, I’ve still got work, but a person can only sit in front of a computer for so many hours a day without going crazy! I decided to volunteer at a group foster home.

 

The process for this is quite extensive. I had to go through security clearance, including fingerprinting and a TB test. And I also had to go through training. It took a couple of months for all the paperwork to go through, but now I’m officially a volunteer. And I love it!

 

In the past, when I’ve volunteered it was all about making gift baskets for silent auctions, going to lunch meetings, and selling raffle tickets to raise money for the organization. I wanted to contribute in a different way, to actually work with the kids. In one of my work incarnations I was a modeling school teacher, so I have experience working with teen girls. This population is the most “at-risk” in the foster care world and I felt it was a place where I could make some sort of a difference. At this particular foster home, there are 14 teen girls who live on campus.

 

A group foster home is often the last stop for kids. At this point they have nowhere else to go. Most of them are there through no fault of their own. If they have parents, their parents are abusive, addicted to drugs, or in jail. Or they are simply unable to cope with the difficulties that their child is going through. Most of the kids are SED, or severely emotionally disturbed. This foster home has family outreach, and things like parenting classes, with the goal of bringing the family back together again. But the reality is that just about 3% of the kids who arrive at group homes eventually return to a healthy family situation.

 

I waltzed in to the girls cottage thinking this was going to be fun, that the girls would be happy to see me, and that we’d have tea parties and book clubs. I quickly learned to not have any expectations, or any particular plans, and to just be present for whatever needs they had at the moment. One of the staff members told me that these kids are like porcupines. They are withdrawn, and suspicious, and have their spikes up to protect themselves. You need to approach cautiously, and gently. And when a porcupine throws out a spike, you can’t be surprised, or angry, because it’s just the nature of the animal. With everything these kids have been through in their young lives, it is completely understandable for them to be on guard.

 

Where we started to bond was in the kitchen. These girls need their spirits to be fed, and sometimes the best way to do that is by starting with their stomachs. Group homes aren’t known for their gourmet cuisine, and the weekend dinners are the most dreaded of all the meals. By cooking together, good wholesome meals with lots of fresh vegetables, we were able to fill up the cottage with yummy smells that made the place feel much more like a home than an institution. While cooking we can talk amongst the activity, so there are no awkward pauses. And we have a mutual goal that we accomplish together, something tangible to both serve and enjoy in a delicious meal.

 

I’ve been going up there every Sunday to make dinner with the girls. And I find that during the week, I miss them, so I’m up there at least a couple of times in the afternoons just to hang out, help them with their projects, and generally be available. I’ve given them books, and DVDs, and I bring fresh fruit for after school snacks. But what they really appreciate, more than anything, is my time. It’s just the being there that really makes a difference. And as time goes on, I’m discovering that more and more, this is where I am choosing to spend my time. Vedic philosophy says that the three most important things we can give our children are attention, affection, and time. The children in the foster care system are starved for all three. And this is something that any of us can provide without spending a dime.

 

As I learn more about how everything works with foster care, I’m finding more ways that those of us who want to help can really make a difference.

 

Right now there are more than 780,000 children in the United States who are in the foster care system because they are unable to live safely at home. Most of these children are there through no fault of their own, but because their parents can’t, or won’t, take care of them. The children often have difficulty trusting people, and making lasting relationships because so many strangers come in and out of their lives: police officers, lawyers, judges, therapists, social workers, and foster parents. If they are placed in a group home, there is also several different staff throughout the week to watch over the kids. They can be moved from home to home, and school to school, with little or no notice. It can be daunting, and even scary for a child.

 

Thankfully, there is a volunteer organization called CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to look out for specific children in the overburdened legal and social service system. These volunteers make sure that the children’s needs are being met, that they aren’t getting lost in the system, or languishing in a group or foster home that is not appropriate for them. The CASA stays with the child until the case is closed, and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Because foster kids move around so much, many times the CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence, the one adult they can count on to care for them, and advocate for them. The CASA volunteer really gives the child a voice, by speaking on the child’s behalf in the courtroom and in team meetings so that the needs of the child are addressed and met.

 

If you have some time to spend, and you want to make a lifelong difference for a child who really needs your help, consider volunteering in a foster home. Or even better, consider becoming a CASA. Last year, more than 68,000 CASA volunteers served more than 240,000 abused and neglected children through 1,018 program offices. CASA volunteers have helped more than two million children since the program was established in 1977. Currently there are not enough CASA volunteers to go around. Statistics show that children with a CASA volunteer are far more likely to find the services and resources they need and go on to lead successful and productive lives. Now can’t we all consider that to be time well spent?

For more information, visit the CASA website: nationalcasa.org

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28 Dec

Michael Jackson: Another Look at The Man in the Mirror

Since Michael Jackson’s untimely death last week we’ve been inundated with stories and speculations about his life. I’m in the generation that grew up with Michael. We watched him as a child singing on TV with his brothers, ABC and Rockin’ Robin, and tried our best to copy his moves. As kids we sang along, mesmerized by the upbeat tunes that played on the radio as we sat in the backseat of our parents’ cars. We went through the awkward teen stage in our own lives, set to a disco soundtrack. And we came into our own just as Michael did with Thriller, finding our groove, and defining ourselves.

Celebrity is a creature all its own. We have a perceived access to these individuals, we feel as though we know them, even though we don’t. I remember getting my dad to buy me Tiger Beat magazine, which regularly featured either the Jacksons or the Osmonds or both on the cover. Today, celebrity access is widespread and instantaneous. We can follow just about anyone on twitter. Websites break news before the news stations can get a camera crew out to the scene.

When I was just two years old my mother was grocery shopping and I was sitting in the cart. One of the managers must have made an announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember my mother getting very flustered, and taking me out of the cart to go home. She was trying to explain to me what was going on — and I could feel that something was terribly wrong. This was such an emotional event that many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. I also remember where I was when I found out that Princess Diana died. She and I were about the same age, and we both got married and had two boys at about the same time, so I always felt a connection with her. And now I’ll always remember when I heard that Michael Jackson died. I got an e-mail alert that Michael had suffered cardiac arrest and was being transported to the hospital. I felt troubled, and confused. Then I drove to pick up my mail, and as I got in the car to come home, I heard on the radio an official confirmation that Michael had passed away. The radio station was playing his music in tribute. My heart dropped.

What is it about celebrities that gets us so engrossed in their lives and deaths? My favorite Michael Jackson song, and ironically it is one that he didn’t write, is “Man in the Mirror” and I think this helps to explain a lot of what we are going through.

Whenever we look at another person and feel a strong emotion, there’s something about that person that we see in ourselves. Whether we love it or hate it, people act as mirrors for each one of us. We are examples for each other, of what we judge to be good and bad, best or worst. The qualities in another person that draw us or repel us we can also see in ourselves to some degree, in some way. Celebrities, with a kind of larger than life image, end up being archetypes. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and now Michael Jackson might be thought of as the tortured artist. Talented, creative, expressive, and yet at the same time uncomfortable and somewhat out of place. Each turned to various distractions to try to “normalize” their feelings. Both Elvis and Michael basically created their own worlds in Graceland and Neverland. These were places where they could fit in, surrounded by people and things that made them feel at home.

If we are caught up in the coverage of Michael Jackson’s life and death that is going on right now, maybe it is because we have some of that archetype in ourselves. Maybe we feel misunderstood. Maybe we seek to create, and be heard the way Michael was. Maybe we long for our childhoods, for simpler days. What can we do? We can take out own advice, look at that man in the mirror and change our ways… “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change.”

In his 50 years Michael Jackson lived a very full life. He had successes and failures; he had conquests and controversies. As much as we feel we might know him from his concerts, albums, testimonies and interviews, we don’t really know Michael Jackson the person. The best we can do is to know ourselves. That’s all we can ever really do.

Michael Jackson’s death reminds us that time is fleeting. Just a few months ago many of the items taken from Neverland were on display in Los Angeles. I heard about this and went. At the last minute I decided to take my camera. I didn’t know if I would be able to take it inside, but I was allowed to, and I made a video of what I saw. It’s very interesting, and gives us some glimpse of insight into Michael Jackson’s life.
Michael Jackson’s Neverland Collection

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24 Dec

‘Twas the Days Before Christmas

‘Twas the days before Christmas
And all through the house
Lay scraps of ribbon and an
Unironed blouse.
“Company’s coming!”
I say with a shout,
“Pick up the clutter,
Take the newspapers out!”
Yet all of my wishes
Are met with rolled eyes.
“Relax, Mom, it’s family,”
My teenagers sigh.
And so I resolve
To just do what I can,
Not strive for perfection
From my lovable clan.
Remember that Christmas
Is not just a day.
It’s the feeling of warmth
That our hearts give away.
No one will remember
Those musical elves,
Or notice the mismatched
Books on the shelves.
What they will think of
On this holiday,
Is the love that was shown
In your very own way.
So keep that in mind
As you turn off the lights
Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night!

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17 Dec

Heal Yourself with Ayurveda: The Science of Life

Ayurveda is India’s 5,000 year old “Science of Life.” It is the art of living in harmony with nature, and it explains the nature of everything in the universe. When we learn about Ayurveda, we learn about ourselves, how we “tick,” and how we can be our healthiest and happiest at all times.

Ayurveda teaches us to live life in balance. And it helps us to find exactly what that balance is for each one of us. We learn individual strategies for diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Since health is more than the physical, it is also mental, emotional, and spiritual, Ayurveda can be used to help us create and maintain healthy relationships. It can help us to better understand ourselves, and the people in our lives. We can work with our natural strengths to help balance each other out. We can stop trying to “change” others to fit our needs, and instead accept a person’s characteristics as a part of their wholeness, and honor who they are.

Ayurvedic principles can be applied to our work and career, to help us find and live our dharma, or purpose in life. They can help us with our family lives, in parenting, and to help resolve conflicts. Ayurveda is a lifestyle that shows us how to take care of ourselves, in a simple, practical, and loving way.

Ayurveda is a holistic approach to balancing body, mind and spirit. The ayurvedic system divides people into three basic mind-body types, or ‘’doshas’’: vata, pitta and kapha. We each have all three doshas in our physiology, just in different proportions. Your dosha is individual to you, just like a fingerprint. Start by taking the quiz, just 24 quick questions, to determine what your dosha is. This is a general introduction to Ayurveda.

Vata dosha types are known for their lanky frames, picture Keira Knightley, or Adrien Brody. They tend to be pranksters, like Ashton Kutcher, or spontaneous cut-ups like Cameron Diaz and Will Smith.

Pitta dosha types are ambitious and intense, which explains Madonna’s multi-tasking career. And they can be critical, like Simon Cowell. Pittas are also muscular, and make good athletes, like Mia Hamm, and Kobe Bryant.

Kapha dosha types are down-to-earth and easy-going. Think Tom Hanks, and Liv Tyler. Kaphas have beautiful big eyes and lips, like Angelina Jolie, and rich, velvety voices like Placido Domingo and Beyonce.

When you know your dominant dosha you gain insight into how your mind and body naturally operate. Because westerners have embraced the practice of yoga, we are now starting to explore Ayurveda. In India, the practice of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda are intertwined. They are sister-sciences that complement each other. They are synergistic, working better when practiced together.

I started living the Ayurvedic lifestyle while I was researching my first book: “The Healthy Family Handbook: Natural Remedies for Parents and Children.” One of the healing modalities that I explored in the book was Ayurveda, and the more I learned about it, the more it resonated with me. I have studied with Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. David Simon, Dr. Vasant Lad, and many other renown physicians in the field of Ayurveda. And I went to India to learn more about Ayurveda first hand. My book, “What’s Your Dosha, Baby? Discover the Vedic Way for Compatibility in Life and Love” is the first and only book about Ayurveda and relationships. And now I have a brand new 8 week course that I am doing in partnership with Daily Om: “Heal Yourself with Ayurveda.” Throughout the course, which includes text and video, you will learn everything you need to know to get started living an Ayurvedic lifestyle and be on your way to a life of balance and bliss.

For more information, and to sign up for the course: “Heal Yourself with Ayurveda” click here.

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10 Dec

All Children Are Our Children

A study commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption showed that nearly 40% of American adults, or 81.5 million people, have considered adopting a child. If just one in 500 of these adults decided to adopt, all of the 134,000 children in foster care waiting for adoption would have a permanent home.

 

I’ve written before about my experiences volunteering at a local group foster home. It’s actually a residential treatment and crisis care center. While there are many children who live there for varying amounts of time, I have been lucky enough to establish relationships with a handful of them. I love these kids. I feel like they are my children. And in a very real sense, they are mine. And they are yours. They are a part of our community, and they are a part of ourselves.

 

When I first committed to this “job” I agreed to come in for two hours a week, for four weeks. I’m now averaging four hours a day, five days a week, and I just was there for eleven days in a row. I’m well into my sixth month, and I can’t imagine stopping ever. Being a volunteer means that I am not paid, and spending this much time at the place actually costs me lots of money each week. I can’t help but bring fresh fruit and books and things like that. I make the time because this is important. I spend the money because I would rather help these kids than save up to buy a designer purse.

 

More and more we are learning that we live in a global community. We see how much of what happens in other communities, and other countries, has an affect on our own lives. And because of the internet and ease of travel, it’s easier for us to reach out and help children not only in our hometowns, but around the world.

 

I recently met Vivian Glyck, an amazing woman who has made a difference by following her vision. She says that after becoming a mother, she developed “a keen sense that the world is so small, it is really just one community, and I realized that taking care of oneself means heeding one’s calling – without hesitation or deliberation.” Vivian’s calling is helping children in Uganda. Why? Because 25 million Africans, many of whom are children, are infected with the HIV virus. Every 30 seconds a child in Africa dies of malaria. 12 million children are already orphaned by AIDS. Vivian travels to Africa and works with children personally, and she says they are “just like my child” which is why she named her organization “Just Like My Child.” The mission is to alleviate the suffering of women, children, and families in rural Uganda by empowering communities to create their own long-term solutions to healthcare, education, and microenterprise. Read more about Vivian’s story at: justlikemychild.org

My friend Lysa Heslov is also helping children with her foundation Children Mending Hearts. Her mission is to give children worldwide the power to find and use their voices through creative expression. This is a global arts exchange between at-risk children in America and children living in conflict zones around the world that educates, empowers and encourages all the participants. People of various cultures connect the different projects, and learn and grow from their experiences with each other. Lysa has traveled to the Congo and worked with children first hand. And now her foundation is traveling around the United States to conduct art workshops. For more information visit: childrenmendinghearts.org

 

My friend Joseph Curiale saw a news story on CNN which compelled him to start a foundation to help orphaned girls in India. Right now there are four girls going to school on scholarships, who would otherwise be living in poverty in a government orphanage. Joe has traveled back and forth to India 12 times to make sure that these children, whom he considers his own, are getting the support, and the love, that they need. Joe is a testament to how one person can make a difference in this world. The work he has done is remarkable. Read more about his story at: josephcurialefoundation.com

 

Through organizations like Plan USA we can sponsor an individual child, and help that child’s family and community as well. Sponsorship helps to provide vaccination and nutrition programs, community water systems and well construction, home and health clinic construction, school and teachers, and so much more. As a sponsor you receive a photo of your child, a family profile to introduce you and provide information about the community, and regular updates on how everyone is doing. You can send letters and small gifts, and you can even visit your child! This sponsored child becomes your ambassador to a place and culture that you might otherwise never know. I began sponsoring Swapna, a little girl in rural India, in 2005. I’ve been able to see her grow and communicate through Plan USA’s field office volunteers. We don’t speak the same language, and the geographical distance is great, but we are connected through our hearts. She is a beautiful child, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to her life in some way. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, visit: planusa.org

All children are children of the world. All children are our children.

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29 Nov

Divorce Is Forever

My friend Sandy and I had had yet another one of our philosophical discussions this weekend. She said, “I have a great title for your next blog: Marriage is Temporary, Divorce is Forever.” Having been divorced myself I can understand her sentiments. Yes, divorce is forever. But now, truly happily married, I’m in the state where I once again feel that marriage is forever, too. Maybe there really is no delineation — maybe it’s that these relationships we get ourselves into go on and on, and it’s just the definition of the relationship that changes. Whether married or divorced, there is this person in our lives that we love — or loved — and through whom we are tied with children, or finances, or history.

As celebrities give us this great illustration with which we can all better understand, let’s explore this theory with a few examples. Bruce Willis and Demi Moore: married, seemingly happily, for enough years to produce three beautiful daughters. They divorce amicably, and no bad blood shows up in the press. She later marries Ashton Kutcher, and Bruce shows his support as the three attend many family occasions and holidays together. One big happy family! And when Bruce remarries, of course they’re all there, too. Very civilized, very mature. So Bruce and Demi, although married to different people now, are still tied to each other through their children, and have managed to maintain a functional relationship.

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt do not share any children, although they shared years of their lives together as husband and wife. Will the press ever let them forget that? I think not! Even as Brad welcomed his 5th and 6th child, twins, with his current partner, Angelina Jolie, tabloids speculated about an Aniston-Pitt reunion. What gives? These people have all clearly moved on, but why can’t we? Is it because Brad and Angie have yet to tie the knot? They are clearly committed — and they certainly are looking to the future as they raise these children together. I think it’s because we want to see that Jennifer is okay. We want her to be happy, and in love, like Brad is. That way it seems more “fair.” But life is not always fair. Life gives us lessons, and sometimes they’re tough ones. We just have to trust that somehow, someway, through some power greater than our own, that it all balances out in the end. Karma? Destiny? Maybe that’s it.

From Sandy’s point of view, her marriage was temporary. She didn’t plan for it to be that way. She went in with the best of intentions, until death do us part. But as it goes, things happen, people change, and plans go awry. So now she’s divorced, which she considers to be permanent. This is the new definition of her relationship with her ex. Can she “wash that man right out of her hair?” No. They have kids together. They had a life together. And now all of that has to be shifted to fit this new paradigm. It can be painful, and certainly stressful. There are unfulfilled expectations. There is grief, fear, and uncertainty. And what can we do about it? Somehow we have to manage. We have to redefine the relationship in such a way that it makes sense to us, and that we are okay with it, taking the good with the bad, however we choose to see that. We have to let go of any anger or resentment because there comes a time when we realize that we are only hurting ourselves with it.

So yes, my first marriage is over. But am I over it? Probably not. I’ve still got these two kids as constant reminders of the years we shared in it. Those years don’t disappear. They are a part of my memory, and my psyche. They helped to shape who I am today. But I still wouldn’t change a thing about it. I know mistakes were made, but those mistakes helped both me and my ex to learn and to grow. I know we are both better off where we are today. I love my life, I love my husband, and I know that I wouldn’t have what I have right now had the divorce not happened. So it’s all good. And I am sure that my ex feels the same way.

Life is full of challenges and full of risks. Marriage is a big risk. Divorce is another. Both take a commitment. It’s a commitment to living life to its fullest, to being true to yourself, to doing what you feel is best, and to honoring the wisdom that you have gained through your experiences.

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21 Nov

Taking Care of Our Health and Our Healthcare

The headline in today’s Los Angeles Times caught my eye: “Healthcare insurers get upper hand.” The article is written by Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger. You don’t have to read the paper every day to know that the healthcare system in the United States is a mess. We’re all living it every time we go to see a doctor or fill a prescription. We can’t keep going the way we’ve been going, there has to be some sort of a change. Unfortunately, the kinds of changes that the insurance companies are proposing just might make things worse instead of better. Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the nonpartisan Urban Institute says that the insurance companies are going to have a very stable pool of customers, “…people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage and… they [insurance companies] will be paid the full costs of the benefits that they provide – plus their administrative costs.”

Einstein famously said that a problem can’t be solved at the same level at which it was created. What created this healthcare crisis was greed. The greed of both the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies.

How much of our insurance dollar actually goes towards insurance? That’s got to be a well-kept secret. I haven’t heard anyone talk about this yet. About 10% of every monthly premium goes to the agent who sold you the policy. And then another chunk, probably 20%, goes to the “general agent” or broker who the first agent has to go through to get to the insurance company. Before we even get to the entity that is providing the coverage we have to go through two middle-men. And these agents are doing quite well, indeed. Then the insurance company itself has tons of costs it has to build into our premiums, including all the paperwork and brochures they send us, and all the advertising they do to convince us that they are a reputable company. And of course, there’s the $35 million dollars that the health service and HMO sector spent in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress, the White House, and federal healthcare offices. This figure came from the Center for Responsive Politics; I didn’t make it up!

Before my divorce, I had health insurance through my ex-husband’s company. I was able to keep the same policy for a little while through a plan they have called COBRA. But then I had to get my own policy, and I contacted an agent. My husband and I met with him one time, for about 20 minutes, to basically sign some papers and write a check. We kept the same policy for many years, even though the premiums went up every year. Every single month this agent of ours was making money off of us. For years we never saw him, or heard from him. Then when our premium went up another huge percentage, I called him to ask what our options were. He told me to look online, and gave me the insurance company’s website.

Now the insurance companies have all of their policies posted online so anyone can shop and compare for themselves. I figured out just how we could switch to a different plan and save some money, and called the insurance company direct. They told me I just had to write them a letter and they would take care of it. I didn’t need the agent to be involved. Then I pointed out that we had clearly eliminated the need for an agent, and hence, the need to continue to pay his monthly commission. I asked if I could have that commission discounted from my monthly premiums, they told me no, it doesn’t work that way. Isn’t this crazy? Even when the two middle-men do no work at all, they still make money every month! It doesn’t work that way for car insurance, or home-owner’s insurance, so why should this be the case for health insurance?

As intelligent people, we know that we are responsible for our own health. We strive to take care of ourselves, eating right, working out, keeping fit. But it seems that the health insurance companies are working against us. Most preventative care, like chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage, are not covered. Many times mental health care is not covered, or covered only up to a certain amount. Doesn’t it make more sense to do what we can to stay healthy, rather than spending tons of money trying to get our health back when we get stressed out and sick? And think of the money lost when we have to take sick days and miss work.

But then, people being sick benefits the pharmaceutical companies. They have all kinds of medications for all kinds of illnesses that are covered by the insurance companies. And just when we think we’re doing well, along comes a vaccine they promote that they insist we need to keep us from getting something else.

Doctors have sky high rates because they are forced to make deals with the insurance companies where they are paid a percentage of their fees. When you look at your “explanation of benefit” statement that comes in the mail from the insurance company, you’ll see what part of the charges are “allowed” and “not allowed” and what part goes toward your deductible. I don’t know how doctors can make much money when all is said and done. Many doctors now have set up “concierge” service, which means that you pay a monthly fee to be their patient. It’s a kind of secondary insurance. But do we really need that extra expense? Not me!

Obama has an uphill climb when it comes to healthcare reform. He’s the David and the insurance companies are the Goliath in this scenario. Gerald Shea of the AFL-CIO is hoping for a change, but knows that the insurance companies will fight every step of the way, with all of their power and all of their money. “They have us beaten six ways to Sunday. Any time we want to make a small change to provide cost relief, they find a way to make it more profitable.”

Health and Nutrition on CoffeyTalk

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14 Nov

No Whining, No Griping, No Complaining: Take the Challenge and Reap the Rewards!

In my CoffeyTalk newsletter this week I put out a challenge for readers to join me in the “Complaint Free World Challenge.” Here’s how it goes:

“Maya Angelou writes: “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Now there’s an organization that is challenging us to go 21 days without a complaint! Can we do it? I’m certainly going to give it a shot. What a great idea! Why 21 days? Scientists believe it takes 21 days to form a new habit and complaining is habitual for many of us. A Complaint Free World has created purple bracelets to help us with this. The idea is that when we catch ourselves complaining, gossiping or criticizing, we move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again. So, it may take much longer than 21 days to get through the experience, but afterward, we’ll find that life is happier, more loving, and more enjoyable. Let’s track our progress on the CoffeyTalk group page on Facebook. Shall we call this Day 1? Game on!”

By taking on this challenge I have become much more mindful of what I say. Which is actually making me more mindful of what I think. I might think of something in a complaining sort of way, but before I express the gripe, I have to re-frame my thinking and find some other way of looking at things so that it doesn’t come out as a complaint. Interesting! What made that annoyance show up in my mind? Why does this bother me, and why do I feel the need to say something about it? Is there something I can do about it, or is acceptance a better approach? How can I communicate effectively to make my needs known without complaining? Of course all of these thoughts take place in a microsecond!

Maybe that’s the whole point behind this exercise. After all, this is not a new concept. Emmett Fox advocated a complaining fast in his “The Seven Day Mental Diet” booklet in 1935.
When we can change our thinking, we can change our life. And this is one very practical tool we can use to do just that.

In a perfect world, a no-complaining challenge would not be necessary. But then of course, we all have a different definition of perfect. These little annoyances and irritations are ways that we learn and grow. If we were comfortable all the time there would be no reason and no desire to change. It doesn’t matter what is going on around us, there’s always going to be something that we don’t like. But our response doesn’t have to be a knee-jerk complaint. We can be thoughtful, and even helpful. Or we can have a more zen attitude, and be accepting. And in any case, we can learn from the experience. Because that’s what life is all about. Here we are, thrown together in this place and time. We can’t help but bump into one another. We might as well look at the reasons why this happens, and what we are hear to learn from each other. Whether we perceive the experience as a positive or negative one, there is some purpose to it.

One of my life lessons has been patience. I have my own timetable, and it usually runs really fast. I can get a lot done in very little time. I don’t “waste” time; I use it efficiently. It has been a challenge for me to work successfully side by side with other people when my pace is so much quicker. And I recognize that my behavior may be annoying to someone with a different pace, especially when I want to speed them up. I have learned that I need to slow down at times, to be more careful and cautious, and take a few moments to notice the details. I have also learned that complaining from either side only slows down the process. Because that keeps us focused on the complaint instead of the task at hand. In some cases it is better to forge ahead, matching each others steps when we can, knowing that we will get past it.

I’m only 3 days into the challenge and I’ve learned a lot already. It would be easier if I tried Emmet Fox’s 7 day system first, but I’m already committed to this one and I’m not complaining! 18 days to go. Are you with me?

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12 Nov

How to Help End Hunger: Feed Your Mind

Food is huge right now. We’ve got The Food Network with programming around the clock, cookbooks flying off the shelves as people spend more time in the kitchen, and chefs are the new rock stars. And yet, for 1 in 8 people in the United States hunger is a reality. Worldwide the statistics are much worse. The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is well-fed, one-third is under-fed, and one-third is starving. Approximately 800 million people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition, and about 8 million actually die from it each year.

September is Hunger Action Month. And there’s no better time to take action than right now. Feeding America, formerly named America’s Second Harvest, is one organization that is working hard to solve the hunger crisis. It is a network made up of individuals, local food banks, and national offices, as well as corporate and government partners. Feeding America secures food and grocery products on a national level and distributes as needed to local food banks. For every $1 donated, Feeding America provides 10 pounds of groceries to hungry people.

Many children in the United States rely on free or reduced-priced school lunches during the school year. And this is often the only meal they get each day. During weekends and school vacations these children go hungry. Feeding America has come up with the “BackPack Program” to help these kids. The program started at the Arkansas Rice Depot, after a school nurse asked for help because hungry students were coming to her with stomachaches and dizziness. The local food bank began to provide the school children with groceries in backpacks to carry home with them. Now the program serves more than 90,000 children each year.

Action Against Hunger is working on a global basis. Their program areas include nutrition, water and sanitation, food security, health and advocacy. They have started the Campaign to End Malnutrition. They say that the loss of life from malnutrition is all the more tragic because acute malnutrition is preventable, predictable, and cost-effective to treat. And they have a plan in place to save lives. Visit their website for all the details.

And while we’re online, there’s something we can do, once a day, everyday, to help eradicate world hunger. Just go to TheHungersite.com and click on the “Click Here to Give – it’s FREE” button. Since June, 1999, more than 300 million visitors have given more than 657 million cups of staple food. The food funded by clicks is paid for by the site sponsors and distributed to those in need by Mercy Corps, Feeding America, and Millennium Promise. 100% of sponsor advertising fees go to the aid of hungry people around the world. Besides clicking the button, which costs visitors nothing, we can also help by shopping in The Hunger Site store. With each item purchased, shoppers generate funds for the hungry. The store offers a wide variety of items to show support as well as fair-traded and handcrafted items from around that world that help families and communities pull themselves out of the poverty and hunger cycle.

Here’s another innovative way to help solve the world food problem. I love it when I find a site where I can have fun, learn and also do something good for the world, and that’s just what I found at FreeRice.com. With freerice.com you play a game to improve your vocabulary. For every word you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated to hungry people through the United Nations World Food Program. The game is challenging, even though it is multiple-choice. If you correctly guess the meaning of a word, you get a more difficult one next. If you get it wrong, you get an easier one. If you’re online playing games anyway, you might as well play this one. You’ll learn some new words, and help feed people in need at the same time.

Knowing about all the hungry people in the world gives us more reason to be grateful every time we sit down to eat. And now we can take action to help feed people every time we sit down at our computers. Every dollar counts, every click counts, every grain of rice counts to those who are hungry.

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