Monthly Archives: February 2019

Back in the Saddle

Fifteen years ago I was pretty much a sedentary person.  I worked in an office, came home every night tired, ate dinner, watched tv, or read a book, or spent time on my computer.  I was very much aware of wellness and health issues.  At the job I had from 2001 until 2007, I was responsible for the benefits for 1,400 employees.  I also worked very closely with my coworker who was responsible for employees’ leave for Worker’s Compensation and FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) leaves.

I noticed that most of the employees who were out for many weeks on medical leave were out for conditions that were preventable.  I started hearing about this concept of wellness programs that was starting at companies all over the country.  It was a new concept, but it intrigued me that we could encourage our employees to do the things that keep them healthy.  Not only would this be good for the employee, it was good for the company.  There would be less days taken off for sick time (which is costly to a company), and employees work better when they feel good (which is good for production for the company).  It sounded like a win/win thing to me.  What company wouldn’t want to have this initiative?

I did research and presented this idea to the director of the company.  He thought it was a great idea if I could do it on zero dollars.  Really?  The research I had done showed that the return on investment to these wellness initiatives was $5 for every $1 spent.  That was money saved on paying sick days, lost production, and less insurance claims paid out, thus reducing a very expensive benefit (health insurance) for employees.  Finally, a few months later, my immediate supervisor said I should put together a presentation to deliver in January to the senior executives of my idea.

By this time I had gotten discouraged at the lack of foresight my superiors had, and I had started looking for a new opportunity.  I started a new job at a company that was owned by a Fortune 100 company.  We had 100 employees at our location.  Apparently in the process of my interviewing, I must have mentioned my enthusiasm about a wellness program.  I started the new job on January 8, 2007.  (Thus, the presentation to my previous company never happened).  My first day on the job, my new boss asked me if I wanted to start a wellness program.  Of course, I was most excited about the opportunity.  He asked me how much money I wanted, and I wasn’t sure what to reply.  Before I had a chance to reply, he said, “How about $10,000 for the year?”  Wow!  Really?  I couldn’t get my previous company to give me a penny for 1,400 employees, and now I was going to get $10,000 for 100 employees.  I knew it was probably more than I needed, but with that budget I could work with a free hand.  I set up a wellness committee who helped with ideas they knew would work with their coworkers.

I decided the first thing we could do was start a walking competition.  My administrative assistant and I looked for pedometers for all the employees.  Not knowing much about this, we bought them through a premium company, and had our company’s name on each of them.  They were cheap, and you get what you pay for—they were not accurate.  We ended up at a sporting goods store, and purchased a pedometer for each employee who signed up for the competition.  We made this a team competition.  When we got the registrations (which was 80% of the employees), we randomly selected names for the teams.  We posted the names on sticky notes on a board and looked them over.  Although randomly done, we saw some teams were all men or all women or all from one department, so we tweaked the teams by moving around the sticky notes to make well balanced teams by age, department, and gender.  Each team had a team coach of folks who volunteered.  They were to select their team name, and we took photos of each team, and posted the photo with the team names on the bulletin board in the lunchroom.  The teams were creative with their naming and it became a fun competition.  

One of the things that made me the most please with this first initiative, was the day the CFO commented to me that this was the first time he saw people stop in the hallways to talk about their progress with coworkers they never spoke with before.  He loved that we made the teams diverse and that everyone was getting to know others better.  

I was new at this sort of thing, so we based our scoring on steps.  We had team winners and individual winners.  People worked hard as they saw the weekly scores posted in the lunchroom.  They weren’t about to let the other team get ahead of them.  In the last two weeks, I stopped posting team and individual totals.  They knew what they were up against, and I wanted winners to be equally surprised.  At the end of the competition, we had a company lunch (with healthy food), and everyone who participated was given a sweatshirt that was designed by the wellness committee.  I still wear mine, and will be sad when it is too threadbare to wear any longer—I have been wearing it for 11 years!  Gift cards were given to the members of the winning team and to the individual winners.  

Then we presented a gift card to the most improved individual.  This young man was overweight and kind of an introvert.  He was on a team with an older female employee who saw he wasn’t posting many steps at all.  She stopped him in the hall one day, and asked him if he would like to walk with her during their lunch break.  He accepted the offer, and we saw this young man come out of his shell, it just changed his demeanor at work.  He began working hard at keeping up with his teammates to bring in good numbers.  He deserved to win a prize as much as the person who out-walked everyone in the company.  Jason was so surprised when we called him up and gave him a $50 gift card for his hard work.  He looked healthier, and he was engaged.

That competition was fun, but it was extremely time consuming, and it also did not address issues of someone who was unable to walk any distances.  The following year an employee told me they found a competition online called “Blue and You.”  It was sponsored by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arkansas, and it was open to anyone who wanted to sign up.  Instead of having many teams, our whole company was a team.  The requirement was to log in daily with 30 minutes of aerobic exercise of any kind.  Therefore, a person who was not able to walk distances, could do some sort of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes was equal to a fit athlete who did 30 minutes of running.  

I signed our company up for the competition in January.  In February, employees could go online and enter our company code and sign up as a participant.  The competition started in March and ended the last of May.  BC/BS had the competitors by the number that signed up, so we were in a category with companies, churches, and any other organization with the similar number of participants.  To keep the employees motivated, I had prizes for every ten days of their posting results.  They started out as small things such as fruit, bottled water with our wellness logo on the label, small premium items, such as a company key chain, and as the numbers got bigger, it could be a company logo tee shirt or hat, or a gift card.  It was an incentive to continue posting their results.  We took 1st place in our category for three years straight.

As the Manager of Human Resources, I felt I had to be participating if I wanted the employees to participate.  All of a sudden I was walking and drinking water instead of soft drinks.  I was seeing a difference in my body and fitness, although without dieting, my weight did not come down a lot.

After retiring, I found I wasn’t as active and weight crept up.  It was very sneaky, because I didn’t notice—until I noticed!  Why are we blind to it until we realize it’s a big problem.  In 2016 I went on my weight loss adventure.  If you click here you can read my blog about the weight loss and winning a contest about it.  I was doing a ton of walking either on the treadmill or outdoors.

Then 2018 happened.  I noticed in December of 2017 that I was limping a bit, and my hip hurt, so I went to see a doctor.  Long story short—over the next 10 months, my hip continued to deteriorate, and by October, I couldn’t walk more than a few feet.  It hurt to sit, to walk, and to move.  The doctor said I needed a total hip replacement of my left hip, and it was scheduled for early November. During those 10 months, as my hip was deteriorating, so was my walking.  The early part of the year, I did good walking, but quickly it was going to a complete stop because of the pain.  

When I was on my diet, supervised by a doctor, I had to eat under 1,000 calories with exercise in order to lose weight.  I made sure I had a lot of protein, along with a balanced diet, and fluids just to lose the weight.  So now, I was not able to walk and I’m not eating less than 1,000 calories, and the weight globbed back on—not completely, but enough to make me uncomfortable.  Then was the surgery.  I am now three months out, and am able to do considerable walking.  I walk anywhere from 2 to 4 miles either around the Arizona neighborhood or on the trails on the mountain.

Today it is raining—all day—in Arizona.  The state is in a drought so this is really needed.  Our new home includes a brand new community center—so brand new that their grand opening is this coming Saturday.  Today we drove up there, and went to the fitness center and worked out.  I LOVED it.  I did 30 minutes on the treadmill, worked on various machines which really felt good working muscles that don’t get worked out walking, and ended with 20 minutes of peddling.  I will increase the time when I return.  I forgot how it feels so good to move these old muscles of mine.  I was really stoked today, knowing that my next 8 weeks here should make a real difference in my fitness and weight.  

I still think with fondness of all the wellness efforts made when I was working.  I knew back then that being proactive in our health keeps the doctors away, unless you lose the cartilage in your hip!  I have really good blood pressure, and blood sugar.  I do not take any prescription medications for any chronic conditions—I intend to keep it this way.  

I am so grateful to be as healthy as I am, and that entering my 7th decade, I see a lot of healthy activity still in my future.  

Musical Memories

Today we ventured out to find a particular store.  On the way home I asked Dennis how far from home we were.  He said, “Sixteen miles.”  Then he started to sing the chorus of the song “Sixteen Tons,” and I joined in with the singing. Yes, I am showing how old we are.  The recording we knew was sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955, when Dennis was 9 and I was not quite 7 years old.  It was a catchy song, and we marveled how the lyrics just came to our minds as soon as we started the chorus.

Andrea & Patti

It got me thinking about songs I listened to on the radio as a kid.  As we completed singing the chorus to “Sixteen Tons,” the song, “The Battle of New Orleans” popped into my head, sung by Johnny Horton which was the #1 song on the charts in 1959.  My cousin, Patti, and I choreographed that song.  I remember we worked out the whole dance in my parents’ living room.  Why that song?  I guess because it was a #1 song of the day.  Neither Patti and I were (or are) dancers, but we made up our own moves, and we thought we were pretty talented.

My repertoire of music as a kid included such hits as “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” “The Purple People Eater,” and “Que Sera Sera”—you know, “Whatever will be will be, The future’s not ours to see . . . .”  

My sisters used to purchase a magazine called “Hit Parade.”  it would have articles about the current music and performers, but the best part was it had the lyrics of the hit songs so we could learn to sing along.

Peggy & Andrea

When I was a teenager, my sister, cousin, and I went on a road trip across the country with my mom.  Peggy and I sat in the back seat and entertained ourselves singing car crash songs!  Rather morbid, but we were teens!  Do you remember the huge number of car crash songs, such as “Teen Angel,”  “Last Kiss,” Tell Laura I Love Her,” among others?  Between 1959 and 1964, several car and motorcycle crash songs were recorded, all about the lost love upon dying in the crash.  I think we thought it was funny to sing these songs on a road trip across the country. 

I learned the “old” songs of the 40’s from my mom buying the Mitch Miller Sing-Along albums.  What fun they were.  We had several of the albums, and I can still sing for you, “Yes We Have No Bananas,” or “Sweet Violets.”  We also had the album, The Norman Luboff Choir “Songs of the West.”  When we are on a road trip out west, the songs, “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweed,”  just popped out of my mouth.

Music seems so much simpler back then.  The songs told a story about aliens, swim suits, and lost loves.  The music was catchy, and we sang along on our clock radios in our bedrooms that played the music as we went to sleep, and the music was the alarm when we woke up in the morning.  We didn’t need a big stereo system or a small electronic device with ear buds—just a nice plastic radio with an alarm clock attached.

It is just funny that 60 years later I can recall lyrics of songs of my youth.  It brings back many sweet memories.  Not only do I remember the songs, I remember the dancing with Patti, and the singing with Peggy.  I remember events around the music.

I hope your childhood music brings you as much joy as it has brought me.

Family Heirlooms

Safety Award

I come from a family of immigrants.  We do not have family heirlooms that have been passed on from generation to generation.  I have a few old things that have belonged to my family, such as my maternal great grandfather’s 1927 safety award medallion from the Commonwealth Steel Company, where he was employed in Granite City, Illinois.  I have a book my paternal grandmother gave to me that had belonged to my dad.  My dad was 10 when he came to the United States in early 1930.  This must have been a book he read in his early teens.  He was the oldest of 8 children.  When I opened the book, my dad has his name and address in his hand, and then his youngest brother who is 13 years younger, took possession of the book later and wrote in his name and address.  I suppose since my dad was the first owner, Grandma decided the book goes to me rather than my cousins.

My dad’s book with my grandmother’s note.

We have no jewelry, furniture, artwork or anything of that kind that have been handed down through the years—that is until I realized that I have a piece of furniture that is at least 70 years old that has been owned by several members of my family.

In my house is a beautiful Windsor rocking chair manufactured by Nichols & Stone of Boston, Massachusetts.  My mom had this chair in her bedroom, and when I had my babies, I borrowed it from her to rock them asleep.  I returned the chair to her.  She was not the original purchaser of this chair.  This chair originally belonged to my Uncle Gus and Aunt Ann.  Gus was my mother’s brother.  His real name is Kosta (named after the grandfather who had the safety award).  As a child I was impressed by Aunt Ann’s sense of fashion and design.  Her house was decorated in all colonial furniture.  In other words, there were a lot of spindle chairs and tables.  In the 50’s and 60’s, this was so fashionable.  

As far as I know, Aunt Ann was the original owner.  It sat in her living room.  In the late 50’s Uncle Gus, Aunt Ann, and their four children, Joan, Patti, Mark, and Jill, moved from St. Louis to Phoenix, Arizona.  I have no idea if they moved all their furniture there, but I do know my mom bought the rocking chair from Aunt Ann when they moved.  I had all my children in the 70’s and the chair was used to rock those babies to sleep.  Then it went back to my mom.

My mom passed away in 1995, and my dad moved from St. Louis to Phoenix a year later.  His closest brother, Joe, had passed away, and my mom was gone.  Joe was married to my mom’s sister, Mary, and she wintered every year in Phoenix.  Gus and Ann lived there, as did two other of my dad’s brothers and wives, Mike and Jewel, and Matt and Florence.  He didn’t have any family from his generation left in St. Louis, he didn’t like St. Louis winters, and he was ready for a new adventure, so he moved to Phoenix.

The chair moved with him to Phoenix, but he sold it to Mary.  It would have been nice had he given it to Mary, but that was not in his vocabulary!  That Windsor rocking chair sat in her condo in Phoenix until she passed away in 2013.  Shortly after her death, one of her daughters called me and asked if I wanted any of my mom’s things that Aunt Mary had gotten, and I asked if it was possible to get the rocking chair that I had used to rock my babies.  A few months later, as one of her sons was bringing her car and some possessions from Phoenix to St. Louis, he loaded the chair in the back of the car and delivered it to me.

That chair sat in my house in St. Charles, Missouri, and when I married Dennis in August of that same year, I brought that chair to Fulton, Missouri.  It sat in living room, in several different locations depending of where I moved the furniture that week!

In November of 2017, I received an email from my cousin Mark, the son of Gus and Ann.  Gus and Ann were now both deceased, and Mark had taken his dad’s old 8mm movies and digitized them and uploaded them to a website.  He stated that website allowed us to download these movies for the next 30 days.  Not knowing who all was in these movies, and who I might know, I downloaded all of them.  The first movie I opened was titled, “Christmas 1956.”  There it was.  The Christmas tree!  No, that was not what got me excited.  It was what was sitting next to the Christmas tree.  It was the rocking chair that was sitting in my living room.  Then the movie moved on, and my grandfather was sitting in the rocker next to my grandmother, and the next few clips was my cousins’ other grandfather was sitting in the rocker next to his wife.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  This is the beautiful rocker that was, at the moment while I was watching these movies, sitting just across the room from me.

I felt like I had a piece of history.  Ann and Gus owned the rocker, and they and their four children all sat in it.  My grandparents and the other set of grandparents sat in this rocker.  Then my mom had the rocker and all our family, my sisters and our families sat in that rocker.  Now I owned it and my children, my daughters-in-law, and my grandchildren have all sat in this rocker.  It made me love the rocker even more than I had already loved it.

In January, Dennis and I moved to San Tan Valley, Arizona (just outside of Phoenix), and we will be living there in our new beautiful home every winter, until eventually we will make it our permanent home.  We bought all new furniture for the home, except for one piece—the rocking chair.  It just seemed right for me to bring it to Phoenix, where the original owner’s family had settled.  The chair has come full circle.