Woman sitting at laptop

Volunteering Virtually and a Fulfilling New Hobby

Grateful to work for a company that gives employees one paid volunteer day per year, I was straining to find a virtual opportunity that was meaningful to me before the year ended and the generosity was lost.

I had almost given up hope when I stumbled on a topic that I value – history! The Smithsonian Transcription Center depends on volunteers to make their collections more accessible. Transcription turns handwritten, typed, and audio recorded materials into searchable and readable resources.

If you like history, treasure hunting, or learning something new, working with The Smithsonian Transcription Center may be a fun virtual volunteer opportunity for you too!

Smithsonian Transcription Center website

The Day Begins

Most of the historical documents are written in cursive and are faded, which makes reading them difficult. Transcribing them makes them discoverable online and readable for anyone, including individuals who depend on technology for text-to-speech conversion.

So, on Friday, December 11, I created an account with the Smithsonian to begin my volunteer work. I spent the first hour reading all the training materials and transcription requirements. There is no expectation to completely transcribe an entire document alone; volunteers can transcribe a new document or continue the work another volunteer has started. Once the document is finished, it’s submitted for review before it’s published.

A Chance To Leave My Mark on History

I got to work reading about the various projects I could select from, and then chose to begin with the Freedmen’s Bureau. As the Civil War was ending, President Abraham Lincoln and members of Congress wanted to help formerly enslaved individuals make the transition to freedom and citizenship. As a result, in March of 1865, The Freedmen Bureau was formed. Transcribing these records is important to me because it makes them accessible for anyone researching their family history and expands our knowledge of the experience of Black Americans during the post-Civil War era.

The Report of Schools for Freedmen document

The time passed quickly, and it was nighttime before I knew it. I checked my activity history to see how much I’d done. In seven hours, I had supported three projects by transcribing ten pages.

Transcribing rows and columns of the was the most tedious task, but deciphering the 19th century handwritten letters took a lot of patience and problem solving. Even though President Andrew Johnson had the nicest penmanship of all the documents I worked with, I couldn’t quite distinguish between his capital “I” and “J.” Thankfully it’s a collaborative process and another volunteer helped to decode the text.

Deciphering a document from President Andrew Johnson

Discovery of a Local Hidden Treasure

One of the most exciting discoveries recently completed by The Smithsonian Transcription Center was an antislavery newspaper, The North Star, published in Rochester, N.Y. by Frederick Douglass. Included in the 1848 issue is a letter from Douglass to his former enslaver titled, “To My Old Master,” in which he explains his intentions as a runaway, recounts his life in freedom, and signs off “I am your fellow man but not your slave.”

The Frederick Douglass discovery!

Success For the Project … and My Soul

While the main goal of this volunteer opportunity is to transcribe a document, half the fun comes from learning and the excitement of overcoming small challenges as I develop my skills. Aside from being the first person to read forgotten documents and getting that feeling of finding hidden treasure, making my discoveries accessible to others is even more rewarding.

My new virtual volunteer experience has become a hobby and I hope one day I too will contribute to a famous discovery.

To see more discoveries by The Smithsonian Transcription Center, follow them on Twitter @TranscribeSI.

boy playing in snow

Hidden Gems: Winter in the Mohawk Valley

Those of us who choose to live in upstate New York do so for a variety of reasons. For many of us, one of the biggest is because we love the region’s four very distinct seasons, each with its own unique opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure.

Picture of a woman snowshowing

Eve snowshoeing at Moss Lake

Winter Traditions in the Mohawk Valley

Usually, at this time of year, there would be annual winter-themed festivals that would pull people out of the warm confines of their homes and into the crisp winter air, such as the Ice Harvest Festival in East Meredith and the Cooperstown Winter Carnival, both traditionally held in February.

Even though we can’t do most, if not all, of those types of things right now, we still have plenty of options in the Mohawk Valley when it comes to getting outside and being active during the winter.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Potato Hill Farm in Boonville: My favorite place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is Potato Hill Farm. It’s part of the Black River Environmental Improvement Association (BREIA); it’s amazing, beautiful land, and there’s a bonus: there are bathrooms on the trail!
  • FT Proctor Park in Utica: In the winter season, there are few better places to partake in one of my favorite activities, snowshoeing. The park has some hills and a creek – and provides a very tranquil setting for getting out and exercising.
  • South Woods Switchbacks at Roscoe Conkling Park in Utica: Another favorite is Roscoe Conkling Park and its South Woods switchbacks. The wooded hills provide a good work out whether you’re hiking, shoeing or skiing; and I’ve seen many deer and a few wild turkeys while out on the trail!
  • Sherrrillbrook Park in New Hartford: Sherrillbrook Park is great for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with its varied landscape through open fields and woods. Dog owners should also take note of the park’s dog run.
  • Moss Lake Trail in Eagle Bay: The Adirondack Park has a lot of places to go, obviously, but one gem that’s on my favorites list is Moss Lake and the Moss Lake Trail. It’s a relatively short jaunt around the lake, but its location deep in the Adirondack Park makes it a particularly beautiful spot – you’re bound to see plenty of wildlife, and the wooden bridges on the trail afford a pleasant view of the surrounding woods and water.

These, of course, are only a handful of the vast number of great locations to get out and explore, exercise or just relax and do a little sightseeing. If you’re looking for more ideas and other places to go, check out the NYS Parks website here: https://parks.ny.gov/ and the Discover Upstate New York website here: https://www.discoverupstateny.com/. Now get out there!

Girl brushing her teeth

Expert Q&A: How Has Dentistry Been Impacted By COVID-19?

Our expert:  Dr. William Zugner has been a clinical peer review consultant for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for more than six years. He is a past president of New York State’s 7 District Dental Society. He is a Fellow in the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists as well as a Member of the Pierre Fauchard Academy. Dr Zugner maintains a private practice in Webster, N.Y. and has for 20 years.

How has the pandemic been impacting the health of our teeth?

(Dr. Zugner) Since the start of the pandemic, one issue within my own practice that I have seen a concerning increase in has been patients presenting with jaw and muscle pain and tooth sensitivity/pain from clenching and grinding due to increased stress.

If left untreated, damage such as fractured/cracked teeth and musculoskeletal disorders can occur. The sooner treatment is initiated, the easier it is to break the habit.  As always, I recommend to my patients to continue taking good care of your teeth at home and to follow through with all recommended treatments by your dentist.

How have precautions at the dentist’s office changed?

It is true that since the start of the pandemic, the administering of dental care has changed, but not as much as you think. Dentistry has always followed certain precautions that other parts of healthcare haven’t, because historically, the exposure in dentistry has always been high. Universal precautions, like wearing a mask and gloves, were introduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1985, mostly in response to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic. The profession has adhered to these requirements, and to this day the dental operatory is one of the safest places where healthcare is administered.

For example, between each patient, every surface is wiped and sterilized. Additionally, all instruments are immediately removed, cleaned and sterilized. Anything which is deemed single patient use is disposed of and replaced. Moreover, operatories are not set up or prepped for the next patient until right before the appointment. The doctor and all staff change PPE between each patient, and whenever soiled. These are all standard protocols and have not changed in recent times, thus securing a safe environment for both patients and clinicians.

Where might patients notice a difference when visiting the dentist now?

The changes that have occurred in response to the pandemic include enhanced patient and clinician screenings prior to and upon entering the office. Masks are always being worn by everyone in the office, excluding the patient during treatment. All patients and employees are encouraged to stay home if they feel ill. Also, during certain procedures, specialized masks are being worn by those who provide the treatment and are at a higher risk of exposure.

What would you tell a patient who is weighing the decision to visit the dentist during the pandemic?

One must consider the harm that is caused when treatment is delayed. On routine appointments, dentists screen for not only issues with the teeth, but also thoroughly examine supporting structures and assess for any pathology of the head and neck. Routine care is essential in the proper maintenance of one’s health and to allow for early diagnosis of problems.

Woman using telehealth to talk to doctor

Telehealth Is Here to Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic is shedding new light on telehealth. Telehealth is when a patient and a provider communicate by audio, video or text messaging. The number of telehealth visits soared in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. According to a review of claims data from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, the insurer processed 2.2 million telehealth claims in 2020. In 2019, the insurer processed 28,529 telehealth claims.

More Upstate New Yorkers Are Using Telehealth

Most adults in upstate New York (77 percent) have heard of or used telemedicine, according to a recent survey by Excellus BCBS. Of those adults who reported using telehealth, 90 percent did so since the outbreak of COVID-19. According to the survey, the most important features of telehealth were the ability to get prescriptions, the ability to avoid in-person visits and the cost of the visit.

New Government Action Expands Access to Care

In addition to helping people avoid in-person visits and get prescriptions, telehealth also increases access to care for people who may not have otherwise had it. Expanding access to care through telehealth was an area of focus in New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 11th State of the State Address. “The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inequities in our healthcare system and showed that telehealth is a critical tool to expand access and lower costs for low-income communities, especially for behavioral health support,” said Cuomo, as he took executive action to expand access to remote care.

“When seeing a health care provider in person isn’t possible, or preferable, telehealth offers an effective alternative,” said Stephen H. Cohen, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Telehealth is here to stay, and our health plan will continue develop and support ways to increase access to this innovative way to get care.”

To learn more about your options for telehealth, talk with your doctor or visit ExcellusBCBS.com/Find-a-doctor/Telemedicine.

Healthy Snacking Tips from a Football Party Veteran

Watching the big game can be grueling when you’ve got a super-sized buffet to celebrate.

But you can approach kickoff with a solid game plan to help you avoid getting sacked by too many fatty barbecue wings or ill-advised slices of calorie-laden pie:

  1. Before you start the bash, have a small, healthy snack such as an apple or a handful of raisins and nuts. If you’re hungry when you start the game day snacks, your willpower will go ‘wide right.’
  2. Offer a healthy dish for everyone to enjoy, such as vegetables and low-fat dip. You can crunch away on celery, broccoli, bell peppers and carrots! Be wary of dipping veggies in ranch or a similar creamy dressing which could load on the calories. Instead, prepare dips using Greek yogurt or light sour cream.
  3. Baked tortilla chips make just as good a base for nachos as their greasy fried counterparts. Stack them high with layers of cilantro, shredded lettuce, beans, fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, and jalapenos. If you’re adding ground beef, use the kind labeled “90 percent lean,” and be sure to drain away the fat.
  4. Looking for a healthy, but sweet snack? Try cookie dough hummus. I promise – it’s tasty! The sweetness of the peanut butter, maple syrup, and chocolate chips hides the fact that this is a bean dip! Click on the video below for the recipe.
  5. Another tip is to first take a 30-second food time out to assess all the choices on the game day spread before deciding on what you really want to nibble on.  Then, move away from the table or walk around. If you stay next to the food, you’re more likely to overeat.

By being aware of what you are eating and focusing on portion size, you’ll be able to make it to the presentation of the trophy feeling like a winner.

Picture of a sunset

Hidden Gems: Southwick Beach State Park

Ever since I can remember, I have always been drawn to the water. Whether it be a pool, creek, lake or ocean… didn’t matter. I just wanted to feel my toes in the sand and be one with the water. Now don’t get me wrong, if I had to choose, I would be headed for the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches of Bora Bora, but, let’s face it, I live in Central New York. Even getting close to the sand dunes of the Atlantic shore is well out of the realm of a day trip. However, about an hour north, I can find a close second, right down to the sand dunes; Southwick Beach State Park.

Picture of a sunset at the beach

Overlook at Southwick beach

Southwick Beach: Then and Now

I remember going there from an early age. My family would leave our house early morning so we could get a choice spot under a tree. There at the edge of the beach was a picnic area complete with a picnic table and hibachi. The grounds keepers would still be raking the soft sand with their tractors (although they don’t do that anymore). The distinct smell of the beach and sunscreen filled the air with the sound of the waves crashing on the shoreline. We would stay all day until the sun set. The sunsets there are still spectacular!

Picture of a sunset

Sunset at Southwick beach

The Highlights: Waves, Floats and Sandcastles

The waves at Southwick Beach are the best! When my kids were younger, they knew Southwick as “the beach with the big waves.” Back then (and now) one of our favorite things to do was jump the waves. Today my kids have Boogie Boards and we will ride them all day. Hours and hours of exhausting fun!

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The waves can get powerful and sometimes the water has limited access or can be closed altogether. Rip tides can occur too (I did say this was a close second to the ocean!). Best to pay attention to the beach flags or call ahead. My kids do tend to get disappointed when we go and there are no waves, which can happen too. But now, unlike years past, you can also play catch, frisbee, Kan Jam or bring floats to relax on outside of the lifeguarded areas. And let’s not forget sandcastles! Epic sandcastles have been built by many. There is also a newer playground and a campground for the more adventurous. Boredom will be had by no one!

Don’t Miss: The Dunes

Waves or no waves, the beach stretches for miles in both directions with sand dunes all along. The sand dunes are protected so you are not allowed to walk on them but there are nature trails to explore within and endless amounts of beach to walk. The dunes and beach have gone through major transformations in the last few years as work has been done to help fix the erosion caused by recent flooding. The transformations also include a new bathhouse, store, and community fire pit.

Picture of a sunset

A sunset over the dunes at Southwick beach

So, if you are like me and crave to be “one with the water” and the ocean is just too far a trip for you, Southwick Beach is a close second just a short trip north. Surf’s up!

The Details

  • Location: 8119 Southwicks Place, Henderson N.Y. 13650
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seasonally from May to October
  • Admission: Most state parks charge a vehicle fee to enter the park. Fees vary by season and location. For current information, check the Southwick Beach State Park website.
  • For more information: Southwick Beach State Park website or call (315) 846-5338
Runner sitting and stretching

5 Ways to Set and Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Many of us start the year by setting New Year’s resolutions or making plans for what we want to accomplish over the coming months. Here are five tips for setting New Year’s resolutions that will stick.

Determine resolutions you really want

Ask “do I really want this?” and “why have I not done this yet?”  When I got married, I worked hard to get into the shape I wanted to be in.  I had a strict exercise routine and an extremely healthy diet.  I was in the best shape of my life for my wedding.  In the five years since then,  I slipped back into old habits but I keep resolving to do it again.  I finally had to realize the truth is – I know how to do it; I just don’t want to.  While I eat healthy most of the time and work out regularly, I also enjoy cake and nachos and I don’t want to give them up! Realizing that I am happier as I am, I have shifted my goals to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and not worrying as much about the number on the scale.

Set realistic resolutions

If what you want to do feels too overwhelming, you probably won’t do it at all. For example, maybe this year you want to finally clean and organize that cluttered basement storage area. If your basement looks anything like mine, that may feel like a very overwhelming task. So instead of looking at the whole room and not knowing where to even begin, break it down. Make your resolution small, for example pledge to spend one hour every Saturday cleaning the basement or going through one storage bin each week to find items to donate. Small actions feel doable and will be more likely kept.

Do not set too many resolutions

If you set too many resolutions, it is unlikely you will keep any of them, therefore, focus on one or two at a time and build in more later.  If you want to organize that basement, start a new fitness regimen, learn to cook, and paint three rooms in your home – you are either going to need a lot of free time or just focus on one to start.  In the same way, one resolution can feel too large, having too many can result in doing none!

Make changes

These are YOUR goals. If what you are trying is not working, adjust it instead of quitting.  When I set out to run a 5K, I found I was terrible at running and did not enjoy it.  Instead of quitting, I started walking instead.  I shifted the goal to walking each day, until I got up to five miles a day and then got myself to start running.  The shift let me still keep the main point (physical activity) and kept me from quitting when it was initially too hard.

Find ways to hold yourself accountable

Share your resolutions with friends and family or share it on social media.  Talk about what you are doing and find people who will cheer you on as you get to your goal.  It may sound simple, but it works!  When I was learning to run a 5K, every time I went out to run, I came home and told my husband how far I had made it that day.  He was thrilled and proud (or at least he said he was) every time I hit a new longest run or best time.  Every run when I felt I had given it my all and was ready to stop, I would think, “If I can go just 5 more minutes, it will be my longest run yet and I can go home and share the good news.” It kept me pushing harder every time!

What are your resolutions this year? Share with us in the comments section below.

Gym Closed? Build Your Own – It’s Easier Than You Think!

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things in our lives, and many activities that directly contribute to our personal mental and physical health have not been exempt. One activity in particular –going to one’s favorite gym or fitness club – has been particularly hard-hit by the demands to stop the spread. But, with a little ingenuity and persistence, you’ll find you have all you need to build a little gym of your own at home.

You may not have needed to think about it before, but you can build your own home gym out of many things you already have at home, and you can make it as basic or as ambitious as you desire.

There are many options for building a home gym that meets your specific needs. According to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Wellness Specialist Sharon Field, your home gym plan should have three main considerations: space, technology, and equipment.

 

Space

“When setting up your home gym, you have to consider what you want to do in that space,” says Sharon. “You need space to move. Whether its yoga, resistance training, indoor cycling, jumping jacks or any combination of those and more, you’ll need to plan accordingly.”

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Things to consider:

  1. Flooring: Cement and wood floors are unforgiving and can contribute to injury. Look into having at least a yoga mat, or cover your floor in rubber matting or Styrofoam padding to save your knees, joints, feet, etc.
  2. Storage: Seems like a minor concern, but in order for your home gym to be a safe and inviting environment that you feel good about, you’ll need a place for things such as resistance bands, jump ropes, hand & ankle weights, equipment/stack pins, etc. A cluttered gym, or not being able to find what you need for your next exercise, can be the difference between a workout and workout-killing frustration.
  3. Mirrors: No one is going to stop you from using a mirror for a selfie after a satisfying go in your own home gym. But far more importantly, mirrors are in fact a very important workout tool. Use a large wall-mounted mirror (preferably large, but a small mirror will suffice in a pinch) to ensure that you are using proper form during your exercises. You’d be surprised at the difference between what you think you are doing and what the mirror tells you. Improper form can cause of injury and ineffective exercises.

 

Technology

We’ve entered the third decade of the 21st century and, while flying cars still seem to be at least a light year away, technology in the home gym has become a near-necessity.

According to Sharon, here are the things to consider:

  1. Mobile device/laptop: This can serve as your hub – whether to catch a workout video on YouTube or live stream online or simply to listen to some inspirational music, you’ll want a laptop, iPad, or mobile phone.
  2. Tripod/Stand: To go along with #1 above, a convenient accoutrement for your viewing device is a suitable tripod, stand, or small table on which to prop/place your device in a manner so that you can watch the workout and simultaneously perform the exercises comfortably.
  3. Online videos: In addition to YouTube, do some online searching for workouts that appeal to you. Yoga, bodyweight, dumbbell, Tabata, kickboxing, and much, much more are all available online.
  4. Smart TV/monitor/DVD player: An upgrade to #1, but not a necessity; if you have a treadmill or stationary bike in your gym, you may want a smart TV or monitor with a DVD player or Apple TV, etc. (or the capability to mirror one of your devices) so that you can play your own workout DVDs or catch your favorite show while reaping the benefits of exercise and without squinting.

 

Equipment

The pandemic has created some shortages in the home fitness equipment world as more people than ever have flocked online to buy what they need to get their fitness on at home. So, whether you want to save money or your favorite equipment is out of stock, here’s where your ingenuity can really shine. Some of you may already have some hand weights, dumbbells, a treadmill or stationary bike, while others may be thinking they have no gym equipment at all. Not true. You can outfit a gym with many things you already have at home. And, that’s in addition to the fact that simple bodyweight exercises, using no equipment at all, can provide a very challenging full body workout for even the most experienced fitness enthusiast. Here are some of Sharon’s recommendations:

  1. No handweights? No problem! Use (filled) water bottles or unopened 16 oz. food cans.
  2. No kettlebells? Use laundry detergent containers with handles
  3. No ankleweights? Put dry beans in a Ziplock bag, put the bag into a sock, and tie it around your ankle.
  4. No resistance bands? Use a towel! In fact, a towel can fuel a full body workout:
  5. No time to even prep household items? No problem. Try these bodyweight workouts:
  6. Surprisingly, you can work out with nothing but a simple chair. Try it!

 

Other considerations

Fitness can be a family affair. It’s much more difficult to shrug off a workout when your loved one(s) are putting on their sneakers and getting ready to go. And don’t forget your pets. A dog can make a great workout buddy. Let him or her take you for a walk. “A home gym is a place where you can feel completely at ease doing as much, or as little, as you want, however you want to do it—as long as you use proper form,” Sharon concludes. “With no one else watching, it’s a judgement-free zone!”

Now build that gym! No excuses!

Picture of a hand reaching toward the sun

(VIDEO) Why We Need Resilience and How to Build It

“Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and responsibility to pick yourself up.” –  Mary Holloway

2020 has been unlike any other year.

Carlette Bradley, from Erie County, knows that all too well. Earlier this year, her life was turned upside down. Back in June, Carlette suddenly lost her husband, Antwain, to a heart attack. Her birthday was a few days later.

While grieving, Carlette, an ordained minister at Edison Street Community Church in Buffalo, N.Y., manages to continue to encourage, uplift and inspire others through her social media pages.

Recently, Kandis Fuller, communications manager at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, interviewed Carlette on how to overcome adversity during tough times. Watch the video to learn more.

 

Carlette’s Tips for Building Resilience

  1. Connect between being productive and your well-being
  2. Live a life of gratitude
  3. Emotional intelligence – develop a high sense of self-awareness
  4. Know your triggers
  5. Practice your new behaviors

Resilience Resources

To learn more about resiliency, check out a few of Carlette’s book suggestions:

  • “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren
  • “Mindset: Changing the Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential” by Dr. Carol S. Dweck
  • “Until Today!: Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind” by Iyanla Vanzant
  • Any book by John Maxwell
Picture of avocado toast

After Dinner Snacking: How To Be Smart About It

Many of us have after dinner cravings, especially at this time of year. The good news is with some caution you don’t have to eliminate evening eating altogether. Keep in mind though that calories still count, especially with foods consumed closer to bed time.  Also, indigestion and poor sleep are concerns.  Enjoy a small snack while eating mindfully and not too close to bedtime. Here are some nutritious snack ideas that won’t cause any dietary destruction.

Avocado Toast

Place thin slices of avocado on a slice of whole-wheat toast. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt for a nutrient-dense snack packed with healthy fats.

Frozen Grapes

Spread red and green grapes out on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Remove grapes from pan and store in an airtight baggie in the freezer for a convenient go-to anytime you’re battling a sweet tooth.

Hummus and Veggies

Slice up some carrots, celery, cucumbers and peppers. Dip in store-bought hummus or make your own in just five minutes by combining chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic cloves, olive oil, cumin, salt and paprika in a food processor or blender.

Oatmeal

Add almond milk to a half-cup of rolled oats and microwave for two minutes. Mix in one sliced banana and a spoonful of all-natural peanut butter. Drizzle agave nectar and sprinkle cinnamon and milled flax over the top for a sweet and hearty treat.

Popcorn

A light and airy snack that will fill you up, without filling you out! Place a large pot over the stove on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of coconut oil and let it melt. Pour in a quarter-cup of popping corn kernels and cover with lid. When popping begins shake pot frequently. When popping subsides, remove pot from burner and shake one last time to prevent burning. Pour popcorn into a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt.

Yogurt

Spice up a bowl of plain Greek yogurt with mix-ins like almonds, rolled oats, blueberries and cinnamon.