Peaches & Cream

We all love peaches & cream! It’s the perfect complexion. It’s a life without problems. It’s an easy dessert. If you don’t love one of those, you’re unusual. Most of us want something in our lives to be peachy.

I can’t necessarily make your life peachy, but I can fill a biscuit with peach butter. Actually, that’s probably not true because I’m eating the peaches as quickly as they arrive. It’s peach season and the fruit is too good to chop, mash, cook, or pickle.

I’ve been placing a freshly sliced peach atop arugula from the garden. When I add a few walnuts and some goat cheese, I have an amazingly flavorful salad! The arugula from my garden is so peppery it brings a slight burn to the sides of my tongue. The peach adds a perfect balance of sweet and tart and the goat cheese delivers a delightful creaminess. A light splash of vinaigrette dressing might take this up a notch, but I seldom bother.

Like pears, I prefer peaches ripe enough for the juice to stream down my chin. If I’m using them in salad, I peel them. This is just a personal preference. You can leave the peel on both peaches and pears.

Anyway, back to the peach butter. If I ever get enough peaches and enough time on my hands to coincide, I’m going to try a recipe I found on a page ripped from The Progressive Farmer magazine and left to yellow in my cousin’s kitchen. It looks like it’s from the 1950s.

There are only two ingredients – peaches and sugar. The approximate ratio is 3 cups of ripe peach pulp to 2 cups of sugar boiled together until it’s thick and smooth. After that you place the hot mixture in sterilized hot jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

I already have some jars on hand and this sounds simple enough. Not just simple, it sounds so yummy my mouth is watering. Of course that could be because I just picked up a peach in my kitchen to snap a photo and the smell wafted past my nose.

Do I think I’ll improve the peaches by making peach butter? No! I don’t think you can improve on a perfectly ripe, fresh peach.

But it sure will make my biscuit better!

Update: I made a batch of peach butter. I used 3 cups of peach pulp (8 peaches) and 3/4 cup sugar. Using 2 cups of sugar would have been waaaay to much for my taste.

You Can’t Beat a Speeding Train

Most of the time, you can’t beat a speeding train. Should you try? Sounds risky.

My oldest grandson LOVES the movie Cars. At one point in the original movie, Lightning McQueen hits the gas to beat an oncoming train. He’s a race car. He makes it across the tracks in time.

Always in teaching mode, I feel a need to let this 3-year-old know that it’s not a good idea to try to beat an oncoming train. At the same time, I don’t want to take away his heroic view of Lightning McQueen. I tell him, “Only race cars can beat trains.” To me, this is a reasonable compromise that will convey the message that he should not try to beat a train because he isn’t a race car.

His response? “My mommy’s car is a race car. Her car can beat trains too.” He doesn’t just believe Lightning McQueen can beat a train. He believes his family car can as well. I have failed to effectively communicate the lesson I intended.

The way to repair this misunderstanding is to, first, recognize it. The good news is I didn’t ignore what he was watching. The topic has been introduced and is open for discussion. Now I just need to build on his knowledge in a slow and consistent way until I’m sure he understands the risks of trying to beat a train.

If you have kids, you know lessons that stick are taught through repetition. You may also have observed that all lessons are learned through levels of understanding. Some must be absorbed many times over on one level, then another, then another.

We are at a moment in time when clear, consistent, trustworthy health messages must be delivered for us to survive. They should be repeated, built on, expanded, repaired when new information reveals previous cracks in knowledge, and repeated again. Yes, that requires more effort than sticking to a theme, or talking point, but it’s the only responsible thing to do.

The country is still in the midst of an opioid crisis that began with misinformation. But the train that is speeding toward us now is the expansion and growth of COVID-19. There is no time for playing semantics, slow reporting of numbers so that positivity rates look low, or downplaying the risks of sipping wine for hours with a group of friends at your favorite indoor bar.

There may be safe ways to interact, open schools, and keep businesses open, but we simply do not have adequate diagnostic testing, sufficiently accurate antibody testing, and ample contact tracing in place to do it now. We have not studied the airflow in our restaurants, office buildings, or classrooms. We have not expanded classroom space to ensure sufficient distance between students. We have not added funds for schools to replace group supplies with individual kits. Many states are not mandating masks for adults or children 2-10.

And perhaps more significantly, health agencies, institutions, and political leaders have failed to deliver the safety messages needed in a manner that will be effective. In fact, they are actively making the situation worse. Each day, we receive such confusing and conflicting messages, we instinctively know we cannot trust what is being said. Because we are not being provided timely, accurate, consistent messages in an understandable manner, those in charge of policy are losing the information war. And that is costing us lives.

It also makes it more difficult to thrive. You and I may stay home, clean surfaces, wear masks, and adjust to the very real threats of the virus. We may find sources of inspiration and joy. We may practice gratitude. But a basic tenet of thriving is feeling safe. It is impossible to feel safe when we cannot trust the information we receive and the institutions that deliver it.

Since we cannot rely on our leaders to level with us, it takes a massive amount of reading each and every day to filter, decipher, and piece together a cohesive image of the scientific picture of SARS-CoV-2 that’s emerging. That means it’s easier to ignore. Add to that, the tendency we all have to deny hard truths and you have a recipe for the disaster we are experiencing.

There is always the opportunity to change course, but at this point we cannot wait for instruction from an authority. It may not come. It is incumbent on individuals to take charge of the country’s destiny.

I understand that choosing safe health practices that are not fun while everyone around you has resumed life as usual can be lonely and painful. It will have financial and personal costs. My quarantine bubble unexpectedly burst last week. I feel the loss deeply. That doesn’t keep me from researching and following a safe regimen.

I can see that things are going to get worse before they get better because that’s the choice we’re making. We want so badly to beat the train. We want to return to our previous lives. The messaging failed to tell us we can’t yet do that safely. Now we’re all piled in Mommy’s slow, clunky SUV thinking we’re Lightning McQueen.

We are in a skid. Now is the time to turn right to go left.*

*Advice from Doc Hudson to Lightning McQueen in the movie Cars.

Vigilance Takes a Toll

Vigilance takes a toll, but there are rewards. Safety and good health require vigilance and over time. You don’t just put your child in a car seat on the way home from the hospital and call it good. To keep him safe, you put him in it every time you take a ride in the car. You have a system to remind you to take him out of the car on a hot day. You religiously scan the ingredients of food if your daughter has a peanut allergy. You don’t just do it on Mondays. You do it every day of every week of every year. That’s what it takes to keep her safe. No matter who you are, each day will require you to be alert and diligent to stay safe and healthy.

Brush your teeth twice a day. Look both ways before you cross the street. Scan your surroundings before you enter an intersection or drive across a railroad track. Don’t click on email attachments that can’t be verified. Watch for snakes when you swim in the river. Check the depth of the water before you jump in. Check the temperature of the water before you put a child in the bathtub. Keep laundry pods, household cleaners, and medication out of the reach of children. Don’t leave a six-month-old unattended on an adult bed. Don’t pour lighter fluid on a fire. And, of course, don’t run with scissors.

While most of us accept the vigilance required to follow the safety rules above, we often become defiant if we believe a safety rule will take away something that brings us pleasure (avoid fried food, avoid sugar, stop smoking, stop vaping, drive within the speed limit, don’t hug your grandchildren), requires us to do something that doesn’t offer immediate benefit (wear a mask, stay out of a crowded dance club, limit contact outside your home), and/or requires us to pay attention to multiple choices each day (drink plenty of water, eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, avoid gluten, walk 10,000 steps).

You don’t have to pay attention to any safety or health guidance. You can assume the risks. You might come out okay. And there’s no question, vigilance takes a toll.

Paying attention all day long and making mindful choices doesn’t feel carefree. It doesn’t feel fun. Sometimes it’s tedious. Sometimes it’s annoying. Sometimes it’s exhausting.

And constant vigilance can affect your physical health. Living in a heightened state of vigilance each and every day is stressful. The body may respond to that stress by making and releasing extra cortisol – a stress hormone that increases glucose in the bloodstream, alters immune response, and suppresses digestion. It is corralling the body’s resources for fight or flight. Normally, this response is self-limiting, but when danger is constant, the spigot may not get turned off without deliberate action to reduce stress.

In March, the US public at large began to get a glimpse of what it feels like to live defensively every moment. Suddenly, we were instructed to be on guard for a virus that could be anywhere, or everywhere. There was no way to know who may spread it so all interactions became suspect.

There’s still no way to know with certainty when you’re in danger and no way to know when the risks will decrease. The only way to be safe is…constant vigilance. A large percentage of us have not been able or willing to practice this. In a mere three months, it’s become evident that Americans as a whole have little emotional stamina even when the consequences of letting down are guard may be deadly.

This could be a window into a path for improving both mental and physical health. What if we put a laser focus on building resilience and learn from those who have been through trauma but still manage to thrive – Elizabeth Smart, Michelle Knight (Lily Rose Lee), Jeannette Walls, Joey Jones, Oprah, Maya Angelou, Col. Charlie O’Sullivan, etc. What if we entertain the thought that their spirits shine not in spite of, but because of, what they endured?

I believe flipping the script could make all the difference during this pandemic and beyond. It has been life’s difficult, heartbreaking, horrific, traumatic experiences that have taught me how strong I am, how much resolve I have, how to put fear aside in order to function, how to be alone, how to live with heartache, how to build trust, how to reset, reimagine, reinvent, how to be flexible, and that what I do matters. I am more resilient because of, not in spite of, a sometimes rocky path.

Focusing in with determination and the openness to learn when faced with difficulty puts us on a whole different path than lamenting what could have been or should be. Attempting to avoid life’s harsh realities rarely has positive consequences in the long term. And denying real challenges does not help build emotional muscle. Weathering life’s unavoidable storms requires vigilance.

And, yes, vigilance takes a toll, but there are rewards for sticking with a plan–safety, health, resilience, and the possibility of thriving even in dire circumstances.

Make the Consumer Choice a Healthy One

Make the consumer choice…these words are ringing in my ears after hearing them in a governor’s press conference this week. They were uttered in response to a question regarding whether reducing restrictions on businesses is a good idea given a huge spike of COVID-19 cases in that state. “If you are scared…make the consumer choice to stay home.”

The consumer choice? Not all consumers have the same opportunity or options. This is true whether there’s a pandemic or not. There are things we can control and things we cannot. And sometimes the implementation of policy is beyond our individual control. Sometimes the implementation of policy leads to tragedy. Often the implementation of policy or lack of policy leads to less than ideal outcomes if we’re paying attention to details!

What consumer choice does an essential worker have other than to wear a mask and gloves? What consumer choice does the hairdresser mother of a disabled, medically fragile child have when her employer reopens a salon and her state disqualifies her for unemployment if she doesn’t return to work?* What consumer choice do I have when a police officer without a mask stops me for a broken tail light and asks me to exit the car? My mask will protect him, but his lack of a requirement to wear one puts me at a risk that I would not choose as a consumer.

I am all for individual responsibility. And good health is facilitated by individual choices. But it is unrealistic to develop policies that fail to recognize that some populations do not have the same access, means, and knowledge to make healthy choices. Filling these gaps is where our institutions have the opportunity to shine. As a whole, they are failing.

We are left having to determine the best path to health on our own personally and as a community through and around many obstacles. For some of us, the obstacles are an inconvenience. For others, they may be deadly. Right now, so many of us are trying to figure out how to survive, thriving may feel like a pipe dream. More on that in other posts.

For the moment, let’s focus on healthy choices. The top 5 stay the same:

  • Drink plenty of water. If the water provided by your city or well is safe, tap water is fine. No need to spend extra on bottled water.
  • Eat regularly timed meals filled with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, nuts, seeds, whole grain carbohydrates, and healthy fat. Fruit, nuts, and seeds make great snacks.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Allowing some screen-free quiet time before bed can help you relax.
  • Move your body. Include a minimum of 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week. If you lift heavy boxes all day in your job, it counts. If you use the stairs to your 10th floor office, it counts.
  • Avoid foods, medicines, and products to which you have an allergy, intolerance, or adverse reaction. Avoiding known irritants reduces general stress on your system.

Even these basic choices may be harder right now. Food shortages can derail a menu plan. Your daily task list may now include childcare in addition to work. That leads me to another healthy choice: Be kind to yourself. It is less important to perfectly execute a plan than to do your best and let go of the rest!

In fact, it may be better to let the chores pile up for a day while you do something to reduce stress: read a book, binge watch, craft, paint, build something, plant some flowers, play video games, bike, bake, do yoga, or just pet the dog. It’s useless to pretend that this is a normal year. It’s not. What worked for you before may not now. It’s a great time to explore changing feelings and perceptions and be open to new inspiration.

Other health choices may be more complicated:

  • Should I take medication for IBS or should I try to manage it with diet?
  • Should I take my post-op opioid prescription or should I give lesser pain relievers a try first?
  • Should I have surgery on my knee or try rehabbing it with PT when studies say the overall outcome of surgery is no greater than PT but my doctor recommends surgery?
  • Should I get a second opinion if I trust my doctor?
  • What kind of therapy should I choose for PTSD?
  • Should I have chemo or not?

Any consumer choice should take into consideration your priorities, intentions, values, goals, flexibility, and resolve. It should be informed by facts. And it should take into account barriers beyond your control. Which brings us to today’s million dollar question, what should I do to avoid COVID-19?

When it comes to reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19, in general, less contact with people equals less risk. While maximum isolation is possible for some, it is not a realistic choice for others. In order to make responsible decisions, each of us must understand the risks of our potential behavior to ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Unfortunately, getting enough solid facts about SARS-CoV-2 on which to base a risk assessment is difficult. I believe it’s worth the effort, but it requires diligence and determination to ascertain the pertinent facts. With a novel virus, a swiftly changing knowledge base is to be expected. We’re learning as we go. But dissemination of reliable facts during this pandemic has been stymied by state health departments sending out contradictory, confusing messages, a questionable performance by the CDC, and misstatements from the WHO.

If you’re looking for a single source of guidance, I’d recommend this article published in The New Yorker –“Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reëntry” by Atul Gawande. The regimen is based on what healthcare workers at Mass General Brigham have learned about transmission through trial and error.

You may not have the consumer choice to stay home, but doing what you can to minimize risk doesn’t mean you’re scared or weak. It can mean you value staying healthy and keeping others healthy. It can mean that you’re strong enough to stay positive without social interaction. It can mean that you’re willing to do whatever you must do to protect the vulnerable. It can mean you respect healthcare workers.

Minimizing risk is a healthy consumer choice!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

*This is the policy in Arkansas.