A Fine Line

Truthfully, I’d rather write about a fine wine than a fine line, but I need a new wine experience first and most of us walk a fine line or two every day. So here we are.

Any attempt to find balance means not veering too far either direction from the intention we set, goal we hope to accomplish, or plan we agree to follow. This is especially true when it comes to healthy habits.

Some lines can be wider than others.

Most of us have been taught we need to work out 3 or more days a week for a minimum of 150 minutes total to gain the health benefits of working out. A recently published study shows that schedule doesn’t need to be so rigid. Working out 150 minutes in one or two sessions is just as effective as breaking up and spreading out the workouts.

That doesn’t mean elite athletes would gain the same performance enhancement from such a change in schedule. Their line may be much narrower.

People with a history of documented heart disease may need to follow a more restrictive diet than someone who is generally healthy and has heart disease in their family. For the generally healthy, regular workouts and a Mediterranean diet that includes chili peppers at least 4 times a week may be sufficient to reduce the risk of possible cardiovascular events.

Those with allergies to shellfish risk anaphylaxis if they do not strictly avoid shellfish. Those with histamine intolerance may suffer allergylike symptoms if they eat shellfish, but without an accompanying allergy, they do not risk anaphylaxis.

Allergies and intolerances are both best treated by avoidance. But the risks may not be equal. This means finding the healthiest line can be complicated and confusing. And a healthcare system that focuses on time management at the expense of patient communication exacerbates the problem.

How do you know what line to toe?

For many of us, it will take a lengthy journey of medical visits, research, trial, and error to figure that out. We hope our posts bring new insight that speeds the process. As knowledge evolves, the line you toe will evolve.

I wish that weren’t the case. I know you don’t need another job. I know the effort it takes to avoid COVID and monkeypox may already be sapping your energy.

I also know that living with less pain, inflammation, fatigue, and anxiety will go a long way toward making up for the time you invest in finding your healthiest path. The problem is staying motivated through the slogging.

Here are a few things that help me. I’m a pretty tough general with myself. And I like to feel a sense of accomplishment. But mostly, I can turn anything into an experiment that amuses me, teaches me something, or satisfies my curiosity.

Years ago, I conducted random surveys. They weren’t for anything scientific or even writing related. I was curious and I wanted to know how people would respond. For a period of time, I asked women in bars whether baldness made men less attractive. I kept the results on a ripped corner of legal pad paper folded into a pocket in my purse. There were plenty of occasions to pull out that survey and reassure some balding man he was not losing his charm.

Self-assessment can be done the same way. Record how you feel when you walk vs swim vs lift weights. Your survey questions can be constructed around whatever motivates you – do I feel stronger, skinnier, sexier, more energetic, more focused, etc. after I walk or swim? Do I feel more comfortable wearing short sleeves when I don’t eat corn (or whatever food may be giving you an itchy rash)?

Surveys may not be your thing. Perhaps challenging yourself to create new food combinations is more appealing. Or maybe finding a way to prepare your family’s favorites using no dairy without them knowing it amuses you. The point is to motivate yourself while determining the fine line that will leave you feeling your best.

Once you find the main path, updates are faster and easier. And once you feel better because of toeing the line, you may find you prefer adherence. I like feeling better!

If feeling better doesn’t feel good, there’s a whole other line to explore. But not today. I’ll leave you with that while I find some fine wine!

Playing a Mandoline

When I talk about playing a mandolin, I mean a food slicer. While I have strummed a mandolin, I can’t competently play one. Since mandoline (slicer) can be spelled mandolin and mandolin (instrument) can be spelled mandoline, it seemed like a good idea to begin by specifying. Now, on to the playing…

My assignment for a 4th of July BBQ was to bring a salad from my garden. This year’s weather combined with a last-minute change in seeds has resulted in a haphazard, untidy selection of growth. My salad harvest no longer includes lettuce, spinach, or squash. Instead, I have baby bok choy, arugula, and a limited amount of Swiss chard.

I decided to shred bok choy for the base. To that I added shredded chard and lightly chopped arugula. This year’s arugula is milder in flavor than last year’s, but if not kept in check it can quickly overpower other greens. I used a ratio of about 4 to 1 bok choy to arugula.

To balance the bitterness of the greens, I chose Gala apples, fresh mozzarella, and honey roasted pecan pieces. Some salads are delicious deconstructed. This one was dependent on the flavor combination in each bite, so I wanted to make sure the apples were distributed throughout.

I decided julienned strips would be the best option. Of course, the day before I managed to melt the handle of the knife I needed to cut the apples. I know that sounds odd. Somehow, it fell out of the silverware basket of my dishwasher and lodged against the heating element without me noticing. Well, until there was weird blue smoke in the air. But that’s another story for another day.

In this narrative, it meant I needed another option to julienne the apple. Off I went to my dining room closet where I store the mandoline I use for scalloped potatoes. My thinking was that if I used the mandoline to make thin, uniform slices, it wouldn’t be that hard to cut those into strips.

What I had forgotten was that the mandoline came with several interchangeable blades I’d never tried. I gave them a look and did a test swipe using a grater looking blade. Apparently, it’s a julienne blade because it made the most perfect strips I’ve ever seen. Whoo-hoo!!! My job just got a whole lot easier. I played that mandoline for all it was worth.

Once I had the greens assembled, I tossed in the apple, and added the cheese and pecans. Earlier I had made a balsamic vinaigrette sweetened with molasses and a little honey. It was thick and rich and poured like a balsamic drizzle. It was just the top-off the salad needed. It was a big hit!

I left the party feeling grateful for the mandoline with its functional simplicity and changeable blades. It shortened the work in my holiday and created a professional looking cut with the swipe of a hand.

I’m not big on small kitchen appliances and I try to keep the gadgets at a minimum, but the right tool at the right time can change cooking from drudgery to pleasure. That’s one big reason to learn to play a mandoline!

Skipping Steps

It’s always tempting to skip steps. If it feels like doing so will move an event forward more quickly…why not?

Why not? In reality, you may be right. It could work out fine. But in a well-organized, well-thought system, there is a reason for each step. You may not recognize the consequence of skipping one until it is too late.

Plane crashes, construction disasters, and medical errors often begin with skipping a step. Cross-contact food contamination, chemical disasters, wildfires, and the spread of infectious disease often involve skipping steps. Why is that choice so tempting?

It’s fun to feel a bit rebellious at times. And if we don’t put on a seat belt and don’t have a wreck, it’s easier to skip that step next time.

Some of us are defiant. Following a particular protocol feels like someone telling us what to do so we choose to ignore it.

Some of us are arrogant. We believe we know better without a full understanding of the ins and outs of how and why each step exists.

Sometimes experience teaches us why skipping steps is foolhardy. An experienced mechanic understands the order of operations that will make his job easier. An accomplished chef understands the best order in which to add ingredients to achieve the desired layers of flavor or perfect rise. A seasoned electrician knows the risks if he fails to disconnect the power before starting a line repair.

Given that many families have experienced the distraction of escalating stress the past several years, now is not the time to skip steps. Stress is distracting in a way that can cause us to be blind to is effects in the moment. We think we’re functioning well until we have the perspective of hindsight. By then, the damage may be done.

I know this is sounding like I’m a stickler for the rules or someone who doesn’t want progress. That’s not true. I love progress and I’m happy to flaunt a few rules here and there. But I’m not going to make the choice to skip steps when I’m doing preflight on a plane or handling raw chicken in my kitchen.

Everything in life has a hierarchy of some sort. We have to prioritize. But before we skip steps, it’s important to be fully versed in the reason for each of those steps. If we choose to ignore this, it can have funny results or disastrous ones.

We may not know which we are choosing.

Brick by Brick

No matter how impatient you feel, lasting progress is achieved brick by brick. This morning was spent moving bricks from my back yard into a toy trailer pulled by a toy tractor and driven by a 5-year-old. The easiest way to get the bricks close to the driveway was chunk them over the back fence one at a time.

I know that sounds tedious. It was. It was still the most efficient way to move them given the terrain and the equipment available. And I lucked out. My job was to keep the little kids occupied. No heavy lifting for me! That’s not to say I had a cool job. It’s blazing hot by 9am. And tedious though it may be, one piece piled on another piece, carefully placed atop another piece is a solid way to build accomplishment in any endeavor.

Some of us continually avoid the brick-by-brick building because we prefer excitement or fun. We like the adrenaline rush of winging it. But if you build a solid base, you can wing it, play in the moment, and still get good results. If you don’t build a solid base though, winging it can have disastrous results.

Why do we feel such reluctance to systematically tackle the difficult in our lives?

I’m sure the answer varies for everyone. If you have lots of anxious energy, you may feel like you’ll be bouncing off the wall in five minutes. If you are distracted, it may be hard to focus on one step at a time. If you’re motivated by deadlines, there may not be one. If you lack confidence, you may not feel you’re up to the task. You may not believe you have time.

But often, it’s like putting off doing the dishes. It’s not our favorite thing to do. We put it off. As time passes, we add dishes and the task grows. In our minds, it grows exponentially. Then it feels too big for the energy we have left.

The problem doesn’t lie in the size of the task or the particular job. It lies in the tricks our minds play. You may do dishes without hesitation but put off lifting weights. You may even know somewhere in the back of your mind that once you get started it won’t seem like a big deal any more, but still you stop yourself.

Nike’s ad people got it right when they told us to “Just Do It.” And that’s the thing about building. You have to just get on in there and take the first step. Do not hesitate.

If you still feel reluctant, offer yourself a series of rewards along the way. Focus on how you’ll feel when you get done with today’s brick. Brag to your friends on a regular basis. Tweet your own praises daily.

Break the task into the smallest pieces, then give yourself whatever you need to lift that first brick. The second will be easier. The third will be easier still. It’s never the lift we imagine it will be.

And as we lift and stack, we gain forward momentum. We begin to see progress. Progress feels exciting. Excitement keeps us motivated. Soon, we’ve built a forward-moving machine that will take us where we want to go.

Brick by brick builds walls, stairs, health, fitness, family relationships, knowledge, organizations, wealth, faith, hope, kindness, compassion, and joy.

Now you know what to do…it!

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.”