One viciously toothed object is key to conquering the kitchen with arthritis

If my parents hadn’t bought a dowdy condo with an out of date kitchen configured for an elderly lady, I never would have discovered the single most useful object that empowers me to help myself to prepare food with my arthritic hands.

V shaped wooden jar opener screwed to bottom of upper cabinetIt’s a jar opener with a double row of teeth that might put a very small shark to shame. I found a modern one called a Gator Gripper online at SMC Woodworking in 2018. At $16.95 + shipping, I rate it a great bargain after many months of use.

There’s no brand name on my parents’ original jar opener, but it was screwed into dark brown stained cabinetry circa 1970. It could have been made by a friend or it might be a commercially manufactured object. The previous owner of the condo lived there for decades and the unit wasn’t sold until after her death. I’m just grateful that the lady bought this magic gripper because it makes any screw top a breeze to open, regardless of hand strength or manual dexterity.

Unless weakness of the hand makes it necessary for one to hold a jar with both, most people can easily open jars single-handedly with the Gator Gripper. Better yet, its design makes tiny lids as easy as large ones to grip. I’ve opened vitamin and nail polish bottles with this thing as well as water bottles, sauce jars, and home-canned mason jars. It works equally well gripping plastic and metal tops.

Opening bottles and jars safely before I remembered the probable burst of pain with which my hands would react was one of the longest lessons it took me to learn* when I developed autoimmune arthritis. I might be feeling fairly well, but the grip and squeeze and twist of a sealed jar almost always leads to lightening bolts of shock up multiple fingers.

Coffee bottle, Chameleon Cold Brew brand

Coffee trapped inside a glass prison!

Coffee bottle with screw top wedged into jar opener’s gripping teeth

The fight for liquid freedom!

Coffee bottle with lid off

Success for coffee lovers everywhere… in my kitchen

My husband has a more equivocal relationship with the jar opener than I do, though he’s the one that actually ordered the Gator Gripper for me. Now that one lives in our kitchen, he has trust issues. DH recognizes that I prefer being able do things for myself, and that being unable to get past a step as trivial as “open the jar” when cooking is demoralizing.

Then again, the jar opener does employ very sharp teeth to do its job, and DH is something of a pessimist. The design of the product is an open, inviting v-shape. It hangs, welcoming, beneath the upper cupboard near the fridge where I usually stand when I’m preparing food.

I see the jar opener as welcoming my tightly shut twist-off; DH sees it as welcoming unsuspecting fingers, hungry for human blood.

“Someone could cut himself,” my husband says doubtfully. “There’s nothing to prevent you from sticking your hand in there and slicing open a finger.”

It’s true. This is a grown up’s kitchen implement. Then again, I see very few of my visitors patting or probing the undersides of my upper cabinets when in my kitchen.

The Gator Gripper’s position more than four feet above the floor and over a countertop workbench is enough to ease my mind that visiting toddlers are unlikely victims. My own kids are plenty tall enough to reach it, but also plenty mature enough to understand that sawtoothed blades and phalanges don’t mix.

Large knife block full of Cutco knives

Warning: Knives are not toys

I figure, in a kitchen with a knife rack in plain sight, the jar opener represents only a minimal additional risk.

My parents sold their condo and moved back into a house when my mother couldn’t make the adjustment to a downsized life. They unscrewed that jar opener and brought it with them to their new home, however, and I’m grateful that they did.

There are minor renovations I would enjoy making in my own kitchen, but I can’t imagine any scenario in which I’d live without my jar opener going forward, save, perhaps, for the abolishment of all screwtops by executive order.

And, even then, I’d probably keep my trusty Gator Gripper tucked away under that cabinet just in case. After all, someone could show up with contraband. Prohibition taught us that plenty of bottles make their way around even after the most teetotaling fiat.

*The other contender for “why can’t I make this adjustment?” was opening heavy commercial doors. I’ve gotten much, much better and trained myself to always use the power/disabled access button where available, and I almost always remember to turn around and push doors with my back instead of using my hands and wrists now, but making this a habit took several years.

Poetry serves democracy: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home…

Perhaps the most delightful side effect of educating one’s own children at home is the constant opportunity to discover and rediscover the vast riches of all the learning the world has to offer.

Case in point: a poem by Lord Byron.

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours.
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And, is always as nobly requited; 
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted. 

If you read it aloud, you might be put in mind of limericks. That’s because the meter is anapestic,* of course, though the rhyme scheme here differs from that of a limerick.

duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH

Extra credit if you know how many feet are in each line of verse…

Textbooks including Poetry & Humanity by Michael Clay Thompson from Royal Fireworks PressI’m grateful to the skilled teacher, Michael Clay Thompson, who wrote the multi-level language arts curriculum published by Royal Fireworks Press that I’ve used with my son for about eight years now. My own appreciation for and knowledge of grammar has grown alongside my son’s, and many of the poems included therein have become family favorites.

Lord Byron’s cheeky, even snarky, goad to action on behalf of human freedom is both a pleasure to read aloud and a timely reminder to do my part for democracy as people worldwide withdraw into petty nationalism while human unity fractures.

Here’s hoping my reward is to be nobly requited. That sounds much better than the alternative.

*Anapest. You know! The opposite of a dactyl. If I learned these details in school, I’ve long since forgotten them, but the poetics study included at every level of MCT’s language arts program is often my very favorite part. It doesn’t so much demand that we memorize these obscure terms as make us want to by showing us both the breadth and depth of what’s beautiful in the construction of our mother tongue.

Key Straps save my stuff: how Tom Bihn’s bags keep arthritic fumblefingers from ruining my day

In other posts, I’ve referred to the way Tom Bihn bags often make my life better. I want to expand upon that point lest I sound like a mere company shill.

Tom Bihn PCSB and Cafe Bag with Sunday Afternoons hat on hotel desk

Tom Bihn bags and Sunday Afternoons hat

Today I’ll talk about how one “key” feature of this particular brand helps me stay organized and deal with the ongoing issues of a chronic medical condition. I’m talking about removable Key Straps that can be attached to O-rings integral to Tom Bihn bags and many other anchors on luggage or in hotel rooms.Tom Bihn Clear 3D Organizer attached with Key Strap to handicapped rail in hotel bathroom

Key Straps are the “key” feature

I carry a Cafe Bag ($70, size: Medium, color: Original/black Halcyon with Wasabi lining) almost every day, sometimes swapping it out for a Travel Cubelet ($40) or my Packing Cube Shoulder Bag (PCSB, $34) when I travel light. My Cafe Bag is generally fitted out with six separate Key Straps at once, each serving a unique function.

Tom Bihn yellow Key Strap on Cafe BagKey Straps ($5) come in 8-inch and 16-inch lengths, and are currently offered in seven colors. Many of mine are the older style, sewn from folded Dyneema/Halcyon nylon fabric. Newer Key Straps are made of webbing instead. Key Straps come in two varieties: with a snap hook on both ends, or a snap hook on one end with an O-ring on the other.

Additional Tom Bihn accessories that go virtually everywhere with me include:

  • Clear Organizer Wallet ($17) for cash on Wasabi TB Key Strap
  • Coach purple leather card wallet on Steel/grey TB Key Strap
  • Solar/yellow TB Key Strap left empty for… my keys!
  • Pocket Pouch ($10) in Aubergine with Wasabi lining for lip balm attached with its own integrated clip
  • Eagle Creek pouch on Ultraviolet TB Key Strap
  • Aubergine Small Q-Kit ($18) on Iberian/red TB Key Strap for medication
  • Wasabi Mini Q-Kit ($15) on Wasabi TB Key Strap for electronic charging cables and earbuds
  • Clear pouch with red back for paper and longer objects I want to carry, often including a checkbook, a full length emery board (nail file), or a passport

I attach non-Bihn items by various methods. You can see the Key Strap snap hooks attached to a key ring on my card wallet and a fabric loop on my Eagle Creek purple pouch in my detail photos. The integrated O-rings and detachable Key Straps are tiny things that make a tremendous functional difference in my Tom Bihn satchel, but these accessories play very nicely with other brands.

By designing modular pockets, pouches, and parts for the end user to attach or not with separate Key Straps, every bag can be customized precisely for its specific purpose. This works really well for me.

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Wrap your wrists with Angelrox Sleeves: Aria (wrist-) or Opera (elbow-) length fingerless gloves

I’m always circling back around to stuff I like. I’m an information junkie, myself, and find it hard to ever get enough detail from reviews when I’m considering trying something new that’s sight unseen.

I like to wear clothes by local New England brand Angelrox. I’ve mentioned this fact once… or twice.thrice.

Angelrox Opera Aria Sleeves teal lagoon - 2 (1)

Aria (left) and Opera (right) Sleeves

Today I’ll offer a comparison between the two types of Angelrox Sleeves.

What are “sleeves” in this context? Finger-less gloves, or you might call them arm covers. Exactly what I would expect “sleeves” to be, just more detached than usual modern ones.

They are available in Aria ($22, wrist-) and Opera ($28, elbow-length) versions.

Angelrox Opera Aria Sleeves teal lagoon - 1 (1)

Aria Sleeves in Lagoon (top) shown with Opera Sleeves in Teal (bottom)

How do the two styles compare in size and shape? Basically, length is the only difference.

Width might increase somewhat to fit above the elbow, but not by much. I would say that these are designed for a skinnier arm, though they aren’t cut to a skimpy skeletal fashion model standard.

Angelrox Opera Aria Sleeves teal lagoon - 2Angelrox Opera Aria Sleeves teal lagoon - 1I’m a lady with curves, both the popular ones and the kind society thinks I should exercise away or excise via plastic surgery. I typically wear a US size Medium or Large, depending very much upon the cut of a garment. My waist is a relatively narrower; my hips push the generous end of the larger size.

Though I wouldn’t describe my arms as fat, as with my lower body, I have decidedly more padding in the upper arm as compared with the lower.

I also have chronic pain and would characterize myself as “sensitive” to chemicals, textures, and sensations, including, or particularly, in this case, the sensation of “squeezing.”

angelrox sleeves in espresso - 1

Opera Sleeves (Espresso)

I can wear my Opera Sleeves as above the elbow. seriously opera length. gloves, but I rarely leave them pulled up that high. They don’t push out my arm fat into an unattractive bulge, but they do feel too snug for my personal comfort level worn like that.

When wearing Opera Sleeves, I virtually always scrunch them down until the top hem hits on the bony area around the elbow. This is an attractive look, but it requires a bit of fussing to get the resulting crinkled folds optimally spaced and even.

Once Aria Sleeves were released by Angelrox, they became my first choice both to order in new colors and to wear every day.

Opera Sleeves do offer the option to cover the arm fully while wearing a short sleeved shirt.

If I were trying to pack very lightly but wanted to be able to achieve total arm modesty, I could use Opera Sleeves this way. One example would be wearing my teal Angelrox Goddess Dress (sleeveless) with Teal Opera Sleeves pulled up high beneath my floral silk poncho (all three pieces shown on the left in the capsule wardrobe below.)

Any upper body garment that covers about a third of the arm should work for this look.

Only I would know my Angelrox Sleeve wasn’t a normal shirt sleeve extending from the shoulder in this combination.

Bottoms w berry tops accessories

Clothing plus accessories laid out

This trick works well as a laundry hack with a combination of tank tops and Sleeves for summer travel. I wash clingy upper body garments most often because, um, sweaty armpits. If I remove my Sleeves when I eat, they can be worn for weeks at a time between washings.

Angelrox sleeves compared stockings - 1Ladies with an upper arm that consistently stretches the limits of a size Large top—or those who can’t tolerate constricting clothing at all (fibromyalgia?)—do have a third “sleeve” option from Angelrox: try a pair of their Stockings ($28) worn on the arm!

I only own one pair of Angelrox Stockings (i.e., footless thigh high tights.) Thigh high stockings typically hit my leg in an unattractive spot and they squeeze at the top if they fit my ankle. I found them slightly large to wear as Sleeves, myself.

The Stockings will work for me folded over the top of a mid height boot, but by now, we all know I wear sneakers most of the time these days, right?

Referencing my plump-Medium/narrow-waisted-Large shirt size, it may help you to know that Stockings-worn-as-Sleeves don’t feel like they’re going to stay up on my bare upper arm. They are too wide to do so.

If I put them on over a sleeved t-shirt, however, the extra grippy-ness of the underlying cotton does seem to keep them up and in place.

Consider the Stockings for Sleeves if you wear an XL and have a full upper arm, or if you are willing to pin your sleeves in place like a Medieval dame.

Angelrox sleeves compared stockings - 2For not totally obvious to me reasons, Stockings do have the thumb hole present just like both Aria and Opera Sleeves.

Except when I drop my full cup straight into the ubiquitous tote bag sitting near my chair, drenching everything therein. That’s happened a few times in the past year, and again yesterday. Fortunately, I don’t sweeten most of my beverages, but this time I’d spiked my fizzy water with elderflower juice. You’ll be washing your Sleeves a lot more often if you follow my ignominious example.

This is also why my handbag/purse is always a separate bag that I can tuck into my larger tote to simplify carrying. The bag goes on the floor or an adjacent chair while the valuable wallet and electronics stay on my lap or under my coat. Security from theft, sure, but also protection from my embarrassingly frequent spills.

This site selling historical re-enactment clothing or garb is not one from which I purchased. They just had nice looking sleeves!

 

Sleep on silk for healthier hair

I’ve started to wear a silk night cap when I sleep in pursuit of healthier hair. It’s comfortable and doesn’t disturb my rest, though it does look a little goofy. It seems to work to prevent tangling and perhaps also pulling and damage to my fragile locks.

Silk sleep bonnet - 3I have had more good hair days since I started sleeping in a coif.

Systemic illness affected my coiffure

One of the side effects of autoimmune disease is a little trivial, but a lot disheartening to sufferers. Autoimmune disorders can affect your hair. Breakage, hair loss, even premature graying can result from this type of systemic illness.

Hair loss can be a terrible blow to self esteem at the same time that physical pain is eating away at one’s psyche.

In my case, I felt compelled to cut off my long hair to an above-chin-length bob about 18 months into my tentative diagnosis with an autoimmune disease.

Aside from losing far more hair than usual (overall thinning of my already very fine hair), what remained became positively bedraggled and ragged at the ends. It was breaking off as well as falling out.

Comb with hair - 1While I was waiting with my son in a barbershop, the stylist asked me if something had “happened” to my hair, and would I like her to try to fix it? This was a traditional barber shop that only deals with short (men’s) hairstyles.

I cut it most of it off shortly *ahem* thereafter. It looked so bad that a professional tried to do me an act of kindness out of pity as I went about my daily life. Talk about your bad hair days!

My health overall has improved since that initial period. Perhaps the precipitating event just ended. Maybe my medications are working. The dietary changes I implemented could have eased some of it.

There’s very little medical certainty about my health status.

My hair, on the other hand, has grown back to shoulder length. I’m taking more care with it. If it looks sickly again, I will cut it again. Having a sick head of hair made me feel more like an invalid.

If it gets bad enough, I will shave my head bald and consider wearing a wig before I walk around crowned with scraggly frizzles. I sincerely hope it doesn’t get to that point!

Most of us are aware of the fact that there are myriad fancy shampoos and other products to apply to hair and scalp, but today I’ll introduce one of my less mainstream solutions to the Sick Hair Problem.

Silk is one solution to prevent damaged hair

This Highdeer Silk Sleep Cap for Women ($12-16, depending upon style and color selected) is a silk bonnet designed to be worn to bed. It is meant to protect delicate hair from friction and pulling that can cause damage.

Silk sleep bonnet - 1

I bought my bonnet on Amazon.com and paid $11 in April of 2018. Though sold as “Rubber Red” in color, my interpretation would be “warm-toned pink.” It is, in fact, somewhat similar to the pink color of a classic hot water bottle or a pencil eraser, so perhaps that is the natural color of rubber. Continue reading