Chocolate cake recipe adapted for GoSun solar oven (gluten free)

Last year, I wrote about my favorite fuel-free cooking appliances. One of them is a GoSun Sport model solar oven that I use right on the balcony, just a step outside my kitchen. It’s a space too narrow for safe use of a full size gas or charcoal grill even if I were comfortable cooking on a fire.

Saratoga Jacks 5.5L thermal cooker next to goSun Sport solar ovenIf you’re anything like me, investing in a solar oven for summer cooking without heating up the kitchen leads you right to the need for an adapted chocolate cake recipe to suit it.

Here’s a peek at one of the mini cakes I managed on my first attempt.Sun oven baked mini chocolate cake about two fingers wide and a finger long

We’re “enjoying” the first heat wave of the season just a few days into meteorological* summer, but the kids and I had a hankering for sweets.

It is 100% accurate that I have questioned the need to ever eat—let alone cook—hot meals once the thermometer reads about 75º F. Sorry, kids! Then again, my interest in baked goods rarely wanes even while the mercury rises.

ReallyWonderfulThings.me GoSun Sport adapted chocolate cake recipe (Gluten Free)

Here’s a printable PDF copy of the recipe Sun Oven GF chocolate mug cake adaptation by willo for ReallyWonderfulThings.me.Picture view of solar baked cake recipe

Observant readers may notice that I forgot to add the chocolate chips to the batch I photographed for this post. The result will be delicious either way. Continue reading

Honestly admit vaccine side effect costs & better support the “hesitant” to increase compliance

When you get your COVID-19 vaccination—and I’d argue that approximately 99% of those reading this post have a moral imperative to do so—a realistic assessment of the facts suggests that you are likely* experience some uncomfortable side effects though they may be very mild.

News coverage, even in sources specifically geared toward those of us living with chronic conditions, heavily emphasizes the societal good which vaccination will bring—which is real enough—but most writers lean too heavily toward cheerleading at the expense of offering valuable information people need to cope with the particular pressures of their own individual lives.

I would like to stress that those of us more vulnerable than average to infirmity should plan for several days of being less effective in our work and daily lives after vaccination. It’s better to be prepared than to be caught flat-footed after the fact.

Politicians and business leaders who want the economy to boom should be offering solutions to make such preparations possible for the millions of Americans living in and at the edge of poverty who can’t afford to construct such safeguards for themselves.

Roughly 30 million American adults want to take the COVID-19 vaccine but haven’t yet managed to actually get the shot(s). Closer to 28 million are instead “vaccine hesitant,” stating they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.Redacted official CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card

Sufferers of autoimmune disease, getting your jab may well bring on a flare. That was my experience after my first dose, and I’m glad I dug down far enough through coy, dissembling news coverage and popular health reporting to be forewarned about the risk.

Here’s one published case study in The Lancet regarding the health of one gentleman with rheumatoid arthritis after getting the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. This article on Creaky Joints is the most honest that I read, speaking directly to specific reactions people with autoimmune conditions might expect.

I would take that first dose again, however, and I did return for my second shot of the Moderna vaccine.

I began composing this post whilst “enjoying” the resultant joint pains, exhaustion, and headache that came with full vaccination. Dose two also induced half a day of resounding nausea that could have been an exaggerated version of the queasiness I routinely get when very tired.

Side effects from the second shot prevented me from my normal activities—already constrained by my autoimmune disease diagnosis—for about two and a half days.

I.e., I would not have felt safe driving for at least two days after my second shot, nor would I have been healthy enough to go to work.

By comparison, after my first jab, I experienced sudden onset of extreme fatigue, headache, and an odd sensation I only associate with coming down with a virus that I can best describe as “the spaces in my joints feeling stretched out and wobbly.”Analog wall clock showing 12:06

Those shot #1 symptoms popped up about six hours after I received it mid-morning. I went to bed early, and the next day, all the viral infection type side effects were far less troublesome. I felt less than 100% the day after, but able to partake in most normal activities.

I.e., I could have worked through the side effects triggered by my first dose.

My arm ached significantly for a total of five or six days, however, and I developed an uncomfortable swollen feeling in my armpit several days later that was probably my lymph nodes reacting.

On the other hand, in the four weeks after my first dose of Moderna’s vaccine, I experienced the most significant stiffness, joint pain, swelling, and fatigue that I’d had since the pandemic began. Staying at home most of the time while society remained mostly shut down was generally very protective for me against my usual, recurrent autoimmune disease symptoms.

I used far less pain medication than usual between March of 2020 and April 2021. I went entire weeks without needing an NSAID anti-inflammatory or using prescription pain killers. Between my two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, I required at least one of those every day.

I.e., I would have struggled to meet the demands of a full time job plus family responsibilities on many of the days between my first and second vaccine injections.Prescription bottle of pain pills

It is worth noting that this potentially vaccine-provoked flare never reached peaks equivalent to the worst ones I had right after my diagnosis. Also, the flare absolutely could have been coincidental. But, again, it’s the only serious one I had through the entire pandemic right up until I got my first shot.

I’m not arguing against vaccination. I am suggesting some of us might need extra resources to meet our daily responsibilities when we elect vaccination, doing our part to protect the entire community. Stepping up comes with a cost.

I have a healthy, supportive spouse. My large family includes relatively helpful, fit teens able to pick up the slack with household chores. Family members have been able to stagger vaccine appointments so we never experienced side effects simultaneously. Our income is sufficient that purchasing takeout meals or prepared foods is not a burden. I am easily able to reach my regular doctor with any concerns because I’m well-served with health insurance and the means to pay for Direct Primary Care out of pocket—including an option to text message my GP directly for urgent issues outside business hours.

In short, I have the good fortune to control most aspects of my daily life, so I could plan around the reality of vaccine side effects. I had sufficient personal resources to fall back on to meet all of my post-vaccination needs. Far too many Americans are less fortunate, many in more than one of the areas I’ve mentioned.

Speaking specifically to the autoimmune-challenged community, I’ve been delighted to find that my second dose of the mRNA vaccine seems to have abruptly ended the prolonged flare I experienced in the four weeks between shots. After feeling much worse due to its side effects than I had in over a year, by the fourth day post-vaccination, I became more energetic—and had less joint pain and stiffness—than I could recall feeling in recent memory. bandage on upper arm

I.e., my RA flare ended abruptly along with my vaccine side effects from the second shot.

Given that vaccination clears lingering symptoms for as many as 41% of COVID long haulers, I was fascinated to observe what could be a related effect in myself after jab #2. Communicating this potential improvement in daily functioning to those who are vaccine hesitant while believing themselves to have had COVID—some of whom never got confirmation of a likely coronavirus infection due to the scarcity of tests early in the pandemic—seems like yet another missed opportunity in public health messaging.

Everyone who wants the economy to rebound fully should take all possible actions to enable workers, especially those at the margins of poverty with limited access to health care, to make, keep, and recover after appointments for inoculation. Full disclosure of the known risks and known benefits—but also realistic potential risks and probable benefits—could bring us closer to herd immunity and full fiscal and medical recovery.

COVID-19 still holds many mysteries for science to uncover. The need to offer accurate information as well as paid time off to over-burdened breadwinners and caregivers so that they can confidently book vaccinations—without risking their livelihood!—isn’t one of them.

America’s front-line, essential workers have already borne more than their fair share of the fight against this pandemic. Today, those who employ these millions should step up with specific support to enable each one to get his or her shots.

* I say “likely” based upon the CDC website stating, for the Pfizer vaccine, “84.7% reported at least one local injection site reaction” and “77.4% reported at least one systemic reaction.” For the Moderna version, they state “[s]ystemic reactions were reported by the majority of vaccine recipients” with over 80% experiencing injection site reactions.

BraceletStreet offers accessible necklace manageable by arthritic hands

I like to wear a little jewelry even when I’m “only” visible to my household. The pandemic hasn’t affected my daily wardrobe at all!

Rings, watches, and most bracelets feel to me as if they interfere with my daily activities, but earrings and necklaces make me happy. Adding a little sparkle—and even more color—to an outfit is something I do for myself, not to show off or impress others.NZ capsule wardrobe jewelry - 1

Yet another annoying side effect of systemic arthritis is the sometimes unpredictable stiffness in my fingers that makes tiny clasps difficult to manage. It’s no accident that all the earrings in my photo above are hooks that don’t require attaching itty bitty backs!

Add slightly paranoid tendencies to even mild physical disability, and I can end up feeling frantic* about a necklace that I can’t get off when I want it gone. This scenario triggers my claustrophobia, in fact.

For this reason—and because my only simple, black vinyl? pendant cord c. 1994? recently broke, leaving me with no aesthetically pleasing option for wearing a favorite amber bead—I went looking for a replacement with an easier to manipulate clasp. I wanted to upgrade to a thin, genuine leather strap with a magnetic fastener.

Et voilà!

Bracelet Street 15" black leather 3mm necklace with magnetic claspI turned to Etsy, though I often struggle on that site to identify actual self-employed artisans vs. foreign outfits with unknowable labor practices. I ended up buying two leather necklaces with magnetic fasteners made by Bracelet Street USA, a woman-owned business in Kentucky if I’m reading their About page right. I’ve had no personal contact with this company aside from making the single online purchase.

First, allow me to admit that I feel like an utter fool for having waited this long to seek out more manageable jewelry clasps. Obviously, it could be costly or impossible to retrofit a large collection of mostly inexpensive, costume jewelry, but there was nothing preventing me from making this useful discovery except my own lack of attention.

Sometimes, the steady barrage of failures that come from living with autoimmune disease can prevent me from even trying new solutions that turn out to be easy fixes.

When everyday life confronts you constantly with “trivial” activities you can no longer manage for yourself, it is easy to become disheartened and just give up on stuff. This sometimes applies to things you love. Even silly little victories—like wearing a favorite pendant—enhance the texture of life’s fabric, and are worth pursuing.Pendant necklaces: amber bead on black cord, ammonite fossil pendant on brown cord, blue stone on bronze cord

For those with fully able bodies, some of the visible manifestations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can seem excessive or superfluous—“too many” empty handicapped spots in an otherwise packed lot, or the lift at the public pool that a healthy observer never sees used—but the reality is that, for those who have been cut off from so many common daily tasks, accommodations like these make the difference between feeling welcome to participate in the world at large…or not.

My new necklaces aren’t going to suddenly empower the disenfranchised or fundamentally change the world, but they do look nice, work precisely as they should, and offer me the dignity of doing one more thing for myself. That makes the purchase money well spent.Etsy order confirmation for two 3mm round leather necklaces with magnetic clasps

I ordered two magnetic clasp, 3mm diameter necklaces, one a #25 Natural Black (15 inch) and the other a #3 Bronze Metallic (18 inch), paying $26.56 including tax. I was sent a third (18 inch Metallic Tamba) for free as an unexpected “gift with purchase.”Bracelet Street 18" leather cord, magnetic clasp necklace with 3mm diameter in Metallic Tamba color

I’m assuming such little additions are par for the course with this company. Bracelet Street could have had no way of knowing I am a blogger** who might write about the purchase. I didn’t even login to my existing Etsy account since I was accessing the site from my phone instead of my desktop and I couldn’t remember the password. I wouldn’t have seemed like a special customer of any sort.

Bracelet Street USA shipped their products in sufficient, simple packaging that protected what was inside without creating too much superfluous waste. Each necklace came in a labeled mini zip top plastic pouch. I save these for use to keep earrings separate and chains untangled when I travel, so they will be re-used.

The inclusion of a hand-written thank you note made an impression on me, and very much increased my desire to share my positive experience with the company. I appreciate a human touch to my purchases, especially when I’m buying hand-crafted items online. I always hope I’m supporting small businesses with satisfied employees, but it can be so hard to tell who you’re doing business with on the web.

If you plan to wear an existing pendant with one of these magnetic clasp necklaces, be aware that I had to have a larger ring added to my amber bead in order for it to fit over either end of the Bracelet Street USA 3 mm leather necklace. The non-opening end of the simple metal “springring” clasp on my old vinyl cord was smaller.

Fortunately for me, my mother-in-law is a hobbyist jewelry maker, so it was easy for her to add a larger link to my pendant. Actually, I believe she gifted me all three of the pendants featured above on my new Bracelet Street necklaces. If, like me, you are buying magnetic clasp necklaces due to a lack of dexterity, you may need a friend or loved one to help you attach a larger bail to some of your own pieces to make them compatible with these thicker fasteners.Close up of Bracelet Street magnetic necklace clasp slot end

I would also like to add that the little bump or nubbin on the insertion side of the fastener is not a button requiring fine manipulation. I wasn’t sure how it worked when I first looked at it. The two ends of the magnetic closure will “snap” together on their own due to the magnet’s attraction, but you aren’t quite done when it does! A slight twisting motion slides the nubbin into the slot on the other side. This seems to provide extra security to what could otherwise be a “breakaway” clasp.

Breakaway jewelry might be ideal protection if you’re operating a lathe, but it’s kind of a bummer when you’re wearing the pendant great-grandma carried with her from the Old Country.

With a lightweight charm, I believe you could get away without the gentle twisting required to get the clasp fully closed, but I did have a heavier pendant (the ammonite fossil visible in my photo above) fall off into my lap before I’d quite mastered the fastening process. Since I learned to fully secure the clasps by twisting, this hasn’t happened again. To be clear, though, I rarely wear heavy jewelry as it exacerbates the discomfort from my systemic arthritis.

If you’re looking for a simple necklace that can be put on and taken off in spite of mild- to moderate-dexterity issues in your hands, I recommend those sold on Etsy by Bracelet Street USA. They are fairly priced, functional, and the company really seems to care about pleasing its customers. Each has a clean, simple aesthetic—appropriate for anyone, masculine or feminine—with 36 colors available in lengths ranging from 12 to 26 inches. I can’t speak to longevity after just a couple of weeks, but my initial impression of the three necklaces in my order is that they offer good quality for the price.

* Even my kids have been subject to my sudden demand to “help, help, help me get this off before I have to start yanking on it!” Since some of my jewelry was my departed mother’s finer stuff, ripping it apart would be less than ideal…

FYI, “Metallic Tamba” as a color name doesn’t mean much to me. I’d describe the shade as a multi-hued, warm-toned, mostly dark brown metallic melange

** Frankly, I’m also not a very significant blogger, so I’m not sure “knowing who I am” would have any effect on the way any merchant would treat me!

I had to look up the proper name for the round, metal circular fastener with the tiny lever you have to pull with a fingernail to open it, pulling an itsy bitsy wire out of the center of the hollow hoop. The internet told me it is a springring clasp, invented around 1921.

Trampoline exercise to ease chronic pain & stiffness

A mini trampoline probably won’t solve your chronic pain issues. My JumpSport 550fi rebounder* has not cured my autoimmune disease, nor did I expect it to. What it has done is offer me is an opportunity to rise up from my seat and move in a way that doesn’t aggravate my sensitive joints.Hardback library book on JumpSport fitness trampoline to show relative size

JumpSport 550fi specs

I ordered my fitness trampoline from Costco.com and received it in mid-July, 2020. I believe the JumpSport 550fi model sold by Costco is simply the manufacturer’s 550f model with the optional Handlebar accessory included.

Here are the specs if you’re interested in the same rebounder I have:JumpSport 550f/fi specs including price, size, weight

My JumpSport 550fi came with two workout DVDs and a one year subscription for additional streaming content. The former was at an intensity too high for someone with my health issues, and I never attempted to access the latter. Watching the instructor led exercises on the disc was helpful for getting ideas about how I might adapt moves to my own level, however.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m “bouncing my way to fitness,” but I am getting up off my backside and moving vigorously more often than I did without the trampoline. When even common, everyday tasks present you with physical challenges, this feels like a big win!

Recent studies suggest that even very sedentary people gain massive improvements in health and longevity from fairly small amounts of exercise. My personal goal is to always—every day, no matter how bad I feel—get my blood pumping on purpose for at least ten minutes. During pandemic lockdown, my fitness trampoline has become a key component in achieving that.

Continue reading

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.