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If my parents hadn’t bought a dowdy condo with an out of date kitchen configured for an elderly lady, I never would have discovered the single most useful object that empowers me to help myself to prepare food with my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

“Accessible” space differs for every disability; hand washing with arthritis requires warm water

Before one has experienced a measure of disability, it can be easy to dismiss accessible space as a one-size-fits-all inconvenience to the rest of the world.

No parking space for you, but six empty handicapped ones? Sigh.

You make do, go about your day, and think little more of it.

Even I, living every day with an array of symptoms, still regularly find myself drawn up short when some mundane activity suddenly presents an obstacle I didn’t anticipate.

This winter, a frequent such shock was public restrooms that lack hot water for washing.

Lavatory sink in primitive restroom with only one cold water faucet

I have arthritis which troubles primarily my small joints, i.e., hands and feet.

It’s pretty easy to manage one’s feet in public. Socks and shoes keep them warm and protected, though walking long distances raises challenges. These are foreseeable challenges, however. I can plan for them.

Hands, however, are another story. Grabbing, twisting, the hard jabs required by the ever-more-ubiquitous touchscreens replacing human clerks… Life can be hell on an aching hand.

I become more grateful every day for the power doors that open themselves for me.

For those that don’t require a powerful push with aching fingers to activate, I mean!

Add to those unavoidable discomforts the regular painful shock of a blast of ice cold water in a public lavatory. The pain can be momentarily crippling. The effect of washing in very cold water can persist via stiffness and discomfort for the next couple of hours.

I have the option of not washing, of course, but that’s disgusting. It also means I’m selfishly exposing others to nasty germs until I find a better option for a thorough hand washing. Hand sanitizer is no substitute for soap, warm water, and sufficient agitation.

I expect primitive facilities without hot running water at parks and campgrounds, but the specific washrooms I can recall with this problem from this winter include my sons’ pediatric dental office and a Starbucks in the densely developed suburban community where I live.

There’s no excuse for medical offices’ or chain restaurants’ premises to lack warm water in public restrooms. It lowers hygiene standards for everyone, and presents an actual health hazard to some of us with special needs.

Do building codes allow public spaces to offer these sub-standard facilities? If so, how and where do I report them? If not, is local government and the permitting office the correct level at which to agitate and ask for better?

With tiny, on demand water heaters available to fit beneath any sink, this isn’t a technical problem to overcome. Instead, it is a question of what we can reasonably expect in a developed society that likes to claim superiority over the rest of the world.

American flagUniversal access to clean hands seems like an easy achievement in the United States of America!

Prioritize time with friends if you value your health

Do you prioritize your friendships?

Studies show—and common sense should confirm—that lives are healthier and happier when they include regular time spent in agreeable company. Getting together for coffee with a friend is as worthwhile an endeavor as hitting the gym or having your annual physical with the doctor.Espresso in demitasse cup on cafe table

“[R]esearchers have predicted that loneliness will reach epidemic proportions by 2030 unless action is taken”

and

“Current evidence indicates that heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity”

Quotes from a 2015 Meta analysis of research on loneliness/social isolation and its effect on health by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, et. al.

Yet, somehow, our culture presses us to “make time” for work (primarily) as if time can be spun from willpower alone and also lionizes those whose sexual relationships fit an idealized mold. Subsequent emphasis is then given to the familial obligations that result when offspring commonly results from the latter.

Woman hugs childTo the exclusion of all else, the role of spouse and, maybe, parent, especially if you’re a woman is presumed to offer all the emotional support one person needs, tacitly proclaiming romantic love* a panacea for every type of companionship.

Unfortunately, that notion is tragically flawed, placing outrageous pressure on one person to be “everything” to another when that is neither probable nor healthy. It kills marriages, leaving lonely people feeling like failures when they’ve followed the common wisdom and left their friendships behind after coupling.

Human beings are social creatures. We evolved to live in communities.

I’ve got it easier than most as chronic illness forces me to confront my limitations on a regular basis. If I wasn’t skilled at aligning my actions to my values before I got sick, having my physical energies truncated again and againand again so repeatedly has brought my focus to the point.

It’s a fine, sharp point, too!

Men, in particular, may literally be dying from loneliness, though social isolation is increasing for all genders. “Social” media is simply not sufficient to nurture human health and happiness.

People seated in beneath stone arches in Barcelona restaurantThough, by all means, keep reading my blog.

Call a friend. Make a date. Visit the pub. Take time to play a game together. Put it in your calendar, and prioritize it! Your other successes will mean very little if you go early to your grave for want of meaningful companionship.

*Modern philosopher Roman Krznaric wrote a wonderful article on how our interpretation of the thing we call “love” and how ours differs from that of the ancient Greeks. I highly recommend both the short article and his full length book containing the same work as a chapter.

Book How should we live - 1Search for: How Should We Live?: Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life

Children, First Class, disability & who “deserves” to sit where in an airplane

Because I at least try to be a considerate and thoughtful traveler, I regularly look up phrases to suggest “the best way” of doing things. One such example? Parents traveling in First Class whilst their children trail along in steerage a lesser service category.

What I find most fascinating about the search results is the concurrent expression of two opinions that lead inexorably to parent shaming without a solution:

  1. Children don’t belong in First Class unilaterally!, while
  2. Parents who “abandon” their kids in Economy while riding up front themselves are monstrous jerks who should be drawn and quartered (or at least shot.)

Essentially, the sum of those two arguments leads to the conclusion that parents ought never travel in First Class while their children are under age.

Here’s where I’ll swing back around to a point I’ve stressed on this blog before: I often purchase tickets in premium cabins because of my health. Chronic autoimmune illness makes that option more comfortable—but also safer and healthier—for me.

I live with chronic pain.

Every day, I probably ache in at least a few joints. Travel—otherwise one of my great joys—can make my symptoms worse. A larger, more adaptable seat does help. More room, easier access to a lavatory, and the simple comfort of a foot rest or extensible leg support makes the difference between a successful trip and a multi-hour torture chamber.

Note that the acquisition of a more comfortable seat is something I do in addition to taking the most powerful opioid painkillers I’ve got. In transit, I will still suffer more pain than my daily average with these interventions. I choose the world-expanding possibilities of travel in spite of the cost, but the calculus for any given trip can be complex.

If there were legal protections on a minimum amount of space per passenger on a plane, the actionable facts in this argument could be different. If I were guaranteed a seat in Coach that provided enough room to shift position and freedom from being kicked and elbowed by even a plus-sized seat mate, I’d be open to debating the courtesies of keeping younger travelers out of the pointy end of the plane.

Since that is a pipe dream, however, the traveling public is going to have to tolerate my presence in Premium Economy and better, when I can afford it. And, where I go, there also will travel my children when I deem it desirable that they join me.

Given these facts, which option is preferable to the segment of society that objects to children in First Class and kids seated away from their folks?

My own choice is usually dictated by my finances.

When I score an awesome cheap fare up front, I typically book my little guy (middle school aged, so not so terribly tiny) in the seat next to me. He is delighted by the idea of a luxury trip, though modern domestic First Class is a far cry from gold-plated splendor. I prefer having his company to sitting alone.

Then again, I do actively discourage any sense of entitlement to this, my more peer-influenceable child. He has also known the joys of sleeping in a cramped Economy seat on a too-long/too-short transatlantic flight, and he knows full well how to wait his turn in the interminable queue to board, settle quickly into his seat and stow his own carry on, and then keep himself to himself en route to make the uncomfortable as tolerable as possible for everyone else aboard the jet.

The older teen would rather sit on his own regardless because he’s way too cool to be seen with me, so he’s stowed in steerage unless a really high Coach fare is actually a poor value compared with the mileage earning and family togetherness opportunities of a bargain up front.

Don’t gasp–it does happen! Leisure travelers who covet rock bottom fares and business travelers whose companies pay top dollar tend to prefer flights on different days and times.

Always check fares in all classes before booking! You may find First Class for less than Coach. It’s rare, but I have seen it* myself.

This summer, I’m accompanying my husband to a conference in the UK and we’re bringing the little guy along. On the way out, his ticket, purchased with frequent flier miles, is in Comfort+ (i.e., Premium Economy) while his father will be four rows ahead but behind the magic curtain in Delta One.

My own flight, also bought with miles, will be on a different date, itinerary, and airline entirely. We don’t have that many miles on any given airline at one time. Also, I often depart ahead of time to allow a day (or more) of recovery before entering full “tourist mode” and because I enjoy travel so much more than DH does. He rarely takes even a single day off concurrent with his business trips.

It’s a transatlantic redeye, so the kid is expected to sit, settle, and sleep. His “solo” presence is unlikely be a bother to anyone at all under these circumstances, even offering his adjacent seatmate a bit more space due to his small stature. Purchasing the equivalent to his dad’s company-paid Business Class seat was simply out of our reach.

To be clear: I, personally, am not talking about abandoning a toddler 40 rows back from his responsible adult companion. Perhaps non-parents need to be told, too, that there is no single age when every child will be ready to sit alone. As with staying home alone without direct supervision, I’d judge the right age to be over six years at a minimum and by the age of 13 for almost everyone.

Our return to the US presents a completely different set of circumstances. The lo-o-o-ong nonstop flight from Ireland to the Pacific Northwest should see the boy wide awake and therefore more likely to want or need something from a parent, if only to ask if my usual strict limit of one sweet drink per flight could be adjusted, “just this once.” I also found a relatively low fare in a premium cabin whereas Economy on the direct flight I wanted was rather high. In this scenario, I’m opting to pay to seat my child up front next to me.

It’s been argued that children don’t appreciate the “best parts” of the premium cabin experience. For many travelers, that appears to be getting drunk! True, my son won’t be sipping champagne, and he isn’t overly inconvenienced by the cramped conditions in the cheapest seats so the extra room is “wasted” on him.

Both of us will enjoy easier access to the lavatory, however, and the better service offered by less harried flight attendants. My younger son is outgoing and friendly; he will appreciate plenty about traveling with a more gracious level of service. The fact that different elements of Business Class will tickle his pre-teen fancy doesn’t make his experience count for less.

Where will my teen be during this jaunt? Well, he would rather fly alone to visit his grandparents sooner and leave the UK to the rest of us. Somehow, I’ve produced offspring that aren’t as interested in foreign travel as I am. After a bit of practice sitting in Coach 20 rows behind me, he graduated to a solo flight with Unaccompanied Minor service around age 12. Now, though still in high school and underage, he’s old enough to manage his own passage through the security gauntlet and onto a direct flight without paying for the airline’s hand-holding.

My solo teen might also annoy those who like to complain, but he’s not an intrusive passenger with his slim build and quiet habits. On his last trip to visit Grandma, he texted me joyfully upon landing from his ultra cheap middle seat that the guy by the window didn’t need to pee even once. Never having to get up once makes a great flight by his metrics.

Glasses of wine and water on airplane tray tableFeel free to compare that behavior to the tipsy adult who spills his third drink all over you and your laptop. The guy may offer to pay for your dry cleaning, but you’ll be wearing stained and sticky pants for the next half a day regardless.

*This actually seems to be most likely around holidays when families travel to be together. What a great way to treat yourself if clan gatherings are a source of great stress as well as joy for you.

If there were a way to get him booked into a hotel without an adult in the event of delays or flight cancellations, I would trust him to make connections, too. The boy is downright competent!

Profound joy alongside grief when accepting unavoidable loss

My sincere hope is that I bring more positive thoughts to the world than negative ones. My choice of domain name, ReallyWonderfulThings.me, reflects that impulse and intent.

Lately, however, I’m mired in a slowly unfolding crisis that looms inexorable. Here is one of those snafus inherent to life. I can’t avoid it. I can’t fix it. The best I can do for myself is to endure with a measure of grace.

For my ill loved one whose prognosis is likely death within two years, I’m also aiming to provide comfort and support to any extent that I can. I am wholly inadequate to the task.

I’ve shed plenty of tears and pitied myself because I’m human and so damnably, unrelentingly flawed. I’m already grieving a loss that hasn’t happened yet, even as I nurse the tiny flame of hope that we will defy the statistics, beating the odds and the fallibility of every living body.

Facing my fears one at a time and bringing my intellect to bear on the process is a large part of how I cope. I read studies, research long shots, and struggle with my fundamental powerlessness.

And yet! I have also experienced a shocking and rather profound blossoming of a calm state of resigned joy. I never, ever expected that.

Don’t mistake me; it’s bittersweet. I could talk about my sadness or my fear, and typing these words has already brought a fresh wash of tears. None of that surprised me, though. The joy sure as hell did.

Somehow, staring straight in the face of one of my worst fears brings with it a resolute peace as I’m forced to live in each moment, because, really, that is all that I actually have. It’s easier to savor sharing good times with someone when you know each event is precious, limited, and won’t ever come around again.

There is nothing I can do except live my life as best I can. What a relief to give myself permission to do so in the absence of guilt. How freeing to accept* what I cannot change. I never thought I had it in me.

May good fortune and robust health find you and everyone you care about.

*As the serenity prayer sagely advises. One needn’t be a true believer to accept good advice. I’m pretty sure a number of gurus are preaching along the very same lines.