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

SOS: Save our spices! Organize kitchen seasonings in uniform glass

Is it ironic that I am going to begin a post about how I came to organize my kitchen spice shelf with pointers to a product that I did not use for this purpose?

Canning jars—domestic Ball jars or European Weck jars—are one excellent way to store seasonings. I use them all the time for grains, freeze dried food decanted from large #10 cans, and leftovers, but they weren’t the best option for my spices.Food storage in use jars

Before I tell you how I did end up organizing my seasonings, protected from light, yet on an open shelf approximately 35″ x 12″, allow me to share one specific solution others on the internet seem to have missed.

Solution to deli container spice storage: the plastic vs. glass dilemma

Articles like this one from TheKitchn suggest deli containers for space-efficient storage of relatively large quantities of spices for cooking. You can fit any measuring spoon in them, even those big round Tablespoons!close up of spices in Weck canning jar and store packaging

I stumbled upon blog posts where people liked the deli container notion while not wanting to keep sensitive foods in plastic. Plastic, of course, can leach chemicals into foods with unknown health effects, especially in the presence of heat.

Do you ever set your spice jars down next to—or right on top of—the stove?

For those disinclined to worry about chemical exposure from plastics and their effect on human health, I recommend reading Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race by Shanna H. Swan, PhD.

Plastic is also prone to static, an annoyance with expensive dry powders like most spices.

If you want to store your spices in “deli containers,” but you prefer the non-reactive nature of glass to the typical deli dish’s plastic, what you want are 1/5 L Weck Mold Jars in style #740 ($17.25 for a set of six, but shipping is extra and glass is both heavy and fragile.)8 oz Lucerne sour cream tub shown next to similar sized Weck 1/5 Mold Jar 740 with a yogurt cup inside of that for comparison

The 1/5 L Mold Jar is about the size of a cream cheese or sour cream tub. It’s just shy of two inches high.

The taller, same diameter 1/4 L Weck Mold jar #741 ($18.50 for a set of six) makes another good choice for really serious cooks. If you store even larger quantities of your most used spices, this one is similar in size to a cottage cheese tub. This size is about 2 ¾″ high.

Six #740 jars with six plastic lids and shipping to my zip code would total $34.35 for a cost of $5.73 each as of April 2021.

My family uses both of these sizes of Mold jars to put away our leftovers. This fridge photo shows the 1/5 L Mold jar full of beans stacking neatly atop a plastic deli tub of applesauce; next to that, a 1/4 L Mold jar holds a partial tomato under its glass lid.View into fridge with leftover beans in Weck 740 jar stacked on similar diameter deli quart of applesauceNote that these are European canning jars, so the included lid will be a round of glass that merely sits in place until sealed via heat processing around its separate rubber ring (not ideal for your dry spices!) For that reason, you will also need to purchase a plastic (size Large, 85¢ each), cork (size Large, $1.20 each), or wood (size Large, $3.50 each) lid for each glass container for which you want an air-resistant* seal.

4 available Weck canning jar lids shown side by side: plastic, cork, wood, and glass

Only the glass and plastic lids are dishwasher safe, but all the glass jars can go in the dishwasher.

It should be noted that even the 3- 7/8″ Large lids sometimes slipped through the top rack grid on my Bosch** machine, and they can warp after too much exposure to the higher heat on the bottom rack. The lid on the far right was warped when it fell to the bottom of my dishwasher.

I love the interchangeable nature of these lids. You can buy Weck jars going all the way up to 2.5 L in size. Americans, that’s a large enough canister for a supermarket bag of sugar. One could store all necessary spices and most other common baking ingredients in attractive, non-reactive, stackable containers where the loss of a single lid doesn’t render any one useless.

If ordering Weck jars for the first time, pay attention that your selections use the same size lid if you share my obsession with owning just a few lids that fit all of your containers.

The Weck “Mold jars” most similar to American plastic deli packaging use lids in size Large, 3 7/8″ ∅. Size chart for Weck large size lid, fitting some Mold, Tulip, Deco, and Cylindrical jars

At this point, I own Small and Large opening Weck jars, using both all the time, but I started out with only narrow ones. I was specifically shopping for juice jars sometime around 2004 when I discovered them at a specialty kitchen retailer.

The manufacturer’s US website eventually gave me a much broader selection of shapes and sizes from which to choose.Weck jars lids narrow neck - 1

Weck jars are made in Germany. Because they are designed for use in canning, they are thick, sturdy glass, resistant to thermal shock, suitable for either a boiling water bath or storing food in a freezer.

Just not directly from boiling to freezing, please, to avoid shattering; it’s still glass!

My kitchen is warm & bright, bad for spices if nice for people

All of this talk about storing spices in wide, shallow deli containers, yet the Mold jars I already owned weren’t a great choice for my own kitchen needs. We enjoy a bright, sunny, southern exposure, but all that light speeds degradation of herbs and spices.

Clear plastic or glass spice jars should ideally be stored in a cupboard away from light—and heat, whether from the sun or the stove—to maximize each ingredient’s useful shelf life.

I don’t have much available cupboard space available on the side of my kitchen that houses the stove, but I do have room for a shallow, folding bookcase about six feet away from the cooker’s heat. It’s ideally located and doesn’t require me to reach too high or low when my joints are flaring or my shoulder has locked up, but it is an open shelf bathed by the light of a sunny wall of glass.hand holding a small white wire basket containing four assorted spice jars and tinsI use a little wire basket to gather what I need, carry it over to the island where I do prep work, and then return the spices en masse when I’m finished with them.

Before I started using the basket, it took too many trips to put everything away. When you live with a chronic condition that includes painful, arthritic toes, saving steps can mean the difference between being able to cook or having to rely upon someone else to do so.

Sensible storage—and thoughtful use of carts or baskets to spare similarly impaired finger joints—is a tool of self-empowerment!

Frugal & fairly good: the 12 × 7 × 5 coffee shipping carton

So my seasonings live on an open shelf about six feet away from my stove top. That location is the best compromise I’ve found between “close enough to grab while cooking” and “hotter spot than it ought to occupy.”

If I simply stacked clear containers there, however, my spices would suffer from direct sun for at least part of the day for most of the year. Two walls of my kitchen are more than 50% glass. I don’t want to degrade my ingredients before their time!

Before this latest organizing project, I solved the exposure to light issue by repurposing a shipping carton.

It turns out that a 12″ × 7″ × 5″ box is the perfect size for 18 standard, commercial seasoning jars. Though different stores carry brands in a variety of bottle shapes and sizes, they tend to fall within a similar range of diameters and heights for use in widely available spice racks and cupboard storage solutions.

Tip: The two boxes I re-used for spices both came from shipments of my favorite mail order coffee beans from Thanksgiving Coffee Co. in California. If you are interested in this free storage option, pay attention to the carton if you order in your caffeinator of choice.

Lake Champlain Chocolates has also shipped something delicious to me in the same size package.Shipping box

If all of my spices had come from the same brand—or if I purchased a set of matching bottles to standardize the lids (more on this notion coming up in the next section!)—this solution might even have been aesthetically pleasing enough for me to keep long term.

A plain box can always be covered in attractive paper, after all, and one can get crafty with some decoupage.

While an environmental win and very economical, the same solution was less effective for my non-standard sized flavorings. These were living in a repurposed paperboard shoe box, a little wider and a little shallower from shelf to open top.

Costco sized bulk shakers of spices in open topped box with various jars and tins including short bottles almost hiddenAside from looking plain in mismatched paper, the opaque boxes made it very difficult to find any of the half-height, mini bottles that are a sensible grocery store choice for seasonings one uses rarely.

Spices only remain fresh for about two years, after all, so if one doesn’t go through a full half ounce of marjoram in that amount of time, the frugal cook should stick to smaller packets.

One issue I have with buying some large and some small spice bottles—never mind the little plastic envelopes!—is that I prefer to keep all of my seasonings in alphabetical order. As an inveterate bookworm since childhood, it’s simply the most intuitive system I have for quickly finding particular items in an array.

Attempting to merge alphabetical order with varied packaging sizes and shapes has led to at least one unnecessary purchase of a spice I didn’t actually lack.

The final problem I personally encountered with my cardboard box storage method was the total weight of one carton full of 18 jars—almost 7 pounds.

It’s hardly an herculean effort to lift it, but it can be a bit much for me because of my autoimmune arthritis. Sometimes, cooking a meal consumes all the physical energy I’ve got for a given afternoon. On a bad day, even sliding out and shifting through 18 bottles in one box was too taxing for my limited strength.Box of spices on kitchen scale showing weight of 6 pounds, 15 ounces

Fully able bodied chefs would probably find 12″ × 7″ × 5″ to be a very manageable size for handling spice jars. It was too heavy for me.

Then again, lightweight and maneuverable can save strain on anyone’s delicate joints, and also prevent repetitive use injuries. Many of us who have adapted to disabilities used to be perfectly healthy, too. Designing thoughtful, sensible storage options while young and fit makes aging in place easier later on.

Considering universal design at every stage of life—even in the bloom of life—is never a wasted effort, though I wish every reader as many years of robust good health as possible.

Standardize bottles for tidy storage, perfectly or close enough

I discovered that Amazon has listings for a brand of glass spice bottles that claims to be exactly the ones used by some of the major national brands: SpiceLuxe.

I had already surveyed the commercial spice jars I owned, recognizing my preference for the larger, squared off shape of Simply Organic brand packaging. Smaller, but with a similarly pleasing form, Whole Pantry and Trader Joe’s bottles tied for second place in my heart.

While not identical, I can happily intermix these two sizes within a bin to keep larger and smaller quantities in alphabetical order.

The larger jar is a 6 fluid ounce container which might hold over 4 dry ounces of seasoning salt; the smaller one is a 4 fluid ounce container which would hold closer to 3 oz of a similar salt.

Online reviewers frequently misunderstand the distinction between fluid ounces measuring volume and ounces as a fraction of pounds as a measurement of weight which Americans use for flour, sugar, etc. I strongly suggest reading the linked TheKitchn article before buying any containers if you don’t understand the difference lest you end up frustrated by what you get.

All of my supermarket glass bottles came with different colored lids, and each has an annoying raised ring embossed into the top of said lid.

I prefer to affix labels to the tops of my bottles to find them easily while protecting the glass from light inside a bin. The bumps on the supermarket lids therefore cause a practical hassle, not merely an aesthetic one.Spice jar tops with raised ring on green Simply Organic lid, silver Whole Pantry lid, and black plastic Trader Joe's lid

Fortunately, the sets of bottles offered on Amazon come with a choice of lids. They are marketed by color, but both the product listing photos and user review images show that most of the offerings have flat-topped lids. Sadly, my first choice for color, metallic green, was the only option that had those darn ridged rings.

To repackage all of my spices, I ordered one set of 12 large spice jars with white lids, two sets of small spice jars with white lids, and one package of 12 extra white lids.

The product listing for these aftermarket lids says, “Fits Glass Spice Bottles by SpiceLuxe ONLY,” but I now believe they are exactly the same as the supermarket brands I mentioned. I had no trouble replacing mismatched green metal, silver metal, or black plastic lids from store brand spice jars to new SpiceLuxe bottles, nor SpiceLuxe lids to most of my supermarket bottles.

Priced at $29.99 for a dozen with free Amazon Prime shipping, that works out to $2.50 per spice jar. The set of 12 lids alone was $9.99.

Alternatively, order direct from the SpiceLuxe site at the same or slightly lower prices, though I did not try this option to offer a review.

Every order of SpiceLuxe bottles includes a flexible funnel, a set of internal “shaker” lids sufficient to add one to every jar, and free labels listing the most common spices.

The funnel may be silicone; it was not separately packaged or labeled inside my shipping box, and, as a “free gift,” there were no details in the product description.

This funnel is useful for filling jars, but I prefer the metal one(s) I already had. There’s less static with a metal funnel than with the included flexible one.

Then again, I didn’t want to mix spices, potentially ruining a whole jar via cross contamination, so having more than one funnel meant I could fill a few bottles at a time between dishwasher runs. I would have been hand washing that funnel many times—then impatiently waiting for it to dry completely to avoid ruining powdery spices before re-use—if I hadn’t gotten the freebie funnel with each set.Funnels designed for filling flasks or oil jars are well sized to refill seasoning bottles

Now that my spice jars have all been replaced, I will probably donate two of the three free, flexible funnels in my next batch of outgrown clothes and housewares sent to a local charity.

Personally, I pry off and toss away the internal sifting lids from all of my spices. Taking them off to stick a measuring spoon inside followed by replacing the inner lid annoys me too much. If I want to sift a spice, I pour a small amount into the jar’s lid then tap the product out to simulate sifting.

Or I use a mini strainer on those rare occasions that I really, truly require a sifted seasoning.sifting powdered sugar into small bowl with handheld stainless sieve

The final freebie—the sheets pre-printed labels with spice names—appears designed to adhere to the front or side of each jar, not to its lid according to SpiceLuxe’s own marketing photos. My only requirement for labeling was an aesthetically pleasing, round, legible one on each cap.

The 1 ¼″ label size might fit within the bounds of the smooth white caps I chose, but they would be too large for the ridged green lid option. You would need a 1″ round label to ensure it works on every possible SpiceLuxe cap or for commercial jars with ridged lids.

I discarded the pre-printed labels which were also repeated in each of the three sets. I didn’t care for the aesthetics of the large, italicized font or their silver color. I also didn’t want to hand write labels for which no pre-printed option was provided, and I prefer the specificity of adding the Latin botanical name to distinguish between, say, common Cassia and true Ceylon Cinnamon.

In order to create my own labels for the lids, I ordered Avery Waterproof 1″ Round Labels (36579) compatible with my laser printer. I used Avery’s web-based label creation software to create and print my labels as well.

Avery Template Presta 94500 worked out perfectly for the tops of both sizes of SpiceLuxe jars.

Self printed Avery waterproof label on SpiceLuxe jar lid

Here’s a PDF copy of my own Avery 94500 size Spice Jar Lid Labels for anyone who would prefer not to work with the template software.

Make sure to print at 100% size if you’re using my PDF or printing labels you design yourself!Clear label with black text reading Better before 2022 applied to glass seasoning bottle

I used my Brother P-Touch Model PT-1400 Label Maker and a black-on-clear TZ Tape cartridge to add best by dates to my new bottles. I didn’t bother to print an exact date for every bottle since spoilage is a lesser concern in this context than gradual degradation of flavor quality.

I batch printed the appropriate quantity of “Better before 202x” tags after sorting and counting the actual seasonings present on my spice shelf.

Bins shade bottles from damaging light

Having bottled my seasonings into a full set of similar containers, I turned to Akro-Mils AkroBins to protect those glass bottles from the sun streaming into my kitchen.

AkroBin 30230 turned out to be the perfect size for my shelf; each 30230 bin will hold two columns of four large or five small SpiceLuxe jars.

Here’s a photo of my finished project:

Wooden bookshelf with 7 AkroBins 30230 holding spice jars and other seasonings

I purchased a set of 12 AkroBin 30230 from Amazon.com in February 2021 for $53.28.

That works out to only $4.44*** per bin. The manufacturer lists multiple retail and wholesale partners on its website if you prefer not to do business with Amazon. Excerpt from Amazon.com invoice for a dozen Akro-Mils 30230 plastic containers sold for $53.28

The lowest price I observed in early June 2021 for any color set of bins from the same source was $61.55 (or $5.13/bin), so it may pay to shop around or wait for a lower price before doing this organizational project.

It must be noted here that the AkroBin 30230 also makes a great organizational solution for an existing array of disparate grocery store spices in their original containers. I really wanted the visual simplicity of a field of similar white lids, but my kitchen would have looked better even if I had only replaced my mismatched paper and cardboard boxes with a set of these bins.

Compare for yourself from these two photos:

Rows and columns of identical—or even just similar—jars are much more appealing to my eye, though the slight variation in heights between the two sizes of SpiceLuxe jar is close enough to please me.

How many SpiceLuxe jars fit in one Akro-bin 30230?

Eight of the larger SpiceLuxe 6 fluid ounce jars will fit in two columns of four rows in an AkroBin 30230.

View from above showing 8 6 fl oz jars in a bin

Up to five rows (10 total spice jars) can occupy the same if at least one bottle per column is the smaller 4 fluid ounce size. The jar at the front end won’t sit completely flush as you can see from the left-most column of the  photo below. One jar will sit slightly raised up where the bin’s interior curves upward.View from above showing ten SpiceLuxe jars in a bin

Three larger jars (6 fl oz) combined with two of the small (4 fl oz) ones is the maximum that fit per column without any wobbling or tipping in this bin. See the right-most column in the photo above.

Once you have created your own set of matching spice bottles, make the switch and refill them by purchasing in bulk or lightweight packets in the future. Shop at a local grocer with bulk bins, or buy online from Thrive Market or Penzey’s.

TL;DR Overview of better spice storage

Spice jars represent one of the few products where many major retailers offer already really excellent, sensible, space-conserving commercial packaging right off the grocer’s shelf. Buying only squared bottles by the same maker could give you a streamlined look in your kitchen with nothing else needed.

If you must buy rare seasonings in mismatched packages—or you already own a hodge-podge like I did—SpiceLuxe brand empty, square-shaped glass jars are available from Amazon. These will let you decant what you have into similar containers with a space-saving form factor.

The same brand, SpiceLuxe, sells sets of lids alone. I had good luck fitting them onto almost every brand’s spice jar that was already in my kitchen.

Use new lids to standardize the tops of your existing grocery store bottles. Simply adding top labels to new lids without disruptive ridges made it easier to find what I need without lifting every spice out of its home in a container on a shelf.

Finally, group your spices into space-efficient, light-blocking plastic bins by Akro-Mils if, like me, you want to protect what’s inside clear glass containers from damaging UV light coming through a nearby window. AkroBin style 30230 will fit from eight to ten spice jars per bin for most grocery store brands.

#10 (number ten) cans are quite large, sealed storage containers that resemble jumbo soup cans… the size of your head! Coffee cans are sometimes this size. Those who’ve worked in food service or gone to summer camp may have seen them in commercial kitchens. I believe that average people should keep at least a few weeks’ worth of shelf stable food on hand to guard against emergencies. When the pandemic hit, I was grateful to have freeze dried fruits, vegetables, and meats, plus dehydrated milk on hand so I didn’t have to visit local stores or vie for scarce delivery slots during the peak shortage of grocery items.

Here’s a screen grab of the shopping cart that gave me those numbersWeck jar shopping cart showing item cost and totals for six jars and lids

* Don’t assume that any of these lids are “air tight” the way a jar processed in a hot water canning bath would be. I can say from experience that the plastic and wood lids seal much more firmly on my Weck jars than the cork ones do. Consider the cork a mere “stopper,” readily lifted away with hardly any force. Since I think cork is meant to “breathe,” I don’t see this as a failing for this type of cover.

** Now defunct, my Bosch SHU66C dishwasher has been replaced by a modern Miele G 7316 SCU model. The Miele’s much narrower spacing between its baskets’ grids of bars has so far kept even small plastic items from reaching the bottom of its stainless steel tub.

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.

RIP memorial demitasse, or the perils of living with autoimmune arthritis

Assessments used to measure the progression of autoimmune disease—like the one I live with—often include questions about how symptoms interfere with daily life. When arthritis afflicts the small joints of the hands, sufferers like myself experience the perils of managing common fragile objects.Starbucks wish you were here ornament demitasse - 3

Case in point: the demise of a demitasse cup I used every day.

This cup was a gift from my mother who passed away in 2019. Today, I fumbled it while loading the dishwasher. It cracked when it hit the counter, one corner crumbling to bits, then continued on to finish shattering against the tile floor.

R.I.P. Starbucks “You Are Here: Oregon” demitasse cup!

Starbucks wish you were here ornament demitasse - 1

My favorite vessel for my daily shot of espresso joy is hardly the first victim of my less-than-nimble MCP and PIP joints.

There’s a particular glass pitcher I use to refill my beloved Zojirushi countertop hot water boiler.

Because my hand slipped perfectly between the pitcher’s handle and body when my joints weren’t swollen, it was my yardstick for physical manifestations of arthritic flares. Swollen, the knuckles—where the base of my fingers meet my hand, or, less often, even the middle joints of my fingers—were too thick to slide into that same space. It made me feel less crazy to have confirmation that my symptoms were real,* physical, and not “all in my head.”

One clumsy morning, I bashed the handle off the pitcher as I maneuvered it between faucet and kettle. Somehow, I managed to rap the fragile handle against the edge of the counter as I lifted it out of the sink.

The result is a far less useful, slightly sharp nub on an otherwise pretty jug:Patterned clear glass water pitcher with top stub only of broken off handle

It was such a lovely pitcher, I still use it—though with even more care—for the same task. The vessel just can’t serve its secondary medical alert function anymore. Also, it is rather trickier to keep a hold of, so I tend not to fill it full to keep the weight manageable.

In the grand scheme of things, these are trivial losses. My hope in sharing this story of small failures is to illuminate—for those fortunate enough to enjoy fully able bodies—another of the small daily battles waged by someone living with even minor infirmities.

They take a toll. They have a cost.

Living in a world designed and built to be adequate to your needs—which is the happy reality healthy people inhabit—is extraordinarily convenient, yet easy to overlook until some change in one’s own status lays bare every discrepancy.

* For many patients with conditions that can’t be definitively diagnosed by simple tests like blood work—especially when the complainant is a woman or a person of color—it is common to feel, if not to be, dismissed as a mental patient instead of acknowledged as the unlucky sufferer of a valid physical ailment. A recent BBC story describes how even physicians with disabilities are greeted with suspicion by the medical establishment.

The best “Thermos” insulated food jar is a LunchBots brand Thermal

My search for a replacement insulated food jar when Thermos dropped the ball

I bought Thermos brand food jars in 2010, then again in 2015. These 10- and 16-oz jars have interchangeable lids and have served me well enough for a decade. After 10 years, however, I’m down to six jars and four lids having purchased seven in total between the two sizes.

Thermos insulated food jars, 10 and 16 ozYou can find reviews out there by people who have done scientific measurements of heat retention over time in this type of container, but my requirements are very simple. To wit, if I send a hot meal to school or work in the morning with my loved one, does the food stay warm and enjoyable until lunchtime?

Venerable Thermos brand no longer signifies quality

My first choice would’ve been keeping my existing jars in service with a few new replacement lids. Thermos in September 2020 replied to my email query, however, saying that I was out of luck. Thermos discontinued my jar model(s), and they have no replacement lids to offer.

I made it clear I would purchase lids if necessary, and that I was not asking for extended warranty coverage for old products. Thermos customer service appeared to give little attention to the details of my query; they don’t seem to care about my business.

I got a boilerplate email response indicating only that one item of the two I’d mentioned with model numbers and dates of purchase was out of production, and welcoming me to peruse their current offerings to find my own replacement. No notice was given to my specific question about sustainability or offering replacement parts in the longer term. No attempt was made to point me to the closest current model that might meet my needs.

Total customer service fail by Thermos!

Lids without plastic inside may be a healthier choice

Seeking a totally new product, I discovered that there was no Thermos food jar listed on their consumer site that day with stainless inside the molded plastic lid where it will touch the heated food therein.

BPA free plastic is a red herring; all plastic in contact with warm food should be viewed with caution, but not paranoia. The health effects of plastic use with hot food remain dubious yet suspect. Read up on this case of regrettable substitutes in National Geographic.

Instead of focusing on quality or innovation, Thermos seems to be competing with no-name international brands offering cheap products designed to fail and be quickly replaced. Today’s Taiyo Nippon Sanso* owned Thermos brand is obviously a poor fit for my eco-conscious, health-conscious consumer preferences.

I looked to a pair of modern, sustainable food container brands that I already trust for a suitable replacement to these insulated staples of my lunch-packing arsenal: LunchBots and U-Konserve.

LunchBots Thermal is the best insulated food jar for my family as of 2020

The best insulated food jar for my family turned out to be a LunchBots Thermal. I bought two, in September, 2020—one 12 oz and one 16 oz—from Amazon. I paid retail price, but I did use an Amazon coupon to save a few dollars off the order.

Amazon invoice for LunchBots order including Thermal food jar and insulated stainless steel water bottle Continue reading