Please donate blood soon if you’re able

The American Red Cross has issued an urgent plea: our hospitals are facing a severe blood shortage. Blood donors are desperately needed, not just today, but on an ongoing basis over the coming weeks.

“Right now, the supply of the sorely needed type O blood would last only a half-day.”

It takes time to process donated blood, the result is perishable, and the need never subsides. We have no artificial substitute for life-saving donated blood.

Per the Red Cross website, you can donate blood as often as every 56 days if you meet these criteria:

  • You must be in good health and feeling well
  • You must be at least 16 years old in most states
  • You must weigh at least 110 lbs

You can donate blood after any of the COVID-19 vaccinations currently approved in the United States, usually without delay. Expect to report exactly which vaccine you were given—Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson—and the date of your shot.

According to the Boston Globe:

“…[N]ormally the Red Cross nationwide has a five-day supply of all types of blood — meaning that if blood collections suddenly stopped altogether, there would be enough to last five days.

Right now, the supply of the sorely needed type O blood would last only a half-day.”American Red Cross logo

If you are healthy and able, please consider donating blood in the near future. Less than 38% of Americans are eligible to donate, and only about 3% of that group does so.

A single blood donation can save as many as three lives. It’s hard to imagine a more valuable use of one hour of one’s time.

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.

DuoLingo rank in top 3% explains how I passed pandemic time

Perhaps because the pandemic gave me fewer distractions, I stuck with DuoLingo for most of 2020, primarily studying German and Spanish this time. I practiced there more than ever before, and I earned my longest continuing streaks.

I believe I created my DuoLingo account sometime during DS1‘s first year of home schooling, which would put that half a dozen years ago or so. My history with the platform is therefore fairly long, but my use has been sporadic. I come and go with all of my language studies, often in preparation for a trip, but I also use Pimsleur tapes and other resources, and I jump around between languages including those I started in school (Spanish, German, Japanese) but also occasionally French, Russian, or any other language I’ll be encountering in my travels.

Books foreign language learningI’ve tended to view DuoLingo as a game, a dabble, or a linguistic lark. I’m already on record on this point: I am a dilettante.

According to the 2020 Year in Review report Duo sent me this December, I ended up in this year’s top 3% of users. Who would’ve thought it? Yay, me!

DuoLingo 2020 Year in Review analysis

Whether these reports are a new feature, or if I’ve simply been “inactive” by winter in the past, this is the first time I remember receiving such a summary.

2597 minutes of language learning only averages out to about 7 minutes per day, roughly 50 minutes per week, so my minor obsession with the platform over the summer wasn’t too pathological. Nor is such a commitment sufficient, really, for anything except a nifty end-of-year ranking worthy of a self-congratulatory blog post.

Am I great at German now? Na ja, I’m afraid I still require subtitles to watch Nailed It! Germany or Dark on Netflix. Fluent, I ain’t!

Then again, the power of spaced repetition for retaining knowledge is undeniable. I’m hardly fluent in any language but my first, yet I have certainly cemented additional vocabulary in German and Spanish in 2020.

DuoLingo’s tag line is something like: “Learn a language in just 15 minutes per day.”

Analog wall clock showing 12:06The reality is that few will actually commit to the process, and almost no one can achieve fluency using any single tool. Even if you do commit 15 minutes per day to DuoLingo, you’ll be unlikely to be ready to address the United Nations without a whole lot of “something else” under your belt.

Also, the CEO is the person who invented CAPTCHAs, so there’s that working against DuoLingo’s place in my heart, too. I despise those stupid things.

Screen grab from DuoLingo showing 129-day streak achievementMany of us are susceptible to game-ification, however, so I encourage langauge learners to give DuoLingo a try. Extrinsic motivation isn’t such a bad thing for a necessary—yet repetitive—task like vocabulary study. I jealously guard my months’ long streak of continuous* days’ use of the platform. No stack of flash cards has ever kept me on track so continuously; not even the fear of low grades in college courses was as compelling as hoarding an imaginary currency called Lingots.

I’m 21 topics away from completing Level One of every available topic in German, the language I study most often on the platform. I’ll earn a completely meaningless Achievement dubbed “Conqueror” when I make it to that lofty(?) goal.

I’ve only topped out at Level Five on a single topic, Basics1 before the castle icon indicating Checkpoint One. It’s interesting, actually, recognizing from perusing the DuoLingo chat boards how some of us approach a language breadth-first, whilst others prefer a deeper dive, completing each topic up to its max in turn before moving on to the next.

I suppose the choice to do otherwise feels as obvious to other learners as mine does to me!

German has five Checkpoints or collections of topics, whereas Spanish has seven. Some languages are more popular than others, and the platform seems to offer more content for the languages users demand. Rational of them, I suppose.DuoLingo screen shot showing one more Topic to complete before Checkpoint 3 Castle is reached

I’m just shy of Checkpoint Three en español.

DuoLingo is free, so it is well worth its price. Ads are a significant annoyance when using the iOS app, but I don’t see any in the web version running on my desktop though I do employ multiple ad blockers.

The number of ads shown seemed to increase with total usage on the iOS app; I might not have kept up with it if I’d seen ads after every lesson from the beginning like I do now.

It’s worth noting that the ads in the app occur only at the end of each topic lesson, so I can and do cover my screen with my hand until the close button becomes available, and unwanted screeching video noise pollution can be silenced when it does occur. Moderately annoying still ads outnumber intensely annoying video ads on DuoLingo in my experience, but the ads to which you will be subjected are no doubt dictated by some algorithm outside my ability to predict on your behalf.Calculation of 41 weeks + 3 days times minutes per day = 417,600 minutes

I appreciate DuoLingo’s year end report for an accounting of how I spent 2597 minutes of pandemic isolation. Now if only I had such complete records for the other 415,003 minutes of it. I have some doubt that the balance was spent in so edifying a manner!

* Full disclosure: I have used a “Streak Freeze” save at least twice, so my current 129 day streak is somewhat less impressive than it looks.

FYI French has nine, Russian has five, and Hebrew has seven. You’ll have to do the resources yourself for any of the other 32 languages available to English speakers that are not in my DuoLingo queue.

Roasting vegetables is the right recipe for pandemic winter

  • Hate to cook?
  • Trying to shop less frequently because of a pandemic?
  • Know you should eat more vegetables, but enjoy almost every other food more?
  • Spending more time working and/or learning from home?

If, like me, you tick all these boxes, you should start roasting root vegetables as soon as possible. Best of all, you will have an excuse to purchase a rutabaga. If there’s a vegetable that’s more fun to name, I have yet to hear of it.

Say it out loud: ROOT-uh-BEG-uh! You’re smiling now, right?

Plate of oven roasted carrot, beet, turnip, sweet potato and onionYou will need access to an oven or a toaster oven to cook veggies this way. Beyond that, all that’s required is about one hour and:

  • a sheet pan or other wide, shallow, oven-safe cookware
  • oil
  • salt or other, more sophisticated seasonings
  • vegetables
  • cutting board or plate and a sharp knife

Primal Kitchen avocado oil and Kirkland Himalayan pink saltYou can roast many other things, but the long storing properties of most root vegetables make them ideal for a COVID-19 era menu. Broccoli comes in little bunches; potatoes are sold in great big bags. Shelf life is the main reason for the discrepancy.

Root vegetables in storage boxes and bags: carrot, beet, turnipHere’s a nice resource discussing healthy root vegetables and their nutritional characteristics.

In normal times, many people rush home after work and need dinner on the table within minutes. Roasting is a long, slow process, ill-suited to that kind of lifestyle. Now that a greater* proportion of us are working from home due to the pandemic, however, this kind of “prep it, put it in the oven, then ignore it for an hour while you get back to work” recipe is a lot more accessible.

I was introduced to the concept of roasting root vegetables by a functional nutritionist to whom I was referred by my primary care physician. I suspected that my diet affected the symptoms of my autoimmune condition, but I struggled under the burden of cooking every bite of food for myself given my near total lack of enjoyment of time in the kitchen. This was the best idea the nutritionist gave me from a fairly wide array.

Before I started roasting vegetables, I didn’t buy turnips, rutabagas, or parsnips. Now, I usually keep at least a couple of each on hand because it is so easy to prepare them this way, and the results invariably taste good. Note that these are not vegetables I typically enjoy otherwise.

If you’d like a professionally produced set of step by step instructions, feel free to carry on with Epicurious instead of my low budget advice. Otherwise, here’s my 2 ¢ as the laziest possible chef.

Recipe for roasted root vegetables

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 450° F if you remember; if you don’t, allow more cooking time. This is not a fussy recipe.
  2. Wash all your vegetables, and peel if you prefer.
  3. Chop vegetables into uniform, small-ish pieces.
  4. Pour—or brush with a pastry brush or a bit of paper towel—a thin film of oil onto your baking sheet, lined with foil or a silicone mat first if you prefer.
  5. Spread vegetables in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.
  6. Drizzle with a little oil, and sprinkle on salt and/or pepper, Borsari, or other dried herbs or spices.Borsari original seasoned salt bottle
  7. Roast vegetables, lowering heat to 425° F for about 20 minutes. Check at the 20 minute mark, stirring and flipping pieces over. Continue roasting in 10-15 minute increments until you think they’re done. Look for some darkened edges, or note when the sharp odor of raw vegetables is replaced by the sweeter scent of cooked ones. If in doubt, a total cooking time of 45-60 minutes is probably about right, and most vegetables won’t hurt you if raw or under-cooked, unlike meat.

Roasted vegetables on Silpat lined half sheet panVeg roasting tips from an unseasoned cook

My most often roasted vegetables are sweet potato, carrot, beet, and parsnip, but I use turnips and rutabagas pretty often, too. I have yet to regret roasting any vegetable, but, in my experience, the watery ones seem like extra work for less deliciousness.

Unless you’re cooking for my husband or a similar philistine, always include one small onion with your other vegetables. Caramelized onion is just so tasty unless you hate onions, and maybe even then, and even a small amount lends tons of flavor to the entire rest of the tray of vegetables.

Chop up your vegetables to the size you like to eat. I make little pieces that look like breakfast hash for myself; my husband prefers heftier chunks, a bit larger than dice. I can cook both in the same oven for about the same amount of time with no ill effects, so I’d say the size is purely a matter of personal taste.

Don’t crowd the pan! I always do, and the results will be softer, more “steamed” vegetables with less of the really yummy, caramelized, crunchy bits. Use a larger pan than you think need, and you’ll get the tastiest results. If, like me, you prioritize getting that last dish into the dishwasher instead, just recognize that a smaller batch might turn out better.

Proper chefs on the internet tell me I would get crispier, more delicious vegetables if I used an unlined baking sheet. I use a Silpat non-stick silicone mat anyway. Again, I prioritize easy clean up, and the food ends up good enough for me either way.

Try roasting vegetables you don’t think you like. You may feel differently about them once roasted! I do not normally care for beets or parsnips, but I like them roasted. I like raw carrots, but hate them cooked moist say in a soup; I love them roasted. You can see where I’m going with this. Your experience could differ, but this is a wonderful way to try eating unusual produce that might not normally appear in your diet. Most of us benefit from the addition of greater variety in this category.

Offer roasted vegetables to your kids, possibly not mentioning exactly what they are until they’ve rendered a verdict on taste. Make sure the distinct varietals are different colors so you can identify favorites for future reference. Encourage your kids to eat a whole rainbow of foods. Let them select spices from your cupboard and try roasting with them, possibly by sniffing each bottle until they find one that smells tempting.

My favorite is Borsari Original Seasoned Salt. This is the only “mixed” seasoning in my spice cupboard. It is delicious on duck… and everything else I’ve tried it with. A Whole Foods employee recommended it to me c. 2003.

* 7% of Americans reported being able to work remotely prior to the pandemic; as of October 2020, one third of us are working from home all the time, and 25% report doing so some of the time. More than half of Americans have worked from home for at least part of the pandemic.

Time to wake up the kids if they’re headed back to school hours

Like millions of other families around the world, we “enjoyed” a longer-than-typical season of unstructured hours this summer due to COVID-19 and the very early spring shutdown of our kids’ in-person schools.

Analog wall clock showing 12:06After Labor Day, however, half of our household will resume scheduled, synchronous activities. One of us is even expecting to attend classes in person, though we are opting for our child to only join his small group on site while weather permits outdoor education.

Something I learned years ago from travel across time zones—yet only painful personal experience drove the point home in the parenting arena—is the value of gradually shifting the kids’ wake up times in the weeks leading up to any dramatic change of schedule. I follow a similar procedure myself to fight jet lag, and it definitely helps me to function better upon arrival in a distant locale.

sleeping child in dimIf your kids have been sleeping until noon, do everyone a favor and wake them up earlier tomorrow. Try waking them up 30 minutes or an hour earlier each day until you’re back to the usual academic term rise & shine time. Shifting one’s schedule by a little bit each day doesn’t feel great, but it does eliminate a large shock of pain from a sudden transition.

This year has been weird enough. Let’s ease this transition for our little ones as much as we can!