I Can. Can You?

“How do you have the energy to do all that?!  I’d be exhausted!”  That’s a comment I’ve heard quite a bit these past few weeks.  Truth be told, I am exhausted.  I’m also mighty happy to be accomplishing things.

Instead of avoiding taxing activities, I try to find the most efficient (and least expensive) way to get them done.  Yes, I get tired.  No, I can’t work a full-time job and then spend seven hours in the evening canning fruit like I did twenty years ago, but I can still manage to put enough by that we have food to eat without wondering how to pronounce all the chemicals on an ingredient label.

My tips for how I manage canning season with RA would just as easily apply to other situations:

Know Your Limitations
In preserving foods, the hardest part, for me, is picking.  There’s much more fruit than I’m physically able to pick – especially when the fruit is overhead and my rotator cuffs don’t want to do their job.  When I pick, I pick from the lower branches, and leave the upper branches for people who are a) taller, b) tree-climbers, or c) comfortable picking from ladders.  I know my limitations.

It can be difficult admitting that we have limitations.  We’d like to think we’re invincible.  RA teaches us otherwise.  Work with what you have.  Whether it’s canning or anything else, knowing our limitations is important.

Work Smart
One of my favorite quotes, by R.G. LeTourneau, is “Work smart, not hard.”

I look for ways to work smart.  When heavily laden branches are relieved of their burden, the boughs rise – usually several feet.   If I started picking apples closest to the ground, and worked my way upward, the branches would quickly spring up out of my reach, limiting how many apples I’d be able to pick.  Instead, I start picking as high as I can reach.  As the empty branches move upward, the lower apples are still within reach.  I’m able to pick much more by grabbing those upper apples before they move too high.

That’s true with the rest of life, too.  Hard isn’t required.  Focus on working smart.

Accept Help
Sometimes we want to prove we’re capable of doing things on our own, but it’s okay to accept help.  People want to help.  After canning twelve lug of peaches, knowing I’d be starting on apples next, I posted about it on Facebook.  The responses included:

If we put one more person in the kitchen for peaches, we’d be tripping over one another.  Apples are a different story.  Apples are tons more work than peaches, and I need help. I have to set aside my pride and ask – or accept help when it’s offered.  People really do want to help.

I’ve been thinking about this.  My children have no qualms about inviting friends over to help them pick apples.  The apples need to be picked, and it’s fun to do things with friends, so they invite friends over.  Everyone has a lot of fun. One weekend my daughters and their friend had been picking apples for about an hour when I heard a knock at the door.  It was the friend’s parents.  They’d heard we had apples to pick and wanted to help.

Whether it’s canning season, or grocery shopping, or working in an office, accept help!

Develop Efficient Processes
Know what you need to do, then figure out the best way to do it.  Apples and peaches, rhubarb and cherries, as well as beans, corn, and pumpkin are all very different foods; they need different processes.  It can be hard to break away from the habit of doing things the way we’ve always done them, but it’s a good idea to step back, analyze what’s truly needed, then eliminate all the extra (unneeded) steps to fine-tune your workflow.  Make everything as efficient as possible.

Always ask if there’s a better way to do things.  For example, every recipe I’ve ever seen for applesauce involves putting cut-up apples into a pot on the stove-top, adding apple juice/cider, then cooking carefully to avoid scorching the food.  My shoulders don’t like all that stirring.  My feet do not like standing at the stove long enough to cook apples down into sauce.  I’m guessing yours don’t, either.  There’s no need!  It’s significantly easier to make applesauce a different way.

It doesn’t apply only to canning applesauce.  I’ve found ways to streamline many different tasks.  Never settle for doing things the way others have always done them.  Aim for efficiency.

Life with rheumatoid arthritis can be tricky.  To make things easier, it’s a good idea sometimes to pause, analyze situations, know your limitations, accept help, develop efficient processes, and work smart.

Simplify Holiday Meals and Go GF

It seems like Thanksgiving was just yesterday, so how can Christmas be next week?  I love hosting the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas meals, but it can take a week for me to recover.  Five years ago I had no idea that an RA diagnosis would affect everything I do.  In combatting this disease, I am always trying to find ways to make holidays fun and not quite so exhausting.

Through a weird quirk of the calendar, I’m hosting both holidays this year.  Searching for a way to survive, my quest was three-fold:

  • simplify the menu
  • simplify the food prep
  • simplify clean-up

Menu

I’m happy to report that everyone enjoyed our simplified Thanksgiving.  Changes to the menu were long overdue.  After all, do we really need both turkey and ham?  Dinner rolls and stuffing?  No.  Nutritionally, we can do better than the standard fare.  Also, I try to accommodate everybody’s dietary restrictions:  one diabetic, two gluten-free, a wide variety of food allergies including dairy, soy, onions, chicken eggs, pork, peanuts, banana, and avocado.  The pared-down menu was still quite a feast:

  • turkey
  • mashed potatoes
  • green salad
  • veggie tray with lots of olives
  • cranberry sauce
  • corn gravy
  • dinner rolls
  • apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie

Prep

With the simplified menu, I next addressed food prep.  This part I’ve been working on for a few years and have gotten good at having everybody help.  One person was assigned to bring a green salad, another was asked to bring a veggie tray, and the person who eats GF was in charge of bringing gluten-free dinner rolls.  The person who requested pecan pie was asked to bring it.  Aside from the $70 for specialty flours for the GF dinner rolls, everyone was happy with the way things worked out.

That left only a few things for me to cook.  The week prior to Thanksgiving, I checked the pantry to ensure that all the ingredients were there (unlike today, when I had to stop in the middle of my pie preparation and send someone to the grocery store for ginger and lard).  On Sunday morning (four days before Thanksgiving) I prepared the cranberry sauce.  We used it in place of syrup on our hotcakes Sunday, then refrigerated the rest for Thanksgiving (it’s much tastier over turkey than gravy).  On Monday I moved the frozen turkey into the ice chest to thaw.  I know the powers that be claim this should take place in the refrigerator, but I don’t have space in my refrigerator and the ice chest works perfectly.  Two days before the holiday, I baked pies:  three pumpkin pies (with gluten-free pie crust) and four apple pies (also GF).  The day before the big day I tried to rest so that I could enjoy my company on the big day.  In the past, I boiled the potatoes and put them through a ricer so they could just be warmed, but in the spirit of simplifying, I now used boxed mashed potatoes.  Part of me feels guilty about this because I usually do everything from scratch, but Safeway’s store-brand mashed potatoes in a box don’t contain dairy or soy, and it works for our family.  Doing a little bit each day spread the work out, and there wasn’t much to be done on the big day.

When the holiday arrived, about 8 a.m. I put the turkey in to roast so it would be done about noon.  Next I put the corn gravy on to cook (it’s the only thing that wasn’t dairy-free, and this year I made a small batch with coconut milk for those who can’t tolerate cream).  While the turkey and corn cooked, I cleaned the kitchen.  A spotless kitchen before the meal made after-dinner cleanup much easier.  When the turkey came out of the oven, I reheated the cranberry sauce and made the mashed potatoes while the turkey carver separated meat from bone.

ThanksgivingDessertTableClean-Up

The thing that saved the largest amount of work was serving the meal buffet style.  We seat nearly twenty people, so need two tables.  In the past, I’ve had two serving dishes for everything so that both tables can be set completely.  That’s a lot of work to set the food out, and double clean-up when the meal is over.  There were significantly fewer serving dishes to deal with this year.  I arranged all the food on the kitchen counters, and people filled their plates in the kitchen, then moved into the dining room to sit at a table to eat.

Not only was serving easier, so was clean-up!  Instead of the 90 minute clean-up we usually face, all the leftovers were put away and the dishwasher was loaded within half an hour.  I cut a whole hour off the clean-up time, and got to spend that time relaxing and visiting with friends and family.

This was our first year with a gluten-free Thanksgiving, and I was concerned that it would be difficult.  Instead, it was easy.  Everyone had plenty to eat, nobody felt deprived, and simplifying the work let us have more time to enjoy one another’s company.

Travelling

Travel is exhausting.  Having RA certainly doesn’t make things any easier.  What’s the best way to transport meds?  What if prescriptions need to be refilled during the trip?  Is it possible to spend twelve-hour days in the car without every joint gelling?  To have the best trip possible, it’s good to plan ahead.

My oldest child is now a college freshman, and to make the transition easier on everyone, our whole family made the trip to help big brother settle into his dorm.  Our first day we travelled south to Portland, OR, and across to Boise, ID.  The second day we drove to Denver.  Our third day wasn’t quite as long because we didn’t leave Denver until after lunch, but we still travelled through Oklahoma to northern Texas.  The fourth day we completed the first leg of our journey and delivered our son to his school, two-thirds of the way across the country.  We spent a few days there, and are now half-way home.  Aside from everyone being tired of long car trips day after day, it has gone well.

Refills

Your pharmacist will not love you if you stop by the pharmacy on your way out-of-town and ask for early refills on everything.  I talked with my pharmacist a month in advance to find out what special requirements they had for getting meds early.  My pharmacy wanted a week’s notice.  That week gave the pharmacy time to contact my insurance company to get a vacation override.  I picked up all my refills two days before we left town (allowing a small cushion in case something went wrong).  Your pharmacy might be different, so talk to the pharmacy staff and make sure you get all your refills before it’s time to leave.

Transporting Meds

When travelling out-of-country, it’s a good idea to keep all prescriptions in their original bottles with the original labels.  Since I was not leaving the country, I filled all my pill boxes and left the bottles at home.  The biologic required special handling, though.

Biologics need to be refrigerated, but it’s not necessary to buy one of those refrigerators that plug into the car’s lighter-socket.   $2,700 worth of medicine is worth some TLC.  I placed my pre-filled syringes into the little insulated travel-bag from Humira, along with the bag’s ice pack.  I then placed that entire bag into the insulated travel-bag from Enbrel, along with its ice pack.  That bag then went into our large ice chest.  I don’t think the medicine would have stayed cold enough in only one bag.  Everywhere we’ve travelled, the weather was in the 90’s, and most nights all of the ice packs were melted.  Fortunately, the medicine was still cold.

On my first trip travelling with Enbrel, one of the hotel refrigerators got too cold and froze my medicine, so this time I took extra precautions.  Every night, I left the medicine in the smallest insulated bag (unzipped about one inch) and placed it into a refrigerator.  The insulation protected the medicine from freezing.  If you don’t have access to multiple insulated bags, my pharmacist suggested wrapping the medicine in a towel before placing it into the hotel refrigerator.

No Gelling

Gelling is the phenomenon that describes stiff joints after inactivity due to synovial fluid that doesn’t stay where it belongs.  The key to preventing gelling (if your meds aren’t doing that for you), is to keep moving.  Move the hands, move the ankles and knees.  Move the shoulders and hips and any other joints that are likely to otherwise stiffen.

Flexing the hands periodically can help if you’re driving.  I like to knit while travelling (in the passenger seat).  This keeps my hands, wrists, and elbows moving, and gives me something to show for all that time sitting in the car.

Ankles should be moved, too.  If you write the alphabet with each foot, that will nicely flex your ankles and prevent stiffness (and strengthen the ankles if you put weights on your feet).  I find that simply by changing position so that I can move my feet around, I also move my knees.

A good shoulder roll and upper-arm stretch takes very little time, and is quite helpful in preventing stiffness.

The final thing that I do to keep from getting too stiff is to stop and walk around at least every two hours.  The best way to get the driver to make frequent stops at rest areas is to make sure everyone drinks plenty of fluids – easy enough when the weather is hot, but a bit trickier during the winter.

Many hotels now have a fitness center, so I’ve found it very easy to exercise at the end of a long day, which is another way to make travelling with RA a little easier.

Do you have special things you do to make travel easier?