Young woman putting orangs in a blender to make a smoothie.

7 Small Appliances Ideal for a Chronic Pain Warrior's Kitchen

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I have been wanting to purge, organize and deep clean our kitchen — we have too much stuff! This has been on my to-do list since the spring (a parent passing away, nine weeks in a cast, and some major fibro flares will put you behind). I have been looking at our small appliances and trying to decide if they are useful, used, makes cooking easier and if we really need it. I was taking special notes of items that are multi-use, and if it made it easier or harder for me.

These are some of the items in my kitchen I have been assessing. Because of food sensitivities, we buy very few processed food, making it harder on the hard days to eat healthily. ​

1. Food Processor

I knew I didn’t use mine enough; it was an inexpensive model that I picked on a whim and it just lives in the back of a cupboard. I do drag it out when I need to shred veggies (carrot muffins, yum) or cheese.

I was looking online at what else I can do with this small appliance (or if we should keep it at all) and I was happily surprised to learn I could do so much more than I thought. And, with just the simple attachments that come with a standard food processor.

Did you know you can slice, shed, and grate? Perfect for cut veggies, grate cheese, puree to make dips, spreads, salad dressings, chop nuts, and grind meat? I had no idea, and will be make more of an effort to use my food processor to make kitchen work easier!

Mine doesn’t seem to be available anymore, but I would pick one if I was in the market. I love the version with the scrape feature, it would make it even more efficient! No removing the top to use a spatula… bonus!

2. ​Blender

Ours recently broke (glass, I dropped it), and when I started looking to replace it, I realized besides the old traditional blender there are a ton of newer options available (mine was older, it might have been a wedding gift 14 years ago). My son is a huge smoothie lover, so we bought him his own smoothie blender for Christmas last year and he loves it! My husband and I, not as much.

I like the hand blender that has three speeds to handle a variety of foods, beverages, soups, blend, puree, crush, chop, and whisk. Or a more traditional blender I have been looking at that can work great for everything from pureed soup, salsa, and hummus to protein shakes, smoothies, or margaritas plus chop-ice mode and pulse. I have to admit, I am still on the fence. Opinions?

3. Crock Pot/Slow Cooker

This is one of our staple kitchen appliances. It makes meals so much faster and easier! I love being able to drop in all the ingredients in, turn it on and leave it… and if you buy one with the warming feature (we did) then your meal is still hot when everyone’s hungry. We find it perfect for making large batches of sauces, chilis, soups, etc. and freezing them for when I am having a severe fibro flare and all I can manage is too pull something out of the freezer. There are so many recipes online for using your crockpot, it really is a small investment worth making!

4. KitchenAid Mixer

This has to be my favorite Christmas gift ever! I know I would never spend the money on myself but I sure wasn’t going to return it. Bonus points for Hubby that year!

It comes in 20 different colors; mine is black. I can mix, knead and whip ingredients with ease, saving my arms a workout I don’t want!

I also got the Nylon Coated Flat Beater, Nylon Coated Dough Hook and the Wire Whip which are super handy! I wish I had the pour shield and an extra bowl.

It’s not only for baking — you can make homemade ice cream, pulled pork, chicken or beef for a ton of recipes (tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, chicken or tuna salad, whip eggs and frostings. Pinterest has tons of ideas!​

​5. Veggie Steamer

The brand we have includes 4-quart basket, 3-quart basket, 5-cup rice bowl, and 12-egg nesting basket.

We love it for steaming veggies, as well as making hard boiled eggs. There is something about the taste of steamed veggies to boiled is so much better, and better for you! I admit, we don’t use it often enough. But it is a huge help when we entertain or host holiday dinners.

​If we didn’t have a rice cooker, we might use it more for that. It is still an item I am glad we own!

6. Rice Cooker

We love rice with our meals, so this is an item that gets used at least a few times a week. We often make extra and just pop it in the fridge for an easy leftover night.

I find it very helpful that I can add the water and rice, turn it on and I don’t need to check on it until it clicks off.

7. Electric Can Opener

​You can still find the old versions that your parent or grandparents might have had (depending on your age).

I prefer one that is smaller; a one-push-button version is now on my Christmas wish list. ​I love that I can tuck it away in a drawer.​

A version of this post was originally published on Days Flutterby.

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A Male Perspective on Fibromyalgia

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At 56, I’ve been married 36 years to an engineer, managed to get two children out of the house on their own, have a wonderful Australian terrier, have had fibromyalgia for more than 15 years, and of all things, I’m male.

Fibromyalgia has been a severe challenge. It’s not only women who have trouble with people believing they have a chronic illness. I’ve run through many doctors, starting with the one who declared that I couldn’t have fibro since it was a woman’s issue. And who could forget the doctor who told me men just have to “suck it up” and get on with our lives; no meds, no treatments.

I was a true type-A personality. Busy all the time, always had projects waiting to get started. Always outdoors with the family hiking and canoeing on weekends, and I even constructed my own hovercraft.  It began after we remodeled our first home, with chronic migraines, and degenerated into fibromyalgia. 

I’ve pretty much lived with fibro by doing as much as I could when I felt able, which wiped me out for the next couple days. Repeat endlessly… I finally started taking care of myself as best I could, and tried to find ways to “fix” my environment to allow me to achieve some level of comfort. I was fairly successful. I found body pillows that actually fit a man’s body to help me sleep at night. I had hypersensitive skin at night, and found some bamboo PJs for men from Australia. Sex was painful, so we found Liberator Shapes, which improved things immeasurably. If you tour our home, you’ll find all sorts of small changes designed to make my life less difficult. Men have to “fix” things, right?

man sitting on recumbent bike with dog on lap
Christopher and his three-wheeled bike, which offers a solution to his lack of balance.

In the past, I refused to allow my wife to help me. I took care of myself, and felt it was my job to take care of her. I’ve mellowed quite a bit, and now she’s assisting when she can, and I accept the help gracefully. My neighbors are also helping me out quite a bit – I’ve been able to let the “I’m perfectly fine” pretend mask slip a bit more.

I sincerely wish that there were more products for men with health issues. You can’t imagine how difficult it was to find summer PJs that could handle hot flash sweating (testosterone therapy), or winter PJs that were soft enough to tolerate. All these kinds of products are available for women, but products for men were few and far between. Whatever happened to the concept of unisex products?

I’ve forgotten what it feels like to live without pain. If I sleep more than three hours, I’ve had a good night. I remember all the things I used to do, and it hurts not being able to function at that level anymore. But I have a wife who loves me and wants me around, and I find I can manage if I just deal with one day at a time. The key to surviving a chronic illness is to keep busy, whether mentally or physically. At my age, I’ve built a 3D printer kit, a new thing to learn, and I hope to keep learning… 

And of course, on a good day, I’m outside working hard, but only for a few hours at a time. Really, I do learn!

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Why I'm Starting a Clothing Company for Those With Chronic Pain

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I’ve always been called a trailblazer. But this story isn’t about me, as much as my experiences since becoming too ill with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis to work at a “regular” job. Living with chronic pain is brutal, but the loss of self-esteem, and of self-worth is worse.

It was on June 10, 2016 (winter in Australia) that I became stuck painfully in a hoodie. Calling out to my husband for help, I thought, there has to be a better way. And it was then, that I had the epiphany that indeed there is, as my mind raced with ideas.

fibromyalgia easy clothing logo

That was the day that I began to learn I’m not alone in this. I started a Facebook page, to see if what I was thinking of building already existed, and to gauge how many would be interested. That was also the day that the one-of-a-kind clothing company, Fibromyalgia Easy Clothing was born. And sincere, kind, encouraging people began commenting, sharing, and doing whatever they could think of to help me. As of today, only some five months later, that page has 585 “likes,” and is still growing.

Until I ventured out from my pain and purple fog, I really had no idea of how many of us are out there. Some are struggling alone, in silence, unable to leave their beds or homes, partly because of how difficult it is to shower and dress. The truth is that we are legions, and although we are still mainly invisible, we are here.

I can’t say for sure if it’s the pain that makes us more kind, more patient with one another, more understanding. I only know what I’ve experienced. I don’t think there is a single comment on the Facebook page that isn’t encouraging. I know I’ll need to launch a crowd funding campaign to make this work. Now it’s just a matter of overcoming my own fear of failing all these amazing people who are depending on me, and looking forward to having clothing that doesn’t hurt to wear, or put on and take off. Most have told me they simply live in pajamas, because it is all they can bear next to their skin. And I understand this, as I sit here writing with my shirt on inside out.

The thing is, most people would expect someone who is living in constant, chronic pain, to be short-tempered and rather cranky most of the time. But I have found just the opposite. It seems to me that women and men alike, from all over the world, all with chronic pain in common, are the kindest, most patient and understanding people that you can find.

Perhaps, the answer lies in the fact that many of us have been kicked out of the rat race for being “too slow.” Living on a disability pension isn’t what anyone would think of as wealth, and so maybe our attitudes about money have changed as well. Now we find wealth in people, in one another. We value kindness and understanding, and belief in our pain the most. We treasure and cherish the friendships these “invisible illnesses” have given us.  And if this is in fact true, then I am the wealthiest woman in the world.  One way or another, I will build this clothing company, along with a foundation that I can help those who simply can’t afford the things they need. I turned 59 last month, so this may very well be the last trail that I’m able to blaze, and I mean to make it a great one.

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Parenting in the 'Fibro Fog'

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Can you imagine a parent forgetting to register their child for school? Because I have done that. I forget not just my own commitments but my kids’ and I get so angry with myself over it. What kind of a mother doesn’t pack an afternoon snack to bring to school? What kind of mother sees that her children’s rooms are in shambles but does nothing about it? I’ll tell you who. This mother with fibromyalgia.

I am a very disorganized person. I make lists then forget them. I make appointments and miss them. I have two calendars but can’t remember to use them. I am in a constant state of brain fog, affectionately known as “fibro fog” to those of us with the disease. While I’m sure this is an incredibly frustrating thing for everyone dealing with it, it is exceptionally tricky for parents and caregivers. Not only is it annoying, it is embarrassing and scary. People tend to look down on messy houses and skipped commitments much more when it involves children. I take extra care to try and remember things, at least for my kids, but a lot of the time it just doesn’t happen and I am constantly afraid of the consequences. I’ve been berated: “I cannot believe you keep forgetting your daughter needs new shoes!” I’ve been told I am careless and self-absorbed and that is why I forget such basic things. I’m not, I really just forgot. I want to scream this at everyone who accuses me of being careless or lazy. I forget everything all the time and I feel bad enough. I don’t need others to make me feel even worse.

Not only are my children perpetually late for everything, but it is guaranteed that they are missing something, whether it be a snack or a permission slip. My 7-year-old keeps better track of her due dates and school functions than I do. Some might say, “Well, get a calendar so you can keep everything organized!” Yeah, that makes sense to someone who won’t forget to write things on the calendar and/or look at the calendar.

I am afraid of being judged by other parents and by their teachers. I am afraid of my kids getting left out or teased because of me. I am afraid of someone coming over and going and telling other people, “You won’t believe how messy her house is — I can’t believe she has kids!”

But so far in my seven years of “momming” none of these terrible things have happened and my kids some pretty much unaffected by my foggy brain. We have learned to laugh things off for the most part. My husband is in charge of keeping track of everything. My keys, my doctor’s appointments, what day it is, what planet we’re on, etc. There have been a few monumental screw-ups on my part like when I forgot my daughter’s dress rehearsal for the ballet recital she had been prepping for for a year. She wasn’t allowed to be in the performance because of it. My daughter was over it in a matter of hours but I spent the better part of a week verbally assaulting myself over it. I forget birthdays on a regular basis. I’m a mess.

But I am training myself to stop abusing myself because of it. Just like everything else that is a result of fibromyalgia, this is not my fault. I am learning to be more open and honest about how my brain works (or doesn’t, I should say). I set myself notes in my phone with an alarm to remind me and make sure to pass information along to my husband immediately before I forget. Someone who loses her glasses 10 times a day and spends her evening walking into room then forgetting what for should not be in charge of anything important. We have found a good balance and the missed appointments and forgotten performances have gone down to a bare minimum.

And if I do forget something, it’s not the end of the world. No one has the right to judge me if they aren’t living the life I have. My house isn’t messy, it’s lived in. And my children are not going to be ruined because I forgot a schoolmate’s birthday party. However, they will remember a mother who constantly apologizes and beats herself up, so that is the behavior that has to stop.

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The Effects of Fibromyalgia on My Limited Energy Reserves

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I know I’m guilty and you are too, more than likely. I have fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis and they are both energy drainers, so by the time I get all my Pauls done, Peter seems to always come up short.

See, Peter is what I’d like to refer to as my reserve energy for later. You know, that energy you need to get the kitchen cleaned up after dinner, wash a load of clothes, do something fun with the kids or just have a nice romantic night. It’s the energy that allows you to do things other than just the “to do list” for the day, Paul, before the exhaustion reigns full force again.

Unfortunately, when you have a chronic illness, you wake up with the hope of conquering so many things even though you know you may fall short. Some days, however, I wake up determined to get everything done. With sheer determination, I always do, but Peter has been totally depleted. Those are the nights I’m in the bed by 7:30 and dead asleep for three or four hours, only to then wake up and not be able to go back to sleep. And we all know what happens when we don’t get enough sleep: you guessed it, Paul’s reserve is going to be smaller than usual the next day.

It all just seems like a never-ending cycle to me. I want to wake up one morning and not have to worry about robbing. I want my supply to already be there with reserve tanks on the side so Peter can just stay on charge for those days that take all I have and then some. You know, those days when just getting out the bed and making a cup of coffee takes all you have. Yes, I said coffee and I know about the caffeine, but I need my little jewel boosters throughout the day.

Having reserves for me is not a reality, though. It takes more energy for me and others like me to get through the day. We all have things we want to do or places we want to go, but in reality, if we don’t overextend sometimes, we won’t ever do all we want or need. And yes, I know we shouldn’t push it, but hey, this is life and I don’t know about you, but I try to live mine. I didn’t ask to be slowed down at 48 years old.

If you live with any kind of illness then you know that being able to live in the moment at times is a blessing, but sometimes it requires more than we feel we can give at that moment. So, will you rob Peter to pay Paul? My answer is easy: yes, and if I could add Philip, Patrick or Payton to the equation, I would.

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A Typical 24 Hours With Fibromyalgia

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Three years ago, my doctor said the F-word… that’s right, fibromyalgia. I ignored her. But for the last year I have been in constant pain and I find it really hard to focus on anything other than finding pain relief or finding a new treatment that might actually make a difference. 

I haven’t really been writing about the pain. Everyone in my life knows that I have neck pain and headaches. Some people think it’s my back that hurts.

Even though we have all had pain and sore body parts, the fact is that anyone who hasn’t experienced non-stop widespread pain for weeks or months or years really has no idea what this experience has been like. 

I have felt that writing about it would end up being a whiny piece of writing about boo hoo, poor me, I hurt. Or that the intention behind writing it would be to seek sympathy. I also worry that I don’t know how to fully explain my experience in a short and concise way. I worried that it would get boring and repetitive and too long to read. 

I now think it is something that I need to do. I think I need to write about the physical pain and its emotional toll. 

artwork of woman holding her neck, back view, by fox tales

I thought the easiest way to explain my experience would be to go through a typical 24 hours in a day in the life of me. 

It’s 9 p.m. and I’m laying on the couch with my fingers pressing into my neck and the base of my skull, trying to recreate what relieving treatment I have received. Trying to relieve some of the throbbing in my neck and sharp pounding in my head. I’ve somehow convinced myself that I have to stay up until 10. When 10 finally comes, I climb the stairs, get ready for bed, and collapse into what I’m hoping will be the most comfortable place in the house. It takes me several minutes and several attempts to reposition myself. Does my neck feel straight and aligned with my spine? If I move slightly to the right will the stabbing pain in my thigh stop? If I roll over will that relieve some of the pain on that hip? 

Thanks to the magic of sedatives, I fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, part of my illness is over-activity in my brain. Hello neurons, can you stop firing now please? I don’t reach a state of deep sleep, which is where rest and repair happens. Instead, I drift in and out of a light sleep, never getting adequate rest. I wake up several times and reposition my body trying to find the least painful position. 

Eventually, by about 4 or 5 in the morning, my body has been in bed too long. The pressure of my own body against the mattress is causing pain that I can no longer tolerate. So I get up, go to the bathroom, stretch a bit, and go back to bed for a few hours. My alarm goes off and I hit snooze. And often sleep past the time I had planned to get up. By 8 a.m. I normally can’t be laying down anymore. The pain has built up and my body is screaming at me.

woman climbing using hands and arms

But I know that up will be better. So I pull myself out of bed to begin my day. Every step towards the shower is painful because my body feels like it was beaten with a sledge hammer the day before. 

By the time I get to the kitchen, most of the stiffness is gone. My head is often less painful. And I’m left with that general yucky blech feeling you get when you have the flu. As I am getting ready for work, my body is yelling at me to pay attention to it. I have sharp aches in many different places.

The drive to work has its own challenges. The sharp stabbing in my right thigh makes gas and break hurt. And checking my blind spots before I turn means sending searing pain through my neck into my shoulders. 

When I finally get to work, climb out of the car, and walk into the building, I’m already exhausted and it’s only 8:30 in the morning. 

The work day is a battle between doing what I need to do work-wise and doing what I need to do for my mind and body. 

Throughout the day I take pauses to stretch, to rest, to do deep breathing, to meditate, to hydrate, to find a position that is both reasonable for working and for not making my pain level worse. 

I have to remember to be conscious of the position of my body and tension in my muscles at all times. My head has to be sitting in line with my spine and facing forward. I can’t look up, down, or to the sides for any extended time period or I will suffer greatly later. I have an easel at my desk so that I can write while not bending over. 

By lunch time, the ringing in my ears has gotten louder than comfortable. It feels like there is an earthquake behind my eyes. I still feel like I have the flu. My whole body aches. I’m having muscle spasms in different places. And suddenly it feels like there is too much stimuli. I want it dark and quiet. 

drawing of woman holding her jaw

Suddenly my jaw is aching and I realize I stopped paying attention and I was clenching my teeth trying to ignore the rest of my body. My eyes are burning and itchy again, but now they are watering, too. And I can’t think of what it was I was supposed to be doing. All morning I had been forgetting words or misusing words, mostly because my brain was too busy processing pain signals and being in a constant state of stress response.

Lunch is now over and it’s time to get back to work. Despite having “slept” for 10 hours the night before, I am overcome with a sudden and extreme fatigue attack. My body just shuts down. My eyelids want to close. I yawn and yawn and I’m convinced that I can’t make it to the end of the day. 

If I do manage to find a way to lay down in a dark corner for 15 minutes, my body decides it doesn’t want to cooperate with a rest after all. My legs start to feel weird … At first it feels like some thing is crawling around inside my legs. Up and down from feet to thighs. But then that thing, which I have named the Kremlars, seems to wake up all its friends and the kremlars start racing around inside my legs, wriggling and wiggling and causing so much pain and discomfort that I have to stand up and walk around to try to make the kremlars go back to sleep. 

It’s now the end of the work day and I endure the soreness that driving causes and go home. Now it’s time to “do all the things.” Grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, playing with the kitten, answering texts from people I’m convinced think I’m ignoring them, marking student work, lesson planning, choir practice, drawing, writing, relaxing… And doing all these things while feeling all of that pain I have already said I experience. 

It’s 9 p.m. again. And I’m curled up on the couch with a heating pad, a shiatsu machine, chamomile tea, my “blankie,” my TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine, crying and trying to make a list of the things that I am grateful for: love, friendship, sunshine, art, music, laughter, mojitos, that my kitten sleeps on me, cantaloupe, apples, babies laughing, hugs, really cold water, words, and so much more. 

Despite the aches and pains, despite my memory going wonky, despite my “good days” where the pain is there but tolerable… I think the hardest thing to deal with is not being able to live my life the way I want to. Not being able to do all the things I did before without planning in rest and recovery time. Not being able to do it all in one day. Not being able to go out with friends whenever I want to. Letting people down when I said I would do something. Knowing that this is lifelong. That I have to make big changes to my approach to life. And worrying constantly that I come across as an irresponsible, unreliable, lazy flake who doesn’t follow through with commitments.

drawing of woman pulling stomach up

That’s a typical day for me. I want to end this piece with something positive and inspiring. I want to be the person who people say “she did that in spite of…” but it’s not like that. I don’t have anything positive to say about fibromyalgia. All I can do is take care of myself and try to enjoy the small moments like a Sunday morning with a hot cuppa tea.

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