Editors Note: Another guest post from R.Ann Parris to The Prepper Journal. Whether this is you, a parent or grandparent, it is all something we should prepare for as either helpers, or eventually having to accept help. As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly receive a $25 cash award as well as be entered into the next Prepper Writing Contest with a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today!
I had an odd epiphany while I tried to change a saws-all blade in heavy gloves this winter. “Sweet, this is how my father lives his whole life … okay, minus the pain.”
My father has beautiful hands. They’re swollen thick as sausages, rough, bent and gnarled from arthritis and a long lifetime of broken and dislocated bones and knuckles. They’re usually nicked up. There’s years’ worth of stains in the callous that covers them. Some of the fingers never bend. Some of the fingers never straighten. He can barely feel them.
I see them, and I see them sneaking my Baby Boo away for a bottle he was supposed to be weaning off. I see them building a doghouse and working overtime for another stray his wife/girls saved. I see them laying intricate brickwork for my mother’s flower gardens. I see them hauling and cutting for what was supposed to be a beef calf before his girls fell in love (Ollie the Ox passed at the ripe old age of 20, and we still get harassed).
When I see those abused hands, I see love. But I also see the constant daily struggles with things that used to be automatic and easy.
I see them fighting to assemble the annual Lego train, frustrated by packaging, actually working to turn the page of a catalog. My mother pre-opens the pickle jars now. He has a bag and a tray handy pretty much everywhere, because he needs a cane and that leaves only one of those beautifully scarred, swollen, twisted hands for carrying things.
This is a man who built half his home from scratch and spent a lifetime making repairs, fixing and maintaining the family vehicles, erecting the fences, fishing and hunting, pollinating squashes, rewiring the attic, jerry-rigging tractors and tow-behinds, getting ATVs and animals out of mud and pits, building models, maintaining his firearms, braiding hair, and teaching not only his children, but his grandsons, how to do it, too.
Luckily, he’s also stubborn. His hands don’t stop him.
Our hands are one of the two tools that make us the most adaptable creature that has yet walked this earth.
Not only are the hands important, but the joints and limbs leading to them. Should we find ourselves in a chair or on a walker, crutches, or canes, permanently or temporarily, we’ll also find that we can’t carry quite so much, and that our reach is seriously curtailed.
Some of us are already starting to look at our own useful, able-bodied existence due to injuries and the ravages of age. Some of us are still young but want to help keep our parents and aging friends active and independent. Some of us are also looking at examples around us, and considering the high likelihood of an injury in an even more physical world.
Happily, we live in a modern world, where there are handy gadgets that can help us stay a little more independent and capable of contributing.
The #1 go-to tool that sits around all areas of my father’s house – and now his daughters’, ‘cause we learn well – is simple pliers. Sometimes needle-nosed are the ticket, because they can close so firmly, but usually they’re there in pairs with a blunt-nosed pair, usually arc-nose.
The arc-nose are pretty darn handy, because they can help with bottle tops, small jar lids, and are a little less likely to deform the child-safety lock on my Federal HP ammo boxes and cold meds. Our arc-nose pliers all have enough of an angle and “lip” at the front that you can use them to get into a lot of blister packs that want to give you a hard time (like Advantix, and of all things, Midol – because that’s NOT a good time to make something difficult to get into).
Either can help with getting zippers up and down, pull boots on, peel tape off/up, and as a combo, can help somebody thread their zipper. They open zip-top packaging, and with careful manipulation, can help seal them, too. They can be used to snag the pull tabs on coffee tins and soda/beer cans. They can help you thread a new tag on a dog collar, or hold onto a watch band to get the buckle tongue through (I had to look up what that was called). Needle-nosed pliers can scrape/punch the holes in the back of cardboard blister packs of batteries and gadgets.
Pliers of any type can help somebody with bad hands or little hand strength, little ability to throw their upper body into providing torque, especially when glue or a gorilla was apparently involved with putting your oil or coolant cap on, or tightening your tire air nozzle.
My daddy actually carries a small pair of arc-nosed pliers even when he’s not carrying a multi-tool or going to work. It’s just part of his pocket detritus now. That’s because pliers can do the job of a lot of the things on this list, or work in concert to help the gadgets do their jobs.
Psst … Pliers are HUGELY helpful with slippery and numbingly-cold-weather tasks, no matter who you are. Also, for opening the twist-pull Henry drop-feed tube mags in freezing temps. (Editor: Amen!)
Button & Zipper Pullers
These are just what they sound like. There’s a few styles and types, with some small enough for a dress shirt or suit coat pocket and some that are longer. There are some that are even more discreet, and tuck into a pocket-knife style housing.
The ones with a loop and a hook do both buttons and zippers. If it doesn’t have the hook, it’s only going to do buttons.
You can help zippers along by adding the metal loops from keyrings, “cutesy” zipper pulls like compasses and cartoon characters – which can be bought as such, or as mini keyrings – and for some discretion with jeans and pants, a small loop or fabric tab.
Jar & Can Openers
These come in several styles and general formats. I call them “jar pliers”, “fabric” or “mesh” thingies, “can hooks” and “coaster-cup” thingies. Happily, you can add “jar opener” to a search and actually find them all. The mesh thingies are sometimes called manual floppy sheets and mats, too.
The most-used types in our house are the jar pliers, and Papa’s can “hook”. His hook is also a grippy that fits wide-mouth canning jars and some of the commercial pickle and pasta jars, and it has a small-bottle lid opener and a bottle cap popper. We tend to keep two of the wrench-plier types handy, because you can use one to hold a slick jar and the other to crank on the lid.
There’s a jar “key” type out there, too. It might just be us, but we can’t get them to work.
Only having one hand – or none – available for toting makes you reliant on others, or highly inefficient. With carabiners and a light laptop or musette type bag, somebody with a hand problem or who is on crutches, canes, or a walker can gain a lot of their self-reliance back – around the house, out shopping, out in the yard.
My father’s hands also make it tough for him to dig around in his pants pockets. Instead, he can clip things to carabiners and his (sturdy) belt, and his change, phone, mints, and little pocket detritus, and things like nails and bolts, stay handy in wallets and pouches he can snag, open, and tip out into his palm.
Got somebody who needs a cane or crutches, or has a hard time telling if they actually have a good hold on something? No need for them to feel bad about watching groceries and animal feed get hauled, or others doing the work of rearranging when bookcases are involved. No more sitting out of decorating for holidays, or getting frustrated by dropping half a fistful of utensils while setting a table. Get them back into being the grill master – without somebody toting and fetching for them.
Get them a utility cart.
Ours handle 2” steps and ruts without a hitch, are light enough and sturdy enough to be tipped for 4” rises, and have indoor-outdoor wheels that can be hosed off. Also make sure that it’s narrow enough and short-bodied enough to take the corners in the house (and consider pool noodle “bumpers”).
There are all kinds of extended-grabbers for indoors and outside, and they get used at our houses. My mother (5’5” in heels) has been using grill tongs and coated kitchen tongs for dusting and reaching shelve and cabinets for pretty much my whole memory, and they work just fine – better in some cases.
The other unexpected hero for keeping my father from losing his mind? The pole extensions and all the crazy attachments for the Ryobi battery-powered weed eater. It’s a 3’ or 9’ mini chainsaw, a 7’ saws-all, a blower, and a roto-tiller. The trigger shape makes it easy to activate and release, and he can prop it or himself against various things to use it.
Look up “automatic needle threader” and “thread guide”, and if you have a machine, “sewing machine thread helper”. There are some simple, flat metal types, too. They’ll help keep you in the sewing game, but they’re also handy for beading and stringing popcorn and dried berries. Neck-hanging or clamp-anywhere magnified mirrors are also super handy.
When your hands are going or gone, or if there’s a back, shoulder, or arm injury, even the basics of getting dressed can be time consuming and difficult.
There are sock helpers, some of which are intended for compression stocking, but a good quality boot sock can stretch over them, too. It seemed to me like it would be as difficult to get socks over the frames as to pull them over toes, but apparently my father takes half the time to get socks on now/again.
He also used a shoe guide, even though he typically wears construction or hiking boots. Some styles won’t hold them well enough to shove duck feet past tight ankle gaps, but it turns out, others work just dandy.
Another contraption out there, which I own just for the convenience at my muddy-boots door, is a shoe remover aid. (Editors Note: Every cowboy/cowgirl has a “boot jack!”) It lets you “toe” off your shoes by the heels without getting your sock or hands wet, grassy or dirty.
I’ve lived a pretty lucky existence. I learned permaculture and aquaponics from a man in a wheelchair. I learned livestock keeping from a sheep farmer with one arm and a 70-year-old woman who can’t afford her dogs if she can’t keep up with what the goats, rabbits, ducks and chickens need from her property. I live one door down from two near-retiring people who are used to doing for themselves, around pain and injuries and tight budgets, and who thus find a way to toddle along, taking care of each other as they do. The way they handle their physical “adversities” has been absolutely invaluable to my preparedness.
All the gadgets in the world won’t ease the frustration of my father’s hands, his decreasing mobility, his increasing reliance on things. But those gadgets are already in my stock, for injuries as well as age- and time-driven ravages. Because they do help, hugely.
Whether you’re older and losing strength or dexterity, looking at parents and friends who are aging, or just trying to stock for a sick room and med bay, those gadgets can be a good investment. They’re not all that expensive, they don’t have a shelf life, and they’re pretty darn sturdy.
What they can bring to us in terms of self-reliance, efficiency, and time savings is pretty priceless.