Saturday, September 13, 2014

How to Donate Platelets

This is by far probably the most important blog post I've ever written. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the importance of fudge brownies or homemade ice cream on just the right occasion, but this is different. This makes a difference. This post is about how to donate platelets.

Ok, so you might be wondering, "I've been told about how important it is to donate blood, but what the heck are platelets? Is it the same process? Does it hurt? How long does it take? Can anyone do this?" I'm here to answer every question you might have and hopefully by the end of this post, you're inspired to go out and donate yourself!

Question: What the heck are platelets and why do people donate them?

Pronounced just like it's spelled (plate-lets), platelets are cells within our blood that help with clotting, which is why they're so important when it comes to cancer therapy, open heart surgery, treatment of blood disorders, and organ transplants. If someone is undergoing chemotherapy, for example, not just the cancer cells but ALL cells are destroyed and their immune system is weak. A single donation of platelets can provide a full dose for a patient in need. I was next to a guy who was able to donate two doses! In comparison, it takes four to six blood donations to produce one dose of platelets for a patient. Now do you see why they're so important?

Question: Ok, so people need platelets. Got it. Can anyone donate or are there restrictions like in giving blood?

Many people don't know they can donate platelets until a family member or friend is in need but just like blood, the donations are always needed. The best part? You can donate every 2-3 weeks (up to 24 times a year)! Much more frequently than donating blood! Unfortunately, not everyone can donate. Your iron, hemoglobin, and platelet counts must be high enough in numbers in order to donate, which can be easily determined by a quick blood test. Also, I know the FDA has a ban against gay men donating blood or platelets, however #1) it looks like that ban may be lifted sooner than we think and #2) at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, for example, they will accept donations from gay men as long as they haven't had sex with another man. Slight loophole but it may apply to you.

Question: You said a blood test has to be done before you can donate?

Yeah, I tried donating about a month ago and couldn't because my counts were too low. They recommend your iron count be at least a 38, platelets at least 200,000, and your hemoglobin at least 12.5. I know these are just a bunch of random numbers to you right now, but it's good info to have. When I first tried to donate, my iron was so low because it was just after my period ended, which depletes your iron count. So what did I do? I took iron supplements everyday and after 40 days, my numbers were dramatically different!

My iron (HCT) went from a 34.9 to 40 (need at least 38)
My hemoglobin (HGB) went from 11.6 to 13.5 (need at least 12.5)
My platelets (PLT) went from 165K to 249K (need at least 200K)
All within 40 days because of iron supplements!

My new results! I passed!
Question: Ok, say you go, you do the blood test, and you pass. Do they put you under? Are you hooked up to multiple machines? How long does it take?

No, they don't put you under. Yes, you are hooked up to a machine but in the same way you would be if you were giving blood. And it can take anywhere between an hour and two hours, depending on how much you're able to give.

I was only able to do donate 1 1/2 units, which equalled 78 minutes. But here's what goes down:

#1) Just like with giving blood, they poke the inside of your arm with a needle (don't worry, you're not staring at it for 2 hours, it gets covered up!) and hook you up to a machine that takes your blood, takes out the platelets within the machine, and puts the blood back in you (pretty cool, huh?). Not a great picture but this was my view of the machine extracting my blood. The little blue knobs were turning and workin' away!

#2) Once the needle is in and you're comfortable, you're covered in blankets. Why? When you donate platelets, you get very cold. Who knew?

Snuggled under my blankets, next to my platelets-pullin' machine!

#3) Since you're going to be reclining there for a while, you can watch a movie (Children's Hospital Los Angeles has a HUGE selection!), you can read a book, listen to a podcast, etc. While you wait, you have a stress ball in your hand and squeeze every few seconds to keep the blood flowing from your vein. If you don't squeeze, your vein vibrates. I know, it sounds crazy, but I thought my phone was in my elbow at one point. That just means your vein is collapsing and you need to squeeze so blood can flow again. No big deal, just vibration = squeeze.

#4) Sometimes your lips tingle. When that happens, it means you're losing calcium, so they can give you Tums. However, if you have amy form of TMJ, don't chew or your jaw will hurt like the dickens! I didn't think I did but.. I apparently do. Suck on the Tums, cookies, whatever they give ya.

#5) After the time is up, they disconnect you from the machines, you can eat cookies and drink juice, and you're set! See, told you it was easy.

Question: So what did you do after? Did you feel tired? Did you pass out?

I was feeling a little lightheaded and tingly but the orange juice and sugar cookies took care of that. I actually went to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl right after, so don't think you're going to be out of commission for the rest of the day. You're totally fine, just don't lift anything heavy or run a marathon. You know, common sense.

Platelets are desperately needed (my theory is because no one knows what they are or that they can donate them!). When hospitals don't have any on hand, they have to buy units from the Red Cross. But here's the kicker - the units you just donated have to be transfused within 5 days of the donation or they expire, which is why I liked doing it at CHLA because I knew they would take the units, run them upstairs, and immediately help a baby or child in need.

Did you know your platelets are yellow?
And there you have it folks, now you have no excuse not to save a life or two. Instead of reading this reclined in bed or on your couch, you could be reading this reclined at a donation center. Not everyone has the ability to donate, which is why you should do it. Seriously, an hour and a half every 2-3 weeks, that's it. Oh, and if your blood type is AB, you're the ideal donor so go! Now! Here's a link to the Red Cross for more information on donating.

And a quick shout-out to the team at CHLA - thank you for being so funny, nice, and not laughing at my 1,001 questions!

You don't have to spend a dime, you get free cookies and juice, and oh! If you donate at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, you get a free meal voucher for their cafe! More free food!

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: Depends on person
But on average, you're looking at 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the donation (not including any time to fill out paperwork, eat your cookies at the end, etc.)

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 2 out of 5
I don't give it a 1 because not everyone can do it (say, if your levels are too low, you're on certain medications, etc.). But if you can, you can just sit back, relax, and realize you're doing something amazing for someone else. You can make monetary donations, sure, but this means so much more.

Friday, September 12, 2014

DIY Goal List

Being organized is hard. My office alone requires the organization of papers, supplies, cords, bills, envelopes, more cords, and a bunch of stuff that requires brain power in order to categorize it. And that's just one room in my apartment! So when I came across this picture on PopSugar (sorry, the original link doesn't work), I decided to make my OWN template to share with you, should you choose to do the same!

The original post must have used 2"x2" Post-Its, since they managed to get three across on an 8 1/2"x11" piece of paper, but since I had 3"x3" Post-Its, I made this template with two on the bottom and two on top, making it four goals per... whatever you like. My example below is per week.

And the best part? You don't have to use Post-Its - you could slip it in a plastic page protector, bust out your dry erase markers, and reuse it over and over again! I find keeping it on the fridge is helpful, since I frequent it enough during the day...

So if you consider yourself organizationally-challenged, I recommend you download the template, print it out, and see how it does you for the week. Sometimes that visual reminder goes a long way. And the best part? Ripping off that Post-It or wiping off that chore - it's very satisfying!

TOTAL COSTS: Depends on method
Template I made is free (though you're welcome to make one of your own)
$4.50 for 100 Sheets of Post-Its at Staples
$1.50 for dry erase marker at Staples

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: How long does it take for you to print a piece of paper?

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 1 out of 5
The hard work is done - the template has been made. All you have to do is fill in the blanks. Ok, maybe the hardest part is actually getting all of your goals done...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Jellyfish in a Bottle [FAIL]

I'm really good at failing. Not in school or my marriage (thank goodness!), but in blog projects. I take something, assume it's really easy to do, try it out, and laugh when the 3rd time is never the charm. Today's example? The jellyfish in a bottle picture I found here on TheMetaPicture. There aren't any instructions, just photos, so I guess I can cut myself a little slack, but I tried this three different ways, each more frustrating than the last. If you want to try this at home, here are some things I recommend you don't do.

Before you start, gather your supplies. You'll need:

* 1 or 2 plastic bottles (depending on how many you want to make - I used old water bottles)
* 1 or 2 plastic bags (like what you'll find in the produce section - they're free and if you're prone to making mistakes, you'll want a few!)
* Scissors to cut the bags
* Food coloring (should you want to tint the water)
* String (or a rubber band, if you don't mind it being visible).

Attempt #1 - Judging by the pictures in the original post, here's what I did.

#1 - Opened up the bag so it was a nice big flat square...

#2 - I put my finger in the middle of the bag so as to...

#3 - ...easily find the head of the jellyfish. I secured the head with a piece of string.

#4 - Next: the tentacles. I took my scissors and started hacking away, making these really big, thick, long tentacles. Hack hack hack.

After seeing just how big it was, I decided to cut the tentacles in half. Was still quite a beast.

And after filling the "head" with water, securing it tightly, filling up my water bottle and placing my jellyfish inside... well, it looks like "jelly" and more "trashy."

I tried again.

Attempt #2 - Ok, this time I figured out what not to do. Don't have thick, long tentacles and use a more "invisible" string. Got it.

#1 - So first I cut the bag to the length of the bottle. That way I knew the tentacles wouldn't be too long.

#2 - I opted to use white thread to secure the head. Much more invisible.

#3 - I didn't use the entire bag this time. Sometimes I threw out giant chunks of plastic, just so my little jellyfish wouldn't be overwhelmed in the bottle.

#4 - I filled up the head with water... but then the head fell apart! Apparently the thread just slipped off. Let me tell you - if your thread isn't long enough, it's going to take you at least half an hour to form the head again, put the string back on, and fill up with water because when the plastic and thread get wet, it's just a slippery mess!

#5 - Since I was closer than last time, I added 1 drop of food coloring. And let me tell you - 1 drop is too much!

My little jellyfish is invisible. And still a clump of plastic floating at the top.

Sigh. Ok, one more time...

Attempt #3 - This time I was going to do it right. Water down the color, forget the string, and make even fewer (and shorter) tentacles!

#1 - This time I made the head first AND used a rubber band to secure it. Take that jellyfish!

#2 - I hacked at the little jellyfish so much he looked like a ghost of his former self.

#3 - My bottle is filled, the color diluted, and... the head won't fit. Are. You. Freaking. Kidding Me.

#4 - After 10 minutes of trying to make the head smaller, I eventually get it in the bottle and my little guy is upside down.

I flip it over and over and over and you can barely see his little head at the top.

I think, after three tries, I can call this jellyfish in a bottle an epic fail. I'm going to go curl up to, "Peanut Butter and Jellyfish" by Jarrett Krosoczka now. You're better off doing the same.

I recycled my bags, bottles, string, and rubber bands. Scissors and food coloring also on hand.

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: Would you believe me if I said over an hour? Ugh...

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 4 out of 5
I have no doubt that if I had used bigger bottles, this experiment might have gone differently, however I tried to replicate the exact pictures to no avail. My little jellyfish were destined to swim upside-down, sideways, and every way in between.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DIY Toothpaste

My cousin showed me this post from ThankYour Body on how to make your own all-natural, flouride-free toothpaste from coconut oil and bentonite clay. I liked it, but what the heck is bentonite clay? Where do you get it and what else do you use it for? And why is that toothpaste brown?! Ok, I'll admit it, I've grown to love commercial toothpaste - it's white, it's thick, and for the past 30ish years, it has done me well. But I'm open-minded so I decided to try this recipe from TheChalkboardMag. All of the ingredients were in my kitchen cupboards so I had no excuse not to try it (FYI - if you don't have any of these ingredients, just stop by Whole Foods).

All you need to make about 2oz. worth is:

1. 2 Tablespoons of baking soda
2. 2 Tablespoons of coconut oil
3. 20 drops of peppermint oil (to make it taste minty)
4. 1 teaspoon of sea salt (optional and I don't recommend it - I'll get you why later).

It's quite easy - just add all the contents to your little container (I used a 4 ounce mason jar).

As you can see, it barely filled up half of the jar. So hey, if you don't like it, it's not like you wasted too much!

To put it on the toothbrush, I had to dip my toothbrush into the jar (which probably isn't very sanitary but it was so runny, I had no choice! Makes sense, now, as to why people use bentonite clay).

And the results? Well, I felt like I ran out of toothpaste halfway through the brushing but even worse, it felt like I licked a salt cube. I couldn't get the taste of salt out of my mouth so I had to brush my teeth again, this time with my commercial toothpaste. While salt is a great antibacterial (remember when your doctor told you to gargle with warm salt water when you had a sore throat?), it can also be very abrasive if you have sensitive gums. That, along with the taste, makes me recommend not adding salt.

However, if you don't want to use a toothpaste with fluoride in it, this might be a good alternative for you. Just... don't use salt. Or if you do, use very little. Your taste buds will thank you.

TOTAL COSTS: About $18 to make as much as you want!
$1.59 for baking soda from Vons
$5.99 for coconut oil from Whole Foods
$7.99 for peppermint oil from Whole Foods
$1.99 for sea salt from Vons

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: Less than 5 minutes

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 1 out of 5
This is so simple because it's only 4 ingredients (or 3, if you leave out the salt), mixed into a container, and put right onto your toothbrush. It's supposed to last up to six months, if stored properly. I doubt, though, it would last you that long if you brushed twice daily.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How to Make Cinnamon Roll Cake

There are two things in life that are perfect, in my opinion: cake and cinnamon rolls. I can't get enough of either. So when I saw Chef-in-Training put together this recipe for cinnamon roll cake, I thought it would make an ideal breakfast option for an out-of-town guest. Before you start gathering your ingredients, though, I must warn you of two things:

#1) This is baked in a 9x13 pan, which will make more than enough! The three of us could barely tackle a third of it so if you're planning on making it, make sure enough people are there to enjoy it (or be prepared for leftovers!)

#2) When it's right out of the oven, it tastes exactly like nirvana. Absolute bliss and perfection. You have been warned.

To get started, here what you'll need for...

The cake
3 cups of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of sugar
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1 1/2 cups of milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of melted butter

The cinnamon swirl topping
1 cup of softened butter
1 cup of brown sugar
2 Tablespoons of flour
1 Tablespoon of cinnamon

The glaze (totally optional but I recommend it!)
2 cups of powdered sugar
5 Tablespoons of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Start by preheating your oven to 350 and spraying the inside of your 9x13 pan with PAM or some other cooking spray. In your mixer combine all of the cake ingredients, leaving the melted butter for last.

Once everything is combined, add it to your pan.


Next comes the topping. In the same bowl (unless you like doing dishes, you can use a separate bowl), mix all of the topping ingredients until it's creamy. Take your Tablespoon and drop spoonfuls of the topping into the cake batter.

Take a knife and start swirling it around until the topping is evenly distributed. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean).

While the cake is baking, you can make your glaze. In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract with a whisk until thoroughly combined.

Once the cake is out of the oven, evenly distribute the glaze over the top of the cake.

Cut the cake (be careful if you can't wait - it'll be quite warm!) and devour. It is so fantastically good while warm but if you refrigerate it and eat it cold, it's just as yummy! It's still moist and not dried out!

Right out of the oven with the cinnamon oogy-gooeyness

After being in the fridge overnight - just as delicious!

TOTAL COSTS: About $22 (if you don't have any of the ingredients - prices from Vons)
$3.29 for flour
$.99 for salt
$2.69 for sugar
$1.99 for baking powder
$2.29 for milk
$2.79 for eggs
$.99 for butter
$4.79 for cinnamon
$2.49 for powdered sugar
Vanilla extract and brown sugar made from scratch

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: About 50 minutes

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 2 out of 5
The "hardest" thing might be just making sure it doesn't burn but really, 35-40 minutes should do the trick. Other than that, it's just a matter of following direction (thought I doubt you need instructions for the "enjoying" part!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Penne Pasta with Spinach Sauce

I'm not a big proponent of vegetables but this penne with spinach recipe I found on CookingChannelTV is one of my favorite dishes and I had to share it. It's super easy to make, it feeds a lot of people, and doesn't take much time to put together. Plus, if it's wicked hot outside, it doesn't require an oven so it won't turn you into a pool of sweat.

Here's what you'll need (and what I recommend):

1 box/pound of whole wheat penne pasta
3 garlic cloves
2 ounces of goat cheese
1 ounce of cream cheese
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
6 ounces of spinach leaves
Parmesan cheese for topping (optional)

And while it's not listed, I recommend adding 1-2 ounces of pesto sauce!

Start by boiling your water for your pasta.

Once the water is boiling, add your pasta and let it cook for about 12 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare your other ingredients. If you have a food processor, add your garlic, goat cheese, cream cheese, salt, pepper, and half of your spinach and blend until it's smooth (if you have pesto, now would be the time to add it!). I don't have a food processor so I just chopped up the garlic and spinach by hand and then added everything into a bowl.

At this point, your pasta should be ready to be drained, however you will want to save a cup or so of your pasta water. You might need it later.

Put the other half of your spinach in a bowl and place your pasta on top.

Add the spinach sauce and toss to coat, adding enough of the pasta water to moisten (I ended up only using about a 1/4 cup). I find it helps to toss it by putting a bowl on top and shaking the two bowls. If that doesn't work, a wooden spoon will do the trick!

Add a little parmesan cheese and there you have it kids - a quick, delicious, and (somewhat) healthy meal you can put together in no time!

TOTAL COSTS: About $10
$1.49 for a box of whole wheat penne pasta
$.69 for garlic
$3.99 for 4 ounces of goat cheese
$.79 for 2 ounces of cream cheese
$.99 for salt
$1.99 for 8 ounce bag of spinach
Parmesan cheese and pepper already on hand

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: Almost exactly 30 minutes

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 1 out of 5
You don't have to worry about burning, sautéing, brining, anything really technical. If you can boil water, you can make this dish!