Friday, August 18, 2017

Take Action Now to Restore ME/CFS Funding at CDC

Most Americans with ME/CFS and other chronic illnesses breathed a big sigh of relief this month when Congress' efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) failed, and we will - for now - hang onto our rights as those with pre-existing conditions and retain some (though not perfect) access to health insurance.

You can't breathe easy yet, though, because we now have another, familiar threat to ME/CFS in the federal government: the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS zeroed out the $5.4 million line item for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the CDC....again. Yup, that's right, even that meager and insufficient little $5 million we get for research in the CDC (far, far below what other similar diseases get) is in danger of being yanked away completely. If this seems familiar to you, it's because this happened exactly 2 years ago, in August 2015, and ME/CFS patients and advocates spoke up and successfully got our little $5 million reinstated to the budget.

So, it is time once again for your voices to be heard! No need to run to the rooftops and shout, "We Are Here! We Are Here!" - unlike the Whos, we have the internet.

Just take a few minutes to fill out this quick form and hit send, and an e-mail letter will be sent to your Congressional reps. I just did it, and it took me 5 minutes from start to finish (and I added a fairly detailed message about our family and dozens of other families locally).

Use this link from Solve ME/CFS to send your message NOW, while we still have a chance to get this reversed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

TV Tuesday: Gypsy

Another TV show my husband and I have been enjoying this summer on Netflix is Gypsy, an original drama about a therapist who gets too involved in her patients' lives. It's intriguing, with a slightly dark and creepy feel to it that leaves you constantly wondering what's going to happen next.

Naomi Watts plays Jean, a wife and mother who works as a therapist and seems to have a good life. She and her husband, Michael, played by Billy Crudup, live in a large and lovely suburban home with their daughter, Dolly, who is struggling with some gender issues (well, she's not struggling - she thinks of herself as a boy and is happy that way, but everyone around her is struggling with it!). Jean commutes into NYC on the train and works as a therapist, in private practice but consulting with a small group of other therapists. Michael also works in the city as a lawyer, and he and Jean seem to have a decent relationship.

What Michael doesn't know is that Jean makes a habit of lying and sneaking around and getting WAY too involved in her patients' lives. In the first episode, we see her meet with her patient, Sam, a youngish man who is having trouble getting over his ex-girlfriend, Sidney. He mentions that Sidney is a barista at a nearby coffee shop, and soon Jean is hanging out at the coffee shop, introducing herself to Sidney as Diane and befriending her, though it seems that Sidney may be interested in "Diane" as more than just as a friend. Remember, this is Jean's patient's ex-girlfriend! Another patient, Claire, played by Brenda Vacarro, is estranged from her grown daughter, and before long, Jean is seeking out the daughter to see their relationship from her perspective. She just can't seem to stop from inserting herself - secretly - into her patients' lives. Interestingly, Jean actually seems like a decent therapist - caring, thoughtful, and often helpful - though you know her creepy habits can't end well.

As Jean follows various people or meets up with Sidney or Claire's daughter or other people related to patients, she has to keep lying to her husband, her friends, and her co-workers to cover her tracks. In Sidney's case, since Jean is kind of attracted to the younger woman and enjoys stepping into her alter ego, Diane, that she created, these lies and secret running around (often in the middle of the night) become more and more convoluted.

Gypsy (Stevie Nicks recorded an acoustic version of the iconic song for the show's theme) has an unusual tone. It's a drama - sometimes about Jean and her family, sometimes about her patients - but it has a dark, slightly creepy undertone. The more that Jean lies and the more deeply she gets involved with her (unwitting) patients' lives, the more tension builds, as it seems inevitable that she will get caught out sooner or later. Sometimes, what she's doing seems downright dangerous, as with Sidney's alluring and manipulative advances, or visiting a patient who lives in a bad part of town with an abusive boyfriend. So, although I wouldn't call it a thriller, there is a growing feeling of suspense and dread. You want to keep watching to find out what happens, even as you feel an urge to cover your eyes or yell at Jean to watch out! Naomi Watts is brilliant as Jean, switching to these different personas she adopts when she's pretending to be someone else and capturing Jean's underlying feelings of discontent beneath her normal-seeming exterior.

We have watched six of Gypsy's ten episodes in its first season. As a Netflix original show, it is available exclusively on Netflix.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Monday: The Circle

We've really been on a movie roll lately, seeing so many movies I can barely keep up with reviews! We kind of go in streaks, depending on how many good TV shows are on at the time - late summer is always a lull. Our college-aged son was home sick last week, so to cheer him up, we rented a movie Saturday night that we've all been wanting to see: The Circle, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. We all enjoyed this creepy movie about social media gone mad, based on a Dave Eggers novel by the same name.

Emma Watson plays Mae, a young twenty-something woman who is very sweet and a bit shy and devoted to her family. Her dad, played by Bill Paxton, has MS; her mom, played by Glenne Headley, takes care of him as his disease progresses; and Mae lives at home so she can help, too. At the start of the movie, Mae is working as an anonymous customer service rep in a dead-end job, until her best friend, Annie, suggests she apply for a job at The Circle, the huge tech/social media company where she works. Mae gets the job, and her life begins to change dramatically.

The sprawling campus of The Circle is similar to what I have heard the main headquarters for Google and Facebook are like, with employees using bikes in between buildings, beautiful landscaping, and all kinds of extras for employees, like parks and amphitheaters and play areas. Although she is still in customer service, Mae's job is much different, too, with constant electronic monitoring and a spiffy grading system that gives her instantaneous feedback on her performance. Her co-workers are also very different - pleasant and welcoming, encouraging Mae to stop going home on the weekends and spend more time at The Circle in her off-hours, too. There are parties and live bands and more right there on campus.

Soon, Mae is swept up in life at The Circle and keeping in touch with her parents only through video chats. Her childhood friend, Mercer, doesn't approve of her new job or lifestyle - he prefers the simple, unconnected life. Mae is impressed when she meets the head of the company, Eamon Bailey, played by Tom Hanks, though she is beginning to get an inkling that all of this connectedness might have a downside. When Bailey asks her to take part in a social media experiment, though, and offers to include her parents and add them to the very generous company health plan, Mae is all in. As you might guess, things don't go quite as planned as the openness and connections the company touts are taken to new heights.

We all enjoyed this taut drama. It's suspenseful - not in a horror-story way but in a I-know-this-won't-turn-out-well way that makes it very compelling. Besides the growing tension, it is also an intelligent and thoughtful look at our own modern society and how our craze for sharing our lives 24/7 could easily get out of hand. Issues of privacy, ethics, and freedom are explored. And of course, the cast is excellent, especially Watson and Hanks. The Circle is a cautionary tale that is highly entertaining.

The Circle is now out on DVD and available to stream on Amazon, starting at $4.99.



    

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Find Your People!

You might have noticed the blog was pretty quiet this week, after Tuesday - that's because I poured all my time & energy into hosting a potluck dinner for our local ME/CFS (and related illnesses) group on Wednesday! I started the group seven years ago, but this is the first time we've hosted a gathering ourselves, and I was worried about managing it, but there was no cooking since everyone brought something (and we provided burgers and hot dogs and snacks and drinks) and my husband and two sons all helped a LOT. In fact, when everyone left at 8 pm (that's the up-side of socializing with others with chronic illness - they SO get my limits!), I felt a bit tired but mostly just incredibly satisfied and happy. These are my people!

In total Wednesday, from 4 - 8 pm, we had 7 sick adults, 3 sick teens/young adults, and 4 healthy parents/siblings/spouses (14 total, including us). Some have been with the group since its beginning seven years ago, others have been added through the years, and two families were new to our group and just meeting everyone for the first time. We have a couple dozen additional families in our local group who weren't able to make it this time. The great thing about getting together with others dealing with the same illnesses and issues is simply that they "get it." Everyone was making sure the ones with ME/CFS and OI were sitting down, we had plenty of salty snacks, foods were labeled for those with dietary restrictions, and you just know that everyone else understands your limits without you having to say a word. When we get together like this, it is about 50% socializing and about 50% helping each other, with tips on local doctors, treatments that help, diagnoses to consider, etc. It's an incredibly warm and supportive environment. ME/CFS and other similar illnesses can be so isolating that finding other people going through exactly what you are going through is an incredible experience - and definitely inspiring.

How We Got Started & Evolved
Just in case you haven't been reading every blog post here for the past 7 years (!), I'll give you a little background on how we got started. Back in 2010, when both of my sons had ME/CFS (and me, too), I kept hearing about other kids in our area who also had it. I found out about these other families through a wide variety of means and talked or met up with some of them, but at one point I thought, I'm meeting each of them, but they haven't met each other! So, I arranged a lunch meeting at a local restaurant, and five moms from the surrounding region (here in tiny Delaware that means some came from PA and some from MD or NJ) came. That first meeting was a mind-blowing experience for all of us, and we decided that our families had to meet, too. You can read all about that first meeting - including how I found these other parents, in my post, Birds of a Feather.
Adults at our first family gathering

We followed up that first meeting with a second "Mom's lunch," and some of our kids came along this time to meet each other. This was another huge success, both for the parents and the teens. You can read all about it in my post CFS Mom's Lunch. By then, us moms were good friends, and our kids got along well, so one mom offered to host a backyard barbecue the following month. This was another amazing event, with all the kids present and the dads finally able to meet the other families, too. I wrote about it in Local CFS Picnic a Huge Success!  On the way home that night, our own sons were very enthusiastic and asked when we could do it again.

And so, our local group was formed. Seven years later, I now have 36 Party for Chronically Ill Kids, explains how just the opposite is true, and how freeing and fun it is for these kids (and adults!) to hang out together.
people on my local e-mail list, and we get together several times a year for weekday lunches at a restaurant or potluck dinners in someone's home for the whole family. The group is no longer just families with sick kids; plenty of sick adults are now a part of it, too. Our original families are still an active part of the group (though one family moved). Some people never miss a gathering, some come when they can, some have never been to a gathering, and some are housebound and can't come...but they are all on the e-mail list and appreciate being connected with others in the local area even in that limited way - to know they are not alone. And lest you think these gatherings of sick people are boring and depressing, this post,

Kids & teens at one of our lunches
How You Can Find Others Locally
As you can probably tell, our local group is not a typical support group, where you meet one Saturday a month in a library or church to sit in a circle and talk about your illness. In fact, where I live, in Delaware, I know of three support groups like that - they all eventually fizzled out and no longer meet. I can't claim any great wisdom in doing this differently - it just sort of happened this way naturally! As you can see, our group is more social, while still providing support and helping each other. We have become good friends over the years, and the new people who came to our house this week also said they felt comfortable and supported by friends in our group, at their very first gathering. We keep the vibe low-key and friendly, but there is a LOT of important information that gets passed along when we get together, too.

You may not know anyone else locally with ME/CFS (or related illnesses like fibro, EDS, and Lyme), but - unfortunately - there are plenty of people in every region of the world just like you. The key is finding them, especially since most of us don't leave home very much. You can find others in a lot of different places, as I did - through your doctors, schools (in the case of sick kids & teens), mutual friends, and even online. This article I wrote for ProHealth, Birds of a Feather - The Joys of Community, provides lots of tips on how to find others, both online and locally.

Having a support network of friends who are dealing with the same challenges that you are is incredibly rewarding, both in terms of friendship and in terms of actionable information that can help to improve your health. These friendships we make - and continue to nurture - have enriched all of our lives.

So, get started and find your people!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

TV Tuesday: The Bold Type

My son was home sick for about a week, so he and I reverted back to old habits - a paleo chocolate smoothie and an NCIS episode for lunch (and sometimes an extra Bob's Burgers episode if we're feeling wild). He went back to his apartment Sunday night, and I went back to my latest lunchtime girl-centric obsession: The Bold Type, a new show about three young career girls working for a fashion magazine, inspired by the life of Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief, Joanna Coles.

The magazine on the show is called Scarlet, but it's clear it is based on Cosmo, with a focus on modern, independent young women, with lots of flash and a reputation for plenty of sex. On the show, the editor-in-chief is the supremely confident, always fashionable Jacqueline Carlyle, played by Melora Hardin who played Jan on The Office. The show focuses mainly on three young women in their early 20's, just starting out in their adult lives and their careers.

Jane, played by Katie Stevens (who was apparently on season 9 of American Idol), is a staff writer at Scarlet. She's only recently been promoted to this position, and she desperately wants to be taken seriously as a writer, but she's worried she will get pigeon-holed into writing only about sex or fashion at Scarlet. No such luck yet for Sutton, played by Meghann Fahy, who is still toiling away as a lowly assistant, fetching nonstop green juices for a grumpy, demanding senior editor. Sutton has always dreamed of working in fashion, but she comes from moderate means and doesn't have the credentials. She's also secretly dating Richard, a young man who works in the corporate offices of the magazine's parent company. Kat, played by Aisha Dee, rounds out the trio. Kat has worked for Scarlet for the past couple of years as their social media coordinator, wrangling Instagram, Twitter, and the other platforms to help keep Scarlet's readers engaged.

These three bright, ambitious young woman are trying their best to move forward in their careers, while dealing with all the usual drama of the early 20's. I've found it refreshing that these characters are all well-rounded, complex, and interesting - no worn-out stereotypes here. They are also - the three main characters as well as their high-powered boss - all intelligent and ambitious without being portrayed as bitches. Hallelujah! In fact, they're all kind as well as smart. It's about time. The young actresses perfectly capture the conflict of trying to appear confident and bold when you are actually very unsure of yourself on the inside.

In addition, the show deals with some important and engaging topics. Yes, there is plenty of frank sex talk - this is, after all, meant to be Cosmo - but the show tackles a lot more than that, too. And even its sex-related topics are things that aren't usually discussed openly, like when Jane is assigned to write the monthly sex column on how to have the best orgasm, and she confides to her friends that she's never had one. Recent episodes have dealt with online bullying and shaming, racial profiling, and sexual identity.

I've watched four episodes so far (#6 airs tonight), and I'm enjoying it very much. It's full of life, joy, and love but also deals with serious issues. I also like the behind-the-scenes view of working for a big magazine (as both a writer myself and a lover of magazines). It's kind of like a modern version of Good Girls Revolt (a fabulous show on Amazon set in 1969), and it's exciting to see smart, young women getting these kinds of roles for younger girls to watch on TV and emulate. I suppose this show is probably aimed at a younger audience, but I am in my 50's and I'm enjoying it!

The Bold Type is currently airing on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), so you can watch it On Demand or you can find all episodes (free) on the Freeform website. It is also available through Amazon, for $1.99 an episode or $16.99 for the season (link below).



Monday, August 07, 2017

Movie Monday: War for the Planet of the Apes

Last week, my husband and I had a real date night treat: dinner out and a movie in the theater! Even better, we went to a theater that's been newly refurbished in our area that our son told us had real recliners. So amazing!! These theaters have been refitted with FULL recliners - the foot rests go all the way up, the backs lean back - ahhhh! Almost like being at home. For someone like me - very short and can't sit for long with my legs down due to medical problems with blood pressure & heart rate - this is a game-changer! I've been frustrated lately because lots of theaters are putting in new seats around here, but they are using huge seats with high seat backs and extra leg room. I'm too small to lean back comfortably in these giant seats, the way my husband does, and the wider space between aisles and high seat backs means I can't usually put my feet up anymore, either. I LOVED the new recliner theater and may not ever go anywhere else!

Oh, and the movie was good, too! I almost forgot, in my ecstasy over the recliners. We saw The War for the Planet of the Apes, the third and final prequel to the original Planet of the Apes movie (1968). My husband and I were big fans of the original movie, and our whole family has enjoyed these prequels. This one was just as good as its predecessors. If you haven't seen those yet, I highly recommend you go back and start at the beginning, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The War for the Planet of the Apes picks up where the last movie left off, with Caesar (the original intelligent chimpanzee who started this whole revolt) and his followers ensconced in the forest, trying to stay protected from the human armies that are trying to find them. Caesar has maintained his focus on peace (though the humans don't seem interested in that goal) and only fighting to defend themselves, never to attack the humans offensively. That all changes when a defector leads the human armies to the apes' secret cave hideouts, and Caesar (and many others) suffers a horrific loss. Once the humans have been fought off, Caesar knows that his first priority must be to get the remaining members of his group to safety and find a new hiding spot, but he is personally bent on revenge now as well.

Caesar sends the community on a journey to a new safe place they've heard about, while he and a few loyal followers head off in another direction, tracking the human army - and especially a ruthless man known as The Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson. Along the way, they pick up a deaf human girl, whom they name Nova, played wonderfully by Amiah Miller, and another ape who can talk, who thinks his name is Bad Ape because he grew up in a zoo and is voiced hilariously by Steve Zahn. The small group makes their way through snowy mountains until they find the abandoned armory (that was later used as a quarantine facility) to face off against The Colonel. The humans have plenty of high-powered weapons at their disposal here, though, so the odds are against the apes...but hey, all of this is leading to The Planet of the Apes, so we know how it ends, right?

Like the previous two prequels, this movie was filled with action and suspense that kept us glued to the screen (that and those wonderful recliners). Also like its predecessors, this film is also filled with warmth, poignancy, and plenty of humor, which is why I enjoy these movies so much. Ironically, there is plenty of human drama among the primates. Since this is the last prequel, it was also fun drawing the lines between this movie and what we know happens in The Planet of the Apes. For instance, when the group names the little girl Nova, I remembered there was a human female in the original movie named Nova. We both enjoyed this latest addition to the saga very much. Now, we are thinking of watching the 2001 remake of The Planet of the Apes, to come full-circle (and since neither of us has seen the remake yet).

The War of the Planet of the Apes is now playing in theaters. You can purchase tickets ahead of time through Fandango - Know Before You Go! Buy Movie Tickets in Advance. (look for a recliner theater near you!). The first two prequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (both highly recommended) are available for streaming through Amazon, starting at $2.99 or on DVD through Netflix or Amazon.



Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.




First two links below are for streaming, starting at $2.99 each (regardless of what price the link shows) and the last three links are for inexpensive DVDs:


                   
                   

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Living As Usual

I recently read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for the first time...finally! (my review is at the link) Both Margaret Atwood and her renowned dystopian novel had been on my must-read list forever, and I was thrilled to get to it. Many people read The Handmaid's Tale in school (I am a bit too old for that; it came out in 1985), and the book has recently enjoyed a resurgence on the best-seller list, thanks in part to a new Hulu TV series based on it (which I heard is amazing) and in part to the current state of affairs in the world (many dystopian classics have been on the best-seller list recently).

I always find inspiration in the books I read, as I mentioned in my recent article The Joy of Reading, published on the ProHealth website (that article also includes tips for those who struggle to read due to cognitive function, plus lots of book recommendations!). I keep a Quote Journal to jot down quotes from books that I relate to or find inspiring or thought-provoking.

This was my favorite quote from The Handmaid's Tale:
"Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it."
          - from The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This passage struck me for two different reasons. The first half of it speaks to life with chronic illness - as extreme and horrific as it seems at first, we eventually gets used to it, and it becomes our new normal - life as usual. Human beings can get used to anything. In many ways, that helps us to live with chronic illness, to accept our new, restricted lives, and to move forward in a new life now defined by limitations (when you think of it like that, it's not too different from Offred's life in the novel!). The potential downside is that you might forget there are any other options and be so accepting that you stop trying new treatments, reading about new research developments, and recognizing that there is a possibility of a better life ahead for you. I have found that a truly healthy life with chronic illness requires a careful balance between acceptance and hope.

The second way this passage affected me was the way that it was intended: that last line goes right to the heart of both Offred's world and our own. Ignoring the small changes happening in society - the steady chipping away of freedom and tolerance - can eventually lead to huge, horrific changes. Ignorance - not knowing what is going on - is perhaps a valid excuse, but ignoring is something else entirely. It is very easy for each citizen to simply keep living his or her own life - as usual - while ignoring what is happening in the wider world, but that kind of ignoring can have serious consequences. I have been reading a lot of WWII fiction lately, and that is a recurrent theme - how ordinary citizens ignored what was happening to others, until it was too late. It's a brilliant and very thought-provoking sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

Just for fun (there's not a lot of fun in The Handmaid's Tale), I enjoyed another quote because I have a bit of a magazine obsession, and this passage is all about magazines, when Offred sees an old glossy magazine in a world where they no longer exist:
"What was in them was promise. They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point. They suggested one adventure after another, one wardrobe after another, one improvement after another, one man after another. They suggested  rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended endless love. The real promise in them was immortality."
                    - from The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I rarely have time to read magazines at home, but when we go on a road trip (as we often do with our camper), I bring a stack of magazines with me and happily flip through them in the passenger seat. I can't read books in the car because I get car sick, but I can look through magazines (frequently glancing up to look at the horizon!). I love Offred's musings on what makes magazines so enticing. I think part of what I like is just that it feels to lazy and decadent, a treat I rarely have time for. With my time and energy so limited at home, I always feel pressure to be productive when I am not resting - to get as much done as possible in my very restrictive life. But in the car with my magazines, I am free and can sit there doing nothing productive, gazing into other people's lives, with no guilt at all.

Have you read The Handmaid's Tale? Do you find books inspiring and thought-provoking? Most importantly, do you like magazines? (ha ha)

Hope you are enjoying a relaxing weekend!

Friday, August 04, 2017

ME/CFS Symposium Sponsored by Open Medicine Foundation

The Open Medicine Foundation (OMF), the renowned ME/CFS Research Center at Stanford University in California, is hosting a Community Symposium on the Molecular Basis of ME/CFS on Saturday, August 12, 2017. This exciting scientific update for patients and other interested parties will follow a two-day meeting of OMF's huge team of top ME/CFS research scientists, many of them rock stars in the ME/CFS world! You can read details of the Symposium at the link.

Anyone is welcome to take part in the symposium in one of two ways:
1. If you are in California or can travel to the site, you can attend the 1-day symposium in person - there's a button at the bottom of the Symposium page to register.

2. Everyone else can register for the Livestream of the Symposium, so you can watch all the presentations from home (or wherever you are!).
NOTE: The folks at OMF told me that they understand most patients can't watch the Livestream all day, but you can check the agenda at the link to see which speakers you would like to tune in for. They will also be recording the entire day and will either offer a DVD or post the presentations on Youtube (maybe both) after the symposium.

The Symposium is scheduled for next Saturday, August 12, so register today for attending the event or watching it via Livestream! I've already heard from lots of patients (and parents of patients) who are planning to participate.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

TV Tuesday: Ozark

In need of a new show to watch in the end-of-summer TV lull, my husband and I watched the first episode of Ozark, a new Netflix show, last week and immediately watched the second episode, too! That trend has continued this week - we are totally addicted to this unique, suspenseful, poignant, funny show filled with movie-star talent.

Jason Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a seemingly mild-mannered (some might say dull) financial planner in Chicago. Marty normally lives a quiet life, but in the first episode, that gets blown away in a single day. First, he finds out his wife, played by Laura Linney, has been cheating on him, and then he's called out in the middle of the night to answer to Del, the scary head of a Mexican drug cartel, about missing money. It turns out that Marty and his partner, Bruce, have been laundering money for the cartel, and Bruce has been skimming some off. Marty barely saves his own life and his family's lives by convincing Del that he can continue to launder his money from a new location, Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri (this involves some fast-talking and total BS on Marty's part, after Bruce had given him an Ozarks brochure earlier in the day). Del says that Marty and his family must be out of Chicago and settled down there within 48 hours.

And that's where this family's adventure - and nightmare - begins! Marty rushes home and tells his (cheating) wife, Wendy, everything, the house is on the market by morning, and their poor kids - 15-year old Charlotte and younger brother Jonah - are suddenly ripped from their lives and into a stuffed family van heading to Missouri. They arrive to find a depressed region filled with rednecks that relies heavily on summer tourist money. Marty immediately sets out to find cash-based businesses to launder the drug money through, but no one wants anything to do with this fast-talking stranger, until he finally stumbles onto a run-down old summer resort that has seen better days and whose owner is just desperate enough to buy Marty's story of being an "angel investor."

That's the basic set-up, but every episode of Ozark is just chock-full of twists, turns, and surprises, as the Byrde family begins to settle into their new home and Marty struggles to keep his family not only financially afloat but alive. One of the best aspects of the show is the local family of hicks known as the Langmores, who butt up against the Byrdes right from day one. With her father in prison, nineteen-year old Ruth Langmore, played by the brilliant Julia Garner, heads up the ragtag family. She is far more intelligent than her uncles and cousins and also hardened from growing up in the midst of a criminal family. Before long, Ruth worms her way into Marty's business, though her intentions are far from noble. Throw in a local drug business that sees Marty as a threat, a preacher on the water, a dying man in the Byrde's new basement, and an FBI agent hot on Marty's trail, and you have a gloriously tangled and constantly changing plot!

We have watched seven episodes so far of the 10-episode first season (oh, no - only three more to go!), and we are completely hooked on this original show. The actors are all first-rate and completely inhabit their characters. The plot is constantly moving, with surprises in every episode - sometimes the good guys become the bad guys in an instant or the bad guys are suddenly allies! It's a unique and intriguing setting, with the gorgeous backdrop of Lake of the Ozarks and its wealthy summer tourists against the poverty of the locals. Despite its serious themes and nonstop suspense, the show also has a good sense of humor (often dark humor!) that we love and delves into the emotional lives of its characters, too. We are loving every minute of it (as are many of my friends) and hope there will be a season two! I can't wait for my husband to get home tonight so we can watch another episode.

Ozark is a Netflix original program, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.