Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Favorite TV Shows Reviewed in 2018

It was another AMAZING year for TV shows! There is just SO much available now, between streaming services, cable channels, and networks, that it's impossible to keep up with all the amazing shows - but we gave it our best! In fact, our movie viewing has fallen off in recent years because we are watching so much more TV.

The full list of TV reviews I wrote this year (22 in all) is included below, and these have all been added to my TV Reviews tab (along with the ones previously reviewed). They are sorted by genre. Making this list reminded me of some great shows that I had forgotten about!

As usual, we watched a mix of genres and on a wide variety of platforms. We still watch most of our shows On Demand through our cable service (though all are available elsewhere), but many of them are continued from previous seasons (so you can find their reviews in the TV Reviews tab).

Here are a few superlatives from my 2018 reviews to whet your appetite (click the links to see the reviews) - these were painful choices to make in some cases because there were so many excellent shows (so I sometimes cheated a bit and declared a tie). Just to be clear, I only write reviews of shows that I enjoy, so everything on the list at the end is worth trying!

Best Comedy
The Letdown (N) - Netflix
(a hilarious Australian show about being a new parent)

Best Drama
For the People (A, C, I, H?) - ABC
(a new legal drama by Shonda Rhimes)

Best Dramedy
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (A) - Amazon Original
(tough call but it has everything & even my husband is watching it now)

Best Crime/Mystery/Thriller  
 American Gothic (A, CBS) - CBS (thriller with dark humor)
Killing Eve (A, C, I) - BBC America (straight-up thriller - outstanding)

 Best Sci Fi
 11/22/63 (A, H) - Hulu 
(it's also a Drama & Historical, so also Best Sci Fi for Those Who Don't Watch Sci Fi!)

All TV Shows Reviewed in 2018
In addition to the reviews listed below, also check out my post, When Good Shows Get Cancelled, a round-up of One-Season Wonders still worth watching!

KEY: Available on:
A = Amazon
C = Cable and/or Cable On Demand
CBS = CBS All Access 
H = Hulu
I = On network’s own website
N = Netflix
Note that Amazon Prime original shows are available free only to Amazon Prime members (just like Netflix or Hulu), but some shows are available on Amazon (A) to anyone for a fee.
Most TV shows are also available on DVD (to buy or borrow from your library), which works well if you want to see a show in a streaming service that you don't subscribe to. That's how we watched 11/22/63.

The Letdown (N) - Netflix
Splitting Up Together (C, I) - ABC

Alias Grace (N) - Netflix
Breaking Bad (N) - AMC
For the People (A, C, I, H?) - ABC
The Resident (A, C, I) - FOX
Rise (A, C, I) - NBC

Dramedy (both Comedy & Drama)
Forever (A) - Amazon Original
Glow (N) - Netflix
Good Girls (A, C, I) - NBC
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (A) - Amazon Original

The Alienist (A, C, I) - TNT
American Gothic (A, CBS) - CBS
Goliath (A) - Amazon Original
Instinct (A, C, I) - CBS (also Dramedy)
Jack Ryan (A) - Amazon Original
Killing Eve (A, C, I) - BBC America
Safe (N) - Netflix
You (A, C, I) - Lifetime

Sci Fi
11/22/63 (A, H) - Hulu (also Drama & Historical)
The Crossing (A, C, I) - ABC
The X-Files (A, C, I) - FOX

Monday, January 21, 2019

Favorite Movies Watched in 2018

And....drumroll! Time for my annual recap of all the movies I watched this year, plus my picks for favorites. Note that not all of these movies were released in 2018; these are just the ones I watched last year.

I reviewed 22 movies last year, compared to 25 movies in 2017 (though I didn't have time to review every movie I saw). You can see the full list and genres below, with my favorites marked with *, but I only review movies that I like, so all of the movies listed below are worth watching. The only genre I didn't cover was documentaries, and I'd like to change that this year. I think 6 of the 22 movies were book adaptations. This was the Year of the Musical, with 3 excellent musicals (all of which I saw on the big screen!). In fact, I saw a lot more movies in theaters this year, so more of these are 2018 releases than usual for me.

You can see my full list of movie reviews, covering several years at the Movie Reviews tab.

And now, for my top picks - do I have to choose? Some of these are touch choices, so I'm going to make up some categories.

Best Suspense\Thriller

We saw several excellent thrillers and suspense movies, but this one takes the prize for originality, acting, and searing tension - never has chewing popcorn sounded so loud!

Best Drama

Easy choice, with this original film that was tender, real, and funny with an outstanding cast.

Tough choice in this category, but Sally Fields is outstanding in this quirky, warm comedy about an older woman who gets a crush on a younger man - my friends and I all loved it.

Best Sci Fi/Fantasy
Ready Player One

My son, husband, and I all LOVED the book, and it was wonderful to see this unique, fun story come to life on screen - a visual treat!

Best Musical
Bohemian Rhapsody

 An almost-too-close-to-call tie with A Star Is Born, but I had a grin on my face the entire time I watched this one (except when I was crying and singing) - it helps that I am a huge Queen fan. Both movies are outstanding.

This is the original, not the sequel that came out this year, and my son, husband, and I really enjoyed the colorful, entertaining Harry Potter-related fantasy.

Best Thriller Comedies - a tie!
A Simple Favor

These two genre-bending movies combined plenty of suspense and thrills with lots of humor and were among my favorite movies watched in 2018, so I made up a new category for them!

What were your favorite movies watched in 2018?

All Movies Watched in 2018:
My favorites are marked with *, but I only review movies I enjoy, so all of these are worth a try:

How It Ends - suspenseful, action-packed, thoughtful apocalypse movie  
Ocean's 8 - all-female crew caper film
* A Quiet Place - captivating family drama plus super suspense and 100% quiet
Red Sparrow - twisty Russian spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence
* A Simple Favor - fun, twisty thriller with a great sense of humor
* Taking Lives - dark, twisty thriller about killer who takes on victims' identities

Every Day - unique teen love story
* Lady Bird - tender, realistic, funny coming-of-age story
Ricki and the Flash - fun, warm, musical, funny family drama

* The Big Sick - warm, funny romcom based on a true story
* Game Night - unique thriller comedy with suspense and lots of laughs
* Hello, My Name is Doris - warm, funny movie starring Sally Fields
Trainwreck - light, funny, raunchy romcom
Sci Fi/Fantasy
Blade Runner - dark, classic sci fi thriller set in the future world of 2019!
* Extinction - sci fi action-packed thriller with family drama
Jurassic World - Jurassic Park sequel from 2015 - action, suspense, and thrills
* Ready Player One - exciting, fast-paced virtual adventure with loads of 80's pop culture

* Bohemian Rhapsody - moving, powerful, joyful story of Queen
The Greatest Showman - entertaining musical about P.T. Barnum
* A Star Is Born - powerful musical with emotional depth and outstanding performances

* Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (1st movie) -  unique, fun, creative fantasy

The Incredibles 2 - clever, funny, action-packed, and lots of fun


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: You're Right Where You Need To Be

This week's inspiration comes from a wonderful memoir I read in November, Seven: In the Lane of Hope by Michael Marini. Michael happens to be a friend of mine, but I would have enjoyed his
memoir even if I didn't know him - it's a warm, funny, and inspiring story about growing up in a family of 13, and his dad's recovery after a medical problem that almost killed him. You can read my full review of the memoir on my book blog at the link above.

Michael has a great sense of humor that comes out in his book, and there are plenty of laughs in a busy family with 11 kids. But the memoir is also about his dad's recovery, after doctors told the family he was dying. His dad sounds like an amazing character; he has all kinds of sayings that he frequently repeats. He had been a runner and later, a running coach, and each of the kids was on the track and/or cross-country teams in school, so many of his inspiring sayings have their roots in running, but when he was incapacitated and later, recovering, he found that they applied equally well. While reading the memoir, I also found that his sayings often applied to my life with chronic illness.

One of my favorites:

"You're right where you need to be."

He used to say this to encourage his kids while running a race, but later, he reassured himself with this line while in the hospital and recovering. I read this book during my 3-month long crash this fall, when I was feeling horribly discouraged and stuck on the couch. Reading this simple line helped me to relax and recognize that everything else could wait and my "job" right now was to rest and take care of myself. I repeated that line to myself frequently this fall.

Michael also included some great passages about happiness and contentment in the memoir. This one was on a plaque in his mom's kitchen that he'd seen hundreds of times but really struck him one day:

"Allow life's beauty to envelop you. Hold no guilt or worry about what should have been or what might be."

It's again about accepting where you are right now, living in the present, and letting go of past regrets and future concerns. Good advice for us all.

Another thing his dad said, in reference to his time in the hospital:

"Sometimes, it's really hard to slow down and appreciate what you got - even if that's exactly what you need."

This also hit home for me while I was spending my fall on the couch resting. I realized my mind was still in "must be productive and get things done" mode, while I needed quiet recovery time and to live in the present.

Another thing his dad said:

"Live for today, dream for tomorrow, and learn from yesterday."

That seems like excellent advice, whether you are living with chronic illness or not!

Have you read any books lately that inspired you? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

You can purchase Seven: In the Lane of Hope on Amazon.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

My Progress in 2018 and My Goals for 2019

I wrote about my goal-setting process in an article for ProHealth: Setting Goals When You Are Chronically Ill (you can read the full article at the link). There, I explained that I don't set New Year's Resolutions that are unrealistic or soon forgotten. Instead, I have lifetime goals that rarely change, and then I set more specific objectives and targets for each of those goals at the start of every year and track my progress. It's a process that anyone can use - not to make unachievable resolutions  but to set reasonable step-by-step (baby steps!) targets to help you actually get what you want out of life...even in a life of limits, like ours.

You can also look back at my 2015 progress and 2016 goals (those related to health & wellness anyway) and also my update on 2016 progress and 2017 goals.

Lifetime Goals
I set these overall goals for my life many years ago - and then updated them a few years back to better reflect my "new normal" with chronic illness. It's funny how I never even mentioned my health in my original goals - we really do take our health for granted until it fails us!

My Lifetime Goals:

  1. To nurture and enjoy strong, fulfilling relationships with my husband, my sons, my family, and my friends.
  2. To be a writer, writing about topics I enjoy and am interested in and getting paid fairly for my work.
  3. To spend time outdoors and to travel, doing activities I enjoy and that rejuvenate me, and sharing those experiences with friends and family.
  4. To create and maintain a comfortable and happy home environment - both physically and financially - that contributes to happiness, comfort, and loving relationships.
  5. To be as healthy as I can be and to take care of myself so that I can do the things I want to do.
  6. To give back, help other people, and be part of a community.
SO THAT, I feel happy and content and can spend my time doing things I love.

2018 Progress
I'm a very data-driven person, so I won't bore you with the details of my progress in 2018, but here is a brief summary of my successes and areas that need further improvement. I'll mainly focus on the things that most of you can relate to, like relationships and health.

How I felt overall remained about the same as 2017 for the first three-quarters of 2018, and my level of exertion was about the same, too - so far, so good. Then, in October, I went into a severe crash that left me mostly couchbound for 3 months, due to a flare-up of my Lyme disease. So, if I include those last 3 months, this year was clearly much worse, but that crash was temporary, and I am now back to my normal baseline. 2016 and 2017 were my best years ever, so I hope to get back to that!

In 2017, I was crashed just 3% of the time (11 days all year!). In 2018, I was doing great up until October and was crashed just 2% of the days! Then, of course, the bottom fell out, so I ended the year with 12% crash days.

How do I know all this? Like I said, I like data! I keep track of how I feel each day on a 1 to 5 scale (1 being great & 5 being badly crashed/bedridden), as well as my exertion levels (also 1 to 5, with 5 being most active). I just jot those numbers on a calendar at the end of each day, along with any unusual symptoms, new treatments, etc. So, I've been tracking these numbers, with monthly and yearly averages, since I first got sick in 2002. I also look at % of time spent crashed (a 4 or 5 on my scale). This data also helps me to tell whether a new treatment is helping. My annual average for 2016 and 2017 was 2.2, a huge improvement over my early years of illness. In 2018, I was at about 2.3 up until that big crash at the end of the year, so I ended 2018 with an average of 2.5. If you're not as analytical as I am (I suspect few people are!), you can just jot down the numbers and notes at the end of each day and use it to see patterns in push-crash, whether a new treatment is helping or not, and other information to help manage your illness day-to-day.

2018 Successes:
These are the objectives where I came close to or exceeded my targets for this year.

My relationship with my husband & sons (note: our sons are grown and mostly out of the house now):
  • Had date nights 2-3 times a month
  • Took walks or other time spent outdoors with my husband 2-3 times a month
  • 6 overnight trips together
  • Spent time each week with our sons
  • 2 "trips" with our sons (our vacations didn't work out but we did have "staycations" and visit family together
My health:
  • Tried 5 new treatments for my son and I (related to MCAS and Lyme & other tick infections)
  • Walked 4 times a week about 80% of the time *
  • My longest walk was 1 hour and 50 min! *
  • 10-15 minutes of gentle yoga stretches on the floor every morning
  • Meditate 10 min every day
  • Muscle building 4 times a week about 80% of the time, with substantial increases in weights and reps *

* NOTE:  My exercise is NOT Graded Exercise Therapy (GET), and I am ONLY able to exercise because of several treatments for my ME/CFS that have eased the exercise intolerance somewhat, including treating Orthostatic Intolerance and treating immune dysfunction. I still definitely have limits and use a heart rate monitor to help stay within my limits and prevent post-exertional crashes. Other treatments have helped as well - you can read my full summary of treatments that have been most effective for my son and I, allowing us to live active lives again.

Areas That Need Improvement:

Other relationships:
  • I only got together with friends (my goal is once a week) about 80% of the time in 2018, way down from 2017.
  • I didn't stay in touch with my mom, my stepmom, and my father-in-law as much as I'd like to.
  • I didn't stay in touch with distant friends much in 2018 (other than Facebook - thank goodness for that!)
  • I had a target of doing a longer yoga session (I have a 30-min tape that works for me) once per month - I didn't do that even once all year! 
  • I need to do better about putting away my laptop by 7pm because I know it wears me out in the evening (I'm doing OK with that but there's room for improvement).
  • I still need a LOT of improvement on putting away my work and resting when I crash - I only listened to my body about two-thirds of the time.
  • I need more fun! I get caught up in writing, helping in support groups, my blogs, and other work and have trouble just relaxing.

2019 Objectives and Targets
I won't bore you with all my detailed targets for writing, family, home & finances, etc., but here are my health-related Objectives and Targets for 2019. Note that many of my targets from 2018 are just carried over to 2019. In many cases, I am making progress but need to keep working at it - remember, baby steps! I did change a few significant things in my Writing targets for 2019, related to my blogs, my freelance work, and the ME/CFS Effective Treatments book I am working on, to try to ease some of that pressure I feel. My biggest problem is trying to do everything at once!

Health-related objectives & targets: 

1. Try New Treatments (this is an objective every year - I never stop searching for things that will help my son and I to improve our health & our ability to function). We'll continue to work on tick infections in 2019, though our new protocol is working well so far, and I'd like to talk to my doctor about mestinon.

2. Take Care of Myself:

  • Rest when symptoms flare (3 or higher on my scale)
  • Do 2 quiet things just for myself each week (no multi-tasking!)
  • No computer after 7 pm
  • Do 2 fun things each week that are not TV
  • Take one "day off" each month
3. Improve Stamina (again, only possible because I first treated exercise intolerance)
  • I am continuing my goals of 10 min of yoga each morning, walk 4 times a week, and do some muscle work (usually lying on the ground to keep my HR down) 4 times a week - I lost some ground this fall, so I am working my way back to where I was.
  • And yes, I am going to try again at doing a longer yoga session (30 min) once a month.
  • Walk a 5k - yes, really! A friend with ME/CFS inspired me, and I was ready by October - and then that bad crash hit. So, I am going to try again this year.
The targets under Take Care of Myself may seem pretty basic, but I still struggle with taking care of myself, taking time out for fun, resting when I should, and relaxing. In fact, as I've improved, I've naturally wanted to do even more, so these kinds of simple self-care actions are even tougher now. My time and energy are still so limited that I want to be as productive as I can when I am up and feeling OK...so I need these reminders to take some time out for myself.

We are each at a very different place in our illness journeys, even when we have the same illness, so your goals, objectives, and targets will necessarily be different than mine, but I hope that sharing my goals and progress with you will inspire you to embark on a similar process for yourself. This helps me to actually achieve my goals, instead of looking back at the end of each year and realizing that nothing changed (which is what I used to do!)

Have you set any goals or objectives for yourself for 2019? How was 2018 for you? Please share in the comments below!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Forge Meaning and Build Identity

I was looking for an inspiring TED Talk today and came across an old favorite of mine, How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are by Andrew Solomon. He is an amazing speaker, and every time I hear him, in a TED Talk or on a podcast, I am moved and find myself trying to write down some of the bits of truth he says. In fact, I think I posted this same TED Talk on the blog before, but it was five years ago, and the link no longer works, so I thought it was worth revisiting.

In this moving, funny, inspirational talk, Solomon explains how we can find meaning in our lives through adversity. In the second half, he talks mainly about his own struggles as a gay man (and earlier, as a bullied child), but he also talks about people who've been imprisoned, parents with disabled children, and other types of adversity as well. His main message, which certainly applies to life with chronic illness, is that through the worst things we endure in life, we can forge meaning and build identity. I love that phrase and end up jotting it down every time I hear him speak! He also says, "You can forge meaning and build identity and still be mad as hell," and talks about how oppression builds the power to oppose it.

Listen for yourself - even though I have heard this exact talk at least twice before, the ending still brings (happy) tears to my eyes:

I hope you find Solomon as inspiring as I always do.

He has also written several books (which I want to read!), including The Noonday Demon, on depression (which won the National Book Award); Far From the Tree, on parenting; and Far and Away, about how travel can change the world.

Have a wonderful week!


Sunday, January 06, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Plan for a Wonderful New Year!

Happy New Year!! I had good intentions of posting more often this week (and intend to get back to a regular routine in January), but one of my sons was very, very sick and at home with a high fever and terrible sore throat - turned out to be strep throat that wasn't responding well to antibiotics, tonsillitis, an abscess on one tonsil, and maybe mono (though we're not sure of that last one). So, I spent much of my week making him soothing foods that he could swallow (lots of soups, smoothies, and shakes!) and taking care of him. He is now on antibiotic #3 and a short burst of steroids for the tonsils and feeling much, much better - now I'm having trouble keeping him home! lol This coming week, we'll have both sons home part-time plus a birthday plus two family members heading off on trips...so I will probably (realistically) be posting more starting next week!

When I did have time to work this week, I was immersed in my annual process of reviewing the past year and setting goals for the new year. I'm not quite finished reviewing 2018 - the last part left is illness-related - so I will share that with you when I finish and have a chance to set goals for the new year.

You may be thinking that it's impossible for someone with ME/CFS to set goals (or resolutions, though I prefer goals), especially when this past week, all we've heard online and in the media has been about exercising more and resolving to get fit in 2019! But, we can set our own goals, based on our own limitations. For instance, one of my on-going targets is to rest when I don't feel well - listening to my body has always been a challenge for me! Another target I set every year is to try new treatments. Even though my son and I function well most of the time and are in much better shape than we were 5 years ago, these illnesses still rule our lives, so I am always on the lookout for new treatment approaches that might bring another small step of improvement. For some ideas of treatments that you can try, check out my page on Effective Treatments for ME/CFS.

Maybe you want to improve your diet or learn to knit or draw more or try audio books. Your goals will be based on what's important to you and what you want to accomplish.

But how do you actually set and meet your goals? I created my own system that includes measurable targets years ago before I got sick and adjusted that process for my life with chronic illness. This article I wrote for ProHealth, Setting Goals When You Are Chronically Ill, explains all the details with examples to get you started. This is something that anyone can do. You can also look at my post from 2017, My Progress in 2016 and Goals for 2017. I hope to post this year's goals in the next week or so.

Oh, and I forgot to share some VERY good news. My severe crash of the past three months is finally over! Christmas Day was the first day I truly felt good, with no aches or other crash symptoms, and that has continued. It was a matter of treating my Lyme recurrence (details here) and finding the right balance with a new Lyme treatment protocol, plus getting my immune system to settle down. So, I am starting the new year off right, back to my "normal" baseline and able to be a bit active again.

Have you set any goals for the new year? What would you like to accomplish in your own life?