Tuesday, January 19, 2021

TV Tuesday: Home Before Dark

When I finally joined the 21st century and got a smartphone last summer, an iPhone, a free year of Apple TV came with it. I had wanted to see The Morning Show, the Jennifer Aniston/Reese Witherspoon drama (review of that one later), so I accepted the offer. Now, we are exploring additional offerings on Apple TV before our free year runs out. Our favorite so far is Home Before Dark, a classic murder mystery/suspense show ... except that the "detective" is a 9-year-old girl.

Hilde Lisko, played by Brooklynn Prince, isn't too happy about her family's recent move from urban Brooklyn to a small town in Washington state where her Dad grew up. Her father, Matt, played by Jim Sturgess, isn't too happy about it, either, but there are hints that he lost his journalism job over some sort of scandal. He and his wife, Bridget (played by Abby Miller), and their three daughters try to adjust to small town life while getting reacquainted with Matt's dad, played by Reed Birney, who has dementia. Oddly, no one in Matt's home town seems particularly glad to see him again. Hilde wants to be a journalist just like her dad and wrote her own newspaper back in Brooklyn, so she starts up again here in remote Washington. After an unexpected death soon after they arrive, Hilde quickly finds out why her dad is not being welcomed back. Decades earlier, her father's best friend, Richie, was kidnapped and never found. Police arrested a young Native American man named Sam, played by Michael Greyeyes, and convicted him, but Matt--just a child about Hilde's age--testified at the trial that he was not the man in the van who took Richie. Now, Matt is back, with his determined young daughter, this latest death has a link to those old events, and the cold case is again dividing the town. Hilde and her friends bike, scooter, and walk all over town to try to solve both the recent death and the decades-old case, despite pushback from the police who insist the right man is in prison.

This show has all the features of any good mystery/suspense/thriller show with a murder at its center, but the young girl leading the investigation makes it something special. You might think that a little girl investigator would be too cutesy, but young Brooklyn Prince does an outstanding job in the role, with a fierce determination for justice that would put most adult detectives to shame. The story is actually based in truth, on real-life 9-year-old journalist Hilde Lysiak who really did solve a murder in her town. So, it's not as far-fetched as you might think. The other children and the adult actors are also excellent in their roles, as you struggle to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. The mystery itself is complex and twisty, with plenty of unexpected reveals and red herrings. Best of all, the show has emotional depth and a sense of humor, which we always appreciate, especially in a show that might otherwise be too dark. My husband and I both enjoyed this show very much. We usually juggle 6-8 shows at once, but we kept coming back to this one and were sorry when it ended. Luckily, season one ended with an unexpected twist, so we can't wait for season two!

Home Before Dark is an Apple TV show, so it is available exclusively on that streaming service (which is free for one year for anyone who buys an Apple device).

 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Movie Monday: The Peanut Butter Falcon

In order for me to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve, I need plenty of diversion, so we watched two movies that night. Though they were both good, one of them, The Peanut Butter Falcon, left us with huge grins on our faces. It would have definitely made my Best of 2020 list, if I had been able to review it sooner, so I guess it will be my first favorite of 2021!

Zak, played by Zack Gottsagen, is a 23-year-old man with Down's Syndrome who is living in a nursing home with the elderly and infirm. It is definitely not where Zak belongs, but he has no family, and this is where he ended up. So, his elderly roommate is more than happy to help him break out one night, greased up to slide through the bars on the window. Now dressed in nothing but his underwear, Zak takes off running. He soon encounters Tyler, played by Shia LeBeouf, who is also on the run for entirely different reasons and has been struggling emotionally since the loss of his brother. The two of them end up teaming up and heading south, through the marshes of the North Carolina coast on land and sea, to follow Zak's dream of becoming a professional wrestler. They are heading to meet the Salt Water Redneck, played by Thomas Haden Church, who is Zak's idol from the very old VHS tapes he has watched hundreds of times. Meanwhile, back at the nursing home, a supervisor named Eleanor, played by Dakota Johnson, is being held responsible for Zak's escape and is sent out to find him. She does catch up with Zak and Tyler, but convincing Zak to return to the quiet home after his exciting life on the road is not going to be easy.

We both loved this original, heartwarming movie about friendship, family, and healing. It's an outstanding cast, including Zachary Gottsagen in his first movie role, and the writing is excellent. We were frequently laughing out loud while watching their carefree, full-of-life journey, but there was also suspense to keep us on our toes. Mostly, though, this film is full of heart, examining the depth of love and what it means to be family. It will leave you with happy tears in your eyes and a huge smile on your face!

Released in 2019 by Roadside Attractions, The Peanut Butter Falcon is currently available on Hulu and on Amazon Prime.

I guarantee this trailer will make you smile!


 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Favorite TV Shows of 2020


It's time for my annual TV wrap-up. 2020 was an unusual year for TV for us, since we usually watch mostly cable shows, but so many of those were interrupted by the pandemic. That led us to explore streaming services more.

Listed down at the bottom of this post are all of the shows that I reviewed here on my blog in 2020. TV shows here include those on network TV, cable, and On Demand, as well as on the major streaming services (and many shows are available on network websites, too). I have also added all of these to my TV Reviews tab on the blog, so you can come back anytime to see ALL of the shows I have ever reviewed here. 

I only review shows I enjoy, so anything listed here or on the TV Reviews tab is worth trying!

Best of TV
First a few superlatives - my favorite shows reviewed last year in each category/genre - always tough choices to make because TV shows are just getting better and better (and more and more!). Some of these I almost made two-way or three-way ties, but I stuck to the rules. Remember that we enjoyed all of the shows reviewed - see the full list at the bottom of the post. Links are to my reviews, including trailers and details on where to find each show.

 Best Comedy
The Good Place (A, C, N, P)

We finally tried it ... and everyone was right!


 

Best Drama

The Queen's Gambit (N)  

My husband's vote is Yellowstone (A, C, P, Paramount) - a close second for me - though he loved Queen's Gambit also.


 

Best Dramedy

 Atypical (N)

Outstanding in every way - can't wait for season 4 in 2021!


 

Crime/Mystery/Thriller/Legal/Action

 Lie to Me (A, IMdB)

(a tough call - lots of good shows - but we like the mysteries plus humor)


 

Best Sci Fi

Russian Doll (N)  

(don't be put off by the sci fi label - hilarious Groundhog Day-like show!)


All TV Shows Reviewed in 2020

So much good TV last year, though it's depressing how many great new shows we enjoyed have already been cancelled! That's the flip side of having so many choices.

KEY: Available on:
A = Amazon Prime
C = Cable and/or Cable On Demand

CBS = CBS All Access

H = Hulu

IMdB
N = Netflix
P = Peacock
S = Showtime


(Offerings from subscription services change all the time, so double-check. Also, some shows are available for an additional fee on Amazon Prime whether you subscribe or not. Most networks offer some episodes of every show for free at their own websites. Click the links below for my review and details on where it is available.)

Comedy

The Good Place (A, C, N, P)

Miracle Workers: Dark Ages (A, C)

 

Drama

All Rise (A, C, CBS)

The Good Fight (A, CBS)

The Queen's Gambit (N)

Quiz (A, C, AMC)

Yellowstone (A, C, P, Paramount)

 

Dramedy (both drama and comedy combined)

Atypical (N)

Dash and Lily (N)

Sex Education (N)

Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist (A, C,  H, P)

 

Crime/Mystery/Thriller/Legal/Action

Better Call Saul (C, N, AMC)

Dublin Murders (A, H, Starz)

Lie to Me (A, IMdB)

Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector (cancelled but hoping NBC will put it on Peacock)

The Stranger (N)

 

Sci Fi

Russian Doll (N)

Snowpiercer (A, C, TNT)

Star Trek: Picard (CBS)


Monday, January 11, 2021

Favorite Movies Watched in 2020


Notice my title photo for my 2020 movie wrap-up features a television screen instead of a theater screen? Yeah, it was that kind of a year. We watched exactly one movie in a theater before everything shut down, so the rest of our movies were watched on the small screen, at home, and only a few were new releases. sigh ... just when recliner seats made it possible for me to enjoy movie theaters again!

Nonetheless, it was still a good year for movies at our house! 

We watched only 13 movies last year, down from 16 in 2019 and 22 in 2018, as the TV options continue to expand and improve with so many streaming options in addition to cable. Actually, I see from my notes that we watched 19 movies in 2020, but I only reviewed 13 of them. That's a shame because some of those not reviewed, like The Goldfinch and The Town were quite good. You can see the full list of 2020 movie reviews 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. I didn't see any documentaries (second year in a row!) or musical drama (I did watch but didn't review Hamilton). It was tough to categorize many of the movies, as more and more, movies are blurring the genre lines: funny mysteries, dramas with plenty of humor, action/comedy/romance, etc.

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

And now, for my top picks (full reviews at the links):

Best Action/Suspense/Thriller

I See You

Unique and super-twisty

(it's a weird movie poster so don't judge it by that)


 

Best Drama

 The Rainmaker

Great courtroom drama with all-star cast based on Grisham novel


Best Comedy & Best Movie of the Year

 Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Warm, funny, action-packed adventure set in New Zealand



Best Sci Fi

The Vast of Night

Teens in 50's-era town investigate strange noise


Best Family Movie

The Call of the Wild

Disney remake of classic adventure novel about a man and dog


 

All Movies Reviewed in 2020:
My favorites are marked with *, but I only review movies I enjoy, so all of these are worth a try: 


Action/Suspense/Thriller

* I See You

The Lovebirds

Rebecca 

* Serenity

* Transsiberian

* We Own the Night

 

Drama

* The Rainmaker

 

Comedy

* Enola Holmes

* Happiest Season

Holidate

* Hunt for the Wilderpeople

 

Sci Fi

* The Vast of Night

 

Family & Animated 

The Call of the Wild

 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Top 10 Live with ME/CFS Blog Posts of 2020


To celebrate the new year, I took a look back at my 10 most popular posts on the blog last year. These are the posts that got the most visits in 2020:

  1. Coronavirus and ME/CFS - Without a doubt (as you'll see from the rest of the list), COVID-19 was at the top of everyone's list this year, and it seems that people with ME/CFS were eager for information about the virus itself and how it might affect us. This post explains all about the immune dysfunction of ME/CFS, how COVID-19 might affect us, with links to more information.
  2. The October Slide: ME/CFS and Infectious Triggers - While relevant to COVID-19, this post focused on the annual downturn that many people with ME/CFS experience every fall and winter, explaining why it usually happens, how you can prevent these seasonal crashes, and how to treat them when they do occur.
  3. Info and Resources on COVID-19 and ME/CFS - By this time, in April, information had begun pouring out in articles, videos, blog posts, and more from ME/CFS experts, doctors, and patients. This post included much of that information.
  4.  My Update: Crashes, Infections, and Treatments ... Oh, My! - I don't know whether it had anything to do with the pandemic (the timing is suspicious), but I started an unexplained downturn in mid-March that still continues (with some improvements) today. In this post, I describe what I was experiencing, the tests and investigations to help me figure out what caused my sudden worsening, and the treatments that helped me to improve somewhat, though I am still not back to my "normal" baseline and my investigations continue.
  5. Weekly Inspiration: Lift Up Your Spirits - Clearly, others were having as bad a year as I was and were looking for inspiration and joy because this Weekly Inspiration post got a lot of visits! It includes inspiration specific to chronic illness, silly videos to make you laugh, and some of my comfort TV recommendations for laughter and smiles.
  6. Weekly Inspiration: 5 Ways to Start the New Year Right! - Relevant again now, this post includes my own traditions for starting a new year, plus inspiration from four other bloggers for more joy, happiness, compassion, and more in the new year.
  7. Weekly Inspiration: You're Right Where You Need to Be - Seeing a trend here? By April, we all needed some comfort and reassurance (as both the pandemic and my own personal downturn continued). This post was inspired by a wonderful book a friend of mine wrote and a chapter in my own book.
  8. COVID-19 Long-Haulers and ME/CFS - By August, what the ME/CFS community expected and feared was coming to pass--somewhere between 10 and 25% of those who got COVID-19 were not recovering and developed a "mysterious condition" featuring debilitating fatigue and an intolerance to exertion. This post collects some of the many news stories about long-haulers that began to reference ME/CFS, and discusses the impact for us existing ME/CFS patients.
  9. Interview with Rachel of Chronic Fatigue Sanity Blog - I was pleased to see that Rachel's interview of me hit the Top 10 because is was certainly a highlight of my own year! This interview, where we talk about our own experiences with ME/CFS and my book, was the start of a wonderful friendship. 
  10. Weekly Inspiration: Chronically Ill Holiday Gifts and Tips - Though the holiday season is now past, this great collection of gift guides and coping tips from other bloggers is still perfectly relevant for the new year--maybe you could use a new year gift to yourself to start the year off right!

There you go! As you can see, information about COVID-19, emotional coping, and inspiration were the hot topics of the year here. 



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

News From Our House: Dec. 30, 2020 - Holiday Edition


I hope you are enjoying the holiday season, in whatever ways you can! 

As you may have noticed, my own holiday season has been BUSY--that's what's kept me from writing blog posts, other than some quick TV and movie reviews this month! (but those are fun; see below).

 

My Update

As I reported in my last update, it's been a very rough year for me, with a downturn that started in March. I have battled a reactivated virus (HHV-6) and a recurrence (still) of my Lyme disease. I reported then (at the beginning of December) that I was feeling much better and was finally back to my "normal" baseline, but I don't think I am quite there yet. 

I am still achy much more often than usual (aches and other immune symptoms had become rare for me, thanks to a variety of treatments), and my stamina is still well below where it was at the start of the year. That could be due in part to a loss of fitness in not being able to keep up the exercise routine I've managed for years (very carefully monitored walking and short bits of muscle work while lying on the ground), but I also think PEM is still worse than usual. Since feeling a little bit better this month, I have tried to resume those habits, with some success, but I still crash and have bad days far more frequently than I used to.

Enjoying a walk in the sunshine with my husband
 

Holidays

And, of course, I really can't draw any solid conclusions about December because ... it was the Christmas month! Despite my annual good intentions to start early and keep things simple, I still ended up with a solid three weeks' (at least) of packed-full, stressful holiday preparations. 

Since we couldn't see any extended family this year, I decided to make photo books for three branches of my family. The first two weren't too bad, since I already had digital photos for those, but the third one--for my 95-year-old father-in-law--required a solid week's worth of exhausting effort. I sorted and organized thousands of loose snapshots stuffed into an old suitcase we'd brought from his house in Oklahoma when we moved him out here. From those, I picked a couple hundred to scan (another full day, hunched over the scanner and laptop), and then finally put the book together. I am glad I did it, and he's really enjoying it (and I'm hoping it will help a bit with his memory, too), but the three projects really took a lot out of me. Then, of course, there was all the rest of the holiday preparation: shopping, wrapping, cooking, decorating, cleaning (some of that just didn't get done!).

Christmas morning!
 

So, as usual, I was pretty exhausted by Christmas Day. It was just the four of us this year, which helped, but our older son didn't get home until about 2 pm, and we had the added pressure of trying to schedule Zooms and Facetimes and phone calls! That's where I finally hit the wall. My mother and I had been texting back and forth all day and were going to Zoom right after dinner. She and her husband ended up having multiple Zoom calls with his family and pushing back our time again and again, until at 9 pm, she said they were ready! Even on an ordinary day, I am flat on the couch by 7 pm, and on this busy day in a busy week in a busy month, I had completely crashed by dinnertime. I was on the couch, wracked with horrible aches, and ready to try to get upstairs for bed. I texted my mom that it was too late, I was very sick, and could we do it tomorrow? I've had ME/CFS for almost 19 years now, so she should be used to this, right? No, she lives in a world of denial and avoidance. She texted back "It's only 9 pm! You can sleep in tomorrow." As if I was a healthy person and that was even the issue. That lack of understanding (again) pushed me over the edge. I burst into tears, told my sons to call their grandparents, crawled up the stairs to bed, and lay on my bathroom floor sobbing--just overwhelmed with exhaustion, pain, and grief.

I was, of course, badly crashed the next day, but I could just lay on the couch, enjoy my sons' company, and recuperate. Lots of leftovers! And I felt a lot better by that evening and the next day. So, looking back over December, I think probably a lot of my issues stemmed from not listening to my body, pushing myself too hard, and not resting enough ... though I still don't know why I've been worse than usual all year. 

So, lesson learned (for the thousandth time): Listen To Your Body!

 

What We've Been Watching and Reading

A Bookish Christmas!

As usual, we have all been reading all month. I read every day, before my nap and before bed at night with my husband. And we all gave and received lots of books on Christmas! You can check out each of our stacks of new books on my book blog--this photo is just my husband's pile. And in my Monday post on the book blog, you can see what we are currently reading.

At the start of the month, my husband and I finished watching The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, which was outstanding, just like everyone said! I really did not think I'd enjoy a TV show about chess, but I gave in to all the rave reviews from my friends, and we were so glad we did! It's a stunning story (based on a novel) of an orphaned girl who becomes one of the top chess players in the world. Much of it is set in the 1960's, so the settings, hairstyles, and--especially--the fashions are a visual treat. You can read my full review (no spoilers) at the link and watch the trailer there, too.

On one of my crash days this month, I did something I rarely do and watched a holiday movie. I'm not really a fan of the Hallmark/Lifetime type movies, but Holidate on Netflix had plenty of snark and turned out to be the perfect choice for me that day. It's a light, fun rom-com not only about Christmas and New Year's Eve but about all of the holidays all year when a couple of singles decide to be each other's "holidate" to take the pressure off. Very funny, warm, and lots of fun. Again, my full review and the trailer at the link.

My husband and I watched another holiday movie the weekend before Christmas, Happiest Season (on Hulu). I'd heard so much about this movie (including from one of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour). It's a rom-com that's not quite typical, about a lesbian couple. One girlfriend brings the other home for Christmas to meet her family, without disclosing that her family doesn't know she's gay! As you can imagine, hijinks and hilarity ensue. The best thing about this movie is its all-star cast; even the supporting actors are excellent in their roles.

While sorting through all those photos in December, I was looking for a light, fun show to watch that wouldn't require all of my attention. In the holiday spirit, I chose Dash and Lily, a holiday rom-com that takes place in New York City. Two teens "meet" each other through a scavenger hunt type thing that the girl, Lily, sets up. They don't know each other in person but communicate through the journal they trade back and forth at various New York spots. Of course, Lily loves Christmas, and Dash is a Scrooge, but that's all part of the fun. It fit the bill: light, warmhearted, and funny.

 

How are YOU doing this season?
And what are you reading, watching, and enjoying?

Leave a comment below (most are coming through now), or you can also comment or chat with me on Twitter or at my Facebook page. I will post the link to this blog post in both places.

 

 


Monday, December 28, 2020

Movie Monday: Happiest Season

In the holiday spirit last weekend, my husband and I watched Happiest Season, a different kind of holiday rom-com with an all-star cast that we enjoyed.

Abby, played by Kristen Stewart, hasn't enjoyed Christmas since she lost her parents years ago, but her girlfriend, Harper (played by Mackenzie Davis who we've been enjoying as Cameron on Halt and Catch Fire), loves the holiday. In an inspired moment of holiday spirit, she invites Abby to come home with her for Christmas to meet her family and enjoy a festive holiday. There's just one problem: she neglects to tell Abby that her parents don't know she's gay. Normally a happy couple living together, Abby and Harper must now pretend they are just roommates, though Harper promises to come out to her parents after the holiday. It turns out that Harper's parents are ultra-conservative, "family values" types who are hyper-concerned with appearances now that Harper's dad, Ted (played by Victor Garber), is running for local office, with his ambitions set even higher. Harper's mom, Tipper (played beautifully by Mary Steenburgen), is busy rushing around trying to make sure everything is perfect, with every perfect moment captured on her husband's Instagram account, including their big annual Christmas Eve party. What could go wrong? Add to the mix two sisters, played by Alison Brie and Mary Holland, competing for dad's attention; Harper's old (secret) high school girlfriend, played by Delaware native--our hometown heroine--Aubrey Plaza; and Abby's friend, John (played by Dan Levy as a gay man pretending to be Abby's boyfriend), and chaos and hilarity ensue.

We enjoyed this different spin on a holiday rom-com. It's heartwarming and engaging, with plenty of laughs along the way. The cast is outstanding, and it's nice to see multiple gay characters living their lives on-screen instead of just one gay friend on the sidelines. As you might expect from the set-up, plenty of hijinks occur, as all the secrets and lies are eventually exposed, but the movie has just the right mix of warmth and humor. It's a fun and unique addition to the slew of holiday movies available each year and made for an enjoyable evening.

Happiest Season is a Hulu original, so it is available exclusively on Hulu.

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

TV Tuesday: Dash and Lily

Are you in need of some holiday spirit? Perhaps some light fun to make your season merry and bright? I was last week, and I wanted a light TV show to watch while I sorted through thousands of old photos spread all over our family room floor! So, I chose Dash and Lily, a unique TV rom-com series on Netflix that takes place over the Christmas/New Year's season and all over New York City. It was fun and sweet and just what I needed!

One day, a young man named Dash, played by Austin Abrams, is browsing through the shelves at The Strand bookstore when he comes across a red journal tucked in among the books. On the front cover is written "Do You Dare?" Yes, he does. Inside Dash finds clues to a sort of New York-centric, Christmas-themed scavenger hunt, written by a mysterious girl who says he needs to earn the right to get to know her. The notebook was planted there by Lily, an exuberant and quirky young woman played by Midori Francis. Without knowing each other, Dash and Lily trade the notebook back and forth, leaving it in various places for the other to find, with clues and dares to each other that take them all over the city and discovering new places, people, and things. The catch? They seem seriously mismatched. Dash is a bit of a cynic who hates Christmas, while Lily embraces it with her full enthusiastic, spirited being. They are each assisted and encouraged by Dash's best friend, Boomer (played by Dante Brown), and Lily's older brother, Langston (played by Troy Iwata).

This 8-episode show is just pure seasonal fun! Filled with eccentricities, bold dares, and lots of only-in-New-York people, events, and places, it's a joyous holiday romp. It's not all fun and games, though. Dash and Lily both have some issues and problems to work through (absent families, a distant father, an overbearing grandfather, and a middle-school bully who did some serious emotional damage) that provide a balance of challenges and fun, all wrapped up in warmth and good humor. The visuals are dazzling, and the two main actors are great in their roles, with excellent supporting actors as well. And, of course, there is a happy ending. All in all, it was a very satisfying and entertaining experience.

Dash and Lily is a Netflix original show, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Movie Monday: Holidate

Today's movie review is pure fun--no greater purpose or meaning! On a sick day two weeks ago (luckily, becoming rare again), my husband was out golfing, and I decided to treat myself to a silly rom-com. I saw Holidate on Netflix and thought, "Hey, why not a silly rom-com with some seasonal fun?" I don't normally watch typical holiday movies on Lifetime or Hallmark, but this was different, with plenty of laughs and a nice dose of snark. Besides, it's not just about Christmas; it's about ALL the holidays!

Sloane, played by Emma Roberts (niece of Julia Roberts), suffers through another frustrating Christmas with her family. Her younger brother gets engaged that evening, leaving Sloane as the last single person in her family ... and they don't let her forget it! Her sister is happily married, her mother (played by Frances Fisher) keeps trying to set up her with people, and even her young niece has a boyfriend. Her wild Aunt Susan, played by Kristin Chenoweth, is single, but she is known for showing up at family gatherings drunk with a man she barely knows. This year, her Christmas "date" is dressed as Santa, and she just met him at the mall. Susan advises Sloane to do what she does and bring a "holidate" to family holidays, someone she doesn't have a strong connection with, just to get her family off her back. Meanwhile, Jackson, played by Luke Bracey, is having his own Christmas problems. A girl he's only dated a few times brings him home to her parents, and the three of them act like Jackson is already part of the family, giving him expensive gifts, dressing him in a matching ugly sweater, and acting like they're engaged. Sloane and Jackson have both sworn off holidays, when a few days later, they meet by chance at the mall. They trade their respective holiday horror stories, and Sloane tells him of her aunt's strategy. They agree to be each other's holidate for New Year's Eve, and their partnership continues for every holiday throughout the year. As you might have guessed, their agreement to keep it casual eventually begins to falter, especially since Sloane's family really comes to like Jackson.

In some ways, this is a typical rom-com, but it felt fresh and original to me, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a unique premise, with lots of chances for humor that result in plenty of laughs. Jumping from one holiday to the next makes it extra-fun. The two main actors are great to watch with good chemistry, and the supporting actors are excellent, too, with many familiar faces. This was the perfect movie for me at the time, to allow me to just relax and laugh and enjoy a little time to myself. Check out the trailer below and you'll see what I mean!

Holidate is a Netflix original, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.


Tuesday, December 08, 2020

TV Tuesday: The Queen's Gambit

I kept hearing my friends on Facebook rave about the new Netflix show The Queen's Gambit, but I thought that a show about chess would be boring. I finally gave in to the buzz and began watching the TV show, based on a 1983 novel of the same name, with my husband. Everyone was right! We loved this unique, suspenseful, and mesmerizing drama about a young orphan chess prodigy; we were hooked right from the first episode.

In the early 1960's, nine-year-old Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, walks away from a car accident that kills her mother, the only family she knows. She is sent to an orphanage, a silent and somber old building housing dozens of girls of all ages, dressed in bland unflattering jumpers and blouses with identical haircuts. Beth, still grieving her mother's death and feeling very alone, falls into line with the other girls, eating, sleeping, doing schoolwork, singing hymns, and attending church. Most of the girls don't even talk to her, except for one Black girl named Jolene, played by Moses Ingram, who is always getting into trouble for mouthing off. Beth welcomes the sedatives the orphanage hands out daily to its charges, to "even out your mood." One day, bored, she wanders down to the basement and finds the janitor, Mr. Shaibel (played by Bill Camp), quietly playing both sides in a game of chess on a small table. Beth is immediately entranced by the game, its movements, and its strategies, and she begs Mr. Shaibel to teach her how to play. He's a very good player, but Beth is soon winning games against him and spending all of her spare time in the basement. At night, unable to sleep and half-drugged, she watches the lights and shadows reflected on the ceiling and imagines a giant chess board up there, playing out games in her mind and trying out new approaches. In her teens, Beth is adopted by a well-off suburban couple, the Wheatleys. Beth feels out of place in their beautiful home and discovers that her adoptive father is often away and her adoptive mother, played by Marielle Heller, is distant and drinks a lot. Gradually, though, she and Beth warm up to each other, as Beth begins to compete in chess, launching an early career as a chess champion.

Despite my lack of interest in chess itself, both my husband and I found this entire show fascinating and compelling. It is a coming-of-age story, a family drama, a suspenseful competition saga, and more. At its center is unique, beautiful, brilliant Beth and Anya Taylor-Joy who fully inhabits the captivating character. The supporting actors are all excellent, too, especially those playing Jolene, Beth's adoptive mother, and some of the male chess players Beth gets to know along the way. Far from boring, the show is filled with tension, not only during the chess games--in which Beth is always seen as the underdog (at least at first)--but also with respect to poor Beth's life, her drug abuse, and her loneliness. Plus, once Beth leaves the orphanage and starts winning some money in chess competitions, she becomes obsessed with fashion, and her 60's outfits, hair, and regal bearing are entrancing (I see Beth Harmon costumes on Amazon!). The whole package is an absorbing, gripping, bingeable story and a visual treat. We loved every minute of it, and I'm ready to watch it all over again!

The Queen's Gambit is a Netflix original program, so you can watch its seven episodes exclusively on Netflix. You can also read the novel the show is adapted from.


Thursday, December 03, 2020

News From Our House: Dec. 3, 2020 - Ups and Downs


Wow, it's been two months since I posted a personal update here! That was in part because I suffered a very severe crash in October, but we've also had a lot of other things going on.

 

My Update

As I explained in my last News From Our House post, I experienced an unexplained downturn starting in March of this year. One possible cause, based on lab results, was reactivated HHV-6 (a herpes family virus similar to Epstein Barr Virus), so I took antivirals (famciclovir or Famvir), beginning in June. I stayed on them until the end of October, though the whole time, I continued to experience worsened symptoms, especially fatigue and flu-like aches (signs of immune activation). As I reported in that last post, I was doing a bit better and even managing a little activity ... when an even more severe crash hit.

I spent a lot of time reading in bed in October!

I have no idea what triggered this one, but I was mostly couchbound/bedridden for almost three weeks in October. After 8 months of feeling somewhat worse than usual, this was an unwelcome surprise! I went from being run-down and achy to being almost completely non-functional. I know you all get it and have been there yourselves. It was awful.

Finally, I slowly began to feel better and regain some stamina. I stopped the antivirals at the end of October (that was the end of my prescription) and felt somewhat better in November. I was still having more crash days than usual and some mild aches, but I was able to begin to start walking and going to the grocery store again. 

Happy to be out walking with my husband again in November!
 

Two weeks ago, I ran out of my Lyme treatment (that I'd been on again since the beginning of the year) and decided to try going off it. After all, when my Lyme recurs (as it tends to do every few years), I usually just treat it for a few months. This year, I didn't want to stop treating Lyme while I was on antivirals (or vice-versa) because Lyme, like ME/CFS, can cause old viruses to reactivate. And I still felt about the same those two weeks off the Lyme treatment, though I began to notice some aches in my knees again (that is one of my Lyme symptoms). So, I ordered more treatment (I take A-L Complex from the Byron White protocol) and restarted it at the beginning of this week, and guess what? I've been feeling really good! I've walked every day this week, gone shopping, and even restarted (very slowly and while lying on the ground) some gentle weight work. I was a little achy today, but that's probably due to stress yesterday. So, the good news is that I am feeling better, but the bad news is that apparently, my Lyme infection is still active, after almost a year of treatment. I've decided to try seeing my son's Lyme specialist to see if she has any new ideas for me.

 

Big News at Our House

The really big news here is that our 26-year-old son (ME/CFS since age 10 and tick infections since age 12) moved out at the end of October! Though he lived on his own while he was in college, he hit bottom with his condition in spring 2019 and moved back home. He's been working hard (with two new medical specialists) to try to improve his condition and to find a job. His degree is in Environmental Engineering, but he has no job experience (which even entry-level positions require) because he used all his time and energy at school taking classes, with nothing left for co-ops or internships like other students. So, it's been challenging for him--and frustrating--but he found a job that is a good first step for him. It's not engineering, but it is in the environmental field, so that's a step in the right direction. He moved to his girlfriend's in another state, and they are renting a basement apartment from her parents, so there's a safety net there in case things don't work out for him or he can't manage the job. His first month was challenging, but he's doing well and is thrilled to be out on his own. For the parent of a chronically ill kid, this is like the Holy Grail!

 

Recent Blog Posts

While I haven't written one of these updates in awhile, I did manage some blog posts in the past two months. Here are a few that might be of particular interest to you, in case you missed them:

The October Slide - ME/CFS and Infectious Triggers - if you experience a downturn every fall and winter, then this post is for you! I explain why this is such a common occurrence for us, what you can do to prevent it, as my son and I mostly have, and what to do when it happens (as it did to me last month!).

Official Statement on COVID-19 Long-Haulers and ME/CFS - news media around the world have been reporting on so-called COVID-19 "long-haulers," who recover from the virus but are still debilitated by fatigue, other symptoms, and exercise intolerance. Sound familiar? The U.S. ME/CFS Clinician Coalition published an official statement, explaining what ME/CFS is and how to diagnose and treat it. Includes lots of scientific references--perfect for sharing with doctors.

Weekly Inspiration: Two Inspiring Podcasts - check out these two podcasts that I am enjoying - I especially love Everything Happens.

Weekly Inspiration: Busting the "Everything Happens for a Reason" Myth - this is also from my new favorite podcast! I shared an inspiring TED talk by the podcast host that made me both laugh and cry; she is wonderful and she truly "gets it."

Weekly Inspiration: Chronically Ill Holiday Gifts and Tips - a collection of posts from other bloggers, featuring holiday gift guides and tips for managing the holiday season - some great stuff here!

Giving Tuesday - Multiply Your Donations! - list of ME/CFS-related causes to donate to, plus easy ways to raise money for ME/CFS research (or other causes) without spending a dime, just by online searching and shopping. Though the post was for Giving Tuesday, the information and links are still valid (and some of the doubling and tripling of donations deals are still open!).

 

What We've Been Watching and Reading

First, if you are in need of some cheering up right now, check out Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a movie available on multiple platforms (links at the review). My husband and I loved this warm-hearted, very funny family adventure set in the New Zealand outback. Read my review at the link and watch the trailer to see what I mean!

For a very different, darker kind of entertainment, my husband and I have been enjoying the Western drama Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner. We watched seasons 1 and 2 earlier this year, and season 3 was just released on Peacock network (which is free). This is basically a high-quality soap opera, set in the modern west on an enormous ranch in Montana. The scenery is gorgeous, the actors are excellent, and the plot is super-twisty. 

We also enjoyed a dark and suspenseful thriller, The Stranger, a Netflix limited series based on a Harlen Coben novel. It's a complex thriller where a stranger comes to a town and starts telling people secrets about their family or partner, etc. that they didn't know, basically ruining lives. It was very good and kept us riveted!

As for books, being so badly crashed in October meant a lot of extra reading time for me! As I like to do, I read for the season, focusing on darker books in the fall, like mysteries, thrillers, and more. I read some really outstanding books in October. You can see my monthly summary here, from my book blog, including which books I read, which were my favorites, and how I'm doing with my annual reading challenges.

Last month, I changed my reading focus to #NonfictionNovember (I enjoy theme-reading, as you can see!). Because I was so sick in October, I got way behind in writing books reviews, so I haven't reviewed any of my nonfiction books yet, but easily my favorite of the month was the latest memoir from Michael J. Fox, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality, which I listened to on audio. Like his previous memoirs, this one was warm, thoughtful, moving, and very funny. He reads it himself, and it's a treat to hear that familiar voice telling stories from his own life. As with his previous memoirs, his life with Parkinson's Disease is a big part of it, so it's even more relevant for anyone living with a chronic illness, and in this one, he also talks about aging.

How are YOU doing this week?
And what are you reading, watching, and enjoying?

Leave a comment below (most are coming through now), or you can also comment or chat with me on Twitter or at my Facebook page. I will post the link to this blog post in both places.


Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Giving Tuesday 2020 - Multiply Your Donations!


Today is Giving Tuesday, a day devoted to giving back, after the commercial excesses of Black Friday & Cyber Monday. Every little bit counts, even if it's only $5. If you, like me, spent way too much shopping online for the holidays yesterday or you just want to give year-round, you can even set up a recurring donation. That's what I did several years ago with OMF (see below) so that $5 is automatically donated from me each month - I don't have to think about it or do anything else, and my donation adds up to $60 a year! It only takes a few minutes to either donate or set up recurring donations.

And there are some amazing deals in place right now that will double or even triple your donation, turning $10 into $20 or $30!

Where to Donate:

Here are some wonderful places to donate to support ME/CFS research and patient support & advocacy - all are doing wonderful work and the first three are the top ME/CFS research organizations in the world, funding or conducting the bulk of the scientific research today:

Host Your Own Fundraiser:

To have an even bigger impact on these organizations, you can host a Fundraiser on Facebook. For Giving Tuesday, Facebook has pledged to match $7 million dollars in donations! I have hosted fundraisers on Facebook for my birthday, and it's very simple to set up. Just go to the Facebook Fundraisers page and click on "Select Nonprofit" (all of the ones listed above are available), then follow the steps. You set your own fundraising goals, share your fundraiser with Facebook friends, and then Facebook will double whatever donations you bring in!

Donate While Shopping:
And remember - especially this time of year - to make your shopping work for you with automatic donations to your favorite ME/CFS charity every time you shop!  

Goodshop or iGive have almost every online store covered between them - I always stop at iGive first before doing any online shopping. To show you how well this works, my iGive page currently shows that I have selected Solve ME/CFS as my cause, that I have personally earned and donated $292 to them, and that they have earned a total of $6449 from all supporters! Isn't that amazing? Over $6000 just from clicking a button before we shop online.

Amazon is not a part of either program listed above but has its own charitable donation program: AmazonSmile. Just sign up and choose your charity (most of those listed above are options). My quarterly report from AmazonSmile from September 2020 says they sent a payment of $1006 to Solve ME/CFS for the quarter and that to date, the organization has received $11,388 from AmazonSmile! These shopping links really pay off, with almost no effort and no cost to you.

With so many painless ways to give, we can all help to move ME/CFS research forward and support patients!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Movie Monday: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

We were scrolling through Netflix and Amazon this weekend, as one does, searching for a movie we both wanted to see. There were plenty I was interested in that my husband wasn't, neither of us wanted anything too dark, and it seemed like we'd already seen all "the good ones." Then my husband suggested Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which I had scrolled right past earlier; he'd read about it online and thought it sounded good. What a great choice! We both loved this funny, warm-hearted adventure set in New Zealand.

As the movie opens, a social worker named Paula, played by Rachel House, is delivering an overweight young teen boy named Ricky, played by Julian Dennison, to a new home in a remote, rural area. Bella, played by Rima de Wiata, welcomes Ricky warmly, in spite of the long string of previous problems that Paula recites to her. Hec, played by Sam Neill, also lives there, and Bella tells Ricky he can call them Auntie and Uncle, if he wants to. After being shuffled around for years and generally unwanted, Ricky is understandably doubting and distrustful. He even tries to run away, but Bella's warmth and kindness eventually win him over. Then tragedy hits, and through a series of events, Ricky ends up in the bush (wilderness) with Hec, who's been injured. The two of them work together to make a camp for themselves until Hec's ankle heals enough that they can walk back home. When they're on the move again, though, six weeks later, they discover that there is a national manhunt going on ... to find the two of them! As the authorities have completely misunderstood their absence and want to take them both into custody, the pair decide to just stay out there. Many adventures follow!

We loved absolutely everything about this unique movie! The pairing of a difficult teen and a grumpy old man might seem a bit trite, but it is wholly original here, with the actors playing Hec and Ricky both doing an outstanding job in their roles. The more time they spend together alone, the closer the two misfits become, as they help each other to heal. This is truly an adventure movie, action-packed with plenty of suspense, but there is wonderful humor woven into every scene and a warmth that made us both smile throughout the film. I think this is my favorite movie of the year! We both laughed and enjoyed every moment of this uplifting movie. I think we could all use a little Ricky and Hec right now.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is currently available on Netflix or to rent on Amazon, starting at $2.99 (or $6.99 to own) - definitely worth it!


Sunday, November 29, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: Chronically Ill Holiday Gifts and Tips


I want to put together my own gift guide for the holiday season, but I haven't had time yet (very busy this past week with Thanksgiving and still not quite back to my usual baseline from my 8-month-long crash).

Then I noticed that lots of other chronic illness bloggers have already put together some wonderful gift guides and holiday tips for those with chronic illness, so I thought I'd collect those here and share them with you! Gifts first ...

 

Chronic Illness Gift Ideas

Well, first, of course, I have to mention my own book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness, which includes all kinds of support and advice for daily living, emotional coping, relationships, and, yes ... tips for managing the holidays! 

From now until December 13, you can buy my book on sale for a reduced price: just $9.99 for the paperback and $6.99 for the e-book (available in all popular formats for Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, and more). You can read more about it and find the links to all the different formats here.  

 

My Migraine Life blog has a wonderful new post, 20 Gifts for Migraine Relief: Gift Guide 2020, with some awesome ideas for the migraine sufferers (or others just needing comfort) in your life--or gift ideas for you to share with loved ones! She has some awesome gift ideas here. My son and I both use head ice packs/ice hats and CBD oil, and my other son just gave me a salt lamp for my birthday that I can't wait to try! 



Chronic Mom
has a gift guide focused on those with chronic pain, though many items are perfect for anyone dealing with any kind of chronic illness/medical condition. How to Find the Best Christmas Gifts for People with Chronic Pain includes 10 great gift ideas, and some of them come from small business owners with chronic illnesses themselves, so that's a double-win! I've never heard of migraine glasses before, but they sound perfect for my son.

Me, Myself, and Chronic Illness Blog has a unique twist on the gift guide: Low Cost/Low Energy Gift Ideas for Others. If money is tight and energy is low, she's got five great gift ideas that cost very little but will provide a thoughtful gift for your loved one. Some involve some simple, low-energy crafting and some are even simpler than that! Loads of creative ideas here to get you started. These kinds of personal, thoughtful gifts are often the most appreciated.

 

 

The Pain News Network published a list of 12 Holiday Gifts on Life with Chronic Pain. This is a list of books, and my own book is the first one on the list! Others also deal with emotional coping or personal stories, some with specific approaches to pain management, and some to specific conditions that cause chronic pain. I am honored to see my book included with such an outstanding list of books!


Holiday Coping Tips for the Chronically Ill

Besides my own book, there are a couple of excellent blog posts that provide tips on managing the holiday season, a significant challenge for all of us with chronic illnesses:

 


Navigating the Storms: Thriving in the Midst of Invisible Disabilities
has a new blog post, Advent Begins, that answers the question, "How can we prepare for Christmas when we deal with so many limitations daily?" She includes some excellent, supportive tips that we can all benefit from, plus a few more resources to help.

 


My Medical Musings offers a focus on enjoying the season in our own way in Decking the Halls and Creating Comfort and Joy at Christmas. She talks about her own experiences and tips on creating new or revised traditions that fit within our restricted lives. It's a lovely post with some great, creative ideas for celebrating the season in our own way.

 

I hope these excellent blog posts help YOU to get ready for your best holiday season ever!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

TV Tuesday: Yellowstone

After hearing several friends rave about the TV series Yellowstone, my husband and I decided to try it. We loved the first two seasons of this modern Western drama and can't wait to see season 3 when it starts this week!

Yellowstone is the name of an enormous ranch in Montana, headed up by patriarch John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner. John has three grown sons and a daughter but lost his wife tragically when they were still kids/teens. He is getting older but is still fiercely committed to protecting his huge ranchlands, from the constant threat of land developers and the local Native American tribe. John's plan is for his oldest son, Lee (played by Dave Annable), to take over the ranch eventually, and Lee's been training for that. His next son, Jamie (played by Wes Bentley), was sent off to Harvard to become a lawyer so that he could protect the ranch legally, so he works in town. The youngest son, Kayce (Luke Grimes), was in the military--which clearly left some emotional scars--and is married to Monica (played by Kelsey Asbille), a beautiful Native American woman. They live in a small house on the reservation with their young son, Tate, and Kayce is trying to make a living training horses, which is a special talent of his. John's only daughter, Beth (played by Kelly Reilly), is a bit of a mess, to put it mildly! She drinks way too much and is quite promiscuous, including with the ranch's longtime manager, Rip (played by Cole Hauser), who John treats almost like another son. Thomas Rainwater, played by Gil Biirmingham, is the well-educated newly-returned leader of the local Indian tribe, who is determined to return some of the Dutton's land to its original owners. Plus, there are evil brothers in development, and a wealthy guy new in the area who desperately wants some of the Dutton land for his new luxury hotel, golf course, and ritzy housing development.

In case you can't tell from that basic description, every episode is a rollercoaster of secrets, lies, deceipt, behind-the-scenes machinations and deals, plus a healthy helping of sex and violence. It's basically a complex soap opera set among cowboys in the West. Costner plays the consummate cowboy, though he will do anything to hang onto his lands and keep his ranch together. The rest of the cast is excellent, too, though many of the actors were unfamiliar to us. The ranch house is rustic but luxurious, and the land in and around the ranch is breathtakingly gorgeous. There are constant surprises and plot twists, keeping each episode action-packed and suspenseful. It's a riveting drama that kept us captivated through its first two seasons, and we can't wait to watch season 3!

Yellowstone is a Paramount Network show, so you can watch the new season 3 free on their website. It is also being shown (all 3 seasons) on Peacock, with season 3 starting this Sunday, which is also free (we watch it on Peacock through our cable service On Demand, but you can also watch it directly from the website). Finally, Yellowstone is also available on YouTube, with a subscription, or on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $12.99 for the first season. Lots of ways to watch!

Have you tried this compelling Western drama yet? 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: Busting the "Everything Happens for a Reason" Myth


I've already written here about Kate C. Bowler and her magnificent podcast, Everything Happens, in my post from a few weeks ago, Weekly Inspiration: Two Inspiring Podcasts. My love affair with Kate's moving, funny, inspiring interviews continues, and I have been listening to both her new episodes and her backlist. So, scrolling through the TED Talk site today, it occurred to me to check if she'd ever given a TED Talk. She had, at TEDMed 2018, and wow, it's a powerful talk that speaks directly to those of us with chronic illness.

As with her podcast--and book-- her TED Talk is titled, "Everything Happens For a Reason"--and other lies I've loved. In it, Kate explains how she had spent years studying the "prosperity gospel," the basic concept that good things happen to good people, and if you just live a good life, you will be rewarded. Then she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at the age of 35. She tells the story, with jokes and also with tears streaming down her face at times, much better than I can:

 

 

 

A couple of her points really hit home for me. She talks about this concept of good people being rewarded, which implies the opposite: if something horrible happens to you, you must have somehow deserved it. She describes how hundreds of people (through her writing) have tried to convince her of this (what a horrible thing to say to someone with cancer!). She talks about the underlying fear that encourages people to think this way, which is basically "if it happened to YOU, then it could happen to me." In this way, people try to find a reason for your tragedy, a way to explain why the same thing could never happen to them. But, as she says in the opening to her podcast each week (see my earlier post--the full quote is so powerful), "Hey, there are some things you can fix and some thing you can't, and it's OK that life isn't always better ..."

I have experienced this first-hand with people in my life who refuse to accept the severity or permanence of my illness. One person very close to me even went around telling everyone else that my illness was all in my head in my early years of ME/CFS. I figured out long ago that this fear Kate describes was likely at the root of all that, but it still hurts tremendously to be minimized or to have my suffering ignored by people I love. That's why it feels so powerful and encouraging to listen to Kate's talk and podcast and to feel like she is talking directly to me.

On the positive side, she also discusses an unexpected benefit of her experiences with cancer (hers is treatable but not yet curable). In talking of discovering this hidden world of illness (see my own article, The Hidden World of Invisible Suffering), she says, "My own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others." She explains that this led to more connection in life. 

I agree wholeheartedly! I've often written about exactly that (like in the article linked above): that one silver lining in a life of chronic illness is reaching out and connecting with others just like you. Finding others--online or in real life--widens your world and not only brings you comfort and companionship but allows you to offer the same to others, which can be incredibly rewarding. I wrote about that topic here, including how to find others.

She concludes with a statement I fully agree with: "Life is so beautiful and life is so hard."

Her talk is less than 15 minutes long, and is so powerful and touching. I hope it inspires YOU as it inspired me.