Thursday, December 24, 2015

Managing Family Relationships - Holidays and Beyond

Merry Christmas Eve!

I just wanted to share something that might help make your holiday season easier before I head off to start my own family festivities.

I wrote this article for the ProHealth website - Managing Family Relationships - Holidays and Beyond. It's all about navigating the tricky waters of family gatherings during this season (and all year round) when you are chronically ill. It is based on my own experiences and some hard-won things I've learned over the past 13 years. I hope it helps ease some of your holiday stress so that you can not only endure family gatherings but maybe actually enjoy them.

I am taking a blogging break until the beginning of the new year, so enjoy the holidays with your family and Happy New Year!

Some of my family and I 2 weeks ago

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie Monday 12/21 - Scrooged & Other Holiday Movies

All four of us came down with a stomach virus last week (actually 12 extended family members in total got it!), so we spent last Monday sprawled all over the family room in couches, recliners, and the floor, sipping water, nibbling crackers, and watching mindless TV. This was a good movie for that state of mind!

We watched Scrooged, a 1988 version of A Christmas Carol, starring Bill Murray. You probably already know the general storyline! In this adaptation, Murray plays Frank Cross, a television executive willing to sacrifice anything to get good ratings. Christmas is coming and besides holiday specials like The Night the Reindeer Died starring Lee Majors, Cross has ordered his staff to put on a live version of A Christmas Carol, requiring everyone to work Christmas Eve. Of course, on that fateful night, Cross himself is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future (with the Christmas Present ghost a small fairy played by Carol Kane). You know how the story goes. Karen Allen co-stars as Cross's ex-girlfriend, who remembers him when he was a good guy and not so corrupted by greed. There are some fun cameos here, like Mary Lou Retton playing Little Tim in their live version of the story! The movie was nothing spectacular, just a fun little bit of holiday fluff, with classic 80's SNL Bill Murray. Perfect for a day when we were wracked by fever and looking for some distraction that required no thought!

Some of our other favorite holiday movies include Love, Actually (one of the best!), The Holiday, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (more pure silly fun), Miracle on 34th Street (the original, naturally), and, of course, It's a Wonderful Life. My kids love Home Alone, of course, and I really loved The Family Stone.

We are more likely to watch old Christmas TV specials than movies this season - we have a large collection on DVD and, yes, many on VHS: shows like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and various Muppet Christmas Specials (our favorite is the 1998 A Muppet Family Christmas - cracks us up every time!). The Snowman is a beautiful video to watch during the holiday season, adapted from a picture book and featuring gorgeous colored pencil drawings and beautiful music.

What are your favorite holiday movies and/or Christmas specials?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Great Article on ME/CFS in O Magazine

"We are here! We are here!" That's a quote from Horton Hears a Who and my way of telling you that I'm still alive, despite my absence from the blog lately. I was wrapped up in holiday preparations last week, then we spent the weekend celebrating an early Christmas with extended family...and 12 of the 13 of us there this weekend came down with a nasty stomach virus, including my family of four! I was the last one to recover, but I seem to be much better today, so fingers crossed.

I wanted to let you know about a very good article on ME/CFS published in O, The Oprah Magazine in December. This is significant for several reasons:
  • It's rare for the mainstream media to cover ME/CFS,
  • It's even rarer for them to get it right and publish an accurate article that describes the seriousness of our disease,
  • And O Magazine gets major exposure, with a circulation of 2.4 million!
You can read the full article at this link. It spotlights a patient who went from being an active, successful professional to being incapacitated, and it discusses the infectious and immune roots of the disease. It also includes interviews and references to two top researchers, Dr. Jose Montoya and Dr. Mady Hornig, both of whom are investigating infections and the immune system with respect to ME/CFS.

My only qualms with the articles are very minor. It refers to the disease as CFS throughout (though admittedly, that is still its official name according to the CDC), and the title is a bit cringe-worthy for its prominent use of the word "tired" to describe how ME/CFS makes you feel. But anyone who reads the article will have no doubt that it is a serious and debilitating disease. Overall, it is a big win for the ME/CFS community. In addition, given the size and popularity of O Magazine, it is quite possible that other women's magazines will follow its lead.

I think you can still find copies of the December issue where magazines are sold (sorry, I meant to post this two weeks ago!), but you can read the whole article online, share it, comment on it, print it, etc.

What do you think of the O Magazine article?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

TV Tuesday 12/8: Crazy Ex-Girlfirend

In this hectic, stressful season, we can all use a good laugh now and then. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a new TV show on CW, is my new favorite escape - it is 100% silly fun with no redeeming value!

In the first episode, we meet Rebecca, a seriously neurotic New Yorker with plenty of issues. She is a high-powered lawyer (graduated top of her class at Harvard), but she's not happy. She loved the theater, but her mother convinced her to become a lawyer and now her job is her whole life. Then she bumps into Josh on the street. She and Josh were teenage sweathearts one summer at an arts camp; they had a summer fling and then never saw each other again. Running into Josh reminds Rebecca of all that she doesn't have: a boyfriend, friends, happiness...a life. So when her firm offers her a partnership, Rebecca shocks everyone by saying no, packing up, and moving to West Covina, California, the small town where Josh lives.

Oh, yes, moving to the town where your high school boyfriend lives after seeing him on the street once is pretty crazy, but she insists she didn't move for Josh, just for the kind of life he has (she's lying). She finds an apartment and joins a small law firm that is thrilled to have someone of her caliber. Rebecca quickly becomes friends with Paula, the paralegal she works with, and chats up a local bartender who is friends with Josh.

Probably doesn't sound all that silly yet, right? I saved the best part for last: it's a musical. Yes, Rebecca and the rest of the cast burst into spontaneous song  - not just singing but huge production numbers - at the oddest moments. It is all firmly tongue-in-cheek and often very funny. At the very least, it will put a smile on your face because it is simply so absurd. And these aren't just any ordinary songs. In one episode where Rebecca brings a stranger home to her apartment, she sings Sex with a Stranger, an outrageous decidely un-sexy song that includes the chorus, "Please don't be a murderer." One of my favorite songs from an early episode is The Sexy Getting Ready Song, which shows  - graphically - the crazy lengths that women go to to look good for men. Here's the clip (just be forewarned - best to skip this if you are easily offended):

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is like an R-rated Glee that never takes itself seriously. It does have an occasional heart-warming moment, but mostly it is just silly, slightly raunchy fun - just what I need right now with overflowing to-do lists!

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is available for $1.99 an episode on Amazon Prime, with episodes 4 -8 available free on the CW website or at IMDB. I wouldn't worry too much about jumping into the middle of the series - you'll catch up quickly - it's just not that deep!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Movie Monday 12/7: The Age of Adaline

Sorry for missing a few weeks of Movie Monday – things have been so hectic with the holidays, family, and travel! No time for watching movies or reviewing them (or much time for blogging either). We did have one quiet weekend at home this week, before we start another round of travel and family gatherings, so my husband and I enjoyed a movie Saturday night.

We watched The Age of Adaline, a movie I have wanted to see ever since we saw the preview in a theater back in March! Adaline, played by Blake Lively, never ages. She was born in 1908 and had an accident in the 1930’s that caused her to stop aging. Since then, she has stayed the exact same 30-ish age and looks just the same, even as her daughter grows up, passes her up, and gets old alongside her (the older daughter is played by Ellen Burstyn).

Early on, Adaline discovered that when the government figures out her secret, they want to study her, so she has coped all these years by moving every ten years and changing her identity. She is currently living as Jenny in her hometown of San Francisco, though she is preparing to change to Susan and move to rural Oregon soon. She lives a quiet life working in a historical library and avoiding getting too close to anyone. Things change, though, when she meets Ellis, a wealthy philanthropist who is attracted to her from the first time he sees her, played by Michiel Huisman (Sonny from Treme).

Adaline struggles with her usual rules and wonders whether she should stick to her plan to disappear in a few weeks or give in and fall in love. She tries to keep her secret from Ellis, but when an old lover from 50 years ago, played by Harrison Ford, recognizes her, her careful façade begins to fall apart. It’s a great cast, and the actors all did a wonderful job. San Francisco makes the perfect backdrop to this story as it moves through one hundred years – even the city changes as Adaline stays the same. I loved this unique love story with a twist, and my husband enjoyed it also (though I think I liked it more - not much action in this movie).

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Giving Tuesday - ME/CFS Organizations to Support

After the flurry of spending on gifts yesterday for Cyber Monday (hopefully, you are donating WHILE you shop, too!), now it is time to turn our attention to less material things for Giving Tuesday, a day devoted to donating to and supporting charities.

For an extra gift to yourself, consider donating to an organization that supports ME/CFS patients and/or research. There has never been a better time - or more need for funding - for ME/CFS research. There have been so many exciting breakthroughs in the last few years!

Here is a list of ME/CFS organizations to consider donating to today - and all year-round:
  • Solve ME/CFS Initiative - one of the leading research funding organizations in the world (they have funded a lot of important research over more than two decades) and creator of the ME/CFS BioBank and Patient Registry, and if you donate TODAY, your gift could help them get a $50,000 gift from an anonymous donor! I just made my donation. Here's more info on the organization and the donation page. While you're at it, sign up to participate in the BioBank and Patient Registry to help move research forward in another way.
  • Open Medicine Foundation - and their End ME/CFS Project, including a study focused on the severely ill - a top-notch research organization with some of the top ME/CFS doctors in the world. More information on the organization and the donation page.
  • Simarron Research - an organization involved in a wide variety of ME/CFS research projects, including the ground-breaking immune study first published earlier this year from Columbia (the second half of that is still ongoing). More information on the organization and the donation page.
  • The Whittemore-Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease - though we haven't heard a lot from this organization since their XMRV theory was disproven (that's the way science works - new theories pop up and they are investigated and often discarded in order to move forward), they still have a number of important research projects in progress. More information on the organization and to donate, click on the blue Donate button.
  • Health Rising - this is not actually a charity, but Cort Johnson, an ME/CFS patient himself, works tirelessly to seek out the latest research and information on ME/CFS and pass that along to other patients. I don't know how he manages all that he does, but I am grateful! His website ("Finding answers for ME/CFS and FM") is one of the first places I go for information, and he does accept donations (Donate button on his homepage) to help him continue his important work.
  • Invest in ME (UK) - the major UK organization for ME/CFS, created by patients and parents of children with ME and focused on funding biomedical research, education, and lobbying. More information on the organization and the donation page.
  • The 25%ME Group - a UK organization that provides services to those who are most severely affected by ME. More information on the organization and the fundraising page, which includes a Donate button and information on other ways to help.
  • Tymes Trust - "the longest established national UK service for children and young people with ME and their families."  They work with doctors, teachers, and other specialists to support children with ME. More information on the organization and the donation page.
  • ME/CFS Australia (SA) - provides services and information, including support groups, an information line, and youth support, to ME/CFS patients in Australia. More information on the organization and the donation page.
  • Emerge Australia - this organization is mainly an advocacy group that "advocates for, educates about, and provides information on" ME/CFS in Australia. More information on the organization and the donation page
Wow, there are so many great organizations working tirelessly to help ME/CFS patients! And I'm sure I missed some - if so, please tell us in the comments section.

Take a moment to choose one of these worthy organizations to donate to - if each ME/CFS patient only gave $5 to an organization, we'd have millions more dollars for research and other services!

And if you don't get to it on Giving Tuesday (December 1), I'm sure any of these organizations would appreciate your donation any day of the year.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Support Medical Research While You Shop Online!

I have been in denial that the holiday season is coming up so fast, but Thanksgiving is next week, so I need to face facts: it's time to start my holiday shopping. Here in the U.S., people get whipped into a shopping frenzy before they've even digested their turkey dinner on Thursday.

I'm sure most of us won't be standing in lines outside stores at 5 am on Black Friday, but if you're like me, you probably do most of your shopping online. I do plan to take advantage of the sales and discounts on Cyber Monday (November 30 this year). I can usually get almost all of my holiday shopping done online, with a quick stop at the drugstore or Target for stocking stuffers.

Did you know that you can donate to your favorite charities and medical research organizations while online shopping...without spending a dime? There are several ways to do this. In each case, you choose the organization to donate to, and the online store donates a percentage of your purchase to them (the amount varies by store), so it costs you nothing! I usually choose the Solve ME/CFS Initiative because they have spearheaded and financed some of the most important, ground-breaking research in our field and have been at it the longest, since 1987. You can look for your favorite charity or organization and choose whichever one is important to you.

Here are three ways to donate while shopping:

iGive - Choose your charity, then click on various online stores through the iGive page to automatically donate. This is the shopping engine I use the most, and my iGive page tells me that my own shopping has donated over $200 to the Solve ME/CFS Initiative, of a total $6229.31 donated to that group through iGive! Bonus: when you use iGive, coupon codes for the store where you are shopping automatically pop up, so you can save, shop and donate all at once!

 GoodShop - Works pretty much the same way as iGive - you choose your charity/research organization, then shop through their portal. Like iGive, GoodShop also provides you with any relevant coupon codes for your store. If you are looking for a particular charity or want to shop at a certain store, you can check both portals to see where your favorites are.


AmazonSmile - As usual, Amazon does things their own way. They have their own system that works the same way as iGive or GoodShop. Just go to the AmazonSmile page instead of the usual Amazon home page, choose your charity and a portion of what you buy is donated. More information about AmazonSmile here. Since they sell pretty much everything, you can raise a lot of money for your cause this way. We buy ALL of our supplements through Amazon (they have a huge selection and low prices), so we donate through them all year long. You just have to remember to go to AmazonSmile instead of the main Amazon page, but they have a convenient button you can download to help you remember (iGive and GoodShop also offer buttons & mobile apps) - and it is still your own Amazon account.

So make that holiday shopping list and get ready to contribute to your favorite causes from your couch! And remember to use these services & portals all year long, for ordering supplements, drugstore items, books, or whatever you normally buy online.

I'm getting ready for Cyber Monday!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holiday Anxieties

Thanksgiving is one week from today, the official start of the holiday season (at least here in the U.S.), and I am mostly filled with anxiety rather than happy anticipation. This holiday season is going to be even more challenging than most: we are traveling next week for a 5 day trip to visit my hometown; two weeks later, we are traveling again to celebrate an early Christmas with my family; and then two weeks after that, we are traveling all the way to Jamaica for a full week with my family. Just the thought of all those expectations, obligations, and activity makes me dread the whole season.

Next week, we have a 7-hour drive each way and family events scheduled every day we are there - most of them scheduled for early afternoon when I need to nap. My family barely acknowledges my limitations and needs (some of them don't even do that), and they expect me to somehow manage to participate in everything planned. I'm already worrying about how to squeeze in naps, stick to the strict diet that keeps me functioning, and manage my energy.

To make matters worse, I got hit by yet another bout of bronchitis last week. I spent all of September & October battling first bronchitis and then the flare-up of yeast overgrowth that resulted from needing two rounds of antibiotics. I felt good - back to my normal baseline - for exactly two weeks. Last Friday, I woke up with chest pain & tightness, congestion & coughing - it just all popped up overnight! My husband pointed out that my usual strategy of waiting and trying to avoid antibiotics backfired this fall when I ended up needing 15 days' total to finally kick the infection, so I started Zithromax immediately this time. The chest pain & tightness eased within a couple of days, though I am still battling some congestion (both sinus and chest) and a mild cough. I need to get completely over this before we leave for Rochester next week, or I will never survive the family marathon!

Besides fighting this infection, I'm preparing for the trip by trying to calm my anxieties. I'm trying to remember that others' expectations don't matter - I can only do whatever I can do. I'm trying to stop the worst-case scenarios that plague me, worrying about what might happen next week. I'm trying to stop those stories running through my mind about how my family doesn't understand and instead focusing on taking care of myself. I'm trying to breathe deep, stay calm, and not allow worrying to add to my burdens.

Of course, all of that is easier said than done! But I'm trying. The truth is that I usually end up enjoying these family gatherings & I usually manage better than I expect (though there have been some spectacular disasters, too).

What are your plans for the holiday season? How do you handle anxiety over family gatherings and others' expectations?

Breathe deep...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TV Tuesday: The Mysteries of Laura

As I've mentioned here before, there are TV shows that I watch with my husband each week and a few shows we save to watch with one or the other of our sons. But I also watch a few shows on my own, at lunchtime - that's my "time off" each day to unwind. Many of my lunchtime shows are things my male-centric family doesn't want to watch with me (like Parenthood and Gilmore Girls), but I think they'd like this show if they gave it a chance.

The Mysteries of Laura stars Debra Messing as a tough NYPD homicide detective who is also the mother to twin boys who are little terrors. It's a crime show but with a lighter tone and sense of humor than most shows of its genre. Laura Diamond works homicide cases by day and tames her little darlings by night. Her ex-husband, Jake (played by Josh Lucas) also works with her...and sometimes helps with the parenting, too. Laura's character is very different from Messing's most recent role as the glamorous Julia on Smash. Here, she is...well, a homicide detective and a mom, often dressed sloppily in sweats and always carrying food in her giant purse (along with a gun).

As in any crime show, each episode features a different case, and Laura and her fellow detectives strive to catch the bad guys, usually with plenty of red herrings along the way. I like Laz Alonso as Billy and Janina Gavankar as Meredith, two of Laura's fellow detectives, but Max Jenkins as the unpaid but brilliant assistant, Max, is my favorite. Along the way to solving homicides, we see glimpses of the team's personal lives, especially Laura's and Jake's.

While the crimes are serious (obviously, since they are murders), the show has a fun, light tone and plenty of humor. Fans of Castle and Bones will probably enjoy the combination of personal stories, cases to solve, and humor in The Mysteries of Laura (though it has far less gore than Bones!).

The Mysteries of Laura is now in its second season and is available on Hulu, with recent episodes available On Demand and at the NBC website. Since it is a crime show, with each episode a different case, you don't need to start at the beginning but can jump in anywhere and catch up pretty easily.

Check out the trailer for The Mysteries of Laura to see its unique mix of humor, warmth, and crime-solving.

What are your favorite crime shows?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Movie Monday: The Martian

It is rare that my husband and I actually get OUT to the movie theater. Last week was one of those rare events - we took advantage of our local theater's $5 movies all day Tuesday and saw The Martian. We had both read the novel (read my review here) and loved it, so we wanted to be sure to see the space thriller on the big screen.

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who is left for dead on the surface of Mars, after his crew is forced to make an emergency evacuation, and read-outs from his punctured suit (some distance away) indicate that he is no longer alive. However, due to some miraculous circumstances, Watney wakes up some time later, alone on Mars but very much alive. From there, the action moves back and forth between the surface of Mars, where Watney must use his wits and the equipment left on the surface to figure out how to survive, and NASA at the Johnson Space Center, where everyone first grieves his death and, later, tries to figure out how to rescue him. It's like the movie Castaway crossed with the TV show MacGyver and set on Mars.

Damon is fabulous in this movie (as he usually is), playing Watney with intelligence and humor, just as he is portrayed in the book. For much of the movie, like Tom Hanks in Castaway, he is on-screen alone, though he has the advantage of making video logs and, later, sending e-mails, so he's technically not talking to himself (or to a volleyball) all the time. Back on earth, the NASA employees and contractors are played by a combination of celebrities, including Jeff Daniels, Kristin Wiig, and Donald Glover (of Community fame) and lesser-known actors. With scenes alternating between Mark alone on Mars and the team at NASA trying desperately to save him, there is plenty of suspense here.

For fans of the novel, the movie sticks pretty close to the book, and it's wonderful to see such a great book come to life on the screen. I was especially intrigued to see what equipment like the Hab, the Rover, and the MAV looked like. As is typical in a book adaptation, a few scenes in the book were cut in the movie, a necessary step to fit an entire novel into a 2-hour movie, and many of the detailed calculations in the book were left out (that would make a dull movie) and instead covered by Damon saying "I'm going to have to science the sh*t out of this." There were two production choices made that I found puzzling. In the movie, Watney was left behind about two weeks later than he was in the book - a very minor point, but I couldn't figure out why they changed that. They also changed the very obviously-Indian Director of Mars Operations, Venkat Kapoor, into Vincent Kapoor, played by the Nigerian actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor. I guess they really wanted that actor. They did try to explain it by having him say that his mother was Hindu and his father a southern Baptist, but then why did he have an Indian last name? Again, a trivial choice but one that I found odd.

My husband and I both enjoyed the movie (and our rare evening out!) very much, as did our two sons when they saw it with their friends, and the two and a half hours flew by. The acting was excellent all around, and even though we knew how it ended, there was still plenty of suspense built into this thriller in space.

The Martian is now playing in theaters.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

TV Tuesday: Limitless

Today's TV Tuesday focuses on another new show this season, Limitless. Like Blindspot, this is one that our college son likes so much that he comes home to watch it with us on Sundays (it airs on Tuesdays, but we watch it On Demand).

CBS's new show Limitless is based on the 2011 movie of the same name, starring Bradley Cooper. In fact, Bradley Cooper is on the TV show, though he plays a character who doesn't appear in every episode (the same character from the movie). In case you missed the movie (which is a fast-paced thriller), the concept is that a new drug called NZT allows a person to use all of their brain's capacity, instead of only a fraction of it.

Jake McDorman plays the adorably scruffy Brian Finch, a struggling musician whose siblings think he should settle down and get a real job. In the first episode, Brian comes across NZT and is amazed by its power. He uses it to figure out what kind of mysterious medical condition has affected his father. When the FBI thinks he is involved in an NZT-related murder, Brian stays on the drug in order to find the real killer and clear his name. He then also learns that coming off the drug has some serious and painful side effects.

Bradley Cooper's character, Senator Edward Morra, approaches Brian and gives him an injection that allows him to take NZT without side effects, but Brian's not sure what the senator and his team want in return. The FBI is impressed with the way that Brian solved the case and hires him as a consultant, understanding that he needs the NZT to function at such a high level. They have been investigating NZT themselves and think that Brian has a genetic anomaly that allows him to take it without the usual - often fatal - side effects. They assign him to work with Agent Rebecca Harris, played by Jennifer Carpenter (from Dexter).

From then on, the show is like a traditional crime show, with a sci-fi/thrillerish twist. Each episode features a new crime that Rebecca and Brian try to solve, and Brian uses his super-brain power in unique ways to help solve the crimes. Lurking along the edges is the Senator and his henchmen, who occasionally ask Brian to do things for them that he doesn't want to do, using his father's health as a way to blackmail him...though neither Brian nor the audience knows exactly what they are up to.

All three of us are enjoying the show. It's fun - and often amusing - to see the ways that Brian uses his high-powered brain, and being Brian, he often gets into trouble. There is good chemistry between Brian and Rebecca, and the show has a good sense of humor. So, it has a lot of different elements - crime-solving, humor, mysterious shadow organization, a hint of romance - all wrapped up in a unique concept.

Limitless airs on CBS Tuesdays at 10 pm. All of its episodes (#8 airs tonight) are still available On Demand or on the CBS website (the last 5 episodes free) and also through Netflix.

Which of the new TV shows have you been enjoying?


Monday, November 09, 2015

Movie Monday: Up Heartbreak Hill

Ahh, we enjoyed a lovely weekend camping - relaxing and soaking up the last of the warm fall days and fall color. It was very low-key and restful (which allowed me to be more active and enjoy some kayaking and a walk) and good to be unplugged for a few days. Back to the real world...

Since we were camping, we didn't watch as much TV last week and didn't have time for a movie, but the week before, I enjoyed a fascinating documentary about Native American teens.

Up Heartbreak Hill follows three modern Najavo teens, living on a reservation in New Mexico, during their senior year of high school. Thomas is a runner on his school's track and cross-country teams, hoping to do well enough his senior year to get a college scholarship for running. He wears his hair in a neon pink giant mohawk or in other brightly-colored styles and has had a difficult childhood, growing up with first his grandmother and then his aunt, after his mother left the reservation and his father was imprisoned for drunk driving. They are both back in town and back in Thomas' life, and he is struggling emotionally his senior year with trying to get close to them again.

Tamara, one of Thomas' closest friends, is one of the smartest kids in her class and wants to go to college to become an engineer. She says that the classes offered in the small reservation high school don't challenge her enough, and her teacher tries to coach her for the SATs, but he says their students never get high scores simply because they don't have the resources to teach at a higher level. Her principal explains that his budget for the entire high school is just $13,000 a year(!).

Gabby, the third in their group of close friends, has been passionate about photography ever since her parents gave her a camera. She'd like to go to college for Photography, and her family is supportive of her. However, Gabby has a boyfriend on the reservation. He'd also like her to go to college, but she is torn about leaving him behind.

The film follows the three friends through their senior year. They grapple with typical issues of any teens - what to do with their lives, where to go to college, the social dramas you find in any high school - but they have some unique issues, too. The reservation is a very insular society, and the outside world is large and a little scary. In many cases, due to extreme poverty, substance abuse, and a culture that emphasizes the family and the tribe, they are torn because they want to see what is out in the world but their family needs them. I was fascinated by this tension between the modern world and the ancient Navajo culture, as well as the inside look at life on a reservation. There's a bit of suspense in wondering what each of the three friends will decide, and a special feature shows an interview with Thomas and Tamara three years later, so you get a peek at how their lives turned out.

Up Heartbreak Hill was produced by PBS and featured at several film festivals. It is available on DVD (I borrowed it from my local library) and it can be livestreamed through the PBS website through November 30 (I'm not sure if it's on Netflix).

Have you seen any documentaries lately that you enjoyed?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

New Study Finds Differences Between Moderate & Severe ME/CFS

A new research study was published recently identifying specific types of immune proteins in the blood of ME/CFS patients. That in itself is nothing new; it builds on many previous studies that have tried to characterize the specific, unique type of immune dysfunction in our illness, like the ground-breaking study from Columbia University earlier this year.

This new study found differences in the immune markers (cytokines and immunoglobulins) between those patients with a moderate case of ME/CFS and those with the same illness who were more severely affected. This makes sense, that the immune dysfunction at the heart of the illness might be worse in those patients who are the sickest, but this study is one of the first to quantify that difference.

This finding helps to build more evidence for characterizing ME/CFS - and even degrees of the illness - by specific identifiers of immune dysfunction in the blood and brings us yet another step closer to biomarkers that could be used to help diagnose the disease.

For more information, you can read the study's abstract here and a previous study with similar findings from 2014 here.

Lots of exciting steps forward in ME/CFS research lately!

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

TV Tuesday: Red Oaks

Many of my reviews of new TV shows the past few weeks have been focused on suspense, thrillers, and drama. So how about something more light and fun?

I have been watching Amazon Prime's new original comedy series Red Oaks on my own at lunchtime, and I am really enjoying it. Set in 1985 suburban New Jersey, the show features David Meyer (played by Craig Roberts), a college student at NYU who is spending his summer at home working as an Assistant Tennis Pro at the local country club, Red Oaks. Many of David's friends from high school also work at the club as parking attendants, lifeguards, etc. His girlfriend, Karen, works there in true 80's fashion as an aerobics instructor. The members of the club are from a different (wealthy) world, including club President Mr. Getty, played by Paul Reiser (from Mad About You and Married). Adding to the fabulous cast are David's parents, played by Jennifer Grey (from Dirty Dancing - my all-time favorite!) and Richard Kind (from Spin City), who is always hilarious.

Red Oaks manages to tackle some serious issues, while also being funny. David is ambivalent about the career his dad has chosen for him - accounting - when his real passion is videography and film, something his dad refers to as his hobby, even when he gets paying jobs in the field. Meanwhile, he and his girlfriend are drifting apart, though neither seems ready to admit that. This summer is something of a turning point for David and many of his friends, as they struggle on the brink of adulthood to figure out what they really want out of life. Meanwhile, David gets plenty of advice from his parents and various characters at the club, including Mr. Getty, whose gorgeous & rebellious daughter seems attracted to David (and vice-versa). One recent episode featured a Freaky Friday-like switch between David and his dad which was hilarious!

One of the fun things about this show is its 80's vibe - the clothing, the excess, the big hair. I was actually in college in 1985, so I am loving the nostalgic feel. Lest you think they overdid the 80's fashions, I actually wore outfits to aerobics classes almost identical to the ones David's girlfriend, Karen, wears on the show! Actually, I think they got the look spot-on: it's not everyone in neon or looking like Madonna, the way some shows and movies depict the 80's but more realistic. And the music! I am loving the music. I had "Love is Like Oxygen" in my head for days.

All in all, it's a fun, nostalgic romp, and I am thoroughly enjoying the ride. If you enjoyed John Hughes' movies in the 80's, you will love Red Oaks.

Red Oaks is available for free (and exclusively) on Amazon Prime.

What new shows are you enjoying?

Monday, November 02, 2015

Movie Monday: Dark Places

On Halloween night, our 17-year old son had some friends over for a Scary Movie party - they watched Children of the Corn and The Babadook, the latter which he and his girlfriend said was absolutely terrifying - too scary, in fact.

Upstairs, my husband and I decided to also watch a spooky movie, though much tamer, since neither of us really likes horror movies much. Amazon Prime had a great selection of creepy movies available on Halloween, and we chose Dark Places, based on a Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) novel that my husband had read but I hadn't. He warned me that the book had been gory, but the movie was really not graphic. We both enjoyed this suspenseful thriller.

The story centers on 33-year old Libby Day, played by Charlize Theron, whose mother (played by Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame) and two sisters were murdered when she was just eight years old. Her brother, Ben, was convicted of the three murders, in part based on Libby's testimony. As you might expect, that event ruined Libby's life, and she lives an isolated, haunted existence. Her lawyer informs her that the money from her mother's life insurance is running out, so Libby agrees to meet with a secret society called the Kill Club that want to hear her tell the story of that night and are willing to pay her. The Kill Club investigates notorious crimes, and this one is important to them, as it was particularly infamous and some of their members are convinced that Ben is innocent.

Libby is resistant to the club's efforts to look into her family's murders at first, but soon she begins to wonder if they are right and her brother might have been wrongly convicted. She feel responsible, so she begins to dig into the events of that night and the days and weeks leading up to it, peeling back layers bit by bit. The movie goes back and forth between Libby's present-day investigation and flashbacks to her childhood, as she allows herself to remember more. Meanwhile, Libby goes to visit Ben in prison - for the first time in 25 years - where he claims that he is innocent but won't tell her who really committed the murders, if he knows.

This movie does a great job of slowly building suspense, as the events of that fateful night are gradually revealed, both to Libby and to the viewers. We go along for the ride as she goes deeper and deeper into the events of the past, uncovers long-forgotten clues, and finds people long-forgotten. Since this is Gillian Flynn (I read her novels Gone Girl and Sharp Objects), I expected a really twisted ending and very little hope. I was pleasantly surprised, though. While the story is definitely dark and twisty, it is not nearly as hopeless as Gone Girl. We were spellbound by this gripping, unpredictable mystery/thriller.

Dark Places is currently available for free streaming on Amazon Prime and Netflix and is also available on DVD and through Redbox.

Did you see any spooky movies this week?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

New ProHealth Article - What Do You Say?

My latest article is up at the ProHeath website: Who Do You Tell and What Do You Say?

It's all about the challenges of talking to healthy people about your illness and the difficult decisions of who do you explain to and how do you explain such a complex - yet invisible - illness.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic - what do YOU say?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Young People, ME/CFS, and Limits

My own college Halloween (I'm Barnie, the short one in the middle!)
I led a healthy, active, normal life until I got ME/CFS at age 37, thirteen years ago. My oldest son, on the other hand, got ME/CFS two years after I did, when he was just 10 years old. That's a very young age to begin a life of chronic illness. He is 21 years old now, and he and I are both struggling with his limits.

After 13 years of illness, I am accustomed to this life defined by restrictions and limitations. I can't drink alcohol; can't eat diary, sugar, or yeast; can't stay up late; can't exercise the way I want to...the list goes on and on. I am resigned to this life ruled by limits because I know that if I stay within those limits - and take my medications and supplements at the right times every day - then I can function fairly well most of the time, especially for someone with ME/CFS. My son, though, struggles mightily with this life of limits.

After eleven years with ME/CFS (and the past nine with Lyme disease and two other tick infections, too), he is well aware that he feels better when he gets enough rest, sticks to a routine, and doesn't over-exert. Knowing that and doing it are two different things, though. I get frustrated when he does things that we both know put him at risk for a serious crash.

For instance, when he and his friends drove to Florida for spring break last year, he volunteered - volunteered! - to drive the middle-of-the-night shift, ignoring the fact that he needs a solid 10 hours of sleep a night to function the next day. I couldn't believe it when he told us that!

Last weekend, we were making our annual trip to the local pumpkin farm on Sunday morning for pumpkins and homemade donuts, and he wanted to join us. We planned to leave by 11 am (if you get there too late, they run out of donuts!), so he decided to spend the night at home so he could get up in time to go with us. He came home from work Saturday night but realized he'd forgotten something at his apartment at school, so he drove back there at about 11 pm. Next thing we knew, it was 3 am and we heard the garage door going down. The next morning (when he could barely drag himself out of bed and into the car), we said, "Why on earth did you stay out until 3 am?" He explained that when he stopped back at his apartment, a friend convinced him to go to a Halloween party, so he pulled together a quick costume and went!

Today, a similar story. He slept here last night because one of our cars is in the repair shop. He was wiped out and didn't get up until 1 pm today. As we were eating lunch (breakfast for him), I said, "Now, I know you have two Halloween parties to go to - one tonight and one tomorrow - so pace yourself, OK?" He grinned sheepishly and admitted there were actually seven Halloween parties going on this weekend! I advised him to just choose the ones that were most important to him, and he just said, "We'll see." Yeah, right, I know how this goes!

As a mother who has watched him suffer from this illness for eleven years, this drives me crazy!!

On the other hand, if I think about it for a moment, I really can't blame him. He is 21 years old and in college! When I was his age....well, let's just say I was more than a bit wild. I was a regular party girl and quite reckless. I can't imagine - in my wildest dreams - being that age and having to live within all these restrictions and limits. Unthinkable.

His is a time of life that is all about freedom, fun, and independence. A time when you have few real responsibilities, and life is all about friends, parties, and having a good time (oh, yeah, and school, too). It hurts my heart to think that he can't just be wild and free like I was, that he can't just do whatever he wants and make the most of his fleeting freedom.

So, although I worry about him constantly and often wish he'd be more careful, another part of me is rooting him on, thrilled that he is well enough (relatively speaking) to be able to go to college and live on his own and spend time with his friends. I remember all too well those dark days when he was in high school and mostly confined to the couch, missing 90 days of school his senior year. I want him to enjoy this time of life and go to the parties and laugh with his friends and stay up until 3 am...I just wish all that didn't involve such a big risk for him.

I will continue to worry about him, I'm sure, but I am also proud of him for making the best of things, for managing to have fun in spite of all his restrictions and limits, for trying his best to live a "normal" life. In truth, his life is far from normal (though that is hard for others to understand) - he eats a restricted diet (some of the time!), is on a strict regiment of medications and supplements that allow him to keep living his life, and does indeed crash if he does too much - but he is making the best of it and living his life as best he can. Although I may get frustrated with him at times, he is actually my hero.

I would love to hear from other young people (and parents, too!) - how do you find a balance between the limits inherent in this illness and living your life? How do you cope with so many restrictions at a time of life usually defined by freedom?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Big News: NIH Gets Behind Serious ME/CFS Research

In a stunning announcement today, the U.S.'s National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that they would be taking some specific actions to improve and increase research into ME/CFS. This is a big deal since NIH has mostly ignored our disease for decades and not taken it very seriously. This announcement indicates a big change of direction for them. You can read NIH's full press release here.

The announcement states that NIH's new actions to bolster ME/CFS research are the direct result of the recent IOM report and Pathways to Prevention (P2P) report.

Here is a direct quote from NIH Director Francis H. Collins, M.D. PhD.:
“Of the many mysterious human illnesses that science has yet to unravel, ME/CFS has proven to be one of the most challenging. I am hopeful that renewed research focus will lead us toward identifying the cause of this perplexing and debilitating disease so that new prevention and treatment strategies can be developed.”

Wow, right? They have finally noticed our plight!

One specific action will be to start a clinical study of ME/CFS patients which will involve multiple NIH groups. The study's purpose will be "to explore the clinical and biological characteristics of ME/CFS following a probable infection to improve understanding of the disease’s cause and progression." Awesome.

Another action will be to set up a trans-NIH working group involving multiple NIH centers, in recognition of the fact that ME/CFS s a complex disease that affects multiple body systems. "One goal of the group will be to explore how new technologies might shed light on what causes ME/CFS. The Working Group includes representation from 23 NIH institutes, centers and offices."

Did I say WOW yet?? This is all a stunning move forward after decades of being ignored by the U.S.'s governmental health agency. When combined with the efforts of private research - which are moving forward rapidly and making new discoveries every day - this would seem to usher in a new era in ME/CFS research...and new hope for the millions of people affected by this debilitating disease.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

TV Tuesday: Quantico

One of our favorite new TV shows this season is Quantico, with an excellent ensemble cast and plenty of compelling suspense.

As the show opens in episode one, a group of new FBI recruits is making their way to Quantico, FBI headquarters, to start their training as agents. We get introduced to the main characters one by one, as they travel to Virginia and get settled into the dorms. There's Alex, played by Priyanka Chopra, a young woman of Indian descent who seems to be outgoing and fearless. Ryan, played by Jake McLaughlin, is ex-military and seems attracted to Alex. And so it goes, with the audience learning just a bit about each recruit at first. Josh Hopkins plays Special Agent Liam O'Connor who is in assisting with the recruits, and his boss, Miranda Shaw, played by Aunjanue Ellis, is in charge of the training program.

Then the show flashes forward to the present day, three years after that first day of training, when a terrorist has bombed Grand Central Station. Alex is rescued from the rubble and thinks that her old bosses, Liam and Miranda, are questioning her as a victim, but she soon learns that she is their prime suspect. When they search her apartment and find plans for the bombing and equipment for making the bombs, their suspicions are confirmed. Alex, though, claims she is innocent and manages to escape from custody.

She soon learns that whoever set her up must have been planning this since their first days at Quantico together. From there, the show goes back and forth in time, showing Alex on the run, visiting various Quantico classmates and trying to figure out who the real bomber is so she can clear her name and then flashing back to their training at Quantico. So, the audience gets to come along in recalling all that happened in their training and examining each of the recruits to try to figure out who the traitor and terrorist was. It's fast-paced, full of suspense, and very, very compelling. The characters are intriguing and complex. We watch all of our shows On Demand, and this is one of the first ones we rush to see the day after it airs. I can't wait to watch it tonight!

Five episodes of Quantico have aired so far, and they are all still available On Demand or at the ABC website. I think the show is also available on Netflix and Hulu, and episodes are $1.99 on Amazon Prime.

What are your favorite new shows this season?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Movie Monday 10/26: Take Me Home

Last week while my husband was out golfing, I watched Take Me Home, an uplifting road trip movie that I really enjoyed (free on Amazon prime).

Thom, played by Sam Jaeger (who played Joel on my favorite TV show, Parenthood), is a struggling artist in NYC, a photographer who can't find a job in his field. Thrown out of his apartment and desperate, Thom turns to running an illegal cab just to stay afloat. Meanwhile, across town, Claire finds her husband in what seems to be a compromising position with an associate on the same day that she hears her long-estranged father had a heart attack. On a whim, Claire jumps in Thom's cab and just tells him to drive, anywhere. Over the next 24 hours, the two decide to drive all the way to California to see Claire's father - well, Claire decides and Thom goes along because he needs the money.

Their road trip is difficult every step of the way, with Thom hiding all sorts of secrets (like his real name and the fact that it isn't even a legitimate cab), and Claire hiding secrets of her own while she struggles internally with both her relationship with her husband and with her father. They stop in Las Vegas to see Claire's mom and eventually make it to California, with more than a few rough spots along the way! And, of course, as the trip continues, they gradually get to know each better.

I was in the mood for a romantic comedy, so this fit the bill, and I'm a sucker for a road trip movie. We used to take a 3-week road trip cross-country every summer and didn't get much of a vacation this year, so I was drooling over the travel scenes! All in all, it's a fun movie about struggling with your personal demons and figuring out what you want out of life. I enjoyed it.

NOTE: I just discovered - thanks to IMDB, that amazing store of entertainment information! - that Claire was played by Amber Jaeger, who is married to Sam Jaeger, who not only stars in this movie but also wrote it and directed it. Cool.

Have you seen any good movies lately? What's your favorite road trip movie?

Friday, October 23, 2015

ProHealth Now Covers Lyme Disease, Too

I was excited to see ProHealth's announcement that they now have a section devoted to Lyme disease, in addition to their excellent coverage on ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia.

The ProHealth website has long been one of my favorite sources for information on the latest research, treatments, and other information related to ME/CFS, and I recently began writing for their Inspiration Corner (in the lower right-hand corner at this link).

Since Lyme disease is a known trigger for ME/CFS and many patients with ME/CFS and/or Fibromyalgia discover that they have Lyme or other common tick infections (either in addition to or instead of their original diagnoses), this is very useful information for ME/CFS and Fibro patients.

Like many people with ME/CFS, we have a long history with Lyme disease as well. I have had Lyme twice (post-ME/CFS diagnosis) and thankfully, gotten rid of it both times. Our 21-year old son has a more complicated - but not uncommon - history. He had ME/CFS starting in 2004, got Lyme disease in 2007, was treated with just one month of antibiotics, and got sicker and sicker over the next five years. Finally, we figured out that tick infections were the cause of his ever-worsening condition - he had two other tick infections (babesia and bartonella) in addition to the Lyme, and they had never been diagnosed or treated (and you can not get rid of Lyme completely without also treating these so-called co-infections). He is now 5 years into his treatment for tick-borne infections and is much improved - attending college and living on his own - though he still has a long way to go.

If you have ME/CFS or FM and have not yet been evaluated by a Lyme specialist (the blood tests are not reliable and can not be used to rule out Lyme disease) for tick infections, you should - here's why and how.

So, this is the perfect addition for the already excellent ProHealth website!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

TV Tuesday 10/20: Blindspot

Now that we're a few weeks into the new fall TV season, I thought I'd start focusing on some of the newer shows we've tried. As I've mentioned here before, my husband and I usually watch two TV shows together each evening - that's our together time, and there are lots of shows we enjoy together. Our 21-year old son lives at college (about 20 min away), but each season, there are a couple of TV shows that he wants us to save and watch with him when he comes home on Sundays. One of those is the new NBC thriller, Blindspot.

Blindspot has a unique central plot: the first episode opens with a woman found in Times Square, naked and with no memory...and covered head to toe in mysterious tattoos. The FBI brings the Jane Doe, played by Jaimie Alexander (she was in both Thor movies), back to their field office and lab. One of her tattoos - placed prominently on her back - is the name of an FBI agent, so they call him in. Agent Kurt Weller, played by Sullivan Stapleton, doesn't recognize the woman, but he is intrigued by the mystery and especially why he was specifically called out.

From then on, the FBI agents, led by Weller, investigate her tattoos one at a time, aided by Agent Patterson in the lab, played by Ashley Johnson (whom I recognized from her roles as a child in Growing Pains and Phenom). For instance, they notice a date hidden in one of the tattoos that is that very day, so they focus on that one immediately. None of the tattoos are straight-forward - they are each unique and coded in some way. After a few episodes, you begin to see that each tattoo leads them to some sort of crime about to take place, but none of the crimes seem to be connected in any way.

With each episode focusing on a different crime, the show unfolds in some ways like your typical crime show, with the detectives/investigators trying to figure out the crime and catch the bad guys. But, woven throughout are the mysterious tattoos and Jane's and Weller's quest to figure out who she is, where she came from, and who did this to her (and why). She does begin to get flashes of memory here and there, but they don't make much sense at first. We have watched three episodes of Blindspot so far and are hooked! The long-term mysteries plus the new investigations each episode make it a compelling, action-packed show with plenty of suspense and intriguing characters.

Five episodes of Blindspot have aired so far, and all of them are still available On Demand and on the NBC website (though the first is scheduled to come off Demand in about a week). Episodes are $1.99 each on Amazon Prime and are also available on Netflix.

What new fall shows are you enjoying?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Movie Monday 10/19: Redwood Highway

My husband and I have been too busy during our TV time together, watching all the great new shows that just started (and some old favorites), so we haven't had much time left for movies. But I did what I have been doing lately and watched a quieter, mellower movie on my own while he was out golfing last week.

I chose Redwood Highway, a warm, thoughtful film about family and aging that won awards at several film festivals. Award-winning actress Shirley Knight stars as Marie, a woman in her 70's who is living in a retirement home - and is not very happy about it. James Le Gros stars as Michael, her adult son, whom she argues with frequently. Her grand-daughter is getting married soon, but Marie disapproves - she feels she is too young at 22 (and she's marrying a musician!). At first, Marie refuses to attend the wedding, but one night, thinking back over her own wedding and other events from her past, she abruptly changes her mind and decides to attend the wedding on the coast...and walk all the way there, 80 miles away.

Most of the movie follows Marie on her journey, as she heads down the Redwood Highway (Oregon) toward the coast, through gorgeous parks and forests. She starts out a little rough, with the expected problems - terrible blisters, exhaustion, frustration - but she meets a kind stranger in one town named Pete, played by Tom Skerritt, who helps her with both first aid and emotional support and gives her the strength to continue. Marie camps along the way (she is obviously an experienced backpacker from years past) and meets other interesting people - most of them very kind, some not so much.

As she walks, Marie has plenty of time to think (as one does while long-distance hiking!) and revisits her past, finally facing up to some haunting memories. Meanwhile, while she is on this journey of discovery, her son and grand-daughter are panicked that she has gone missing and have police and search parties looking for her. I really enjoyed this quiet, contemplative movie. As a past backpacker myself, I loved all the natural beauty and scenes of hiking and camping and was glad to go along with Marie on her journey of re-awakening. It's a lovely, thoughtful film, with only mild suspense, perfect for those who can't handle tense movies.

Redwood Highway is currently available free on Amazon Prime and on Netflix, as well as on DVD.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Weekly Inspiration: The Importance of Self-Care

I get weekly e-mails from the TED Talks website, and one feature this week caught my eye: a playlist of 9 talks all related to The Importance of Self-Care. As it turned out, I have previously watched almost every one of these talks (and posted some of them here on the blog), but it is an excellent collated playlist, and I recommend these highly.

Coincidentally, I just posted here on the blog this week about The Art of Truly Resting and described my own struggles to really slow down and rest when I need to, to drop the to-do list and the buzzing of "must-do's" in my head and truly relax. So, these talks - covering everything from being grateful to mindfulness to slowing down - are a good reminder to me that I need to take care of myself (and some of the ways to do that). Ironically, as I began watching one of the talks on this playlist - on slowing down - I was clicking over to my e-mail program to check e-mail! But I caught myself, had a good laugh at my own expense, and focused just on watching and listening to the talk.

Why is it so hard for us to take care of ourselves? For me, I think some of it stems simply from being a woman, a wife, and a mother. I was brought up to care for others and have done so my entire life (except for those few selfish years around high school & college! lol). I know that some of it is also just my personality - what the experts like to call Type A - always busy, always doing. Even when I am physically unable to be up and about, my mind is still running at top speed.

The greatest challenge for me in living with chronic illness has been to learn how to not be productive, how to truly rest & relax, and how to take care of myself. These wonderful and inspiring talks are a good reminder for me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Art of Truly Resting

TRULY resting & enjoying nature on my back deck
I had a hectic week here and am still not fully recovered from my crash due to bronchitis that began at the end of August - still struggling with the resultant flare-up of yeast overgrowth and my stamina is still not back up to my normal baseline. Wednesday, I had a haircut and then stopped in to see my father-in-law for a 5-minute visit...that turned into an hour when the elevator in his building was taken out of service! And yesterday, I took him to an emergency dentist appointment at 12:30. I would normally never schedule any appointment after noon (that's nap time!), but this was urgent (his crown had come out) and was supposed to be quick but turned into a 2-hour oral surgery. By the time he was done, I knew I was in trouble - felt just awful. In fact, I'd been just about to lie down on the tiny couch in the waiting room when he came out. I still had to get him and then me back home. I finally got up from my late nap at 5 pm and felt horrible and felt even worse this morning.

As usual, I had plans today - things that needed to get done: bills to pay, college visits to schedule, writing deadlines, and medical insurance claims to file. But, by the time I had breakfast, I knew I was in no shape to do all that. I did a few urgent things while lying on the couch with my laptop and then made a decision to "really rest."

This was a momentous occasion for me. I have a terrible time truly resting and setting aside the need to be productive. There is just always so much to do, and I am always behind. But I have learned from hard experience that resting is more than just lying down. For me, truly resting means reading a book, watching TV or a movie, meditating, or actually napping - all while lying flat, of course, with feet elevated. Bonus points for lying outside on my deck, among the trees, birds, and blue sky - I find nature so soothing and rejuvenating.

When I am not feeling well but not at my worst - maybe a 3 or a 4 on my scale of 5 - I have a tendency to still keep pushing myself. I lie on my back on the couch with my feet up, but I still have my laptop open and still try to get things done. I know, though, from years of experience, that that's not truly restful. I know that if I spend all morning on the laptop - even while lying down - that I will not feel better by lunchtime but probably worse. On a typical day, I really only truly relax in the evening, after 7 pm (I do have a hard and fast rule to put the laptop away by 7 pm), when my husband and I watch two TV shows together and then go to bed to read for an hour before lights out.

One time last month during my severe crash - just one time! - I gave in and completely "took a day off," setting aside the laptop and the to-do list and truly resting. I watched two old favorite 80's movies - Dirty Dancing and Flashdance (feel good movies) - and read on my deck. I felt so much better for it!

I know I need to do that more often, but I find it so difficult. I know intellectually that to keep working (even on my back), to keep my mind working, is not truly restful. But it is still a difficult thing for me to do - to give in completely.

So, I did it again today. By 9:30 am, I set aside the laptop and finished watching a movie I started earlier this week. Then, I lay in my chair on our deck in the fall sunshine and read my novel. After that, I had an early lunch and enjoyed an episode of Gilmore Girls, then went upstairs to meditate and take my nap. Now that's resting. And do you know what? By the time I went up for my nap, I felt a lot better already.

I don't know why it takes extreme circumstances to finally force me to to truly rest. I know my body needs it. I'm a smart person - I should have figured this out by now, after 13 years of illness. But I still find it very difficult to completely give in and give up on being productive.

Am I the only one who has this problem? Do others find it hard to truly rest and relax? How do you rest? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TV Tuesday: The Good Wife & Madam Secretary

This week's TV Tuesday features two powerful women in excellent back-to-back shows on CBS on Sundays (though we never watch anything when it actually airs anymore!): The Good Wife and Madam Secretary.  Both shows are top-notch: smart, funny, and engaging with excellent writing and casts. My husband and I were thrilled to see both shows return for new seasons two weeks ago.

The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, just started its seventh season, and it hasn't lost any steam. At the beginning of season 1, the show began with Alicia's husband, Peter Florrick, former State's Attorney for Cook County (Chicago), going to jail after a sex and corruption scandal that rocked the city and left Alicia in the spotlight. Publicly, she literally stands by her man in the press conferences, but behind the scenes, she is furious with him for cheating on her - and in such a lurid, public way (he was caught repeatedly with prostitutes). Alicia works hard to protect her two teen children from the media and her husband's scandal. With Peter in jail, Alicia has to go back to work, after 15 years as a stay-at-home mom. She gets a job with a prestigious law firm - Stern, Lockhart & Gardner - though she must start out as an Associate, along with a lot of younger lawyers just out of law school. Will Gardner, one of the firm's partners, was a classmate of hers back in law school, and it seems they might have been more than friends back then.

I won't go into much of the details beyond that starting point, because this show is filled with wonderful plot twists that we never saw coming. Alicia builds her new career, while juggling motherhood, and Peter eventually gets out of jail and resumes his politic career (this is America, after all). I loved Julianna Margulies in ER in the old days, and she is absolutely spectacular as Alicia and has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for this role. The rest of the cast is just as good, with Chris Noth as the charismatic Peter, and Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart (another of the firm's partners). Alan Cumming is one of our favorites as Eli Gold, Peter's campaign manager, as is Archie Panjabi as the sexy, mysterious investigator Kalinda Sharma. We were late to this show, finally listening to all the rave reviews from friends and family one summer, when we got the DVDs from the library and binge-watched 3 seasons in a row! You can watch the early seasons free on Amazon Prime or Netflix, and the latest season (2 episodes so far) is available On Demand and on the CBS website (seasons 1 and 7).

As if that wasn't enough, last year CBS also added Madam Secretary to its line-up, and we were soon hooked on that show as well. Tea Leoni stars as Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA operative who is named Secretary of State by the President, who is a former colleague of hers. Right from her first day, it is obvious that Elizabeth is going to do things her way, as her staff, headed by Bebe Neuwirth, rushes to adjust to her open, straight-forward approach. Each episode tackles a new international crisis of some sort - everything from hostages to informants to potential war - which keeps the plots fresh and interesting. If you could find any criticism with the show, it would be that they always manage to solve major world crises in an hour-long show, but we find it easy enough to just go along for the ride because it is so much fun.

At home, Elizabeth is married to World Religions scholar Henry McCord, played by Tim Daly, and they have three children ranging from young teens to young adult. In addition to her constantly changing duties as Secretary of State, Elizabeth must also juggle whatever crises come up with her family. The entire cast here - from Elizabeth's staff to her family and beyond - are all excellent and great fun to watch. There is a lot of chemistry between her staff members and plenty of humor, too, throughout the show. Tea Leoni has always been one of my favorite actresses - she was great in movies like House of D, The Family Man, and Ghost Town, and her crying scene in Spanglish is one of my all-time favorites! She's wonderful in Madam Secretary, as is Tim Daly, and the script is clever, suspenseful, and funny. You can catch up on Season 1 on Netflix or on Amazon Prime (though not free there), and season 2 is currently available On Demand and on the CBS website.