Monday, June 22, 2015

Movie Monday 6/22

We had a very quiet weekend here, just my husband and I most of the time. We enjoyed a movie Saturday night on DVD:

Arthur Newman is about one of the oddest road trips you will ever see! Wallace Avery, played by Colin Firth, has hit bottom. He's divorced, his teen son wants nothing to do with him, and now he's lost his job. Even his girlfriend seems to barely tolerate him. So, he does what anyone would do - he gets himself a new identity and leaves town to start a new life. On his first night on the road, he meets a woman who's been arrested for stealing a car and has overdosed on something. Mike, played by Emily Blunt, seems to be very different from Wallace (now Arthur), but they begin to travel together and gradually come to realize they have a lot in common. They go on a wild rampage together, on their way to Arthur's job interview. It's a warm, funny movie that starts out sad but is ultimately hopeful and optimistic. We both enjoyed it very much.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Tribute to My Dad for Father's Day

One of my earliest memories is when, at four years old, I ran out to the breezeway and greeted the kind man my mother was dating with, “Are you going to be my Daddy?” I somehow knew even then that he was the perfect father for me, and he officially became my father when my parents got married a short time later.

He’s not my biological father, but that has never mattered to either him or me. He officially adopted me when I was five years old, and he’s been my dad ever since. He is still one of the kindest, most loving men I’ve ever known, and I couldn’t have chosen a better father.
Even back in the 70’s and 80’s – before it was common for fathers – he always took an active role in the lives of me and my sister. We did a lot of things together as a family: camping, hiking, and our annual vacation at the beach. On Saturday nights, we played games together in front of our fireplace. My dad was the champ at Parcheesi and never would have let us win on purpose. He was always fair-minded and kind.
He was just as kind to my friends, greeting them by name when he came home from work and always taking an interest in what I was doing. Whenever he came home and saw my best friend, Michelle (which was almost every day), he would say teasingly, “Oh, no! It’s Michelle!” and she’d erupt in a fit of giggles. She knew, just like I did, that he genuinely liked me and my friends. He had a great sense of humor. He even put up with my annual slumber party of screaming little girls in the basement!
Dad didn’t just get involved in my life; he involved me in his, too. He was in the trucking industry, and for a while when I was a kid, he had his own business and small truck, making deliveries to local stores and businesses. When I had a day off from school, he’d take me along with him for what he called “pick-em-ups and deliveries.” I rode around town beside him in the red truck, and we’d stop for donuts and lunch. I felt so special sitting next to him, especially when he introduced me to his regular customers.
Besides all the day-to-day fun we had together, my dad was always there for special events. We were a family that celebrated everything, and he came to every dance recital and school function, usually with his movie camera. He always let me know that he was proud of me.
At my wedding, Dad and I danced together. I chose one of his favorite songs, “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers, and its lyrics were perfect for our relationship. My family and friends gathered in a big circle around us, and most of them were crying! Dad and I thought that was funny, as we enjoyed our dance together.
When my husband and I became parents ourselves, my dad became Grandpa. He was just as loving and kind with our two sons as he had been with me and my sister. From the time they were little, he has always been actively involved with them, playing with them on the floor or outside, playing games together with the whole family, and letting them know he loved them.
Last summer, my dad was diagnosed with melanoma, now stage 4. He’s had surgeries, radiation, and immunotherapy, and this past year has been a struggle. My sons, both busy teenagers now, will still drop everything to go visit him and Grandma (a day’s drive away). They play cards with him or watch TV or a movie, and they love his sense of humor. It means so much to me that they love Grandpa just as much I do.
Our relationship began in a loving way when he not only accepted me as his daughter but treated me no differently than my sister, his biological daughter. It has only grown stronger over the years. From my dad’s example, I learned patience, kindness, and tolerance. I have come to recognize and appreciate his influence more the older I get. I feel so fortunate to have him as my father, and he’s taught me a lot about being a parent myself.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Social Exhaustion in ME/CFS

I love my extended family - but a weekend together is a marathon for me!
I've been thinking about how exactly to describe this bizarre thing where just being with other people can totally wipe me out...I guess "social exhaustion" is as good as any description, though it's still not quite accurate.

I experienced this horrible, bizarre aspect of ME/CFS again last weekend. My mom and her husband came for the weekend. I had invited them - in fact, encouraged them - to come, and I really enjoyed having them here. We had a great weekend - my sons were both home, we watched old home moves, played games, had some great meals, and talked and laughed a lot. All in all, it was a lovely weekend with family.

Except...that I was totally exhausted by dinnertime Saturday - wiped out, worn out, barely keeping my head up, frazzled, and wrecked. I tried to be polite for a while. I really wanted to play a game while everyone was here (I love games!) or watch more of our home movies, but I was I finally gave up at 9 pm and went upstairs to bed, while everyone else (including my kids!) stayed up well past midnight.

Getting up to my room and into bed was such a huge relief! Lying down flat in a completely quiet room and reading my book felt so good. I think my mom was a bit put out the next morning, when she asked me why my light was still on an hour later. Even after 13 years, she tends to take it personally when I need a break or can't manage being with everyone any more. I don't blame her - it's a hard thing for anyone to understand, how being with people you love could be harmful.

It feels like some of it is energy depletion - no different than doing too much physically - and some of it is over-stimulation. The noise of being with other people, the chaos of a large group (or even a small group), trying to keep track of conversations going on - it all results in just too much for my mind to process. Even a quiet, brief gathering like my book group has this effect on me. How can sitting in my neighbor's comfortable living room discussing a good book for 2 hours with friends be too much for me? I don't know, but when I get home from book group, I am feeling so over-stimulated ("wired but tired") that I have to take a half Ambien in order to get to sleep (which I rarely need any more). I needed to read for awhile this weekend after I went up to bed - to give my brain some time to calm down and recover, to soothe my frazzled nerves..

My beloved neighborhood book group with author Rachel Simon

I think this is part of why I love our camping trips so much and find being outdoors so rejuvenating. Having just the four of us together, with no phone or TV or computer, is soothing, quiet, and easy for me to manage. The natural world - clouds, trees and flowers, breezes - is naturally soothing and a balm from the usually over-stimulating modern world.

Energy-wise, my body reacts to being in a social gathering much the same way it reacts to physical exertion - too much and I crash. It's over-exertion of a different kind, but with the same effect.

All of this is hard for me to accept because I am naturally a very social person. I love being with people, talking with friends or being with family. I had a lot of friends in high school, was president of my sorority in college, and quite the party girl throughout school and into my 20's. I was always the one to organize an outing or a party, the one to want to stay out later, invite more people, keep going. I used to love to host gatherings at our house. Even now, it's hard to accept that something I enjoy so much could have such a negative effect on me.

Fortunately, with all of the improvements I've made over the past 10 years or so, my ability to tolerate social situations has improved, too. I love seeing my friends or going to my book group or, yes, spending time with my family. But my body tells me when it is too much. I usually limit myself to one major social event per week (and yes, going to a book group counts as "major"!). Sometimes, I can manage a second social outing, especially if it's just being with a couple of close friends. I know when I've hit my limits - and my close friends can tell, too! I've been told I visibly droop when I've had too much social interaction, sliding down further and further into my seat.

When I've had too much - like happened this weekend - it is such a relief when I am finally by myself, in quiet solitude. Just a normal Sunday wipes me out this way, with my college son and father-in-law coming over for dinner and everyone home from school and work. I love having everyone together, but by the end of the day, I've had enough. Monday morning - waking up to a quiet house, all alone - is like a soothing balm to my exhausted mind and body. I can recover from social exhaustion pretty well now, but I need that soothing quiet time with no stimulation. It's vital to my well-being.

Is it the same for you? Do you get over-stimulated and wiped out even from the most pleasant social interactions? How do you cope?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Movie Monday 6/15

We had a really hectic, busy week so not a lot of time for movies. My mom and her husband came to visit this weekend, and I gave her a set of DVDs containing all of our home movies from when I was a kid (I had them converted from the old 8 mm films recently). So, we had a lot of fun watching old home movies on Friday night! I never get tired of them and love seeing so many family members who are now gone.

My husband and I did watch one movie last week on Thursday evening, The Theory of Everything, the biographical movie about Stephen Hawking's early life. Hawking is the famed physicist with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) who wrote A Brief History of Time. Actor Eddie Redmayne did an amazing job of capturing Hawking in each stage of his illness. As the movie opens, Hawking is a carefree graduate student with a great sense of humor at Cambridge, impressing his professors and fellow students with his intelligence and insights. He meets and falls in love with Jane, an Arts major, but before their relationship can progress very far, Stephen's clumsiness becomes more serious, and he is diagnosed with ALS, a damaging and progressive disease, and given two years to live. Jane loves him, though, and they get married in spite of his prognosis. He continues to work (and amaze the experts in his field with his breakthrough theories), and he and Jane have a baby. As Stephen's illness progresses, Jane has to become his nurse as well as his wife. The movie follows him and their relationship through several decades (it's no spoiler to say that he beat his dire prognosis, since he is still alive today, 50 years later!). We both enjoyed this fascinating look into Hawking's inner life. What he has accomplished in spite of his severe and ever-worsening disability is absolutely incredible and very inspiring.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Weekly Inspiration - Acceptance

This week I thought I'd combine my newer Weekly Inspiration feature with my old Quote It Saturday feature (though today is Sunday) and get our inspiration from two quotes from one of my all-time favorite books, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (review at the link - no spoilers). I only just read this book in January, but I absolutely loved it, and it immediately rose to the top of my favorites list!

In the novel, Ursula relives her life over and over again (I love that kind of plot), and each time she dies (and she dies a LOT), she starts over again, being born in 1910. She's only aware of these many lives in a hazy sort of deja vu way, but, as you can imagine, this kind of experience makes her somewhat philosophical. Here are two of my favorite quotes/thoughts from Ursula:

"'Amor Fati,'" Ursula said. "Nietzsche wrote about it all the time..."

'Love of fate?'

'It means acceptance. Whatever happens to you, embrace it, the good and the bad equally. Death is just one more thing to be embraced, I suppose.'
          - Ursula in Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

"Life wasn't about becoming, was it? It was about being. Dr. Kellet [her therapist] would have approved this thought. And everything was ephemeral, yet everything was eternal, she thought sleepily."
         - Ursula in Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I like the Nietzsche concept (perhaps I should read some of his books), and I thought it applied perfectly to life with chronic illness. Stuff happens - in every life - and if you want to be happy, you need to accept what happens, embrace it, and learn to live with it. I think the second quote is a similar concept - to focus on being, rather than becoming. Live in the moment because each moment is fleeting. We can't live our lives waiting for what is coming or we will miss everything.

If you are looking for some great summer reading, I highly recommend Life After Life and also the companion novel Atkinson just published in May, A God in Ruins, about Ursula's brother, Teddy (no, he doesn't relive his life, but there are still some surprises). I just finished that one, so I will try to post a review this week.

(And, by the way, both books are over 400 pages so qualify for my Big Book Summer Challenge, so if you plan to read one of them - or another big book - this summer, sign up for the reading challenge and join the fun!)

What do you think about these quotes? About acceptance? About being rather than becoming?

Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Monday, June 08, 2015

Movie Monday 6/8

We took a mini vacation last week, camping at Shenandoah National Park, but it was cool, rainy, and very foggy the entire time. So, we escaped into town in the evening and went to the movies! The theater in Luray, VA, was hot pink on the outside and had about 8 tiny theaters inside. Ours had about 6 rows of seats and a screen not much bigger than the TV at my mom's house! In this photo, the suits of armor on either side were life-sized, so the screen was only about 5-6 feet high.

Our tiny movie theater - we had it all to ourselves!

After much deliberation, we saw Poltergeist in the tiny theater. We just shared the original Poltergeist with our sons last summer, and they really wanted to see the new version. I had my doubts since the original is so great, but I have to admit, they did a good job with the remake. It follows the same basic story as the original (what? you've never seen it?)...a family moves into a house in a suburban neighborhood and soon finds out that it is haunted by a poltergeist. As with the first movie, the little girl is the main target (and is just as adorable), and in the remake, she begins talking to these "imaginary friends" as soon as they move in. Things escalate quickly from there, until the family calls in the supernatural experts. As with the original, the movie is very well-done, not strictly horror because of the in-depth plot and good acting, though it is plenty scary with some jump-in-your-seats moments. They did a nice job of updating the story by using modern technology, including cell phones, tablets, and a drone camera that is able to show the audience what is happening behind the scenes in the supernatural world. We all enjoyed this very good update of an old favorite, but you might want to pass it up if you don't manage suspense well!

Once we got back home (a day early!) and the kids both took off with their friends, my husband and I got a DVD on Friday night - we finally got to see Mockingjay, Part 1. We both read - and loved -  the entire series (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) and have been wanting to see this latest movie adaptation for a while. I have to admit, I did not have a great attitude going into it because I was annoyed that Hollywood had taken a relatively short book and turned it into 2 movies. But, this excellent adaptation quickly won me over. If you are familiar with the basics of the earlier books/movies (a future world pits children and teens against each other in an annual to-the-death contest that is like reality TV on steroids), this last portion (well, part 1) of the story continues after the latest Hunger Games has ended. Panem (what is left of the US) has degenerated into war, with the Districts beginning to revolt against the Capitol. Katniss is at the center of the action, with a group of revolutionaries wanting to use her in a propaganda campaign to convince the Districts to join the revolt. I was blown away by everything about the movie - it was all so well-done. As with the first two movies in the series, it featured great acting, excellent scripts, lots of action, and amazing special effects. I was brought to tears at one point. If you haven't experienced this series yet, you are missing out! The books were top-notch - The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay (reviews at the links - no spoilers) - and the movie adaptation have been excellent.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Movie Monday 6/1

My husband and I actually considered going to the movie theater this weekend, but between the cost and the challenges of fitting it into my nap/meal schedule, we decided to use a promo code for a free DVD from Redbox instead. It's nice to see a movie on the big screen once in a while, but it's also very nice to watch it while horizontal on my couch, with herbal tea and dark chocolate by my side and the ability to take bathroom breaks without missing anything!

We watched Nightcrawler, a movie that our college son had recommended. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal in his creepiest role ever! He plays Lou Bloom, an enthusiastic thief always on the lookout for a new opportunity. One night, while cruising around LA, he encounters a horrible car accident and witnesses a freelance videographer (a "nightcrawler") shooting footage to sell to a local TV news station. He steals a bike and heads to a pawn shop to buy a police scanner and video camera, then hires a desperate young man as his assistant, and he's in business. Right from the start, he is breaking the rules and crossing professional lines in order to get the most gruesome shots possible, and he finds a good customer in Nina, played by Rene Russo, a local TV news producer looking to move her career forward who has no compunction about running Lou's grisly footage. Things escalate as Lou seeks to get more and more cutting-edge crime scene photos, and he even begins to modify the scenes to get better shots, until he finally crosses the line and puts people in danger. The key to this movie is Gyllanhaal himself, who is just so creepy, with his wide-open eyes, sly grin, and overly earnest manner. It's a unique and suspenseful drama with plenty of action that we both enjoyed.

Have you seen any good movies lately?