Tuesday, February 23, 2016

TV Tuesday: Grace and Frankie

We are still exploring our new Netflix subscription (and, yeah, watching way too much TV!). In between binging on Orange Is the New Black, we sometimes have time for other shows.

I particularly relish my lunchtime TV viewing, when it is just me, alone in the quiet house, taking a break from work...and with no males around to choose the shows! This is when I watched my girl-shows (that sounds vaguely dirty, but you know what I mean), like Younger and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Transparent. My newest lunchtime discovery is Grace and Frankie.

This half-hour comedy stars Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston. Enough said. I was sold when I heard the cast list! They are all wonderful in this show with a very unique premise (Lily Tomlin was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role).

In the first episode, Robert and Sol, played respectively by Sheen and Waterston, each tell their wives that they are lovers. Robert and Sol have been business partners for 20 years but have kept their personal relationship a secret. Now they are coming out of the closet, leaving their wives, and moving in together. The news is a complete shock to their wives (and their grown children). Grace, played by Fonda, is a perfectly coiffed woman who started her own business. Frankie, played by Tomlin, is more of an aging hippie type, dressing in loose colorful clothing and into artistic pursuits.

Both women are completely blown away by their husbands' secret and look to escape from their respective homes. They both set off for the beach house that the four of them bought together many years ago. Of course, the two of them are complete opposites in every way and don't even like each other much, but they are thrown together and both feeling lost.

There is nothing earth-shattering about this show, except for the incredible combined talent of its main actors, but it is fun and light and enjoyable. Fonda and Tomlin each play stereotypical roles that they have played before, but all four actors are just fun to watch. There are some issues addressed here, particularly being left by your spouse later in life and just aging in general, but for the most part, it is a fun confection, and it's enjoyable to watch these four together.

Grace and Frankie is shown exclusively on Netflix.

Which TV comedies are you enjoying?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Movie Monday: All Good Things & Project Almanac

Our college son was home sick all last week - "just" a cold, but you know how a simple infection can knock us out! He was couch-bound all week which meant LOTS of TV and a couple of movies. I wasn't feeling well myself, so that worked out fine. My husband, our son, and I watched two good movies on Netflix:

First, we watched All Good Things, a creepy psychological thriller based on the true story of Robert Durst, who was suspected of killing his wife but never convicted. Ryan Gosling plays David Marks (the Robert Durst character), a lackadaisical young man in the shadow of his father, played by Frank Langella, who's a powerful, wealthy real estate mogul in 1970's New York. David falls for Katie, a sweet young woman played by Kirsten Dunst whom his father disapproves of because she isn't from the right kind of family. They marry anyway and move to Vermont to open a natural foods store. Their happiness is short-lived, however, as David's father convinces him that he must join the family business or else Katie will eventually leave him because he can't earn a good living.

David reluctantly joins his father's (rather criminal) business alongside his older brother, and his downward spiral begins. He knows he's sold out and given up his dreams and becomes more and more bitter. In addition, Katie wants to have kids and David is firmly against it, which further broadens the rift growing between them. They have two gorgeous houses - one in the city and one on a lake - and all that money can buy, but neither of them is happy, and David seems more and more withdrawn. As you might recall from the news reports in 1982, Katie goes missing one night, and though foul play is suspected, nothing is ever proven and no charges are ever brought.

The entire movie is framed by a courtroom scene, with voiceovers of an attorney questioning an elderly David about all of these events, though we don't find out until the end of the movie exactly why he is in court. It's a creepy psychological thriller that keeps you guessing. Ryan Gosling is perfect in the lead role, playing his usual silent but deep and troubled guy with a chilling coldness. Kirsten Dunst is also excellent as Katie, and Frank Langella plays the controlling, powerful father very well. All in all, it is a chilling movie based on a real-life unsolved case - not exactly uplifting fodder but gripping and darkly suspenseful.

The next night, we switched gears and watched a fun, fast-paced sci fi movie called Project Almanac, about a group of teens who time travel. David is obviously very smart - the movie opens with his video application to MIT, as he and his friends demonstrate the drone they built, while his sister, Christina films them. In fact, the entire movie is supposedly filmed with Christina's hand-held camera in that style made popular by The Blair Witch Project. Accepted to MIT but unable to pay for it, David searches his attic for projects left by his scientist dad that he might work on to apply for a scholarship. He and Christina find an old video camera, with footage from David's 7th birthday ten years earlier, the day that his dad died in a car accident. Watching the video, David recognizes his current self in a mirror, which sets him, his sister, and his friends on a search for a way to time travel. They discover a hidden compartment in the basement where his dad hid top-secret government blueprints and equipment for Project Almanac.

The geeks put their heads together, go shopping, and finish putting the time travel apparatus together using the blueprints over the course of several weeks. Cute girl Jessie joins their ragtag group, and they begin traveling back in time. They start slowly, going back a week so that one of their group can retake the chemistry test he failed because he was busy working on the time machine. They make other trips back for various reasons, until they start to notice some unintended consequences. You can guess the rest - as in any time travel story, you should never tamper with the past! Things spin out of control as David frantically tries to fix their mistakes.

I love time travel stories for their mind-bending and thought-provoking twisty plots, though this one has a few holes in it. I see that some critics really hated the hand-held camera approach here or picked apart the plot holes, but the three of us just went along for the ride and enjoyed it. It's a fun-filled, action-packed teen time travel movie, with the usual subplots about friendship and love, and of course, that hard-won lesson: never tamper with the past.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Weekly Inspiration: Gratitude

Earlier this week, I posted about learning to focus on the positive in the midst of a rough week, with #GratefulToday...And Good Doctors. I thought that gratitude was a perfect topic for a Weekly Inspiration post!

I found a wonderful quote from a book that I read last fall, If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power (review here), a memoir about a Jewish (though mostly secular) woman's quest to learn about the Quran from a friend/colleague of hers, a Muslim scholar living in England with his family. She spent a year immersing herself in the Muslim faith and learning how real Muslims live (not the extremists who too often dominate the news).

In this passage, she is talking about her friend, affectionately known as "the Sheik," and his family and her observations of their focus on gratitude:
"Spending time with the Sheik and his family, I was struck at how grateful they were for small things, and how often. In Sumaiya [his daughter] and her sisters, I saw none of the vague dissatisfaction I'd seen flourish around me - indeed, in me - growing up. As a member of the American middle class, I was raised in a nation of strivers, a nation founded on the right to pursue happiness. Our discontent was productive. It got things done. The drive to do better propelled you through graduate school and up career ladders. Through spin classes and salary negotiations. A world of infinite favors didn't yield reliable results. My secularist's do-it-yourself existence did not get me into the habit of being grateful for date palms, fragrant herbs, and seas."
          - If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power

Maybe that is why I have become so much more aware of gratitude - and so grateful for the small things in life - since becoming ill. Most of us living with ME/CFS and other chronic illnesses have been removed from that "nation of strivers." No longer propelled by drive or able to get much done, we have, by necessity, slowed down such that we are able to notice those small joys and feel gratitude for the things we do still have in our lives.

Since posting my gratitude post earlier this week, I have kept up my pledge to post on social media (for me, Twitter and Facebook) each day using #GratefulToday. I am loving the habit of pausing each day to consider what I am grateful for. Even more, I am enjoying hearing about what others are grateful for in their lives. It has been inspiring to hear about the tiny victories in people's lives, the small things they are grateful for, and especially, the ability to recognize and feel gratitude, even on a really bad day.

I hope you will join me and others in sharing your own #GratefulToday gratitude each day. You can leave a comment here on the blog, use #GratefulToday on social media (I check it each day!), or follow me on Twitter (@livewithmecfs) or on Facebook and reply with your own gratitude there.

This small habit of daily gratitude has already helped me (especially in dealing with a difficult family member this week), so join in!

Today, I am grateful for a quiet Sunday at home with my husband. What are YOU grateful for today?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#GratefulToday...and Good Doctors!

image from Photobucket
I've been having a rough week - my college son is home sick, a family member said some really hurtful things, and I'm not feeling great myself. I haven't been badly crashed but just very low energy and always worn out the past two weeks.

Yesterday, a very simple thing made my day and lifted my spirits! A doctor took the extra time and effort to investigate one of (my many!) mysterious symptoms and found some answers for me. He did extra research, searched online, and once he figured out that I had a rare condition (more on that in another post), he spent the time yesterday to explain it to me in detail, gave me a video online to watch, and asked me detailed questions to help figure out what's behind it and how he could help me. Ideally, this is what doctors are supposed to do, but we all know how rare it is to come across a doctor who goes the extra mile like this! I was so full of gratitude that I wanted to share my experiences.

Today, I had a visit with my primary care doctor over a non-ME/CFS issue (a rarity!), and  felt that same kind of gratitude. She's a gem, too - the first one to recognize that I had ME/CFS 13 years ago and always willing to try new treatments to help me.

Coincidentally this week, as I said, an insensitive family member made some cruel remarks that were very upsetting to me, so I have been making an effort to keep a positive frame of mind, to focus on all that is good in my life, and to be grateful for what I have. I resumed my daily Joy Journal, but I also wanted to focus more on gratitude.

Those two events brought a bit of inspiration! I'm going to start using #GratefulToday, on Twitter and Facebook, to share what I am grateful for each day. And I would love for you to join me!

You can start by leaving a comment below - tell me what YOU are grateful for today! Then, please share this - let's see how far we can spread gratitude! Use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other forms of social media to share #GratefulToday far and wide. Besides helping to spread a message of gratitude, we will also be helping ourselves - to bring a greater sense of peace and grace into our lives. Feeling better emotionally helps so much with chronic illness (just like those darker emotions can worsen our condition). 

Spread the word! #GratefulToday

I'm grateful for these wonderful, caring doctors I have! What are YOU grateful for today?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Weekly Inspiration: The Joy of Celebrations

My latest article for ProHealth's Inspiration Corner, The Joy of Celebrations, was published last week just in time for a wonderful season of small occasions perfect for chronic illness-sized mini celebrations. Celebrating these special days brings unexpected joy into otherwise routine days, especially in the dreary days of winter. Check out the article for lots of specifics on how we celebrate and how you can, too, regardless of your physical condition.

This weekend is perfect for this article because Sunday is Valentine's Day! It doesn't matter if you are alone or with a spouse, partner, or friend, you can still celebrate this day devoted to love. It doesn't need to be focused on romantic love - celebrate love for your friends, your family, your parents, your children, or even your pets! Change into red pajamas (I will definitely be wearing my heart socks and heart earrings) and with the help of your loved ones, hang some hearts on the walls or windows, watch some love-centric movies (again, any kind of love), or read a wonderful novel about different kinds of love (here's a list of my favorites). And don't forget the chocolate!
Our Valentine's Day treats

We'll have both of our young adult sons home tomorrow morning (a rarity), so we're having strawberry-chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and we have little goodie bags for each of them filled with treats (an old tradition at our house). My older son, who has ME/CFS along with 3 tick infections and battles chronic yeast overgrowth, has sugar-free peanut butter cups and extra-dark chocolate in his bag. We'll also hang hearts in their doorways like we did when they were little (though it won't be much of a surprise because they will both be up later than us tonight!).

Enjoying chocolate fondue on Valentine's Day
And if you miss celebrating Valentine's Day, there are plenty of other opportunities coming up to add some special joy to your life - St. Patricks' Day, First Day of Spring, Easter, Cinco de Mayo...even President's Day on Monday! And when there are no special occasions coming up and you are in need of a celebration, make up your own or check out this list of Special Days. Who knew that today was Tortellini Day and Wednesday is Random Acts of Kindness Day (and next Saturday is Handcuff Day - huh)?

Everyone could use a little extra joy in their lives, especially those of us living within the restrictions of chronic illness every day. It doesn't take much effort to make any day a special occasion and a reason to celebrate!

Check out the suggestions in the article and tell me - how do YOU celebrate the small stuff?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

TV Tuesday: Colony

Months ago, when the first previews for the TV show Colony were shown, my family was eagerly awaiting this new USA show. Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) plus post-apocayptic alien invasion? We're sold! We've watched the first three episodes of this intriguing show so far and can't wait to see more...

Holloway plays Will Bowman, who is married to Katie, played by Sarah Wayne Callies. They have two kids at home and in the first episode, are visibly upset over a missing third child, Charlie. The Bowmans live in a post-apocalyptic LA, which is eerily similar to current-LA...only different. There are no cars on the streets, only walkers and bicycles. Things seem quiet and peaceful on the outside, but just under the surface, it is clear that people are scared and nervous. And the peace is occasionally shattered when robotic drones fly overhead, shooting at people who committed some unseen crime.

LA has been invaded by an outside force, presumably alien, that has taken control of everything. There is a wall around LA, and the Bowmans worry about their older son, who was caught outside that wall when the invasion happened and is now working in a "factory" and unable to contact them. In the first episode, desperate to find their son, Will stows away in a truck headed outside the wall, but his plans are foiled when a Resistance force blows up the gateway to the other side.

In the aftermath of the explosion, Will is offered a job in the controlling government - and this is not an offer he is at liberty to refuse. To keep his family safe, he takes the job, even though he and Katie sympathize with the Resistance. They both realize that Will must take this job, both in hopes of finding their lost son and to keep their remaining children safe. Bit by bit, as the episodes continue, viewers learn more about both the Resistance and the new order that is in charge, as Will and Katie end up in some precarious positions, trying to balance their real feelings with Will's job, and their need to keep their family safe.

Even just 3 episodes in, we are all hooked on this exciting new show. It's classic sci fi, with lots of action and suspense but also plenty of human drama, too. The acting is excellent - Josh Holloway is just as charismatic here as Will as he was as Sawyer on Lost! Peter Jacobson (who starred as Taub on House) is also featured as the man who hires Will (and who has decided that siding with the invaders is the best way to benefit himself). The show is well-written so far and fast-paced. We can't wait to see what happens next! And...breaking news...Colony was just renewed for a second season, so it sounds like we're not the only ones enjoying it!

Colony is available On Demand on cable and online at the USA Network website. Episodes are also available starting at $1.99 on Amazon Prime (see link below).

Monday, February 08, 2016

Movie Monday: Books Coming to the Big Screen in 2016

Rejoice, book lovers! The trend of transforming books into movies continues to ramp up in 2016, with everything from classics to YA novels to recent best-sellers being adapted for the Big Screen.

Here is BuzzFeed's List of 19 Books to Read Before the Movie Comes Out in 2016. Goodreads has its own list, with over 100 books being made into movies (but notice the caveat at the top of the page - the list was made by Goodreads' users, so not all of those listed will actually be released in 2016).

Of the list of 19 movies listed at Buzzfeed, I have read three of the books:
All of these will make good movies. I know my husband and I will enjoy seeing the first two together. But the one I am most looking forward to is Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk because it was such an incredible, moving, funny book. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and I can't wait to see how they adapt it for film - it will have to be really good to meet the standards of the book.

The 5th Wave is one we have here at home, but none of the three of us have read it yet! It just came out in the theaters, so we better get busy.

From the Goodreads list, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (my favorite book read on 2012) and Looking for Alaska by John Green are favorite books of mine, and both will make great movies...but the latest updates show they won't be released until 2017. Similarly, my husband and I both LOVED Wool by Hugh Howey and can't wait to see that on film, but it is still only in the very earliest stages of development. Same with Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, an outstanding middle-grade series. American Pastoral by Philip Roth, however, is due out in 2016 and should be good (probably more to my liking than my husband's, though!).

11/22/63 by Stephen King is another favorite of ours, but it has been made into a TV mini-series that will be airing soon on Hulu (we must find a friend with a Hulu subscription!) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is also slated for the small screen but is still in early stages of development. I'd love to see that one, too - it's such an epic novel that it will make a wonderful TV series.

Wow, so many great movies and TV series to look forward to for us book lovers!

Which movie adaptations are you most looking forward to in 2016?

Friday, February 05, 2016

New Study: Difficulty of Diagnosing POTS

A new study confirms what I have heard from hundreds of ME/CFS patients: Testing for Orthostatic Intolerance (OI) is not fool-proof and often shows a normal response even when OI (in this case POTS) is present. This is great news for those who have the symptoms of OI but whose doctors dismissed it when a single test came back negative. There is a summary at this link that you can print to share with your doctor (and he or she can access the full article).

As a quick recap for those new to these terms:
Orthostatic Intolerance (OI) is a group of conditions where the patient has trouble maintaining a steady blood pressure (BP) and/or heart rate (HR) while upright.

OI is an integral part of our disease, occurring in over 97% of ME/CFS patients and about 75% of those with fibromyalgia (and many of those with Lyme Disease).

The two most common forms of OI in ME/CFS are Neurally Mediated Hypotension (NMH), where the BP drops while the patient is upright, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), where the patient's HR gets higher when he or she is upright. Most ME/CFS patients have NMH, many have POTS, and quite a few of us have both conditions.

OI underlies much of what we think of as ME/CFS and fibro symptoms - brain fog, low energy, lightheadedness, post-exertional crashes, and more. The good news is that treating OI often brings dramatic improvement to ALL symptoms. You can read more about OI and how to treat it in this excellent article by an expert on OI in ME/CFS, Dr. Peter Rowe from Johns Hopkins. This article is also perfect for printing and sharing with your doctor. Here are links to a webinar Dr. Rowe did on OI, along with some Q&A.

So, what does this new study mean? It clearly shows that a single OI test (typically a tilt table test or an in-office standing test) is NOT always sufficient to show POTS (this study focused only on POTS but the same applies to NMH).  The study showed differences depending on the time of day the test was administered and concluded that the diagnosis can be missed with only a single test. For this reason, they conclude that multiple tests at different times of day (or in the morning when their study showed POTS showed up more clearly) are best. While tilt table testing is expensive (and really unnecessary), any doctor can do a simple standing test in his or her office in under 30 minutes. Dr. Rowe can provide instructions and a form for this (or you can e-mail me).

Bottom line? If you have ME/CFS, you have some form of OI, so don't draw conclusions based on a single OI test. Further, if you have the symptoms of OI but your test says you don't have it, then additional testing or just treating would be advisable.

If you are in that situation, where a single OI test did not show either POTS or NMH, then show this study to your doctor and request another test...or list your symptoms related to OI and ask to try treatments. That's what Dr. Rowe suggested when we were having trouble testing our 8-year old son many years ago - he said that kids that young just can't stand still enough for a valid OI test (especially true for our son!), so he advised our pediatrician to try treating his OI based on his symptoms. After a month on Florinef, he was mostly symptom-free (his ME/CFS was milder), much as treatment with Florinef allowed our older son to go back to school full-time. Florinef works less often for adults, but my older son and I have had excellent results with beta blockers, which have greatly reduced our post-exertional crashes and allowed us both to be much more active.

One more note from personal experience: I have had clear NMH and POTS ever since I got ME/CFS, and my doctor has seen my BP drop many times, even with just a few minutes of standing up. However, when her office did an "official" OI standing test for me for my Social Security Disability appeal, the POTS showed clearly (I was actually scaring the tester because I looked so bad within 10 minutes of standing!), but my results did not meet the official criteria for NMH. Fortunately, my doctor recognized the limits of a single test and explained in the letter she wrote for me that she had witnessed the BP drop on many other occasions. So, I was glad to see this study and that someone finally confirmed what experience has shown!

Have you been tested or treated for OI yet?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

TV Tuesday: Orange is the New Black

Even though it is likely we are the last people on earth to have seen it, I still feel compelled to tell you about Orange is the New Black because it is such a great show! We got Netflix about a week ago (just before the huge snowstorm coincidentally). My husband and I were watching the first episode when my son and his girlfriend came in the room. They watched the rest with us, we went up to bed, and the next morning, they told us they ended up watching the first 5 episodes in a row! It's just that addictive. We are now about 8 episodes into the first season.

So, just in case we aren't the last ones on the planet to see this show, it is set in a women's prison. Piper, a very white, wealthy, WASP-y young woman, is heading to prison because ten years ago, she got involved in carrying drug money for her lesbian girlfriend who was involved with an international drug cartel. Key members of the cartel were arrested, and Piper's name got thrown in the pot by those hoping to turn in others for a reduced sentence. So Piper, who is now engaged to her cute Jewish boyfriend, is going to prison for 15 months because of her youthful mistakes.

As you might imagine, Piper doesn't quite fit in with the prison community. They are roughly divided into the blacks, the Hispanics, the Golden Girls (older inmates), and the Others (real misfits). Many of these women are very tough (or have become so to survive), and most have lives lives entirely different than Piper's. Other inmates include Crazy Eyes, who takes a not-appreciated liking to Piper, Red (played by Kate Mulgrew), who is in charge of the kitchen and a lot more, and "Pennsatucky," a scary Christian-zealot who takes an instant dislike to Piper.

As I said, this show is incredibly addicting! I dare you to watch just one episode. You really care about what happens to Piper...and, as the show goes on, some of the other inmates, too. Piper is trying to figure out how to walk a thin line between being a "good citizen" for the warden and fitting in with her fellow inmates. She wants to stay out of trouble but is also astonished at some of the injustices she sees there. Orange is the New Black made awards-show history by being nominated for - and winning - awards in both drama and comedy categories. That's appropriate, as it melds comedy and drama into each episode. The acting is top-notch, and the plots are compelling. It is also, as you might expect from a prison show, quite graphic at times, with lots of nudity, sex, and some violence.

Orange is the New Black is available only on Netflix, since it is a Netflix original program. It might be worth the Netflix subscription fee all on its own! There are three full seasons available now on Netflix, and Season 4 is premiering on June 17 this year.

Have you seen Orange is the New Black yet? Are you addicted, too? What other TV shows are you enjoying now?

(NOTE: This is an older trailer that mentions the start date for season 3 at the end - I didn't want to give away any spoilers for earlier seasons!):

Monday, February 01, 2016

Movie Monday: Favorite Movies Watched in 2015

I decided to try something different and made a list of all the movie we watched in 2015 - you can see the full list here, including links to all my reviews. I'm so glad I did this and took a look back - we saw so many amazing movies last year! I had forgotten about a lot of them, so it was great to revisit them. Just remember, this is a list of movies we watched in 2015, not necessarily those that came out last year (though we saw more new releases than usual!). We watched 54 movies all together, and my list is organized alphabetically, within genres.

Besides the full list, here are some superlatives to whet your appetite:

Best Movie of the Year
Chef  - hard to choose just one, but I loved this warm, funny, uplifting movie

Favorite Suspense/Thrillers
Before I Go To Sleep
Dark Places 

Favorite Dramas (so many good ones to choose from!)
Hector and the Search for Happiness
The Imitation Game
The Judge
Still Alice
The Way

Favorite Comedies
St. Vincent
This is Where I Leave You

Favorite Sci Fi Movies
12 Monkeys
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Favorite Documentary
Without a Home

Favorite Family/Animated Movie
Shaun the Sheep           

Best Uplifting Movies
Hector and the Search for Happiness
Redwood Highway 
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 
The Way
What were your favorites movies you watched in 2015?