Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TV Tuesday: The Missing

In this sort of in-between seasons TV season, my husband and I were looking around for a new show to try on one of the streaming services. We settled on The Missing, a Starz show currently available on Amazon Prime (note that there is a different show also called The Missing available on Netflix or to rent on Amazon - the one we are watching aired in 2014 and is a joint Starz-BBC production).

In short, The Missing is a show that centers on a single mystery and is a suspense-thriller, though it is focused on the victims. British citizens Tony and Emily Hughes are enjoying a vacation in France with their five-year old son, Oliver, when the unthinkable happens. One evening, in a crowd of people, Oliver goes missing. One moment he's holding onto Tony's hand, and the next, he's gone. It's every parent's worst nightmare (and brought back my own nightmares of the time my 2-year old son slipped away from me at a shopping mall!).

As the show opens, it has been 8 years since Oliver's disappearance, and Tony is back in the small French town where it happened, following up on a new lead he thinks he found on social media. Tony has never stopped looking for his son and has become obsessed with the case, to the point that he and Emily are now divorced. Tony calls on the detective originally assigned to the case, Julien, who has since retired but also still thinks about Oliver. Together, the two men follow Tony's latest lead, slim though it may be.

The narrative moves back and forth between the past, when Oliver first disappeared, and the present day, with scenes in both England and France. Most of the action takes place in the small French town where Oliver went missing. As with any mystery or detective show, the details of the investigation unfold gradually, as the police follow one lead after another, chasing down a variety of suspects and clues. What is different here, though, is the focus on this one single case, as well as the perspective of Oliver's parents. Most of the story is told from Tony's point of view.

We have watched the first 5 episodes of 8 in season one (the fact that there is a season 2 doesn't bode well for the Hughes family!). It is engaging and intriguing, a good mystery that keeps surprising us. The subject matter gets a little difficult at times, as when the police suspect a pedophile. After watching episode 5 recently, I asked my husband if he wanted to watch another and he said, "How about something a little lighter?" (episode 5 is a tough one!). But we do want to watch more. It is suspenseful, the action moves along at a good pace, and we want to see what happens next.

The Missing is currently available free on Amazon Prime and on DVD.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TV Tuesday: Stranger Things

Over the past two weeks, since my last TV Tuesday post (and even with a vacation in the middle), my family tried, became obsessed with, and finished a new TV show that I have been dying to tell you about! You've probably already heard about it because everyone seems to be raving about it, so I will add my enthusiasm to the noise. My husband, son, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of season 1 of Stranger Things, a new Netflix show, and can't wait for the next season!

Before I get into the details of plot and character, you should know that one of the most enticing things about Stranger Things is that it takes the best, most beloved 80's movies, puts them in a blender, and spits out an original, compelling TV show. One of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour, described it like "taking a Stephen King book starring kids and having Steven Spielberg produce the movie," and that is a pretty apt description (the link will take you directly to their Stranger Things episode, which I highly recommend). The three of us spotted references, similarities, and homages to ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Stand by Me, and The Goonies, just for starters.

The set-up goes like this: it's 1983 in suburban Indiana, and four nerdy pre-pubescent best friends ride their bikes, sleep over at each other's houses, and obsessively play Dungeons & Dragons in one boy's basement for hours. Mike is the boy with the afore-mentioned basement rec room (complete with shag carpeting), Lucas is his best friend who lives next door as part of the only black family in town, Dustin is an adorable chubby-cheeked boy with a medical condition that means he is still missing baby teeth (for which he gets teased relentlessly by the bullies at school), and Will completes the foursome. In the first episode, Will goes missing while riding his bike home one night.

Will's mother, played by Winona Rider (another wink to the 80's), is frantic. She is raising Will and his teen brother, Jonathan, on her own. Police Chief Jim Hopper, played by David Harbour, is an old friend and immediately begins a search for Will, but the boys set off on their own investigation. Meanwhile, a mysterious girl of about the same age, with a shaved head and wearing a hospital gown, shows up suddenly in a local diner after dark, having escaped from a super-creepy secret government facility in town (under the guise of the Department of Energy). The girl, known as El, doesn't talk much, but the boys find her in the woods and keep her safe.

That is all in the first episode, and I won't say more because this is a show that relies on unfolding secrets and mysteries. Some very strange things are going on in this town, and they are going to get worse before they get better. There are three main plotlines: the adults looking for Will, the kids doing their own investigation and search, and eventually, Jonathan and Mike's teen sister also getting involved (plus flashbacks to what is going on at the secret facility). Over the course of 8 episodes, some questions are answered and some mysteries solved, but others remain unclear, paving the way for a suspenseful second season.

Have I mentioned that we all LOVE this show? It is just so addictingly good in so many ways. The tone and feel will remind you of your favorite 80's movies, even though the plot is unique. The kids are all great actors, especially the mysterious El, played by Millie Bobby Brown. Winona Rider and David Harbour are excellent in the main adult roles. The music, pop culture references, and settings all lovingly recreate the 80's. Too young to remember the 80's movies I mentioned? You'll still love this show. Fortunately, we gave our son a solid education in the "modern classics" of the 80's! And if you've enjoyed any of Stephen King's novels that feature kids (his best writing, in my opinion), like IT or The Body (the novella on which the movie Stand By Me was based - not horror), then you will also feel right at home.

Stranger Things takes the best of the movies and stories of the 80's and recreates them for a modern audience, with a nice sense of nostalgia. It's a very suspenseful, action-packed mystery/sci fi combination that will have you saying at the end of each episode (like we did), "We have to watch the next one!"

Stranger Things is a Netflix Original program, so it is available only on the streaming service.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Camping & Enjoying the Outdoors with ME/CFS

Beautiful Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, SD
Sorry I have been absent from the blog - we just returned from a short vacation to one of our favorite places, the Black Hills region of South Dakota. It is absolutely beautiful there! Plus, we have lots of family in the area, so it was good to see everyone. It was exhausting for me, as you'd expect, and my son had one really bad day while there. However, we do love to travel and managed the trip well overall. This one was tough for us because it involved two very long days of air travel (12 full hours on the way out!) and a sort-of hotel stay (in a cabin but like a hotel room). We both manage better on road trips, when we can bring our camper with us.

Being outdoors is so important to me! I've written here before about the joy I get from the outdoors, how it conveys a sense of peace and tranquility. When I mention a camping trip, I often hear from other people with chronic illness, "You're so lucky!" But it's really not luck that allows me to still enjoy the outdoors: it's a combination of relentlessly trying new treatments for small improvements and of changing the way that we camp, travel, and get outdoors. I've been meaning to share some of our tips for camping and spending time outdoors, so this seems like a good time - these tips apply well to regular travel, too.

First, Improve Your Condition As Much As Possible
Before getting into specific travel tips, I have to mention treatments for ME/CFS. Too many people are told (by doctors!) that there are no treatments for ME/CFS and they just have to live with it, but that's just not true. There are many effective ways to treat ME/CFS, and I summarized those that have worked well for my son and I in that link. There are no outright cures (yet), but by trying different treatments, you can greatly improve your quality of life and ability to function, little by little. For instance, since starting beta blockers for Orthostatic Intolerance (an integral part of ME/CFS), I can now take walks (up to an hour!) without crashing afterward, which allows me to enjoy a bit of careful hiking.
Our Pop-Up Camper - Home Away From Home
Bring Your Home With You
If at all possible, find, borrow, rent, or buy some sort of camper for your outdoor adventures. In this way, you take your home with you (at least a mini version of your home). I do so much better staying in our own little camper than in a hotel! And I could never manage sleeping on the ground in a tent anymore. We just have a pop-up camper that is easy to tow, and we have taken it all across the U.S. I sleep just as well in the camper as I do at home (with my treatments for correcting sleep dysfunction that I take every night), we cook many of our meals ourselves so it is easy to stick to my diet (and far less expensive!), and it feels like our own little home-away-from-home. We also bring folding lounge chairs for my older son and I so that we can lie down and have our feet up. Folding bungee chairs work really well, too.

Stick To Your Routines As Much As Possible
I learned early on that I must stick to my daily routines if I want to function as well as possible. Yes, sometimes it stinks having to live life like a toddler, but staying within my limits helps so much! For me, those routines include getting to sleep by 10:30 pm every night, sleeping at least 9-10 hours at night, and taking a nap after lunch every day. My nap is sacred, and I never skip it! Without it, I would be useless by 4pm. In the car or on a plane, I bring pillow, light blanket, ear plugs, eyemask, and Valerian (a mild herbal sedative similar to chamomile that wears off quickly). In the car, I just lean my seat back or lie in the backseat at naptime. It's tougher on a plane (much tougher!), but I do my best, with a couple of small travel pillows and all the rest of the accessories I mentioned. LOTS of water, salt, and healthy snacks are also essential on a travel day. Camping or vacations with extended family are very tough for me, but I still stick to my own routines because I know I will crash otherwise.

With beta blockers, I can enjoy a slow paddle in the kayak.
Focus Your Energy On Fun
I find that I naturally feel better when we are camping, simply because I am away from my normal responsibilities and obligations - no internet, no computer, no to-do lists, no laundry or other household chores. With all of those daily must-dos removed from the equation, I find that I have more energy to devote to enjoying the outdoors, with a short hike or kayaking (I discovered that kayaking doesn't raise my heart rate much!). I wear a heart rate monitor during these times, to allow me to be active while staying within my limits. This does mean that I often have to stop and sit on a rock or crouch down to wait for my heart rate to slow down on a hike, but I am OK with that (and my family is very patient!).

Because of my limits and need for an afternoon nap, our typical routine when camping or vacationing is an easy activity in the morning, right after breakfast, and then back to the camper (or as in this week, cabin) for lunch and my nap. My older son usually rests when I do, and my husband and younger son can take another hike or do something else (though my husband has been known to enjoy a nap, too!).

Sometimes when we are just camping locally and feeling rundown, there are no active periods - we just rest, take it easy, and enjoy the outdoors surrounding us (and our books, too!).

Our son on a "down day," enjoying his book while resting on a camping trip.
Change Your Expectations
Especially if you are new to a life of chronic illness, you may need to adjust your expectations of what camping or vacationing means. Some people go on trips and cram everything they can into every moment, so as not to miss anything. We know we just can't do that. So, we choose the things we most want to do and schedule them for our best times (mornings for me).

Another adjustment that is needed is to stay flexible and change your plans based on how you feel. Monday this week, our son woke up feeling awful, with his Lyme symptoms badly flared up. I was OK but somewhat worn out from the long air travel day. So, over breakfast, we postponed our plans to go to our favorite hiking spots and instead planned a less active day. We drove our rental car through Custer State Park (an amazing place that rivals the National Parks!) along its Wildlife Loop, with a stop for lunch at one of our favorite lodges. So, instead of hiking that day, we drove through the park spotting herds of bison, wild burros, pronghorn antelope, deer, and prairie dogs - still a very enjoyable day but much more low-key. And the next day, we both felt better and were able to manage visiting our favorite hiking spots.

Relaxing by the campfire with my feet up (and a book!)
Relax and Enjoy
We enjoy our downtime, too. That's a big part of enjoying camping and travel with chronic illness - embracing the slower pace and learning to enjoy it. We always slow down for the afternoon while I nap, but that is just a normal part of our routine now. My older son, husband, and I all love to read, so downtime while camping or vacationing for us means books! We also enjoy having a campfire at night, a quiet, relaxing way to end the evening (which is low energy time for me).

Your limits and routines are probably different than ours. Perhaps you can't manage mornings and have to sleep past noon or maybe you use a wheelchair to get around. The same advice still holds - create your own camping & travel routines to meet your own needs. Every campground in the U.S. has handicapped-accessible campsites, and every public park has at least one handicapped accessible trail.

I have been sick for 14 years, my older son for 12 years, and our younger son was sick with milder ME/CFS for 10 years before he recovered. Through all of that, we have never skipped our annual family vacation or stopped enjoying camping. With some simple adjustments and changes, you too can still enjoy camping, travel, and the outdoors, even with ME/CFS.

IMPORTANT P.S. As much as I love the outdoors, I now have a healthy fear of ticks! I have had Lyme disease twice and our older son has 3 different tick infections that he's been battling for almost 10 years now.  You MUST take precautions when outdoors to prevent tick bites - there are infected ticks carrying Lyme disease and other serious infections in every state of the U.S. and on every continent except Antarctica. So what do you do? When the weather permits, you can wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts tucked into long pants tucked into socks. Check yourself for ticks frequently and definitely before bed each night. And always wear insect repellent that works against ticks. Most natural repellents either do NOT work against ticks or wear off too quickly, so DEET or picaridin is usually necessary. We wear bug spray with low concentrations of DEET and wash it off at the end of the day (you need to re-apply if you are outside for long - read the label).  Here is a Consumer Reports article on best insect repellents they tested. They've revised the article to focus on mosquitoes and Zika virus, but they still address ticks and Lyme disease, too (though the incidence maps are NOT accurate - the infections are much more wide-spread). As you can see in the article, there is only one natural product that they found effective. Believe me from hard experience, a little prevention can avoid a lot of pain and suffering!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

TV Tuesday: What We're Watching This Summer

A lot of our summer TV shows have been wrapping up, so I thought it might be fun to talk about what we've enjoyed watching this summer. Plus, we are in need to some new shows to check out, so recommendations are welcome!

Here's some of what we've been watching this summer, with links to my past reviews (all reviews include trailer video clips):

Watching With My Husband and 22-year old Son:

Wayward Pines
This super-creepy sci fi show is filled with twists and turns and is a favorite among all three of us. We just watched the season 2 finale - which was once again an ending that made us think, "what the heck is going to happen next season?" I guess that's the point. 

Technically, not a summer show - I think it aired last winter - but we have been catching up on it On Demand this summer.  It's a post-apocalyptic story set in L.A. after aliens have taken over, starring one of our favorite actors, Josh Holloway (who played Sawyer on Lost). We just finished the season finale and can't wait for season 2 next winter!

Mr. Robot
The three of us watched season 1 together last summer and have been eagerly awaiting season 2. It's a bit confusing so far (we're on episode 4), but when isn't this show a little confusing? There's always a lot going on in this totally unique show about a group of hackers intent on bringing down big corporations. It's got a completely unique tone, feel, and approach.

Watching with My Husband:

The Last Ship
One of our favorite shows! We both love this post-apocalyptic naval drama starring Eric Dane (aka McSteamy from Grey's Anatomy). Now in its third season, it just gets better and better. I think (I hope) there are still a couple of episodes left before the finale, but we must be getting close to the end of the season.

We are currently watching season 2 of this intriguing show starring David Duchovny as a homicide detective in 1960's L.A. who crosses paths with Charles Manson. So good! It seems to be on hiatus because of the Olympics but should be coming back afterward.

Orange is the New Black
We are both SO HOOKED on this amazing show! It's an incredible ensemble cast set in a women's prison in upstate New York, based on a true-life memoir of a pampered, white, wealthy young woman who spent a year in prison. It's filled with emotional drama but is also often really, really funny. We just finished season 4, which was even better, and are in mourning until a new season comes out. This season started with a lot of laughs and ended with sobbing tears (mine) and a huge cliffhanger.

The Wire
With many of our summer shows wrapping up, we went back to an old favorite, The Wire, which we have been watching on Amazon Prime. This show about the drug trade, projects, and police of Baltimore is just SO good! Every season is different, and they just get better and better. We are currently watching season 4 (only one episode left!), and this one focuses on the children in West Baltimore and a new mayor who wants to change things. It is an incredibly good show with an amazing ensemble cast and a new angle every season.

With some of our favorites wrapping up, we were looking for something new and stumbled onto a new favorite from the creators of The Good Wife. This is the strangest show you will ever see...but also one of the best! Believe it or not, it combines political satire with a sci fi alien plot. It is totally addictive, and we can't wait for each new episode!

I also watch some shows on my own at lunchtime, like my current obsession, Feed the Beast on AMC starring David Schwimmer...but alone-time is rare this summer!

What have YOU been watching this summer? What should we watch next with all of our summer shows wrapping up?


Monday, August 08, 2016

Movie Monday: Star Trek Beyond

We actually went to the theater two weeks ago. That used to be an extremely rare occasion - maybe once a year - but we have been trying to get out a bit more. Cinemark theaters nationwide have Discount Tuesdays, where all movies (except 3D) all day are just $5.25 (which seems a whole lot more reasonable to me), so we try to take advantage of that. Two weeks ago, my husband and I went to see Star Trek Beyond and absolutely loved it!

Star Trek Beyond picks up where Star Trek Into Darkness left off, as the third in the prequel Star Trek movies featuring young versions of crew on the original Star Trek TV series. The Enterprise is in the third year of its 5-year exploration mission when it stops at a huge space station called Starbase Yorktown for resupply and shore leave. What the rest of the crew doesn't know is that Captain Kirk, played by Chris Pine, is thinking of giving up command of the Enterprise and has applied for the job of Vice Admiral of Yorktown. He has recommended Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, for the captain's job, and is trying to figure out how to tell him. Meanwhile, Kirk doesn't realize that Spock is also thinking of leaving the Enterprise, after getting the upsetting news that Ambassador Spock (who, I believe, is him in the future, right?) has died. He is also trying to figure out how to tell Kirk of his decision.

While on leave, though, an emergency comes up, and the Enterprise is called upon to cut its leave short to respond. A female named Kalara has come to the Starbase on an escape pod and says that her ship and shipmates are stranded on a nearby planet called Altamid. After a harrowing journey through an asteroid field, the Enterprise arrives on the planet to investigate, with Kalara along. As you might expect, things don't go quite as planned, and there are plenty of surprises awaiting the Enterprise crew on this strange planet.

My husband and I both really enjoyed this movie. Of course, it is filled with sci fi action, adventure, and thrills, but it also has plenty of humor and emotional drama in it, too. That's kind of Star Trek's modus operandi, right? We both thought that these younger actors did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of the characters from the original show, even more so than in the first two prequels. In fact, that's where some of the humor comes from, if you watched the original, in hearing those quintessential Star Trek lines, like Bones saying, "Damn it, Kirk, that will never work!" or Scotty calling, "I'm givin' it all she's got, Captain!" They all really hit those familiar characters perfectly.

In fact, the way my husband described the movie as we were walking out was, "It was like one of the best episodes of the original TV show, only movie-length." I see that Richard Roper said almost the exact same thing in his review! Both my husband and Roper meant it as the highest compliment. I wasn't quite as big a fan of the original series as my husband, though I watched it often enough with my family on Friday nights (in repeats by then). The two of us together watched - and loved - Star Trek Next Generation in the 80's and 90's. So, this was right up our alley.

For those who are not as "into" Star Trek, there is still a lot to like in this movie - it's an action-packed sci fi adventure with a great sense of humor (I really don't like action movies without humor!). But for those fans like us who have watched it for decades, it is an especially fun ride, filled with little nods and winks to the original while also adding a whole new intriguing story to the canon. Note that this was the last Star Trek movie for Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov, since he recently died in a car crash; the film was dedicated to his memory.

Star Trek Beyond is currently in theaters, with its DVD scheduled for release in November 2016 (probably to coincide with its availability on streaming services). This is a great one to see on the big screen, if you can manage it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

TV Tuesday: Feed the Beast

I recently finished watching season 3 of The Fosters (one of my faves) and season 2 of The Mysteries of Laura, so I was at loose ends for a show to watch on my own, on the rare occasions I am alone! I ran through my list of shows to try (ever-growing) and remembered Feed the Beast, starring David Schwimmer, which started in June. I've watched four episodes now and am enjoying it.

Schwimmer, of Friends Fame, plays Tommy Moran, father of an adorable 10-year old boy named T.J. Tommy's wife and T.J.'s mother died recently in a car crash, and both father and son are suffering. Tommy is clearly depressed and drinking too much, and T.J. hasn't spoken since his mother's death. Meanwhile, Tommy's old friend, Dion (played by Jim Sturgess), gets let out of prison early. Before he's even released (while changing his clothes), Dion has already done coke and had sex with his lawyer, so you know this guy is bad news.

Tommy, his wife, Rie, and Dion had planned to open their own restaurant in the Bronx. Dion is an excellent chef who cooked for the guards in prison (they hated to see him leave), and Tommy is world-class sommelier (wine expert). Rie had drawn up designs for their restaurant, but with her death, Tommy gave up on his dream. He and T.J. are living in the old warehouse they had planned to restore for the restaurant. Dion finds Tommy when he gets out of prison and immediately begins to convince him to resurrect their dreams.

What Tommy doesn't know is that Dion owes a mobster $600,000 and is being threatened to pay or else. The mobster, Patrick Wolchek (played by Michael Gladis, a familiar face from Mad Men), also threatens to hurt Tommy and T.J. if Dion doesn't pay up. So, although Dion does want to bring their dreams to life and open his own restaurant, he doesn't tell Tommy that the need to earn a lot of money quickly is life-threateningly urgent. Desperate for start-up capital, Dion convinces Tommy to ask his estranged father, played by John Doman from The Wire, to invest in their restaurant. That raises a whole new set pf problems, since Tommy's father is a horrible bigot, and T.J. is multi-racial.

So, you can see, right from the first episodes, that there is a lot going on in the show. There is also grief counseling for Tommy, a possible future romantic interest, bullying at school for T.J., and Dion's drug problem. It's a complex, intricate web of challenges and secrets. I had never seen David Schwimmer do anything but comedy before, but this is a serious drama, tackling issues of death, being a single parent, starting a new business, family....and yeah, and the Mob.

I'm enjoying the show so far and am interested to see where it goes. The main characters are in peril right from episode 1 (whether they all know it or not), so there is some suspense in addition to drama. You know that Dion's lies and secrets will eventually get the main characters in serious trouble, but you are still rooting for things to work out, especially where Tommy and T.J. are concerned. I also love delicious food and cooking, so I'm finding that aspect interesting as well, as they plan their restaurant.

Feed the Beast is an AMC show still currently airing its first season - tonight is the season finale. All episodes are available On Demand (until 10/1/2016) and free on the AMC website. It is also available on Amazon Prime for $1.99 an episode or $17.99 for the season (link below).