Saturday, December 31, 2016

There's Still Time for 2016 Donations!

My sons on New Year's Eve - many, MANY years ago!
Want to squeeze one more tax deduction into 2016? There's still time today!

Use this guide I posted for Giving Tuesday to find worthy ME/CFS organizations to donate to, to help move research forward, support advocacy, and help patients (be sure to read the comments, too - there were some excellent suggestions there!). Even just $5 helps.

Sorry the blog has been so quiet lately. It's been all I can do to keep up with all the holiday activities, family visits, etc. We just returned from a visit to my hometown (Rochester, NY) last night - 7 hours each way! Whew. It's been fun but exhausting. I will get back into regular blog posts this week.

In the meantime, I'll raise my mug of herbal tea...


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

TV Tuesday: Conviction

My husband and I were a little late in discovering ABC's new show Conviction this season, but now we are hooked. This legal/crime show has a unique premise and brings together a wonderful cast for a suspenseful and always surprising show.

The premise of Conviction is that NY District Attorney Connor Wallace, played by Eddie Cahill of CSI:NY and Under the Dome fame, starts up a Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) to re-investigate old cases to either re-affirm that the convictions were valid or overturn them if the defendant was found to be wrongly convicted. He appoints Hayes Morrison, played by Hayley Atwell, who played Peggy Carter in the Agent Carter TV show and a bunch of Avengers movies. Hayes is a former first-daughter, is in constant trouble, and was Wallace's former lover. She's also a top-notch lawyer, and he appoints her to this position as a favor to her mother, who is running for Congress, when Hayes is arrested for possession of cocaine. Her arrest is hushed up, and she goes from prison to the lovely glass-walled offices of the CIU.

Joining Hayes are a team with a wide range of backgrounds and skills. Sam, played by Shawn Ashmore, whom we loved in The Following, was a lead prosecuter with the city's gang unit - and was slated to head up the CIU until Hayes got into hot water and was rescued by Wallace. Maxine, played by Merrin Dungey, is a detective in the NYPD and a recovering prescription drug addict. Frankie, played by Manny Montana (who we are thrilled to see back on the small screen after Graceland got cancelled), is a forensics expert who is also an ex-con. Finally, Tess, played by Emily Kinney of Walking Dead fame, rounds out the team as a paralegal who used to work for the Innocence Project. As you can see, it is an excellent cast with a lot of familiar faces.

In each episode, the team tackles a different case - it might be someone convicted of a crime who has always proclaimed his innocence or a case where new evidence has come to light or one where the case always seemed less than water-tight. Each time, they have just five days to re-investigate the case - interviewing suspects and witnesses, combing through evidence and trying to figure out if the conviction was valid or not. At first, I thought it might be predictable, with someone being wrongly convicted and released from prison at the end of each episode, but they mix it up - you never know if the convicted person is really guilty or not. And, as in real life, justice is not always served, despite their best efforts.

We are loving this show so far. We were quickly engrossed in its plots and its characters' lives. Besides the cases in each episode, we see glimpses of each team member's backstory and personal lives, a little at a time. It's a legal drama and a crime show rolled into one, with an engaging cast.

All 9 episodes of the first part of Conviction's first season are still available (until April) On Demand or on the ABC website (which also includes a handy guide to the characters). You can also purchase episodes for $1.99 (or $13.99 for the first season) on Amazon (see link below).

Have you watched Conviction yet? What new shows did you enjoy this fall?

(this is a good trailer but the very end of it includes a spoiler of the first stop it immediately after "Her their salvation" at 2:37 min)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

TV Tuesday: This Is Us

I posted this to my Facebook wall today for my family and friends:
"That damn show! Watched the mid-season finale (when did that become a thing??) of This Is Us with my lunch today. Cried like a baby, not once but twice! And laughed some in between. If you've been looking for a replacement for Parenthood, this is a good one!"
I thought that would make a good intro to my review today. I've been watching NBC's This Is Us, a new family drama, all season, and I absolutely love this show that often makes me laugh and cry in the same episode (much like Parenthood used to!).

There are a lot of potential spoilers here, so I will just try to tiptoe around the plot and set-up and only tell you the basics. In the first episode, we peek in on the lives of several different people who are all turning 36 on the same day. There's Jack, whose wife, Rebecca, is pregnant with triplets. She goes into labor on his 36th birthday, and they rush to the hospital. We meet Kate, a woman who is struggling with her weight, to the point that she has to put Post-Its on her 36th birthday cake to remind herself not to eat it before the party. Kate goes to a weight loss meeting and meets Toby, a friendly and funny guy. Meanwhile, Kevin is also turning 36 today. He's an actor on a very successful TV show called The Manny and is celebrating his birthday with not one but two beautiful women...but he is clearly unhappy. We also meet Randall, a black man working in a sleek office, dressed nicely, and clearly successful, as his office staff brings him a birthday cake. Randall is happily married to his wife, and they have two daughters. He has tracked down his birth father, who left him at a fire station as a newborn, and goes to his home to confront him.

All of that happens in the first three-quarters of the first episode. They are each interesting characters on their own, but the magic happens as you find out how their lives are interconnected at the end of that first episode (I admit, I was a little slow and didn't completely "get it"until the middle of the second episode!). Throughout this first season, we see Kate, Kevin, and Randall both as children growing up and in their current adult lives, as each of them struggles with his or her own issues. We also follow Rebecca and Jack.

I used the word "magic," and I think that is apt because there's a special kind of alchemy here that pulls you deep into these people's lives, brings them alive on the screen, and makes you care about them and what happens to them. It's one of those rare shows that reminds you that everyone is connected. The comparison to Parenthood is also appropriate because it is a family drama, and it pulls at your heartstrings in every single episode, but not in a saccharin or maudlin way. These two shows are the only ones I can think of where almost every episode makes me both laugh and cry! I've heard people who were determined not to like the show nevertheless get pulled in and moved by it. It's really something special.

The acting is excellent across the board, and it truly is an ensemble cast, with no one person more important than the others. I didn't mention the actor's names because most of them were unfamiliar to me at first. Mandy Moore plays Rebecca (which I didn't realize until it was pointed out to me). Jack is played by Milo Ventimiglia, who was unfamiliar to me as he appears in the show, with a mustache, but who I now recognize from other TV shows like Heroes and Gilmore Girls. Many of the other actors are less familiar but are all really great on this show, especially Sterling K. Brown as Randall. Both Mandy Moore and Chrissy Metz as Kate snagged Golden Globe nominations this week for Best Supporting Actress, and the show itself was nominated for Best TV Drama.

This is Us airs on NBS on Tuesdays. It just finished up for the holidays but will return with new episodes on January 10. In the meantime, you can catch up on all of the first 10 episodes On Demand (all episodes are available & should remain that way for a good while) or on the NBC website (all 10 episodes are up and free). On Amazon, the first episode is free and the other 9 are $1.99 (or the full first season starts at $9.99).

Have you seen this unique show yet? What TV shows can make you cry?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Movie Monday: The Jungle Book

Continuing our run of movies based on classic novels & jungle adventures (last week I reviewed The Legend of Tarzan), my husband and I recently watched the newest live-action version of The Jungle Book. Well, it is sort of live action - the main character is a live actor and the rest of the movie is all CGI. It's technically pretty amazing and also an entertaining new version of an old favorite.

Unlike The Legend of Tarzan, this is not a new take on the old story but more a new way of telling the classic story by Rudyard Kipling. You know how this one goes: a baby boy is found abandoned in the jungle & is raised by the animals. In Tarzan, it was apes; in The Jungle Book, it is a pack of wolves (why there are wolves & bears in the jungle is something I've never understood, but, hey, go with the flow). Shere-Khan, the tiger, has a vendetta against the boy, Mowgli, so his wolf family decides that he (and they) will be safer if they return him to the "man village." Mowgli's longtime friend (and the one who found him originally), Bagheera, the black panther, accompanies him on the journey back. Along the way, Mowgli meets Baloo the bear, a happy-go-lucky guy who convinces him to stay and live the easy life, and King Louie, a giant orangutan, who wants Mowgli to teach him about fire.

I grew up on Disney's animated version of The Jungle Book, as did our sons; it's an old favorite at our house. So, I was skeptical of a new version when the old one seems perfect to me. The latest take on the classic, though, surprised me in a lot of ways. First, technically, it is incredible. The entire movie was filmed against a green screen with child actor Neel Sethi acting all by himself as Mowgli, interacting with the jungle and his animal friends. You have to see it to believe it. You spend the first few minutes staring at the details of the environment and the animals, as Mowgli runs, jumps, and crawls through the jungle, but then you just accept it all as "real" and forget it is all CGI (go on, watch the trailer below and see for yourself). It's quite a feat, and Sethi is excellent in his first starring role.

The next surprise was the perfect slate of top-shelf actors playing our favorite Jungle Book characters: Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson as the python Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louie, and - best of all - Bill Murray as Baloo the bear. When we first heard Murray's familiar voice from Baloo, we whooped in delight. Can you think of any better actor to play the lazy, wise-cracking, fun-loving bear? Soon after that, I was just saying to my husband, "It's very good so far, but I do miss the songs," when Murray as Baloo started humming the familiar melody of The Bare Necessities. Another cheer from our family room! Not all of the songs from the animated movie are included here, but certainly the two best were included - Bare Necessities (sung by Baloo and Mowgli) and I Wanna Be Like You (sung by King Louie), plus Trust Me (sung by Kaa/Scarlett Johansson). That's how I knew this new version was also a Disney production. We were quite happy about that and sang the songs for the next 24 hours around the house (and now they are back in my head again, typing this!).

So, overall, we very much enjoyed this new version of an old family favorite. They've kept the best of the old animated movie and made the most of this new technology and the voice-acting for a fun and very entertaining experience. My husband and I watched it on our own, but this is a great film for the entire family to watch together, rated PG (my son and his girlfriend saw it in the theater when it came out & recommended it to us). Now we want to read the original book!

The Jungle Book is currently out on DVD, available through Redbox, streaming through Netflix and for $2.99 on Amazon (link below).

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Gifts Made by ME/CFS & Lyme Patients

Copyright: phive2015 / 123RF Stock Photo
I have been meaning to put this post together every holiday season, and I never get the timing right. Hopefully, this is still in time for some holiday shopping! If can use this guide in 2017.

I have gathered together some wonderful handmade products - jewelry, knits, and a wide variety of other handcrafts - that are made by patients with ME/CFS and related conditions, many of them talented young people trying to find their places in the world while mostly housebound. If you choose to buy any of these products, you are not only supporting these talented patients, but in many cases, some or all of the proceeds go toward ME/CFS research and other charities - a win, win, win!

Here are some gifts to consider - for others or for yourself! - this holiday season & beyond:
Mia Anderson Jewelry - Mia is a young girl with ME/CFS who creates gorgeous jewelry from semiprecious stones (as well as velvet chokers). Her creations are beautiful, and she donates ALL proceeds to Stanford's ME/CFS Research Initiative, a very worthy cause. You can see her pieces and contact her through her Facebook Page, Mia Anderson Jewelery.

Some of Mia Anderson's bracelets

A necklace from Bergamot Jewels & Knits
Bergamot Jewels and Knits - Another very talented young woman - and a personal friend of ours who lives nearby - creates beautiful jewelry and knit products. She has temporarily closed her Etsy shop in order to take some time off to recuperate & recharge, but you can still order some beautiful items through her Facebook Page, Bergamot Jewels and Knits. I can attest to the beauty and quality of her jewelry myself, as my husband gave me one of her necklaces for Christmas last year!

Clay creatures from SkoffMagid Creations
SkoffMagid Creations - Another young woman with Lyme and POTS (a form of OI) sews and creates unique, intricate items from clay. Her products includes adorable clay creatures, unique stuffed animals, clothing, and pendants. Her mother creates beautiful beaded jewelry that is also available for sale. You can find all of their products on their Facebook page, SkoffMagid Creations.

Rachael's Crafty Corner - So many talented young women with these illnesses! Rachael is 16 years old, lives in the UK, and has ME/CFS plus other health conditions.  She creates a wide variety of unique, personalized gifts. She works with wood and other materials, does a lot of hand-lettering on wood and glass, and plenty of custom work. She has some wonderful holiday items, but they are closing up shop at the end of this week to take a break for the holidays (so I am too late again this year!). There are still plenty of things here that would make great gifts all year-round. Rachael splits her proceeds among 4 of her favorite charities. You can see her products at her Facebook Page or her Etsy Shop. She delivers worldwide.
A collection of creative items from Rachael's Crafty Corner

That's all I have for now, but I would love to feature more patient-made products on my blog! If you or someone you know with ME/CFS or related illnesses creates products that are available for sale, please leave a link to the website, Facebook page, or Etsy site in the comments below.

All of this creativity from our fellow sufferers is inspiring!

Happy Shopping!

Monday, December 05, 2016

Movie Monday: The Legend of Tarzan

My husband and I have been watching some adventure epics lately, starting with The Legend of Tarzan a couple of weeks ago. Our son and his girlfriend came in the family room in the middle of the movie, sat and watched some of it with us, and then went back to her house to watch it themselves on a streaming service! So, yes, we all enjoyed it. It's an entertaining, action-packed adventure movie.

This is not the Tarzan you might remember from older movies, TV shows, or the original book. It's Tarzan with a twist, the story of what happens to Tarzan years after the original story took place. As the movie opens, Tarzan, now known by his original name of John Clayton (and played by Alexander SkarsgÄrd), is happily living in London with his wife - you guessed it - Jane, played by Margot Robbie. He has acclimated to city life and doesn't intend to return to the jungle. King Leopold of Belgium has other plans, though. He thinks that a visit to the Belgian colonies in the Congo by John would be the perfect PR move, to show everyone how much he has accomplished in "civilizing" the Congo. At first, John says no, but an American named George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson, approaches him. George says that he is fairly certain that King Leopold is committing human rights atrocities, including enslaving the natives, and he wants to go to the Congo to find proof.

With George's extra push, John agrees to make the trip, and Jane insists on coming along to visit her childhood home. They set off for the Congo and are both filled with joy to visit Jane's old home and the native friends they left behind. Soon, though, a bad guy named Rom, played by Christophe Waltz, attacks the village where they are staying and abducts both John and Jane. John escapes and sets off across the jungle to find Jane. George insists on coming along, though John doubts that he'll be able to keep up. Cue the jungle scenes, with plenty of swinging on vines (and of course, Tarzan quickly loses the shirt).

From there, the story is a fast-paced and suspenseful adventure through the jungles and rivers of the Congo. Just in case anyone doesn't know the original Tarzan story, there are also plenty of flashbacks to Tarzan's adoption by the apes after he was orphaned and his childhood growing up in the jungle. Samuel L. Jackson even adds some humor, with his usual wise-cracking one-liners. It's not a great movie, but it is an entertaining one, an action-packed adventure with plenty of cool CGI effects and plenty of heart, too. Not to mention Tarzan's abs - wow. It's a fun ride.

The Legend of Tarzan is recently out on DVD (we rented it from Redbox and it is also available on DVD from Netflix). You can also rent the movie (streaming) for $3.99 on Amazon (link below).

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Weekly Inspiration 12/4: Happier Podcast

Usually, my Weekly Inspiration posts focus on inspirational quotes from books I've read or an inspiring TED talk or other presentation, but today I thought I'd tell you about a podcast I've been enjoying that I find both inspiring and entertaining.

You may recall that I often enjoy listening to book podcasts (here is a blog post on some of my favorites), and I sometimes listen to other podcasts, too, especially those focused on pop culture and humor. Earlier this year, I began listening to a new podcast: Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Some of you may recognize Gretchen Rubin's name from her best-selling books: The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before. In case you didn't guess, she writes mostly about happiness, as well as habits, knowing yourself, and self-improvement topics. I haven't actually read any of her books yet, but I've heard of them and have been intrigued by them.

When I first gave the Happier podcast a try, it wasn't necessarily love at first listen, but it's grown on me. She and her sister, Elizabeth, do the podcast together and talk mostly about topics from her books, as well as other topics related to happiness, habits, and self-improvement. But, after listening for a while now, I have to admit I am hooked and often start my day listening to one of their podcasts while I cook and eat breakfast. It's a very positive, cheerful way to start my day, and it also helps me to remember to focus on what's important.

As examples, here are some of the topics they've covered in recent podcasts:
  • What's Your Happier 911 Song? - they discussed their favorite songs to listen to when they need a boost or pick-me-up. This topic was so popular with listeners, who sent in their own suggestions, that they've now compiled a Happier 911 Playlist on Spotify that I've enjoyed listening to.
  • Leave Something Unsaid - each episode features a Try This At Home segment, and a recent one focused on learning to hold your tongue and not say everything that pops into your head, an especially important topic with the holiday season upon us and so many family gatherings!
  • Control the Cubicle in Your Pocket - this feature focused on gaining control over your smart phone, e-mails, social media, etc. I still don't have a smart phone, but I do spend a lot of time on my laptop and on social media for my blogs, so this was an interesting one!
  • Celebrate Holiday Breakfasts - another Try This At Home feature focused on celebrating smaller holidays & occasions with a special breakfast instead of pushing yourself to go overboard with a big celebration, and how small celebrations like this can bring joy to your life. Since I often write here about celebrating the small joys in your life, you know I liked this segment!
  • Have Something To Look Forward To - another topic I often write about here and elsewhere - making sure there are things in your life - big and small - to look forward to, to help bring more joy into your life.
Full episodes are usually under an hour long (some only 35 min), and Gretchen has quick few-minute episodes in between with a single tip called A Little Happier. Some of their full episodes are Deep Dives or A Very Special Episode, delving deeper into something Gretchen has written about in her books.

Overall, I have found this podcast to bring me happiness and joy, and it's been helpful as well. Since she often echoes things that are important to me - small joys, celebrations, goals, good relationships - I find most episodes interesting and inspiring. And sometimes Gretchen gets laughing so hard that she can't catch her breath - like when she does her Golem voice and talks about "her precious" - which always brings a smile to my face!

Have you listened to the Happier podcast yet? Give it a try (the link includes many different ways to listen and subscribe), and let me know what you think.

What are the podcasts (or maybe audiobooks or other media) that you listen to for inspiration?