Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie Monday: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The day after Christmas last week, while our adult sons were both still around, all four of us went to see Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker at one of our local recliner theaters. As "the last episode of the saga," it was fitting that we all got to see it together, since we watched the older Star Wars movies with our sons on VHS when they were young, and went to see Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, together around Christmas in 2017. We all enjoyed this fast-paced, satisfying end to a movie series that has been with us all for decades.

I'm going to go easy on plot descriptions here and just stick to the set-up to avoid any spoilers at all (so feel free to keep reading!). This final movie in the original series picks up where The Last Jedi ended. Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is continuing her Jedi training with Leia, played by Carrie Fisher (with the help of some movie magic, since she died a couple of years ago), in a large Jedi encampment. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, who is now in charge of the Dark Side, discovers that Emperor Palpatine (older than ever) is still alive and pulling the strings behind the scenes. He has a plan and a hidden warship armada ready to take over the world. Palpatine orders Kylo to kill Rey. The Jedis get wind of what's going on with Palpatine, and Rey, along with Finn, played by John Boyega, and Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, take off together in the Millennium Falcon, along with classic Star Wars star, Chewbacca, and droids C-3PO and BB-8. They are in search of a Sith wayfinder, a hidden artifact like one that Kylo found that can lead them to Palpatine. And, from there, the race is on! Kylo is trying to kill Rey (though he has some seriously mixed feelings), Palpatine is trying to take over the world, and the Jedi are trying to save the world. Hijinks ensue. Plus lots of flying, battle scenes, and some witty droid banter.

Director J.J. Abrams and the rest of the creators have stuffed a lot into this 2+ hour movie! The action is non-stop, with quick scene switches. Don't blink or you'll miss something (and use the bathroom before the movie starts). It is classic Star Wars stuff. Though the plot sounds like it focuses on the newer characters, almost all of your old favorites make at least a brief reappearance (though, yes, many of them are dead). There are ghosts and visions and old friends--and listen carefully for Yoda. I think the only older character who didn't come back was Jar Jar Binks (for obvious reasons). That part is a lot of fun, seeing where the oldies pop up, and there are plenty of fighting and battle scenes to satisfy those who love the action and thrills of the series. It certainly kept our interest, and there are no slow moments. We all felt that it was a fun, exciting, and very satisfying conclusion to a great series that's been a part of our lives (at least my husband and I) since the 70's. This is definitely one to see on the big screen!

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker is currently playing in theaters and should remain for longer than most, given its popularity. It will probably be release to streaming and on DVD around February/March.

Find the times and locations (and a recliner theater!) near you through Fandango:

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Happy (Almost) New Year!

I love the start of a new year, that feeling of a new beginning. I love starting a new calendar (I am still using paper) and the week between Christmas and New Year, with finally some spare time to get my life in (a bit of) order. And I love looking back on the year past and looking forward to the new year ahead and what I want it to look like.

Every January 1 (or thereabouts), I sit down to review the past year, not only checking how I did against the goals and objectives I set but also reflecting on how the past year felt. I read through some old journal entries and do some free writing - just handwriting for a few pages about what challenges and joys the past year brought and how each part of my life (relationships, writing, travel, etc.) moved forward (or back).

Since I used to be an engineer and am still hopelessly analytical, I also do a little number-crunching. I have Excel spreadsheets not only for my objectives and targets but also for how I felt and how active I was. I use a simple tracking system, just marking down a number 1 to 5 (1 being great and 5 being badly crashed) in the corner of the date on a calendar at the end of each day, plus ratings (1 to 5) for activity level and stress level (I learned over the years that the two combined provide an estimate of exertion). So, at the end of the year, I look back to see how well I felt and how active I was and then compare that to previous years. It's mostly been a positive trend most years!

I don't do New Year's Resolutions. Instead, I have six Lifetime Goals, and each year, I set objectives for each of them (some new & some ongoing), plus specific, measurable targets for each objective. I explain this simple process in this article I wrote for ProHealth, Setting Goals When You Are Chronically Ill. That article both explains my process and provides some examples. When you are chronically ill, your goals tend to be quite different than those of healthy people. For instance, I always have an objective to rest more and listen to my body - you won't see that one in any Today Show episode on New Year's Resolutions! Your own objectives may include starting a new hobby, connecting with people online, trying new treatments to improve your health, or whatever is of interest to you.

The fresh start of a new year is also a great time to think about changing habits. Again, this doesn't have to be a big deal, all about willpower and pushing through. Instead, habit changes are easier (and far more likely to last!) when you make tiny changes, using baby steps to gradually move toward the habits you want to adopt. Again, I explain this process in detail and provide examples in an article I wrote for ProHealth, Strategies and Tools for Changing Habits.

Seeing the years pass by with no progress toward my goals or changes in my life was depressing in the early years of my illness, until I figured these things out and realized that I didn't have to give up goals and self-improvement because I was chronically ill. I just needed to figure out how to fit a simple process to my restricted life.

How do YOU start the New Year? I would love to hear about your own traditions and approaches to greeting that fresh start each year.

I like to ring in the New Year with a good book!

Friday, December 27, 2019

I Survived Christmas! (Barely)

The Highs and Lows of the Season of Celebration:

Here we are, two days after Christmas, and I am beginning to feel better, getting closer to my "normal" baseline (which is pretty good). Christmas is always a double-edged sword for me--enjoyable time with my family but also exhausting preparations and work--but this year was a bit more challenging than usual.

We took a fabulous family vacation during Thanksgiving week, a trip to St. John in the US Virgin Islands with our adult sons to celebrate our 30th anniversary this fall. It was a wonderful time spent together in a spectacular, beautiful, and unique place. I am trying to conjure up those lazy, warm days now...

We enjoyed our relaxing week on St. John
The downside was that we got back and all of a sudden, it was December 1 and the start of the Christmas season! Thanksgiving was extra-late this year, so this abrupt re-entry was made even worse. Suddenly, it was just three weeks until Christmas, and I needed to get everything done: buy gifts, order cards and calendars and other photo gifts, plan for the holiday, get groceries, wrap gifts, send cards out, cook ... you know how it goes. This is the challenge of feeling a bit better with ME/CFS--I can do more but am still not able to do what other people do. It's a tough balance to get right, and I often end up doing too much.

We did manage to find a few hours when all four of us could get together, so we were able to enjoy our annual tradition of decorating our Christmas tree together. This is something we all love to do. Our ornaments are all memories--of trips, childhood, family members--so it is fun to go through them together.

Our finished tree!
Two weeks before Christmas, my laptop suddenly stopped working. It was a Christmas gift last year, so not very old, but the keyboard wouldn't work at all, not even allowing me to type my password. I called Apple, they sent me to the Genius Bar, and they said it would need to be sent out for repairs. I should have it back in a week, they said. A week?? My whole life is on my laptop. I don't even own a smartphone or tablet; the laptop is IT. I figured I could at least get all this Christmas stuff done. Send cards? My address list is on the laptop. Finish buying gifts? My gift and shopping lists are on the laptop. Start my year-end DVD that I give to family as gifts? Yup, you guessed it--all my photos are on the laptop. So, basically, I lost about 5 days (they got it back to me quicker than expected), which put me even further behind.

So, despite my annual promises NOT to wait until the last minute, I was doing everything at the last minute! On Christmas Eve day, I was just starting to wrap gifts, finishing the last of the cards (into the mailbox moments before the mail truck came by!), and cooking in preparation for the next day.

We enjoyed a nice, quiet Christmas Eve. Our younger son had to work, and my father-in-law wasn't feeling well, so just my husband, older son, and I went out to dinner and then to an early evening church service. This is the son who's been struggling this year (he has both ME/CFS plus tick infections), and he commented later that church was probably too much for him that night. Because he'd been feeling so poorly, he started his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve at noon! Definitely too much for him to manage, let alone in one day. We were home by 8:30 though, and the three of us enjoyed a bit of downtime together on couches and recliners, with herbal tea for our sore throats, a cookie treat, and the Christmas episode of Modern Family for some laughs.

On Christmas day, we look forward to a quiet, low-key morning and afternoon in our own home. Except that when my husband brought his 94-year-old dad into the house this year, he got sick. Our special Christmas breakfast was delayed for a major clean-up operation (plus some extra paranoid antibacterial wipe action!). My father-in-law was shaky but OK after that, and the over-the-counter medication helped him, but we got off to a very late start. In some classic brain fog moments, I lost three of my husband's gifts--hid them so well apparently that I couldn't find them! I also put his lottery scratch-offs (a tradition) in my son's stocking (who wondered why he got so many). No worries, though. I found my husband's gifts at about 10 at night, and none of the lottery tickets were winners anyway!

Late afternoon on Christmas Day, my mom and her husband arrived from out of town for dinner. I love having them here for the holiday, but as usual, I was pretty wiped out by then. I got up from my late nap and had to jump into action to get dinner ready. My husband and my mom both helped (and my well son, too), but it was a lot of work and way too much time on my feet. Everything was ready to go when we realized the turkey was underdone and had to go back in the oven for another 20 minutes! You get the idea.

After some missteps, we finally all sat down to dinner on Christmas!
I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining because I am very grateful for my family and that I am well enough to do all this at all (there were years when I wasn't), but by the time I went to bed (WAY past my normal bedtime!), I was in bad shape - exhausted, achy, sore throat, shaky. You know the drill. I do want to mention also that I am very grateful for my husband, who did most of the wrapping and grocery shopping and half the cards, plus loads of other stuff this season.

I didn't feel much better the next morning, but by 11 am, our visitors had left and the house was quiet. I lay down flat on the couch, with my feet elevated, sipped a cup of herbal tea, and began to recover. Fortunately, we had leftovers for both breakfast and dinner yesterday, and my son and I enjoyed our favorite lunchtime smoothie, which soothed both our throats. With a very long nap yesterday (and no cooking!), I was able to enjoy an evening trip to see the new Star Wars movie. The four of us all went together and loved seeing the ending to the series we have enjoyed for so many years. Thank goodness for recliner seats in theaters now!! My son and I both said we couldn't have done it without those last night.

So, the holiday season is almost passed. We have a couple of meet-ups with friends today (fingers crossed!) with time in between for napping and resting. I love the week between now and New Year's, when there is nothing going on, and I can just recover and get ready for the new year.

Next year, I swear I will start holiday preparations earlier and not wait until the last minute! Barring unforeseen crashes of both the human and computer types, of course.

We have had lots of time together with our sons, which is getting rare these days, and I cherish that.

How is your holiday season going? Are you holding up OK? Finding ways to celebrate within your limits? If you have any tips for next year, I'd love to hear them!

Enjoy the season!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Movie Monday: Knives Out

With travel, vacation, and holiday preparations, my husband and I hadn't been out together in quite a while, so we invited friends out for dinner and a movie on Friday. We went to see Knives Out, a new humorous whodunit with a great cast.

The set-up is classic detective story: a well-known mystery writer named Harlen Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer, is found dead (throat slit) in his attic office, after an evening birthday party where his entire greedy/selfish family was in attendance. Is it suicide or murder? Two police detectives and a quirky PI, played hilariously by Daniel Craig, are investigating and interviewing the family members and staff. They soon rule out suicide, but who did this gruesome deed? Each family member seems to have a motive. Daughter Linda, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, seems upset by her father's death, but her husband Richard, played by Don Johnson, had a fight with Harlen at the party over revealing his affair with the housekeeper. Their son Ransom, played by Chris Evans, had a loud argument with his grandfather the night before, and the rest of the family thinks he was cut out of his will. Harlen's son Walt, played by Michael Shannon, runs the publishing company that his father's books made prosperous ... but what if Harlen fired him the night of the party? And Joni, played as a hippie-type by Toni Collette, is Harlan's ex-daughter-in-law, but she, too seems to have had an argument with him that fateful night. Finally, at the center of this extremely dysfunctional family is Marta, played by Ana de Armas, a kind, sweet young woman who was Harlen's beloved nurse. Each family member is interviewed by the investigators, as the audience considers one suspect after another. Suspense and secrets abound!

This is a classic whodunit but with tongue firmly in cheek. Each family member is almost like a caricature of his or her type, played with relish by this outstanding team of actors. The house itself is, as one detective describes it, "like a Clue board," filled with secrets and peculiar accents, like the large sculpture of knives that serves as a backdrop for the family interviews. It's a twisty, funny romp of a mystery that kept us guessing right till the end. As one of the hosts on Pop Culture Happy Hour (a favorite podcast of mine) described it, this movie is like Murder on the Orient Express--the way it should have been done, with its all-star cast and quirky detective. All four of us enjoyed it and laughed a lot. It's just plain fun, perfect for this holiday season and a great movie for the whole family to watch together!

Knives Out is currently in theaters and is great on the big screen, since the setting, house, and people are all filled with so much personality. See it in a local recliner theater, like we did!

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.

Just watch the trailer and you'll be smiling:

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Managing - and Enjoying - the Holiday Season

Things have been quiet here on the blog because my beloved laptop was in for repairs for the past week, an unexpected challenge! Now that I have it back (safe and sound and with all data intact), I thought it was a good time to share some tips on managing--and even enjoying--the holiday season while living with chronic illness.

I was already feeling more than the usual pre-holiday pressure this week because Thanksgiving was so late this year, meaning an even shorter Christmas season, and we were away on vacation during Thanksgiving week--a much-needed and wonderful break--that meant I was even less prepared than usual to jump into Christmas preparation. So, when my laptop quit on me this week, and Apple said they had to send it away for maybe a week, I panicked! For starters, that morning that I found I couldn't even type in my password was the day I'd set aside to publish my new book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness. So, clearly, with all my files locked into my laptop and inaccessible, that wasn't going to happen! I thought, OK with no writing work possible, I can get all my Christmas stuff done. Write out cards and send them? Address list on the laptop. Finish buying gifts? Gift and shopping lists on the laptop. Start my end-of-year DVD and photo books? All my recent photos on the laptop. And on and on--I was pretty much dead in the water for now.

Luckily, after living with ME/CFS for 17+ years, I know how to deal with these kinds of unexpected challenges. I call it A Plan B Day and rearrange my priorities (the article at the link explains my approach in detail). Usually, my challenges are health and body related, but my computer woes fit the model, too! In this case, I reluctantly realized my book is not going to get published this year (look for it in early January). So, when you have plans for the holidays and your body just won't cooperate, try it for yourself ... declare a Plan B Day, make alternate plans, and focus on taking care of yourself.

I have also been struggling with a cold virus that made its way through our family after vacation. My younger son and husband (both otherwise healthy), caught the cold and are feeling better by now. For my older son and I, we rarely "catch" viruses due to the immune dysfunction (like many with ME/CFS), but being exposed can make us crash. For me, this time, since we've made a lot of progress in normalizing our immune systems, I have had mild symptoms on and off for over a week now. This also required some Plan B rearranging, since some days I woke with a sore throat and aches and some days I felt good! My husband kindly offered to do things like grocery shopping, and I did my best to listen to my body each day. Here are our strategies for dealing with viruses-- both how we've improved our immune function and how to treat when we are exposed to a virus. "Tis the season!

Even if you can get through the holiday season without viruses and crashes, spending lots of time with extended family and friends who may not understand your life with chronic illness is another common challenge of the season. This article, Managing Family Relationships: Holidays and Beyond includes lots of tips (from hard experience) to help you not only survive holiday gatherings but even enjoy them.

Fortunately, most of our holiday time this year will be spent at home, just the four of us, which is wonderful (and far easier). This week, we put up and decorated our Christmas tree (see photo at the top), which is one of our favorite parts of the season. We had to do it at lunchtime on a Wednesday to get everyone there, but it was worth it! And now that I have my laptop back, I have a lot to get done, but I'm going to continue to pace myself and listen to my body.

What are YOUR tips for managing the holiday season?

Monday, December 09, 2019

'Tis the Season...for Viruses! How to Prevent the Crashes that Result

For many people with ME/CFS, fall and winter mean long periods of relapse or "crashes." This seasonal slide downward is usually due to exposure to viruses and other infections that ramp up this time of year. My son and I have successfully eliminated this annual downturn. We used to both spend weeks (or months) at a time this time of year totally flattened, him missing school and me struggling to care for us both. No more! Now, these "virally-triggered" crashes are rare for us and much milder when they do occur, thanks to a number of simple and inexpensive treatments.

As an example, our family returned from a lovely week's vacation last week ... and brought a cold home with us! Our younger son (healthy now and recovered from ME/CFS) got hit hard (and first) by it, and was still struggling with congestion this weekend. His dad fell next, with heavy fatigue and bad cold symptoms. Our older son (ME/CFS and 2 tick infections) did crash last week from exposure to the virus, but he bounced back after a few bad days, and drove to see his girlfriend three hours away this weekend! I was the last one hit and woke yesterday with all my classic ME/CFS on high (and now, rare) alert: severe sore throat, swollen glands, and flu-like aches. I'm already feeling better today, though.

Ironically, most of us with ME/CFS rarely catch viruses, but just being exposed to them makes our immune systems go into overdrive, causing the crash symptoms so familiar to all of us. This is all due to the specific kind of immune system dysfunction that is present in ME/CFS, described in detail (in layman's terms) at the link.

Although researchers haven't yet figured out how to fix our immune systems (or those of anyone else with immune disorders), there are treatments that can help to normalize the immune system. All of them are cheap and some don't even require a doctor or prescription. Three treatments in particular have resulted in this dramatic improvement for us over the years, as described here:

That post also includes our tips on what we do in the rare instances like this week, when we have been exposed to a virus and are reacting to it (one thing that helps us a lot is olive leaf extract).

You, too, can transition from losing your whole winter to long crashes to making virally-triggered crashes rare (and mild).

Please let me know what has worked for you and if you have tried any of the treatments that have helped us so much!

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Multiple Your Impact on ME/CFS on #GivingTuesday

I'm a little late posting today (catching up after a lovely family vacation), but there is still plenty of time left today to contribute to ME/CFS research and advocacy on #GivingTuesday ... AND here are three great opportunities to double or triple your donation, so even a small amount makes a difference!
  • Open Medicine Foundation Triple Giving Tuesday - from October 22 all the way until December 3, OMF will TRIPLE your contribution to ME/CFS research, thanks to several generous donors who offered to match donations up to $666, 666! The name refers to the annual tradition of Giving Tuesday, December 3 this year, the day after Cyber Monday, but donations will be tripled EVERY day between now and then. Just click the link to make your donation. It doesn't have to be a lot - every little bit helps, especially when it is tripled!
  • Solve ME/CFS Initiative Double-Your-Impact Challenge - thanks to several anonymous donors, any donation you make to Solve ME/CFS from now until December 31 will be doubled, up to $750,000! They are hoping to meet a goal of $1.5 million in total donations by the end of the year. Just think of all the great research that can be done with that money!
  • #MEaction Tripled Donations - Today only, all donations made to #MEAction from any platform will be tripled, thanks to a generous matching pledge! In addition, if you donate through Facebook, the social media platform has agreed to double all donations made today through Facebook, up to $7 million, so your donation could be quadrupled! #MEaction does some great work on advocacy, helping patient voices to be heard.
These are three outstanding opportunities to make your money go further and give a gift that will help all of us this holiday season! Click the links to donate TODAY, watch your donation get doubled or tripled (or quadrupled), and contribute to important ME/CFS research. You can even share a link with family and friends and tell them that THIS is what you want for your holiday gift.

Almost all of the amazing research breakthroughs in ME/CFS in recent years have come from private donations (and much of it from those top two excellent organizations), so this is a great way to keep the science moving forward...for a happier New Year for all of us!

Happy Holidays and Happy Giving!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: The Joys of Community

I only have a few minutes this morning (leaving on a trip later today and then another one later this week!), but I wanted to share our wonderful evening last night. Our family hosted a potluck dinner for our local/regional support group.

Some brief history: this group began with some "mom's lunches" back in 2010 with five of us moms whose kid(s) had ME/CFS and an assortment of other diagnoses. That led to a potluck dinner where our families met ... and our group was born! Since then, we have to grown to about 40 families in our region (DE, NJ, MD, and PA), with both sick adults and sick kids and a variety of related medical conditions, like ME/CFS, EDS, fibro, Lyme, and POTS.

Last night, we had 13 people here. Some were old friends (including two from that original group), but we also had three people who were completely new to our group: one who's had ME/CFS for over 20 years, one who's not only living with ME/CFS but also researching genetics in grad school to help find answers for us, and another who has no solid diagnosis yet but whose multiple symptoms were familiar to all of us. Old friends and new ones caught up, got to know each other, and traded information. With plenty of seats, lots of options for those with food intolerances, and a heaping scoop of empathy all around, everyone talked for hours. Information on local doctors, effective treatments, school issues, and more flew back and forth, with lots of note-taking and promises to text or e-mail details.

Yes, in case you're wondering, it was exhausting ... but well worth it! Even my husband, who is the healthy one here, is tired this morning, but it means so much to us to be able to help others--and to make such wonderful new friends, too. We keep learning new things, as well. Being around others who so completely understand your crazy, unusual life is so comforting and affirming. Toward the end of the evening, one guy said he needed to leave, and a bunch of us said, "Oh, yeah - we can see that! You're definitely going downhill. Take care of yourself." He said it was such a strange experience, for everyone else at a gathering to "get it" and understand instead of pressuring him to stay or saying he'd be fine.

So, once again, I want to encourage all of you--wherever you are-- to find your people! Whether you can interact in person like our group last night (and again, this was a rare outing and social interaction for many) or only online, it is SO rewarding and supportive to "meet" others like you. And, it might just help you to improve your physical condition, too--much of our talk last night was telling each other about the treatments that have helped the most. Our original group of five families included seven kids and teens who were all moderately to severely affected by ME/CFS; thanks in large part to the advice and support from this group, four of those kids are now young adults either in college or graduated. Many others have come and gone as they've improved and been able to live their lives again. The benefits of community are both physical and emotional.

How do you find your people? Check out this article I wrote for ProHealth, Birds of a Feather: The Joys of Community, that details some ways to find others in your local area, for in-person or online interactions.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Double or Triple Your Giving This Season!

In this season of giving, there are two great deals going on right now to double or triple your contribution to ME/CFS research:
  • Open Medicine Foundation Triple Giving Tuesday - from October 22 all the way until December 3, OMF will TRIPLE your contribution to ME/CFS research, thanks to several generous donors who offered to match donations up to $666, 666! The name refers to the annual tradition of Giving Tuesday, December 3 this year, the day after Cyber Monday, but donations will be tripled EVERY day between now and then. Just click the link to make your donation. It doesn't have to be a lot - every little bit helps, especially when it is tripled!
  • Solve ME/CFS Initiative Double-Your-Impact Challenge - thanks to several anonymous donors, any donation you make to Solve ME/CFS from now until December 31 will be doubled, up to $750,000! They are hoping to meet a goal of $1.5 million in total donations by the end of the year. Just think of all the great research that can be done with that money!
These are two outstanding opportunities to make your money go further and give a gift that will help all of us this holiday season! Click the links to donate TODAY, watch your donation get doubled or tripled, and contribute to important ME/CFS research. You can even share the link with family and friends and tell them that THIS is what you want for your holiday gift.

Almost all of the amazing research breakthroughs in ME/CFS in recent years have come from private donations (and much of it from these two excellent organizations), so this is a great way to keep the science moving forward...for a happier New Year for all of us!

Happy Holidays and Happy Giving!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

TV Tuesday: Stumptown

One of the new TV shows I mentioned in my Fall 2019 TV Preview was Stumptown on ABC, and it has turned out to be our favorite new show of the fall and one of our overall favorites this season, new and old. We are loving this action-packed, suspenseful, yet warm and funny show with a great cast.

Cobie Smuldors (of How I Met Your Mother fame) stars as Dex Parios, a Marine vet in Portland, OR, with PTSD. She cares for her adult brother, Ansel (played by Cole Sibus), who has Down Syndrome. The two of them often hang out (and Ansel works at) a bar called Bad Alibi, owned by their good friend, Gray, played by Jake Johnson (familiar as Nick from New Girl). In the first episode, the head of the local Indian casino asks Dex to track down her granddaughter who's been kidnapped. Its a twisty, convoluted, and dangerous case, and along the way, Dex works with (and hooks up with) Detective Miles Hoffman, a cop played by Michael Ealy (who we enjoyed in Almost Human and The Following). By the start of the second episode, Dex has decided she wants to be a private investigator. Although trouble seems to follow her everywhere, she is scrappy and determined and feels like she could be good at being a PI. The rest of season one (so far) follows her as she trains, gets her PI license, gets in way over her head, and tackles bad guys.

Stumptown is based on a graphic novel series by Greg Rucka, and we are loving the TV adaptation so far! Yes, it's a detective show with mysteries and action in every episode, but it is also warm and very, very funny. Even better, it is accompanied by an '80's soundtrack with hilarious timing, since Dex's old Mustang has a mix tape stuck in the cassette player that starts playing at the most inopportune (and funny) moments. Smulders is outstanding in this starring role, as a bad-ass Marine who always gets into trouble but still solves her cases. The rest of the cast is great, too, also including Camryn Manheim as the police lieutenant. Dex seems tough on the outside, but her loving relationship with her brother and friendship with Gray show her softer side. There is at least one big fight in each episode and often a car chase, too, which are not typically my cup of tea, but it is all done with a sense of humor and fun. You can see what I mean in the trailer below. The bottom line is that Stumptown is one of our favorite shows on TV right now, and we look forward to each new episode and watch it as soon as it hits On Demand.

Stumptown airs on ABC Wednesdays at 10 pm, and is available On Demand and on the ABC website (looks like the first five episodes are available there right now for free). It is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the first season.

I've seen this trailer several times, but it still makes me laugh every time!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Movie Monday: Shaft (2019)

Saturday night, my husband and I watched the 2019 release, Shaft, which is a sequel to the original 1971 movie of the same name (and there were three other Shaft sequels in between). If you are as old as we are, you may remember the original movie, starring Richard Roundtree in the title role as a kick-ass black private investigator in Harlem. I never actually saw the original (since I was only six years-old at the time), and my husband doesn't remember much about it, but we are both very familiar with its funky theme song (hang on until 2:50 to hear those unforgettable lyrics) and its famous (or infamous?) main character. We thoroughly enjoyed this fun modernization of the classic. Can you dig it?

The movie opens in 1989, with John Shaft, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and his girlfriend, Maya (played by Regina Hall), caught in a shoot-out on the streets of Harlem. Shaft is cool as usual and unperturbed by the violence, but we see a baby in the backseat. That's the last straw for Maya. She cares about Shaft, but her son's safety must come first. She moves upstate with the baby and asks Shaft to stay away, for his son's protection, to prevent the violence in Shaft's life from touching him. The action then moves forward to the present, where John Jr. (JJ), played by Jessie T. Usher, is an adult, working as an FBI analyst in NYC, and meeting up his best best friends from high school, Karim, a vet and recovered addict who started a charity to help other vets, and Sasha, a doctor. When Karim is discovered dead of an overdose in Harlem the next day, JJ knows there is something more sinister going on. His friend was clearly still clean and happy with his life. JJ begins investigating Karim's death but soon finds himself in over his head. Reluctantly, he seeks out his dad, the infamous Shaft, to help him find out what happened to his friend. As the two of them team up to find out what happened, they get pulled deeper and deeper into larger conspiracies involving drugs. At one point, just before the big showdown with the bad guys, they visit Shaft's father, played by Richard Roundtree (who you'll recall played Shaft in the 1971 movie), and grandpa comes along to help with the climactic shootout.

This movie is just plain fun. Samuel L. Jackson is his usual charismatic self as the foul-mouthed, violent, self-assured Shaft. Usher does a great job as his nerdy but determined son, and the clash between the two of them provides lots of funny moments. This is, without a doubt, an action movie, and there is plenty of shooting, fighting, and other violence. That is usually not my thing (at all!), but in this case, the violence is balanced out by warmth, family relationships, and a hefty dose of humor that left me smiling and laughing for almost two hours. It was just plain fun, with a touch of nostalgia, and we both enjoyed it.

Shaft is currently out on DVD and on streaming, available through Amazon starting at $4.99. You can also stream the original 1971 Shaft for just $1.99.

I guarantee this trailer will make you smile:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Under Pressure

I had a rare day to myself on Friday (my son left early for a weekend away) that I had been looking forward to, but within a couple of hours I was feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and out of sorts. I stopped to consider why I was feeling like that and realized it was due to several different sources of pressure all converging on me at once.

I have spent the past few months rushing to finish editing my book, Finding a New Normal: Living with Chronic Illness, and now that I have one last review of the 5th and last round of edits from the editor I hired, I am suddenly realizing that the timing isn't right for publishing it now. We have a week-long vacation coming up, and I don't want to publish my book and then not be around to promote it and market it. At the same time, my mom had surgery recently, and I had planned to visit and help her out this week, but her husband will be there this week, so she actually needs my help next week ... and we leave on that trip at the end of next week! She wanted me to stay for longer than I thought I could manage, with needing to prepare for (and not be exhausted for) the trip. And, silly me, I was hoping to walk a 5k on Saturday! It's a goal I have been working toward for years, and--thanks to a variety of treatments for exercise intolerance and a lot of hard work--I am ready for it. But squeezing it in this weekend, with everything else going on, was just too much.

I was feeling pressure from all of these different sources and thinking of the David Bowie/Queen song, Under Pressure (which is a fabulous song!):

With all that going on in my life, no wonder I was feeling out of sorts and stressed! Once I had pinpointed the sources of tension that were bothering me, I realized it was not all out of my control. I could take steps to reduce my own stress and relieve some of that pressure. So, Friday afternoon, I decided to:
  • Postpone publishing my book until after our vacation, in December. That deadline was completely self-imposed. That's one less thing to deal with before we leave!
  • Cancel plans to walk the 5k this weekend. Again, it was a self-imposed deadline because I really wanted to meet my goal before the end of the year, but it was just plain stupid to attempt such a big milestone (and heavy exertion) with so much else going on. Besides, it ended up being in the 20's (F!) Saturday morning - definitely a good decision.
  • Hardest of all, I told my mom I could come from Sunday through Wednesday but would have to leave after breakfast Wednesday, as I had originally planned, in order to get ready for vacation and not end up crashed for our trip. I so want to be there for my mom, so this was the hardest step of all, but I realized I have to take care of myself, too. This is our dream trip that we've been planning and looking forward to for ages, and I don't want to spend the first few days in bed. The travel days will be hard enough, without exhausting myself ahead of time.
With those decisions made, I felt like a weight had been lifted! Next, I embarked on Part 2, leaning into that release of pressure and relief of stress by relaxing. This weekend, I:
  • Went to my massage therapy appointment on Friday afternoon. This therapy is more painful than relaxing, but I really needed my massage therapist to work out some trouble spots and loosen up my muscles (hmmm...another result of all that stress?).
  • Came home and told my husband we were ordering pizza for dinner! This is a BIG treat for us, since I am intolerant to dairy and don't usually eat grains, either. Plus, we had no cooking and no dishes. The pizza was amazing, and we watched an extra TV show while we ate it.
  • Had a date night with my husband Saturday--went out to dinner with our oldest friends and watched a fun movie at home.
So, now it is Sunday, and I am feeling better all around. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our "empty nest" weekend together and also got caught up on some long overdue stuff at home. I still have a lot to do in the next two weeks, but it feels more realistic and possible now.

I realize it is ironic that I am writing a book about emotional coping and daily living with chronic illness, yet I got into a situation where I felt out-of-control and stressed! In the end, though, I applied some of the tenets from my book--like considering what I can control, adjusting my plans to meet my needs, and allowing myself some downtime--and it worked. I am feeling better now and am ready to tackle these hectic couple of weeks ... and then enjoy a much-needed vacation with my family.

How do you handle pressure? 
What do you do when stress becomes overwhelming?

Clearly, I am still learning, so I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Resilience

Plenty of research has shown the importance of resilience in health and happiness. Resilient people have more joy in their lives, can better bounce back from challenges, and deal with daily stress better. Those of us living with chronic illness certainly need plenty of resiliency, to deal with both day-to-day symptoms and stresses, as well as unexpected relapses and other crises. But, how do you become more resilient?

Dr. Raphael Rose, a clinical psychologist, talks about resiliency in this TED Talk, How Failure Cultivates Resiliency:

He describes several different ways to increase resiliency, all of which are relevant for (and adaptable to) those with chronic illness:

Seek Out New Experiences
True, many of us are now quite limited by our illnesses. Perhaps you can no longer learn to dance, start playing a new sport, or travel to other countries. But, there are still plenty of ways for us to seek out new experiences. One way is to meet new people, whether online or in-person. This has been one of the silver linings of chronic illness for me, meeting so many amazing people, both in my town and from all over the globe. This blog post on Finding Community links to an article I wrote for ProHealth with specific tips on how to find others like yourself (online and in-real-life), as well as links to some of the places where I hang out online with others dealing with chronic illness. There are lots of other ways to seek out new experiences, too: learning a new skill like knitting or programming, starting a new hobby like video games or crafting, or even starting a business from home.

Pursue Meaning
Dr. Rose also talks about the importance of seeking meaning and how it can be an immediate salve to stress. That's what this weekly inspiration post is all about! Read inspiring books, watch TED Talks and other inspirational speakers online, and listen to podcasts on meaningful topics. You can also look back at past Weekly Inspiration posts here for more ideas and inspiration. You can find more inspiring blog posts on the Chronic Illness Bloggers Facebook page.

Slow and Gradual Behavior Change
Dr. Rose discusses how failure and stress can provide the impetus for change, but that small, gradual changes are far more effective. I wrote about the same thing, specific to those with chronic illness, in my article for ProHealth on Strategies and Tools for Changing Habits.

Be Compassionate with Yourself
Finally, in this talk Dr. Rose emphasizes the importance of treating yourself with compassion, something that many of us probably struggle with the most. When you live with restrictions and are unable to do so much, it is easy to blame yourself and feel like a failure, thus increasing stress. Dr. Rose says that being compassionate with yourself helps to build resilience.

We could all use more resiliency in our lives. Check out Dr. Rose's talk and his tips for being more resilient.

Have you tried any of these approaches yourself? What role does resilience play in your life?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

TV Tuesday: Unbelievable

My husband and I recently finished watching the Netflix series Unbelievable. It is based on a true story, described in a Pulitzer Prize-winning article, about a young woman who is charged with lying about being raped and the two female detectives who manage to track down a serial rapist. This powerful and compelling series kept us rapt.

The story begins with Marie, played by Kaitlyn Dever, a young woman in Washington state who recently "aged out" of the foster care system, after being bounced around from one home to another. Marie is trying hard to establish an adult life for herself, though her difficult upbringing makes that challenging as she tries to gain self-confidence and learn to support herself. In the first episode, Marie is raped when a man breaks into her apartment in the middle of the night. Shaken and terrified, she calls the police, but they can't find any forensic evidence. Two male detectives interview Marie about the details of her horrifying experience over and over and pressure her until she finally agrees that maybe she's mistaken, making her a pariah in her community for "lying" about being raped. Meanwhile, that same year in Colorado, another young woman, a college student named Amber, is raped in her apartment, and the details are remarkably similar to those of Marie's case. Detective Karen Duvall, a female detective in her small town played by Merritt Wever, becomes obsessed with Amber's case, wanting to help the now-terrified young woman, and begins looking at other nearby towns. She meets Detective Grace Rasmussen, played by Toni Collette, a more experienced detective who has a case in her city that could be the same rapist. The two women team up and find other potential matches across Colorado, but this perpetrator is very careful and leaves little or no forensic evidence. The two detectives are certain, though, that they are on the trail of a serial rapist who has ruined many women's lives, so they work hard to get to the bottom of the cases.

Unbelievable is a super-suspenseful detective show, but it is also so much more than that. It delves into the victims' lives and takes a close-up (and horrifying) look at the way that rapes are often not taken seriously, especially when the victim "seems" unharmed physically. Even if the women do report their rapes - and many do not - they are subjected to hours-long physical exams that are humiliating and traumatizing, on top of the assault they already endured. And then, if there is no obvious evidence, some of them are further damaged by disbelieving police officers, as Marie was. Obviously, given the subject matter, parts of this show are disturbing, though there is nothing too graphic shown. The rapes themselves are mostly seen in victims' flashbacks, as brief memories. As a police procedural, the show is riveting, and the team of Wever and Collette completely pulls you into the story, showcasing the detectives' determination and commitment, as they ignore their families and their own health to try to solve the cases. The fact that all of this is based on a true story just makes it even more gripping. All of the actresses playing victims do a great job, but Dever, as Marie, is particularly moving n her portrayal of this young woman who feels she has no control over her life. We were rooting for Marie to not only be vindicated but able to heal and move forward. The entire series is just eight one-hour episodes, but there is a lot of emotion and power packed into this high-quality show.

Unbelievable is a Netflix original program, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Movie Monday: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Saturday night, after a nice dinner out with friends, my husband and I settled onto the couch and recliner with our hot cups of herbal tea (me) and decaf coffee (him) and enjoyed a new movie on Netflix called El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. We were big fans of the Breaking Bad TV show (though very late to discover it, just last year!), and we enjoyed this sequel that shows what happened to Jesse after the end of the TV finale.

If you haven't yet watched the Breaking Bad series or seen the finale (and you want to), then go finish that before reading this review. It's impossible to describe the movie without spoiling the show's ending a bit. On the other hand, if you are not interested in watching Breaking Bad, I've heard some reviewers say that this movie still works as a stand-alone.

This movie is an immediate sequel to the TV show, beginning just seconds after the finale of the TV show ended. Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, escaped an absolute bloodbath of criminals at the end of the finale. As the sole survivor, Jesse flees the scene of the massacre in an old El Camino that was owned by one of his captors. A group of Neo-Nazis kept Jesse prisoner in an underground cage, letting him out only to cook that special blue meth that he and Walter were famous for, keeping him chained up even as he worked in the makeshift lab. As the movie opens, Jesse is finally free, but the police are after him, knowing he was the sole survivor. Of course, Jesse begins by heading to the home of his two best friends, Badger (played by Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (played by Charles Baker). Jesse looks...well, like he's been kept chained up in a cage for many months, and his friends let him in and help him out. Once Jesse is cleaned up and rested, he trades cars with Badger and heads out, to keep his friends from getting in trouble. Jesse wants to disappear, like he's previously planned before everything went wrong, but first, he needs money. He's searching specifically for money hidden by one of the criminals, Todd, played by Jesse Plemons. Todd is the coldest, scariest psychopath you will ever come across! (Well, hopefully, you and I won't ever come across a psychopath, but you know what I mean.) Flashbacks fill in details of some of what happened between Jesse and Todd, painting an even creepier picture of the violent criminal. Much of the movie is about Jesse trying to get enough money and set up his escape, with flashbacks to previous events new to the viewer.

We thoroughly enjoyed this movie, especially getting to see what happened to Jesse after Breaking Bad ended. It's a satisfying ending to his story. I've heard others say that you don't need to have watched Breaking Bad at all to enjoy the movie, but I think you would miss a lot of references without that background. Aaron Paul is wonderful in his role as Jesse, not only bringing all the talent he brought to the TV show but also showing how deeply damaged Jesse is from his experiences, while still holding onto his humanity. Jesse Plemons, on the other hand, shows not an ounce of humanity in his role as the freakishly cold Todd, an odd combination of ordinary guy and stone-cold killer. He is completely void of emotions, and the scenes when he takes Jesse on a "field trip" from his prison to help him with something are powerful. Just wait until you see Todd's apartment! Beaver and Skinny Pete provide a sense of humor, as always, and show the depth of their friendship with Jesse. As with Breaking Bad, there is plenty of action in the movie but also plenty of thoughtfulness. There is even a touching flashback of Walter and Jesse, before Walter got so crazy. It's a perfect wrap-up of Jesse's story, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A must-see for any Breaking Bad fans and probably entertaining for non-fans, too.

El Camino is a Netflix original movie, so it is available on Netflix, as are all seasons of the Breaking Bad TV show. Breaking Bad is also available for streaming on Amazon, starting at $2.99 an episode or $9.99 a season. It is also available on DVD, including the complete 6-season series.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Joy in Autumn

Fall is my favorite season! There are so many things that I love about this time of year that I wanted to share them with you and inspire you, too, to celebrate the changing seasons.

I wrote an article for ProHealth on The Joy of Celebrations (and included it in my forthcoming book, Finding a New Normal: Living with Chronic illness). It's all about finding small ways to celebrate to add joy to your life. While the article focuses mainly on smaller holidays, the changing seasons are a great excuse to celebrate as well. Here are some of the ways we've been enjoying the autumn season so far:

Changes in the Natural World
Of course, the first thing most people think of with autumn is the changing colors in the trees, and it is one of my favorite parts of this season. Spotting a brilliant red sugar maple makes me happy.

Red leaves on a sugar maple always make me smile!
If you are able, this is a great time of year to take a short walk in your neighborhood or a local park or nature center. If you can't manage a walk, ask a friend or family member to push your wheelchair along a paved trail. The eye-popping colors will lift your spirits, especially on one of those perfect fall days with a bright blue sky as backdrop. This photo was taken at our local nature center - still lots of green there but with plenty of pretty yellow to brighten up the landscape:

Greens and yellows at our local nature center last week

Even if you are unable to leave the house, look out the windows to watch the leaves changing color, bit by bit - it's amazing how much things can change outdoors in just a day, especially if you get some wind or rain. If the leaves don't change color where you live, check out some photos online of the fall colors. Another ME/CFS blogger, Not Just Tired, started a changing seasonal hashtag. Currently it is #JoyinAutumn. Use it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or your own favorite social media platform to view some gorgeous fall photos and to share some from your own world! I love to share and see others' glimpses of natural beauty (or perhaps your favorite sweater or pumpkin spice latte!).

Changing Temperatures
Ahhh...finally, some comfortable temperatures! I love the weather in autumn. ME/CFS makes me especially heat-intolerant, and we still had temperatures up to 95 and humid in the first week of October here! So, when it finally does cool down, it is a huge relief! I also love being able to wear jeans again (my favorite comfort clothing), along with socks and sweatshirts. That crisp, cool fall air just feels so wonderful after the brutal heat of summer.

Fall Food
Of course, pumpkin spice is everywhere this time of year! That signals fall for a lot of people. I made Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes (recipe at the link from Against All Grain) this morning, with crumbled bacon and chopped pecans (and maple syrup, of course) on top. Yum!! So delicious and definitely tastes like fall. You can find lots more wonderful pumpkin recipes at Against All Grain.

For my family, October means it's time for our annual visit to a local farmer's market, Northbrook Marketplace, for hot cider and freshly made apple cider donuts. This favorite spot of ours used to be a huge farm, with apple orchards and pumpkin patches, hayrides, and even a petting zoo. They sold off most of the land, so it's just a little country store now...but they still have those amazing donuts (which are definitely NOT Paleo!), and we still go every fall!

We went early this year since our sons have very busy calendars. We still buy our pumpkins there, too, which brings me to...

Halloween is one of my family's all-time favorite holidays! It's such a low-stress holiday - no big family gatherings or gifts to buy. It's just a few weeks (or a month!) of fun, spooky themes and one night of costumes and candy - what's not to like? I will be putting up our Halloween decorations today - pumpkin-, skeleton-, spider-, and ghost-themed stuff we have collected over the years (a few examples from past years below). That will get us all in the spirit!

We'll carve pumpkins next weekend, a tradition we all look forward to, and roast the pumpkin seeds while we play a fun Halloween album we've had since the kids were small.


My husband and I do miss the days of trick-or-treating with our sons. We always dressed up with the kids - often with a family theme - and all four of us went out trick-or treating together. I usually only managed our cul-de-sac and the next one over, but it was still a blast to bring to life all those childhood memories of running around the neighborhood in costume on a cool fall evening. Halloween is definitely the best night of the year when you're a kid! So, no more costumes, class parties, and trick-or-treating at our house (our sons are in their 20's), but we still get to answer the doorbell and hand out candy to the adorable neighbors' kids in costume. I also enjoy watching all the Halloween-themed TV show episodes this time of year. And I may not dress up in costume, but I still enjoy wearing my Halloween socks and earrings and some orange and black this season! Hmm...maybe I'll paint my nails orange next week...

Halloween 1979 - I'm the old lady!

Our Star Wars theme with our sons!

Ah, fall! I love it!

What are your favorite parts of autumn? How do you celebrate the changing seasons? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Friday, October 18, 2019

ME/CFS In the News & Advocacy

I'm back! Please excuse my absence from the blog (and from much of social media) the past few weeks. I have been furiously working on editing my forthcoming book, Finding a New Normal: Living with Chronic Illness. The last time I wrote a book was more than 20 years ago, so I had forgotten what an arduous job editing is! Besides, I wasn't yet sick back then and it was all done with pen and paper (!), so this was a different experience. It was worth the exhaustion and stress, though, because I turned it back over to my editor yesterday, and the hardest part is finished now. I've got a great editor who is helping to make the book the best it can be. I hope to publish it before the end of the year!

So, for today's post I have a catch up...a bunch of videos about ME/CFS in the news recently and some advocacy efforts. It's exciting to see how much is happening - word is finally starting to get out!

ME/CFS Featured on The Joe Madison Show

Joe Madison, a "tireless advocate for African-Americans and other minorities" hosts a show in Sirius XM Radio Urban View. Last month, he invited Llewellyn King, creator and host of White House Chronicle and frequent ME/CFS advocate, and Linda Tannenbaum, founder and CEO/President of Open Medicine Foundation, on the show to discuss ME/CFS and its impact on minorities. You can watch the video of the show here:

 (the audio-only link is not available right now).

Dr. Ron Tompkins on PBS' White House Chronicle

Llewellyn King has been busy lately! On his own show on PBS, White House Chronicle, he hosted Dr. Ron Tompkins of Harvard Medical School in an episode titled "Medicine and Engineering." In this discussion of new frontiers in medical engineering and the need for medical research, Dr. Thompson mentions ME/CFS. You can watch the episode here:

White House Chronicle 11039: Medicine and Engineering from White House Chronicle on Vimeo.

ME/CFS Benefit Concert with Marian Call

In California, a musical and awareness-building event was held to benefit ME/CFS, featuring singer-songwriter Marian Call. The talented artist is originally from Alaska and has friends and family with ME/CFS. The evening included moving talks by several advocates, including host Emily Taylor, who is Director of Advocacy and Community Relations at Solve ME/CFS Initiative and whose mother has ME/CFS. You can watch the entire show here, enjoy the beautiful music, and listen to the moving words of the speakers:

Wow, so much has been going on in the ME/CFS world lately! We are fortunate to have such tireless advocates helping to spread the word about ME/CFS. I'll try to get to a Research Update next week, as I continue to catch up.