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.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Movie Monday: The Crimes of Grindelwald

This weekend, we ended our all-day family day with a movie for me, my husband, and our oldest son (25): Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which the three of us enjoyed watching last year. Our reactions to this second movie, spun-off from the Harry Potter series, were mixed, though my son and I both ended up enjoying it.

This sequel picks up in 1927, after (a few years, I think?) the events of the first movie. Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp), a wizard criminal who was imprisoned in the U.S. at the end of the first movie, is being transferred to Europe to stand trial there. Despite all the magical security measures put in place, Grindelwald manages to escape. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Magic in London wants to locate Credence Barebone, another character from the first movie who is a wizard brought up by a non-magical adopted family. Newt Scamander, played again by Eddie Redmayne, won't work with the Ministry to find Barebone, because they want to send a bounty hunter with him. However, when his old Hogwarts professor, Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law), asks him to go to Paris to find Barebone in order to save him from both the Ministry and Grindelwald, Newt agrees. Newt's American friends from the first movie, Jacob Kowalski and Queenie Goldstein, are also featured again in this movie and are still very much in love, though not allowed to marry since legal marriage is not allowed between wizards and Muggles (non-magical people). At the same time in Paris, an old school friend of Newt's named Leta Lestrange (played by Zoe Kravitz), who is now engaged to Newt's brother, is also looking for Credence Barebone, on the suspicion that he might possibly be her long-lost, long-thought-dead brother. Grindelwald's evil plan is for pureblood wizards to band together and take control of the entire world, wizards and non-wizards alike. All of these people and situations come together in Paris, along with a fun collection of Newt's magical creatures, ending in a climactic clash between good and evil.

Confused? So were we! It is a very complicated plot with a lot of different characters to keep track of. It would probably help if you watched this sequel soon after watching the first movie, but it's been almost a year for us. We enjoyed seeing some links to the Harry Potter books/movies, which take place about 80 years later, with familiar characters like Dumbledore, here as a young man, and well-known wizarding family names like Lestrange popping up here and there, as well as scenes of familiar Hogwarts. Law does a great job as a young Dumbledore, Depp is spooky as the criminal Grindelwald, and Redmayne is as charming as ever as kind, unassuming Newt. This second movie is far darker than the first, with much less fun whimsy and more evil. All three of us felt it was far too complex and difficult to keep us with, especially the first half of the movie. My son and I got into it in the second half, with lots of pressing pause to confirm what was going on and who was who, but my husband really didn't enjoy it. This movie is probably best for major fans of the Harry Potter universe and/or those who've watched the first Fantastic Beasts movie recently. There was clearly a set-up for another sequel, with an upcoming battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald (that my son said was mentioned in the Harry Potter books as a major point of wizarding history). I'm not sure if we'll watch it or not. Perhaps if it comes out soon, while we still remember all the complicated details of this one!
NOTE: IMDB lists not only a Fantastic Beasts 3 but also a #4 and #5! The next sequel, #3, is due out in 2021.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is available on streaming and on DVD. It looks like HBO owns the rights currently, so it is included with HBO subscriptions, available to buy on streaming through Amazon for $14.99 or on DVD (the way we watched it). The first movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is available for streaming on Amazon for just $1.99 or on DVD. Definitely watch them both together, to avoid getting too confused!

I have to admit, the trailer is pretty enticing:

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Slow Down and Enjoy Time Off

Today's post is about how to slow down, relax, and occasionally take time off from the fast pace of modern life. Yesterday, all of our immediate family - my husband, two sons, father-in-law, and me - spent the entire day together, relaxed and just enjoying each other's company. It struck me how rare that is now, not only to get both of my sons home at the same time (they are in their early 20's), but to be able to spend an entire day without the pressures of getting things done and responding to the online world. In the morning, we made our annual trip to a farmer's market where we go every October to pick out pumpkins and indulge in hot cider and freshly-made donuts, rested/napped in the afternoon, and then had dinner, cake, and presents for my husband's birthday. Ironically, we had to do this all in one day because there was not a single day the rest of the month when we could all get together...because we are so busy!

All 5 of us at home together - a rare treat!
Now, you might be thinking, "Slow down? ha! This illness slowed me down years ago. I have no choice." For me, that's the real irony. In spite of the fact that I need to spend at least 12 hours in bed sleeping (on a good day), I rarely get up before 8 am, and I need to be lying down by 7:30 pm, my life still feels very rushed and overly busy. For starters, I have to squeeze all of my productive time and to-do's into a much smaller period of time than most people. Even more pressure comes from the online world these days: keeping up with social media, replying to e-mails, participating in online support groups, and more. A day like yesterday when we are all together and just "hanging out" is so rare that it reminded me of Christmas Day, a once-a-year phenomenon!

Here is one of my favorite TED Talks: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore. In spite of the fact that this talk is from 2005 (he mentions Blackberries instead of smart phones!), it's message is even more appropriate and powerful today, especially the parts about his time with his son:

I would really love to hear Carl speak again TODAY, in light of how much faster the digital world - and hence, our entire world - has become.

I have a hard time slowing down and especially, taking time off to relax. I wrote about this difficulty and some great ideas for encouraging free time in my ProHealth article, The Importance of Play. Even if you are more limited than I am and mostly housebound, it is still easy to fall into the trap of living a fast-paced life, where your brain is constantly jumping from one thing to the next, even if (or maybe especially if) most of your "activity" is online. Those connections we make with each other in the virtual world are so important, but we also need to take time out, away from the electronic devices, to just relax and enjoy our families, friends, or some alone time.

How will you take time out today and slow down?