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!