Sunday, January 26, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: Rediscovering Mercy

The source of this week's inspiration comes from a slim memoir by famed author Anne Lamott called Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy (my review at the link). I read it in November for one of my book groups (though I ended up not feeling well enough to go to the discussion). I was glad for the opportunity to read it because I have always enjoyed Lamott's writing--I've read several of her memoirs about being a mother and one of her novels--and a good friend gave me a signed copy of this book a few years ago.

Anne Lamott is an acquired taste, and from what I heard later, not everyone in my book group enjoyed this memoir. It is a bit meandering and has a stream-of-consciousness style and a brand of outspoken, brutal honesty that is Lamott's trademark but perhaps not everyone's cup of tea. However, our group leader told me that they had a great discussion about the book, which doesn't surprise me. My own copy--less than 200 short pages--is filled with Post-It Note tabs!

So, I thought I'd share a few of these quotes with you. Lamott provides her own musings but also draws from a wide variety of religions and inspirational quotes from all kinds of people. As the subtitle indicates, this is a book about mercy: grace and kindness and forgiveness. I don't know about you, but I could sure use more of that in my life. And I know that I am hanging onto resentments--especially about the way certain family members have treated me since becoming ill--that are hurting me at least as much (probably more) as others.

Here are some quotes from Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy that really spoke to me and made me think:
"But let's say we believe that mercy and forgiveness are in fact foundational, innate, what we are grown from and can build on: also that they are hard to access because of these traumas and fears. What if we know that forgiveness and mercy are what heal and restore and define us, that they actually are the fragrance of the rose leaves on the heel that crushes it? So why today is it absolutely all I can do to extend mercy to myself for wanting to nip an annoying relative's heel like a river rat? Forget extending mercy to this relative, who has so messed with me and my son--she doesn't even know she needs my mercy. She thinks she is fierce and superior, while I believe she secretly ate her first child. Horribly, she is perfectly fine. I'm the one who needs mercy--my mercy."

I love Lamott's honesty and her willingness to admit to nasty thoughts and feelings so that we can, too. I could have written this passage (though not nearly so eloquently!), and every time I read it, it hits home anew.

Here, she writes more about the nature of mercy:
"Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten. Charge it to our heads and not our hearts, as the elders in black churches have long said."

She digs into the concept more deeply here:
"As Father Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return. It seems, on the face of things, like a decent deal.

Kindness toward others and radical kindness toward ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all. Do you want this, or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that?"

I just love that last line! Again, she is not afraid to be honest about her shortcomings and flaws, and in doing so, she gives permission to the reader to also be honest. This passage also succinctly explains the challenge between knowing what's right and doing what's right.

She continues on that theme here:
"There should be an app, with a checklist or map. But, no, the way out takes admitting that you're wrong and sorry. No, no, anything but that. Forgiving people makes you weak. Push them away! Lewis Smedes said, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." But I can't launch forgiveness of my own volition, from my air-traffic-controller mind."

And I loved this brief statement:
"People say that expectations are resentments under construction ..."

I often joke that the key to pleasant family gatherings is low expectations ... and now I know why!

Lamott doesn't just describe the problems; she also talks about how to move toward mercy and grace, always admitting that it's not easy:
"Mercy means that we no longer constantly judge everybody's large and tiny failures, foolish hearts, dubious convictions, and inevitable bad behavior. We will never do this perfectly, but how do we do it better? How do we mostly hold people we've encountered with the understanding of a wise, caring mother who has seen it all, knows that we all struggle, knows that on the inside we're as vulnerable as a colony of rabbits?"

Finally, in the last chapter, she sums things up, leaving the reader with some inspiration for moving forward:
"Forgiveness and mercy mean that, bit by bit, you begin to outshine the resentment. You open the drawer that was shut and you take out the precious treasures that you hid there so long ago, and, with them, the person who marvels at tadpoles, who pulls for people to come clean and then have a second chance, who aches and intervenes for those being bullied, forgives the evil brothers and unforgivable you."

This post ended up being much longer than I'd planned, but there is just so much thoughtfulness and wisdom in this little book. That was only a fraction of the quotes that I had flagged, and I am finding that every time I come back to this book and re-read some of these, I like it even more. I needed this book and this inspiration, both the acceptance that this is hard stuff to do and the encouragement that the hard work is worth it, not just for others but also to give myself more peace and kindness and mercy.

I think feeling mistreated and resentful kind of comes with the territory when you're chronically ill. There will always be people in your life who don't get it, who don't understand your challenges or even who think you are exaggerating or making up your illness (as if!), and we need to find a way to deal with the hurt and resentment those people leave behind because it is harming us. Anne Lamott has given us a lot to think about, and I know I will be re-reading this book in the future.

Let me know what you think of these quotes and concepts and ideas. Have you struggled with mercy and forgiveness in your own life?

Listen to a sampleof the audio book here, read by the author, and/or download it from Audible (that link--and the one below--also works for the print, large print, or e-book).

Monday, January 20, 2020

Favorite Movies Watched in 2019

And....drumroll! Time for my annual recap of all the movies I watched last year, plus my picks for favorites. Note that not all of these movies were released in 2019; these are just the ones I watched last year.

I reviewed just 16 movies last year, compared to 22 in 2018 (though I didn't have time to review every movie I saw). We are definitely watching fewer movies as the TV options continue to expand and improve. You can see the full list and genres below, with my favorites marked with *, but I only review movies that I like, so all of the movies listed below are worth watching. I didn't see any documentaries (second year in a row!). It was tough to categorize many of the movies, so some of my choices are sort of random. More and more, movies are blurring the genre lines: funny mysteries, dramas with plenty of humor, musical comedy dramas, etc. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood alone could have gone into three different categories! I saw a lot more movies in theaters the past two years, so more of these are recent releases than usual for me. Thank you, recliner theaters!

You can see my full list of movie reviews, covering several years at the Movie Reviews tab.

And now, for my top picks - do I have to choose? Some of these are very tough choices:

 Best Action/Suspense/Thriller
Classic action thriller and dark, gripping drama

Best Drama
Everything I saw in this category was great but Lion blew me away.

Best Comedy
Knives Out
So many great funny movies! This humorous whodunit took the prize.

Best Sci Fi/Fantasy

Best Musical Drama
Music, warm drama, comedy - this uplifting movie had it all and we both loved it!

I created this category for this movie because it is SO good, combining drama, humor, and suspense with a hefty dose of nostalgia and a very clever twist.

What were your favorite movies watched in 2019?

All Movies Reviewed in 2019:
My favorites are marked with *, but I only review movies I enjoy, so all of these are worth a try:
Secret in Their Eyes
* Shaft 
* Widows

* The Art of Racing in the Rain
* El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie 
* Lion
* Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

* Edge of Seventeen
* Knives Out

* Like Father
Murder Mystery
* Smart People 

Sci Fi/Fantasy
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald
* Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Musical Drama
* Yesterday

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Favorite TV Shows Reviewed in 2019

It's time for my annual wrap-ups, starting with TV shows. Listed down at the bottom of this post are all of the shows that I reviewed here on my blog in 2019 (some new shows, some continuing favorites for us). TV shows here includes both those on network TV, cable, and On Demand, as well as on the major streaming services (and many shows are available on the network websites, too). I have also added all of these to my TV Reviews tab on the blog, so you can come back anytime to see ALL of the shows I have ever reviewed here. I only review shows I enjoy, so anything listed here or on the TV Reviews tab is worth trying.

Best of TV
First a few superlatives - my favorite shows reviewed last year in each category/genre - always tough choices to make because TV shows are just getting better and better (and more and more!). Some of these I almost made two-way or three-way ties, but I stuck to the rules. Remember that we enjoyed all of the shows reviewed - see the full list at the bottom of the post.

Best Comedy
The Other Two (A, C, I) - Comedy Central
(not only very funny but also clever, smart, and an insightful look at today's world)

Best Drama
Unbelievable (N) - Netflix
(powerful true story with excellent writing and acting)

Best Dramedy
 The Rookie (A, C, I) - ABC
(one of our favorites, now in season 2 - action, drama, suspense, and a sense of humor)

Imposters (C, N) - Bravo 
(suspenseful, funny, great cast, though this category was a tough call, and In the Dark and Dead to Me were both very close seconds!)

Best Sci Fi
Hanna (A) - Amazon
(we were glued to our TV for this one! Twisty, suspenseful, excellent cast - can't wait for season 2!)

All TV Shows Reviewed in 2019

So much good TV last year, though it's depressing how many great new shows we enjoyed have already been cancelled! That's the flip side of having so many choices.

KEY: Available on:
A = Amazon Prime
C = Cable and/or Cable On Demand
H = Hulu
I = On network’s own website
N = Netflix
S = Showtime

(Offerings from subscription services change all the time, so double-check. Also, some shows are available for an additional fee on Amazon Prime whether you subscribe or not. Most networks offer some episodes of every show for free at their own websites.)

The Other Two (A, C, I) - Comedy Central
Weeds (A, N, S) - Showtime

Good Trouble (A, C, I) - Freeform
Unbelievable (N) - Netflix

Dramedy (both comedy and drama)
The Rookie (A, C, I) - ABC

Dead to Me (N) - Netflix
The Enemy Within (A, C, H, I) - NBC
The Fix (A, C, H, I) - ABC
Imposters (C, N) - Bravo
In the Dark (A, C, I, N) - CW
Proven Innocent (A, C, H, I) - Fox
Stumptown (A, C, I) - ABC
The Widow (A) - Amazon

Sci Fi
Hanna (A) - Amazon
Manifest (A, C, H, I) - NBC
The Passage (A, C, I) - Fox

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: 2019 Progress and 2020 Goals

It's time for my annual New Year's post, summarizing some of the progress (or lack of!) I made last year and my new objectives and targets for 2020.

As I explained in my Happy (Almost) New Year post two weeks ago, I developed my own process for setting lifetime goals and then specific objectives and targets to move me toward those goals each year, then I adjusted that process after I got sick. You can read all the details (with links to more information) in that earlier post. This is a process that anyone can use - the types of goals, objectives, and targets you have will just naturally reflect your own lifestyle and limitations, while helping you do the things you want to do, whether that's improving your health or taking better care of yourself or learning a new hobby or staying in touch with family and friends or ... whatever is important to you!

And if my goal-setting process doesn't feel right for you, last week's post, 5 Ways to Start the New Year Right!, offers plenty of other inspiring options from other bloggers for making your new year happier, calmer, and more compassionate.

So, here's my own summary - you can look back at my post My Progress in 2018 and My Goals in 2019 for details on last year's objectives, but I will try to sum those up here, too.

My Progress in 2019

I have 6 Lifetime Goals that represent what I want my life to look like.

My Lifetime Goals:

  1. To nurture and enjoy strong, fulfilling relationships with my husband, my sons, my family, and my friends.
  2. To be a writer, writing about topics I enjoy and am interested in and getting paid fairly for my work.
  3. To spend time outdoors and to travel, doing activities I enjoy and that rejuvenate me, and sharing those experiences with friends and family.
  4. To create and maintain a comfortable and happy home environment - both physically and financially - that contributes to happiness, comfort, and loving relationships.
  5. To be as healthy as I can be and to take care of myself so that I can do the things I want to do.
  6. To give back, help other people, and be part of a community.
SO THAT, I feel happy and content and can spend my time doing things I love.

Each year, I set (or adjust or keep) objectives and then specific, measurable targets to help me move toward those goals. The process is explained here.

I'll skip the details and just share some of what I achieved (or not) in 2019:

Improved on or Did Well in 2019:
  • Lots of time with my husband - we met my goals for date nights, walks*, and traveling together.
  • Time with my adult sons AND especially, a trip (relaxing and at our own pace with daily naps!) to St. John, USVI, with them to celebrate our 30th anniversary.
  • Visiting new blogs.
  • Writing and editing a book and preparing it for publication (my goal was to publish the book in 2019, but computer problems prevented that in December. Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness will be published this month!).
  • Walking* 4x per week (this is possible thanks to treatments for Orthostatic Intolerance and for Immune System Dysfunction, which have both greatly improved my ability to tolerate exercise and exertion).
  • Muscle building* 3-4 times per week (lying down to keep my heart rate low, plus plenty of breaks).
  • Getting together with friends each week (most of the time)
  • Writing and working on my writing projects more often
  • Getting outdoors more often (my goal is daily, even if it's just 10 minutes lying on our deck)
  • Daily yoga (brief 15 min session, all done on the floor)
* NOTE:  My exercise is NOT Graded Exercise Therapy (GET), and I am ONLY able to exercise because of several treatments for my ME/CFS that have eased the exercise intolerance somewhat, including treating Orthostatic Intolerance and treating immune dysfunction. I still definitely have limits and use a heart rate monitor to help stay within my limits and prevent post-exertional crashes. Other treatments have helped as well - you can read my full summary of treatments that have been most effective for my son and I, allowing us to live active lives again.
Needs Improvement:
  • Stay connected to my mom and stepmom and stay in touch with long-distance friends.
  • Freelance writing (which took a backseat to my book in the 2nd half of the year).
  • Create e-mail lists for my blogs.
  • Go camping more.
  • Decluttering at home.
  • Trying new treatments for myself - my focus in 2019 was 100% on my son's health.
  • Resting when crashed - a continuing struggle for me, to listen to my body.
  • Have more fun! Another one that pops up every year. I need to take more time off and probably reduce my load.
My Health in 2019
I am a data junkie, and find it very helpful to track several different aspects of my illness. This helps me to see if I am doing better or worse and also helps me to evaluate whether new treatments are helping. So, in 2019:
  • My average exertion level (on a 1 to 5 scale) was 3.8 (drumroll, please ...) - my highest ever since getting sick! Woohoo!! Given the treatments that have helped me to greatly reduce and almost eliminate post-exertional crashes, I know that this higher level of exertion means that I can tolerate more, not that I was ignoring my limits and crashing - see below).
  • Overall, my "how I felt" average was 2.4 (a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is great and 5 is badly crashed). This is decent, though not quite as good as my two best years, 2016 and 2017. There was a LOT of stress this year from my son's downturn in health, so I'm sure that was a factor.
  • I was crashed (a 4 or a 5 on my scale) just 5% of the time! This is absolutely great, though not my best year ever, which was 2017, with just 3% crashed. In contrast, my worst years--before finding effective treatments--were in the 25% range, meaning I was unable to function and couch-bound a quarter of the time (and not so great the rest of the time, either!). That 5% crashed this year mostly occurred in two periods, when I got viruses and/or bronchitis (which used to happen 5 times a year, so again a huge improvement), and I had many months with 0 crash days. This measurement translates to a HUGE improvement in my quality of life. I no longer crash badly due to over-exertion, and I rarely crash from exposure to infections. Again, you can read my full summary of treatments that have been most effective for my son and I.
How do I know all this? Like I said, I like data! I keep track of how I feel each day on a 1 to 5 scale (1 being great & 5 being badly crashed/bedridden), as well as my exertion levels (also 1 to 5, with 5 being most active). I just jot those numbers on a calendar at the end of each day, along with any unusual symptoms, new treatments, etc. So, I've been tracking these numbers, with monthly and yearly averages, since I first got sick in 2002. I also look at % of time spent crashed (a 4 or 5 on my scale). This data also helps me to tell whether a new treatment is helping. If you're not as analytical as I am (I suspect few people are!), you can just jot down the numbers and notes at the end of each day and use it to see patterns in push-crash, whether a new treatment is helping or not, and other information to help manage your illness day-to-day.

Objectives and Targets for 2020
With my process, my Lifetime Goals mostly stay the same, but my specific objectives and targets may change from year to year (or even month to month).

Many of my objectives and targets do stay the same from year to year, like date nights with my husband, time with my friends, resting when my symptoms flare, etc. My writing goals for 2020 are significantly different, with the book being published (and another in the works, on ME/CFS treatments), but I won't bore you with all those details.

Here, I will just highlight the objectives and targets for 2020 under my Health goal:

1. Try New Treatments (this is an objective every year - I never stop searching for things that will help my son and I to improve our health & our ability to function). I was entirely focused on my son in 2019, after he pretty much hit bottom and moved back home in May (you can read more about his new symptoms, diagnoses and treatments here). That means I sort of ignored my own health, maintaining the treatments and routines I was already doing but not trying much new for myself.

2. Take Care of Myself:

  • Rest when symptoms flare (3 or higher on my scale)
  • Do 2 quiet things just for myself each week (no multi-tasking!)
  • No computer after 7 pm
  • Do 2 fun things each week that are not TV
  • Take one "day off" each month
3. Improve Stamina (again, only possible because I first treated exercise intolerance)
  • I am continuing my goals of 10 min of yoga each morning, walk 4 times a week, and do some muscle work (usually lying on the ground to keep my HR down) 4 times a week. I had some tough times in 2019 when I couldn't do much due to back and shoulder pain, so I am working my way back to where I was. I have successfully improved both strength and stamina these last few years!
  • I am going to try again at doing a longer yoga session (30 min) once a month. I did not do this as planned in 2019, but I really think it will help with flexibility and my ongoing back issues.
  • Walk a 5k - yes, really! A friend with ME/CFS inspired me, and I am ready. It was a goal in 2019, but again, my focus was on my son and by the time I was ready, it was too cold out. in the spring!

We are each at a very different place in our illness journeys, even when we have the same illness, so your goals, objectives, and targets will necessarily be different than mine, but I hope that sharing my goals and progress with you will inspire you to embark on a similar process for yourself. This helps me to actually achieve my goals, instead of looking back at the end of each year and realizing that nothing changed (which is what I used to do!)

Have you set any goals or objectives for yourself for 2020? How was 2019 for you? What process do YOU use at the start of a new year? Please share in the comments below! 

Here's to a happy & healthy 2020 for us all, no matter how you approach it!

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: 5 Ways to Start the New Year Right!

Happy New Year!

As I mentioned in my last Weekly Inspiration post, Happy (Almost) New Year!, I love the start of a new year and the feeling of fresh possibilities it brings. In that post (at the link), I outline how I start my own new year, by reviewing last year, revisiting my lifetime goals, and setting new (or continuing) objectives and targets for the new year. I'm just about done with that process and immersed myself in data this week (yay!) and will share the highlights of my progress (or lack thereof) in 2019 and my goals for 2020 later this week. That post includes links to step-by-step instructions on how you, too, can set achievable goals or change habits (baby steps!) in the new year.

But, I recognize that everyone is different, and the way that I start off a new year isn't for everyone. In this post, I am sharing four additional great ideas for starting your new year off right, whatever that means for you! Take a look at these ideas for kicking off the new year and choose what is most enticing or meaningful to you:

Happiness Calendar for January
Yesterday, I came across this Happiness Calendar on Bonnie's Books blog and instantly loved it! It's a calendar for this first month of the year with a simple activity on each day to boost your happiness. They are all things that even those with chronic illness can do (or easily modify for your own needs) that will help to boost your happiness in ways that will carry over to the rest of the new year! For instance, January 1 was "Find 3 good things to look forward to this year," and January 2 was "Make time to do something kind for yourself." Check out the full calendar at the link and bookmark it or print it for yourself. There is plenty of inspiration here to kick your year off well!

6 Steps to Write Your 2020
Chronic illness blogger Invisibly Me has a wonderful new year post called 6 Steps to Write Your 2020. While she includes some similar steps to my own process of reviewing the past year and planning for the new year, this post has some unique ideas and inspiration to help you start your new year off in a positive way - "new year, new perspective," as she says. She's got some great tips specifically for those with chronic illness on how to make this a good year for you.

How Will You Show Yourself Some Surefire Compassion in the New Year?
Another chronic illness blogger, Crafts, Chronic Illness, and Adulting has this inspirational post on How Will You Show Yourself Some Surefire Compassion in the New Year? that we can all use! What better way to start the new year than by being kinder to yourself and caring for yourself? Check out her post for some great ideas and inspiration.

All It Takes Is Intention and Extreme Permissiveness
Julie, aka the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, re-shared a great new year's post from last year (originally an article she wrote for ProHealth) with an entirely different approach to the new year, All It Takes Is Intention and Extreme Permissiveness. In it, she outlines a gentler way to look at the new year, with self-care the uppermost priority and a focus on listening to your body. Boy, do I need this one!

How do YOU plan to start the new year? Do you have your own planning process or way to refocus on your priorities? Please share in the comments!

Happy New Year to all! Here's to a healthy and happy 2020 for us all.