Tuesday, June 30, 2020

TV Tuesday: Quiz

Among the few new offerings on cable TV this summer is Quiz, a limited series (just three episodes) based on the true story of a couple who cheated on Britain's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? show ... or did they? We enjoyed it recently.

Mark Bonnar plays Paul Smith, a network executive who gets excited about the new game show that's been pitched. Its creators say it will be like no other game show in TV history, with a top prize of a million pounds awarded to the contestant who can answer a series of multiple choice questions. He and his team finalize the details of the now-familiar (to us) Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and the show begins to air. Meanwhile, we see a married couple: Charles Ingram, played by Matthew Macfadyen, is a major in the British army, and his wife, Diana, played by Sian Clifford, is a huge fan of pub trivia games. She plays often with her brother, Adrian, played by Trystan Gravelle, and their dad is an even bigger trivia fan. So, Diana and Adrian are understandably excited about the new quiz show taking Britain by storm. They study it and connect with other trivia fans online. Soon there is a community of people obsessed by the show, with all kinds of tricks and tips on how to work the system to get accepted onto the show and then to get from the fastest finger chairs to the "hot seat." Adrian and Diana both manage to get on the show and earn some money, but Adrian is seriously in debt, and they convince Charles to go on the show, too. Using their knowledge from the group, they help him get on the show. Diana is in the audience, and another member of the uber-fan group, Tecwen, played by Michael Jibson, is in the fastest-finger seats up front--and later, a co-defendant in court. Charles wins the million pounds, but the show takes him, Diana, and Tecwen to court, saying that they worked together and cheated.

The action in the show, right from the start, moves back and forth between the trial and the earlier months leading up to the game show appearance, so the audience gradually gets a fuller picture of what happened while knowing that they end up in court. We also see both the contestants preparing, and a behind-the-scenes view of the TV crew creating the show. It's only a three-episode series, but it manages to tell an engaging and gripping story. I won't give away how the trial ends (though that is in the real-world news, if you look), but the show keeps you guessing and even ends on an ambiguous note. There is plenty of suspense surrounding the question: did they cheat or didn't they? We enjoyed this short but engrossing show based on an intriguing real-life story.

Quiz is available in the U.S. on AMC. We watched it On Demand through our cable company. It is also available for free on the AMC website. It is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $4.99 for the full season.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Movie Monday: The Lovebirds

I am so behind in reviewing the movies we've watched! It's almost impossible to find time to write a second blog post on Mondays, after writing my What Are You Reading post (but Movie Monday has such nice alliteration!). Anyway, here is a review for a recent release that we enjoyed last month, The Lovebirds, a mystery-action-romance (yeah, hard to categorize).

Kumail Nanjani stars as Jibran, and Issa Rae stars as his girlfriend, Leilani. The movie opens with their first date, showing how they connected immediately. Before long, though, several months have passed, and we see the perfect couple arguing before a night out together. They head out, dressed up for a dinner party at a friend's house, but both the evening and their fight are interrupted when a cyclist comes out of nowhere and bounces off their car windshield. The two are both stunned, but the cyclist quickly jumps up and rides off, and a guy, played by Paul Sparks, jumps into their car and commandeers it, saying he is a police officer. The chase scene that follows is exciting at first, until Jibran and Leilani realize he's not chasing the cyclist to make sure he's OK or arrest him, but to make sure he is dead (you can see some of this, hilariously, in the trailer below). The supposed cop takes off, leaving bystanders to conclude that Jibran and Leilani killed the cyclist. From then on, the two lovebirds are caught up in a crime caper, trying to find the guy, who they nickname Moustache, who is the real killer in order to clear their names. The run all over the city (New Orleans), changing into ridiculous disguises purchased at a convenience store, breaking into places, and trying to outrun the police, who are looking for them, and solve the crime themselves. Of course, this was not just a simple hit-and-run, and the two unwittingly find themselves stuck in a web of lies and secrets involving some of the most powerful people in the city.

This movie is a whole lot of fun, filled with action-packed scenes, hilarious lines, outrageous situations, and a sweet love story, too. I'm a big fan of Kumail Nanjani, who co-wrote and starred in The Big Sick, a rom-com that is the real-life story of how he and his wife, Emily, met (also recommended). I've been listening to--and loving--Kumail and Emily's podcast, Staying In, during the pandemic. His wonderful sense of humor comes through in this role, and Issa Rae, who I was less familiar with, is very funny here, too. The mystery itself is twisty and unexpected and takes the pair all over the city. The setting was a delight for us as well; we used to live in New Orleans and love to see it on the screen, and it's a fun location for this crazy comedy caper. Kumail and Issa have great chemistry in their roles, and it's refreshing to see an interracial couple on-screen who are both people of color. It's a fun romp, and we enjoyed watching it!

The Lovebirds was originally planned for a theatrical release but was switched to a Netflix release because of the pandemic, so it is available on Netflix.

Have you seen The Lovebirds yet? What did you think?

You'll get a glimpse of the movie's humor and action in this trailer:

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer 2020 TV Preview

The rest of 2020 is looking like a bit of a deserted wasteland for new network TV and even some popular streaming shows, since all shows had to suspend production in March. Many of our past summer favorites won't be around this year or are iffy:  
  • Instinct was cancelled after its second season (a shame--if you missed it, you can still catch the first two seasons on CBS All Access).
  • Ozark was already released in the spring (and we already finished season 3).
  • Stranger Things has been postponed until 2021. 
  • Younger (season 7) is still rumored to be coming this summer, though no date has been announced yet.
We are still watching and enjoying several shows that we started in the spring, including Blindspot, and a few that I mentioned in my Spring 2020 Preview (see trailers at the link): Quiz, The Good Fight, and Snowpiercer. We are also loving and continuing Better Call Saul, Dead to Me, and we're watching The Good Place and Star Trek: Discovery with our son. The Alienist is due back for a surprise second season, starting on July 26. Many of the others I just mentioned will be wrapping up soon, though.

So, our TV plan for summer 2020 is to try some new-to-us streaming shows! I'll mention a few of them here, with trailers, but if you have any other great shows for us to try, please leave a comment! (We have cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and CBS All Access.)

We watched the first episode of Tin Star last week, a thriller starring British actor Tim Roth as a police officer who moves his family to a small town in the Canadian Rockies, where an oil company begins to make trouble for him right from his first days on the job. Another favorite of ours, Christina Hendricks, stars as an oil company employee (i.e. bad guy). We are intrigued by the first episode and want to see more, but our son wants to watch it with us, so we're waiting for him to catch up (and the three of us have a few episodes left of Star Trek: Discovery to finish up first). It's available on Amazon and has two seasons so far.

On our son's advice, we also just started another show starring Tim Roth, Lie to Me. Here, he plays an FBI agent who specializes in knowing when people are lying. We loved the first episode--it has a kind of Mentalist vibe to it--and can't wait to watch more! It's a FOX show that ran for three seasons and is available on Amazon or free through IMDB (use the Amazon link to see the free option).

The Stranger is a new British show on Netflix about a stranger who comes to a town and stirs up trouble by revealing people's secrets. It looks like a good, suspenseful thriller, which we always enjoy, so we'll give it a try.

For a completely different tone, all four of us have been talking about wanting to try the much-publicized new Netflix show, Space Force starring Steve Carrell. This is a half-hour comedy (which is now incredibly ironic) that might be a bit too goofy for my husband and I, but we'll give it a try! The cast is top-notch.

We have been loving CBS All Access and are watching lots of great shows on it (including The Good Fight, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and all our favorite NCIS shows). We were reluctant to sign up for another streaming service, but it's been well worth the $5 a month. Another show we'd like to try on the service is the reboot of The Twilight Zone, with Jordan Peale as the narrator/host. Its second season starts this Thursday. I've heard from reviews that it's a bit uneven but that some episodes are excellent, so that sounds worth a try, since we are both big fans of the original! I think it looks pretty good, with some great casting.

What are YOU watching this summer? And what streaming shows should we try?

(Besides the shows/links included here, check out the TV Reviews tab for lots of options to try!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Interview with Rachel of Chronic Fatigue Sanity Blog

Hi, all! Trying to catch up a bit, as promised this weekend, though I am still quite worn out.

Back in May, I enjoyed a wonderful discussion with Rachel of the Chronic Fatigue Sanity blog. We only knew each other from our blogs and Twitter (Rachel's profile), where we often comment on each other's Tweets, so it was an absolute delight to meet her "in person" via Skype! She had asked to interview me after reading my book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our time together and agreed to stay in touch. We talked about my background, illness history of me and my family, tips for coping with chronic illness, and other topics from my book.

I can't imbed the video here (way beyond my meager technical abilities!), but you can watch the video at this link, and here is a still shot of the two of us from the beginning.

Hope you enjoy watching the interview/discussion as much as we enjoyed having it! It is always so comforting and supportive to "meet" and/or listen to someone else who shares your own experiences. Now you can "meet" both of us!

You can also follow me on Twitter or "like" this blog's Facebook page, to stay in touch and interact more!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: Get Outside!

Sorry the blog has been so quiet. My crash that started in March has begun to ease up a bit, but my energy and stamina are still lower than normal. I am behind in everything, including blogging, and trying to catch up. I started antivirals again last week for reactivated HHV-6, so I may have been further feeling the effects of those (you typically experience a period of worsening, called a Herx reaction, before feeling better).

So, there haven't been too many new posts here lately, except for lots of TV reviews (check them out - some great shows on now!) and an occasional Weekly Inspiration (see older ones at the link). I do hope to write a post this week with a more detailed update of my recent downturn, what testing showed, and treatments.

In the meantime, we are enjoying lovely weather here, and that's inspired me to talk about nature and getting outdoors today! We had a cold, wet May and then our temperatures soared up to the 90's (F) in June, but this weekend, we returned to perfect weather--highs in the 70's, lows in the 50's--which for me means we can turn off the air conditioning, and I can enjoy more time outdoors (I'm very heat intolerant these days). Just sitting near the open window in my recliner lifts my spirits!

Below is an excerpt from my new book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness, all about the restorative powers of nature. You can read more about my book or purchase it in print or on a number of different e-book platforms at this link. With feeling so poorly these past months, I often remind myself of what I learned in writing this chapter and how important it is to my physical and mental well-being to spend time outside every day.

This is an exact excerpt from the book, though I have added in some photos. Enjoy and then get outside!

The Restorative Power of Nature

Scientific studies have found that time spent in nature—even for as little as five minutes—reduces stress, improves creativity, reduces self-criticism, and increases kindness.[i] Spending time outdoors also has measurable physical effects, including reduced inflammation, improved mental clarity and memory, and reduced stress response. It even improves immune function, as measured by the improved function of the body’s natural killer cells, with quantifiable improvements lasting 30 days or more after time spent in nature.[ii] These are all very real physical improvements that everyone living with a chronic illness certainly needs.
Aside from scientific research, I know from my own experience that spending time outdoors feels rejuvenating, peaceful, and centering. Before I had ME/CFS, I loved outdoor activities, including long hikes, canoeing, camping, and backpacking. Much of that is beyond my limits now. However, my husband and I still enjoy camping (at our own slow pace), and various treatments for ME/CFS have allowed me to manage short hikes and kayaking. Spending time outdoors is still among my favorite things to do.
Even when I can’t be active, I still have a goal to spend at least 10 minutes each day outside. I lie in my reclining chair on our back deck, looking up at the sky and listening to the birds, and I instantly feel more relaxed. That small amount of time in nature in our own backyard makes me feel better.
Here are some ideas for how you, too, can experience the restorative effects of nature, even if you are mostly homebound.

Just a Few Minutes Outdoors Helps
Some research studies show positive physical and mental changes in people after only five minutes outdoors,[iii] so it doesn’t take much to make a difference! Try lying in a reclining chair or hammock in your yard/garden, patio, or deck. Just that simple change of scenery—from reclining on your normal bed or couch to reclining al fresco—can make you feel better and help you to tune into nature.

Leave the Devices Inside
Although I admit I do sometimes bring my laptop outside to write, you’ll get the most benefit from leaving the phone, tablet, laptop, and other devices inside. I usually don’t even play music when I am out on our deck because it drowns out the sounds of nature. Instead, bring a book or a crossword puzzle out with you, or just grab your pillow and maybe a blanket—and relax.

Immerse Yourself in Nature
With the electronic devices left inside, you can concentrate more fully on nature. You may be surprised at how much of the natural world you can experience from simply lying outside your home for a few minutes and at how restorative it can feel. Gaze up at the sky, noting its unique colors and the variations in light and shadow. Watch the clouds move across the sky, and observe their different types and shapes. Notice how the sky after a summer storm looks entirely different from the sky on a clear fall day. Look at the flowers and trees, appreciating their different colors and shapes and how they change with the seasons.
Listen for the sounds of birds singing and the breeze moving through the leaves of the trees. Smell the air. Breathe deeply and notice the aroma of dry fall leaves, damp earth after a spring rain, or the fragrance of summer blooms.
Focus yourself entirely on the natural world around you, blocking out the incessant noise of our modern life. Even just a few minutes of fully immersing yourself in nature can reduce stress, improve your sense of well-being, and bring positive physical changes.
If you can’t manage a few minutes lying outside, then open a window near your bed or couch (or just look through the glass) and try the same exercises to focus each of your senses on the outdoor world. Studies have shown that simply looking at pictures of nature has positive effects.[iv]

Managing a Longer Outdoor Experience
More extensive time spent outdoors beyond your own yard can bring even more and longer-lasting improvements.[v] That might be too much to manage for some people who are severely ill and housebound. However, many people with chronic illnesses can handle a longer or more immersive experience outdoors, especially after treating aspects of the disease and incorporating effective illness management to allow you to be more active without relapsing.
If you can manage it, take a stroll along your street or neighborhood and notice the trees, flowers, and sky. Even in a familiar place, you can appreciate the changes in weather and seasons. For a change of scenery, try going to a local park or nature center and taking a short walk.
If a walk is beyond your limits, ask a friend or family member to push your wheelchair along a paved path or to take you on a drive through the country. Roll down the window, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.
After treating orthostatic intolerance (OI) and wearing a heart rate monitor, I discovered I can handle a little bit of kayaking. Since it is done sitting down, my heart rate doesn’t jump up as high as when I am walking, and I can rest and just float whenever I need a break. Many parks with lakes or ponds rent canoes or kayaks. If you can’t manage paddling on your own, ask a friend or family member to bring you along in a tandem (two-person) canoe or kayak. Being out on the water is incredibly peaceful and calming.

If you’re up for a more extended outdoor adventure, you might want to try camping. Camping in our pop-up camper and spending more time outdoors than I can at home makes me feel relaxed and content. You don’t have to go far, either; look for local, state, or county parks with campgrounds. Many state parks and private campgrounds offer rental cabins or trailers, or you can rent, borrow, or buy a camper as your home-away-from-home. All public parks have handicapped campsites, and many have at least one wheelchair-accessible trail. You also provide your own food when camping, which helps when you have a restricted diet.

When camping, stick to your normal routines as much as possible. For me, that means an early bedtime and an afternoon nap. We also bring portable lounge chairs so I can recline around the campfire or with my book.
One of the best things about being away from home (even if it’s just a local park) is that I am away from all the usual household responsibilities. I can focus all my energy on relaxing, having fun, and enjoying my surroundings. I love my small daily doses of nature on my back deck, but spending a few hours or a few days immersed in nature elsewhere is truly rejuvenating.

Every chronically ill person is different and has unique needs, even if we have the same disease, but we can each find our own ways to incorporate nature into our lives. The payoff for a little time spent outside is huge, in terms of both emotional well-being and physical health.
So, go ahead! Put away the device you are reading this on and indulge in some time outdoors. Your mind and body will thank you.

[i] Tyrväinen L, Ojala A, et al, “The influence of urban green environments on stress relief measures: A field experiment,” Journal of Environmental Psychology: 38, pp. 19 (June 2014). Barton J, Pretty J, “What Is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health?Environmental Science and Technology: 44(10), pp. 3947–55 (2010).
[ii] Miyazaki Y, Lee J, Park BJ, et al, “Preventive medical effects of nature therapy,” Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi 66(4), pp. 651–6 (September 2011). Mao GX, Lan XG, et al, “Effects of short-term forest bathing on human health in a broad-leaved evergreen forest in Zheziang Province, China,” Biomedical and Environmental Sciences 25(3), pp. 317–24 (June 21012). Ryan RM, Weinstein N, et al, “Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature,” Journal of Environmental Psychology 30, pp. 15968 (November 3, 2009).
[iii] Barton J, Pretty J, “What Is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health?Environmental Science and Technology: 44(10), pp. 3947–55 (2010).
[iv] Ryan RM, Weinstein N, et al, “Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature,” Journal of Environmental Psychology 30, pp. 159–68 (November 3, 2009). Berman MG, Jonides J, Kaplan S, “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature,” Psychological Science 19(12), pp. 1207–12 (December 1, 2008).
[v] Qing L, “Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function,Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine 15(1), pp. 9–17 (January 2010). Atchley RA, Strayer DL, Atchley P, “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Wild Settings,PLoS ONE7(12) e51474 (December 12, 2012).

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

TV Tuesday: The Good Place

Once again, people have been telling us how great a show is for years, but we kept thinking, "Naw, it doesn't sound like we'd like it." We finally tried The Good Place, and my husband, son, and I all love it! Why did we wait so long to try it? We did the same thing with Breaking Bad. I guess we are slow learners. The three of us are enjoying every episode of this smart, funny, warm show about the afterlife.

In the first episode, Eleanor Shellstrop, played by Kristen Bell, suddenly finds herself in the Good Place, after dying on earth. A being named Michael, played by Ted Danson, is in charge of the "neighborhood" that Eleanor has been assigned to. Michael has taken on a human form to make the residents feel at ease with him and is fascinated with all aspects of humanity (though he doesn't always understand them). Eleanor is assigned to her dream house, which comes as a bit of a surprise to her, and her soul mate, a prior philosophy professor named Chidi, played by William Jackson Harper. The surprise is all his, though, when Eleanor admits to him that there's been a mistake, and she doesn't belong there. She was actually a terrible person on earth and did horrible things. She soon realizes, though, that the Good Place is really nice, and she'd much prefer to stay there than get transferred to the Bad Place. She convinces Chidi to help her become a good person, and they embark on an educational journey together, to teach Eleanor all about philosophy and various meanings of leading a good life, while she practices what she's learning. Their next-door neighbors are Tahani, played by Jameela Jamil, a formerly wealthy young philanthropist with a posh British accent, and her soul-mate, a former Buddhist monk, played by Manny Jacinto, who has taken a vow of silence. Eleanor must become a good person and earn her right to stay in the Good Place, and Michael can't know about the mistake.

I'd heard the basic outline of the plot many times before, but what I didn't realize was how clever and funny the writing was, especially in the hands of this talented cast. We all love Kristen Bell in everything she's been in, and I hadn't seen Ted Danson in much since his Cheers days, though my son enjoyed him in CSI. We also didn't expect the warmth of the show; its humor is smart and is combined with an unexpected depth of emotion. Though the setting is silly, cartoonish, and even farcical at times, you really come to care about the characters and what happens to them. It's a brilliant combination that we are thoroughly enjoying.

We are on the last episode of the first season of The Good Place. There are four seasons in all (you may have heard about its big finale just this spring). We are watching it on Netflix. It's an NBC show, so you can also catch it on the new Peacock streaming service or the latest season On Demand or free on the NBC website. You can also stream it on Amazon; most episodes are $1.99 or $19.99 for a full season.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

TV Tuesday: Snowpiercer

In this time when Hollywood production has come to a screeching halt, and some of our favorite spring TV shows had to end early because they ran out of episodes, a new show premier is something to get excited about! We recently started watching Snowpiercer, a brand-new TNT show that began on May 17. From the creator of Orphan Black (one of our all-time favorites), it is based on a series of graphic novels published in France over 30 years ago (and the resulting movie adaptation that was released in 2013). We've only just begun watching it but are already hooked on this suspenseful, original post-apocalyptic mystery drama.

In this world, global scientists trying to stem climate change inadvertently went too far and created a new Ice Age, with temperatures plunging down to -120 degrees Fahrenheit and below. With the planet now unlivable for humans, a mysterious, wealthy benefactor named Mr. Wilford created a 1,001-car supertrain that circumnavigates the globe (no word on how all those tracks were laid...). The show begins almost seven years after the train departed. Since it never stops, the train is an intricate and ingeniously-designed closed system, where everything is re-used and recycled and nothing is wasted. Within the train's confines is a strictly regulated class society, with official first through fourth classes. As it left the station more than six years ago, though, a group of people pushed their way onboard into the storage areas at the back, creating an inadvertent fifth class, now known as the Tailies. One day, Melanie, played by Jennifer Connelley, who is the ship's "voice" in its daily announcements, appears in the Tail with a shocking request. She pulls one member of the group, Andre, played by Daveed Diggs, out to come up-train with her. In his pre-apocalypse life, Andre was a police detective. They need him now to solve a particularly brutal murder, in order to keep peace among the rest of the train. Another murder with a similar M.O. was committed years ago, and they now realize they pinned it on the wrong person (she's been serving her sentence frozen in a drawer and will now be thawed out and released).

The show has cleverly created a multi-layered story: that of the train itself and its residents and that of a murder mystery which must be solved. In bringing the detective up from the Tail, the inequities of class are highlighted for the audience, as we see the different classes on the train through Andre's eyes, for the first time, as he travels up-train to solve the murder. Every aspect of life on the train is unique and fascinating, from its nightclub cars to its first-class dining rooms to its internal "ocean," where fresh sea urchin and other delicacies can be harvested. The sci fi aspects are intriguing as well, as the train's closed systems are explored, though the main focus of the show is as a drama of humanity and a murder mystery. The supporting cast is great, and both Connelly and Diggs are excellent in their leading roles, with some intrigue introduced right from the first episode. We have only watched two episodes so far, but we are enjoying it and finding it a gripping story with interesting characters and an engaging setting. We can't wait to see what happens next!

Snowpiercer is currently airing on TNT, with three episodes (out of ten) shown so far, and a second season already approved. You can find it On Demand, if you get cable, or for free on the TNT website (the website also includes a cool video tour of the train's 1001 cars). You can also watch it on Amazon, where the first episode is free and subsequent episodes are $1.99 each or $17.99 for the entire season. Both Netflix and Amazon also carry the movie, which I have heard is quite different than the TV show (darker and more violent, without the murder mystery aspect).

Have you watched Snowpiercer yet?