Thursday, December 23, 2021

Movies and TV for the Holidays (or Not!)

Whether you enjoy watching holiday-themed TV and movies at this time of year or are just looking for something warm and uplifting (and not holiday-themed) to watch on a rest day (or a nice, quiet movie night with your family), there are lots of great options.

Holiday Viewing

I'm not much into the modern holiday movie trend, watching Lifetime and Hallmark and other similar movies like so many of my friends do. I tend to prefer the classics. I cry every single Christmas Eve when we watch It's a Wonderful Life, and we decorate cookies with our closest friends (even though our "kids" are now all in their 20's) and then watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original cartoon, with Boris Karloff, of course!) every year at this time. I am always up for a rewatch of Miracle on 34th Street (again, the original) or the newer but just as classic Love, Actually or The Holiday, starring Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Jack Black in a funny house-swapping romance.

However, I did end up watching two new holiday movies last year at this time, on some sick days. Holidate was a fun romcom, with plenty of humor and a good dose of snark. It's not only about Christmas and New Year's Eve but about all of the holidays, when a man and woman who just met decide to be each other's "holidate" to take the pressure off at gatherings of family and friends. You can check out my review and a trailer here.

My husband and I also watched Happiest Season last year, a new kind of take on the holiday romcom, with an all-star cast. Harper invites her girlfriend, Abby, to come home with her for Christmas and meet her family. The only problem is that her family doesn't know she's gay! Oh, and her father is running for public office on a platform of "family values." There are lots of laughs and farce in this fun movie but also plenty of warmth. We both enjoyed it as a nice, light holiday escape. My review and the trailer are at the link.

I even watched a TV series holiday romcom last year! I was sorting a huge box and a suitcase full of old photos to make a photo book for my father-in-law, so I spread everything out on the family room floor and binged Dash and Lily, a quick 8-episode show that takes place over Christmas and New Year's in New York. The two main characters are young people following clues all over the city (it starts in a bookstore, which of course I loved) until they finally meet in person. The holiday spirit is on full display in one iconic New York scene after another, and it is pure seasonal fun! My full review and the trailer are here.



Non-Holiday Viewing

If you'd prefer to set all that seasonal stuff aside and just lose yourself in a really good movie or TV series, here are some of our all-time favorites that are fun, funny, warm, and uplifting.

On New Year's Eve last year, my husband and I watched Peanut Butter Falcon, and we both loved everything about it! It's about a 23-year-old man with Down's Syndrome who escapes from the nursing home where he's been living (with some help from an elderly friend) and ends up connecting with a guy on the run for different reasons. It's a funny, heartwarming movie about family, friendship, and healing that left us both smiling from ear to ear. I didn't review it until 2021, so I think it will be my #1 movie of the year! Review and trailer here.


Another movie at the start of the year that surprised us was Palmer, starring Justin Timberlake, about an ex-con who ends up caring for the half-abandoned little boy next door who likes dolls and pretty things. It's another odd couple story, but an entirely different one. It had us both laughing out loud and crying--highly recommended. Review and trailer here.


One more heartwarming, funny movie that I absolutely loved was Hello, My Name Is Doris, starring Sally Field. She is outstanding in this role as an older, eccentric woman who gets a crush on a young guy in her office and enjoys massive, much-needed changes in her life as a result. I watched it with two friends, and we all loved it. Review and trailer here.

I was just proofreading and ready to post this when I remembered another great movie that will lift your spirits and put a smile on your face! Our top movie of the year in 2020 was Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It's actually another "odd couple" sort of story but totally unique. In New Zealand, an overweight aboriginal teen boy, Ricky, is taken in by foster parents. He's used to being abandoned and unwanted, but a series of events and a tragedy lead to Ricky going on the run in the outback with Hec, his foster "uncle." This movie is hilarious, action-packed, and full of heart, too. It really has everything.

And, you can always check my Movies tab for lots more reviews of movies in a wide variety of genres, for whatever you're in the mood for!


Here are a few TV recommendations if you want to really get immersed in a fabulous story with wonderful characters. Again, reviews and trailers and where to watch at the links.

Like the rest of the world, we loved The Queen's Gambit. It's an amazing story with an excellent cast but also so much fun to watch, with the bright colors, fashions, and decor of the 60's and 70's.

My husband and I also become totally absorbed by Veronica Mars, starring Kristen Bell. This teen detective show has plenty of suspense and action but also has a sense of humor, amidst its darkness. You can watch the original first two seasons, a movie, and a final, third season (set 10 years after the end of season two) that they made because of demand from fans.

Similarly, Only Murders in the Building is a newer show that also combines murder, suspense, and humor, with an outstanding cast. We can't wait for season two!

I just finished watching Maid, and it blew me away! Based on a true story of a young mother who suddenly finds herself (and her adorable daughter) homeless, it is raw and powerful but also warm and uplifting, with excellent acting.

And if you want something a little lighter, I also just finished watching The Big Leap, which is a fictional show about a reality dance competition. There is plenty of drama here behind the scenes with the contestants (and the show's crew), but every episode includes heart-soaring dance scenes to leave you feeling good.

You can find many more TV reviews, in all genres under my TV Reviews tab.

I hope you enjoy a relaxing, low-stress holiday week with plenty of downtime!

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Weekly Inspiration: Chronic Illness Holiday Tips and Support (and Fun!)

You may have noticed I haven't been writing many blog posts lately--I have been seriously overwhelmed. Besides the usual holiday craziness this time of year, we had a family funeral in Buffalo (an 8-hour drive each way) the week before Thanksgiving, our Thanksgiving trip to Rochester (another 8 hours each way), plus a feature article due to an editor in December, and today, a book signing at a wonderful indie bookstore two hours' away at the beach. That was actually a lot of fun today, and I made some new connections, met other people with chronic illnesses (and sold a few books), but it's just been super busy for me. We did manage to get our tree up last week! So, I've had very little time for blogging.

Then I realized I don't have to write anything new because there are so many wonderful holiday-themed posts out there, written by other bloggers! So, here's a great collection of blog posts, including some excellent advice and helpful tips for managing (and enjoying) the holiday season ... and some laughs and fun, too! These are all from others with chronic illness whose blogs and other writings I enjoy. I hope you do, too!

First, my own article (and a chapter in my book), Managing Family Relationships--Holidays and Beyond. I often find this to be the most challenging aspect of the season for me and the practices I outline in this article have helped me. I hope they help you, too.


Toni Bernhard, a good friend of mine who got ME/CFS about the same time that I did, has written three outstanding books on living with chronic illness (check out my reviews in my 5 Inspiring Books post) and writes a regular column, Turning Straw into Gold, about living with chronic illness for Psychology Today. In this column, Surviving the Holidays When You're Chronically Ill, Toni offers several excellent tips for managing the holiday season, including family, gifts, cooking, expectations, and more. As usual, Toni is incredibly insightful and ... well, brilliant! In fact, my husband and I just took one of her tips to heart this weekend, dumped our plans for a huge turkey dinner for Christmas and opted for something much simpler with a lot less work--we are both less stressed now and actually looking forward to the day!


Over at Navigating the Storms: Thriving in the Midst of Disabilities blog, she has a helpful holiday post, Let's Use Planning to Make a Beautiful Christmas! She provides step-by-step ideas for planning ahead to manage the season even with limitations, so you and your family can still enjoy the holidays together, with less stress and fatigue.


Sheryl at A Chronic Voice blog has put together a comprehensive post, 3 Important Holiday Checklists for Those with Chronic Illness (and Their Supporters) that is chock-full of great advice! Sheryl has checklists for pre-holiday preparation, self-care during the holidays, and what your supporters can do to help, all focused on those of us living with limitations who may struggle during this hectic time of year. This post is loaded with great tips and advice.


On the blog My Medical Musings: A Life of Love, Laughter, Faith and Hope, she has a wonderful new holiday post, Have Yourself a Merry Little "Chronic" Christmas. This thoughtful and insightful post includes plenty of practical tips and helpful advice, but it is also kind and supportive, offering emotional support to those of us who probably can't do all that we want to but who still want to enjoy the holidays.

And, now for some fun! Rebecca at Strength and Sunshine blog has a recipe for Peppermint Bark Popcorn ... and it's gluten-free and can be made vegan! It uses only 5 ingredients, takes just 10 minutes to make, and looks delicious. Sounds like the perfect treat for many of us with chronic illness. (Note that many brands of chocolate chips contain dairy. We love Enjoy Life brand of dairy-free chocolate chips.) Mmmm ... we might have to try this one--perfect for a holiday movie night!


Finally, with all the holiday stress, you might need a few laughs! Miss Diagnoses: Life with Multiple Ailments has a fun post full of cartoons about If Santa Had Brain Fog. She's a talented cartoonist and has come up with a whole series of funny vignettes about poor Santa dealing with the effects of brain fog as he makes his rounds. Check it out and enjoy some Ho-Ho-Ho's for yourself!

I hope you enjoyed these wonderful blog posts and articles as much as I did!

Enjoy the holiday season!

Friday, December 10, 2021

Book Signing in Rehoboth Beach, DE

I'm happy to announce I will be doing a book signing this month, on Sunday, December 19 from 9-11 am at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We love both the town and the great independent bookstore, so I'm looking forward to this!

If you are in the area and able to manage an outing, stop by to say hello!

And if you want more information on my book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness, this page has all the details, including a summary, review excerpts, and links to order it. It is available everywhere, in bookstores, online, and in all e-book formats.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

TV Tuesday: Maid

My husband went on a rare business trip last month, so I started a just-for-me show I'd been dying to watch: Maid on Netflix, a limited series based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Stephanie Land. It more than lived up to the rave reviews I've been hearing. I finished it today with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.

Twenty-eight-year-old Alex is smart and has a bright future ahead: she's been accepted to the writing program at University of Montana at Missoula. But a casual relationship turns into an unplanned pregnancy, and soon Alex finds herself trapped in a trailer with Sean and their young daughter, Maddy. Alex loves Maddy with all her heart and loves being her mother, but Sean drinks heavily every night and often loses his temper. He's never actually hurt Alex or Maddy, but the night that he throws a glass bowl and narrowly misses Alex's head, she realizes they are in danger. She and Maddy leave in the middle of the night, and Alex is determined not to return. She soon finds, though, that life is extremely difficult for a young single mother on her own. She enters the impossibly complex web of government programs that sound good in theory but don't work in practice. She needs a job to qualify for aid, but she can't get a job without an address. A home for victims of domestic violence is their saving grace, run by a kind, older woman named Denise, though they spend some nights in their car and one awful night on the floor of the ferry terminal. Alex is determined to find a job and gets hired by a cleaning service but must provide her own cleaning supplies, which uses up every penny of the meager cash she has. She also needs to find care for Maddy while she works. She spends her days cleaning the homes of wealthy couples and families who treat her like a non-person. In addition, Alex is estranged from her father, and her mother has untreated bipolar disorder; Alex has been taking care of her since she was six years old. Alex endures challenge after challenge, and just when things seem stable, something else happens to pull the rug out from under her. But she is determined to not only make a life for her herself but to protect her beloved daughter, too.

Wow. This show is so wonderful. It's a moving, powerful story made all the more impactful by the fact that it's based on a true story. The casting is perfect, with Margaret Qualley playing Alex, and Andie MacDowell (her real-life mother) as her unstable mother, Paula. Those two, and the rest of the cast, are outstanding in their roles, as is little Rylea Nevaeh Whittet as Maddy. The relationship between Alex and Maddy is heart-warming and feels authentic. The gorgeous setting, on the Washington coast and nearby islands, provides a beautiful backdrop for this often raw story of survival. There are moments of despair, countered by moments of victory, and I was rooting for Alex every step of the way. Alex and Paula and Maddy feel real to me, and their story is poignant, heart-breaking, and ultimately triumphant. It's made all the more powerful by the understanding that Alex's story is the story of so many other abused women and single mothers struggling to survive.

Maid is a Netflix exclusive.