Saturday, February 26, 2022

Celebrate Mardi Gras - The Easy Way

It's Mardi Gras weekend! We used to live in New Orleans, so this is a major holiday at out house, as you may have heard in my recent video, Celebrate Everything, Big and Small. We usually celebrate on Saturday and again on Tuesday. Before the pandemic, we had an annual party with a few friends (many of whom also lived in New Orleans when we did) on Saturday. Tonight it will be a smaller Zoom gathering, but I have a pot of jambalaya cooking on the stove, a fresh King Cake from a local bakery on the counter, plus we'll pick up some steamed shrimp and trade some jambalaya for bread pudding with some friends! Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, we will finish off the season with our annual tradition of Popeye's at a friend's house (yes, Popeye's is authentic Louisiana food!).

Want to join the fun? Here is a collection of ways to celebrate Mardi Gras, New Orleans, and Louisiana today...including food, recipes, travel tips, movies & TV shows, and, of course, some great books! You can also check out my column in Shelf Awareness that features books about and set in New Orleans, Armchair Travel: Destination New Orleans.
Great Adult Books Set In/About Louisiana (additional titles in my article linked above):
Middle-Grade and Teen/YA Books Set In/About Louisiana:
  • Ruined by Paula Morris - a teen/YA mystery/ghost story set in New Orleans (the perfect setting for a ghost story!)
  • The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman - a compelling middle-grade historical fiction adventure (with a touch of time travel), where a girl from 1960 travels back to 1860 Louisiana
  • Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick - a middle-grade novel about Hurricane Katrina - powerful and gripping
  • Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys - most people are familiar with her two YA novels set during WWII (Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea), but this historical novel is set in New Orleans in 1950

Movies & TV Shows
  • Chef  - a wonderful, uplifting movie about a family food truck that travels from Miami to LA, with a stop in New Orleans, of course! My favorite movie of the year in 2015.
  • NCIS: New Orleans - though it's a crime show, it includes many scenes of New Orleans, mention of local restaurants and landmarks, and other local tidbits, plus some great local music. They usually do a Mardi Gras episode once a season, for extra fun. It's streaming on Paramount Plus (which used to be CBS All Access).
  • Treme - we LOVED this HBO show, which we were somehow able to watch on cable at one point. You can see it now streaming on HBO Max or Hulu.
  • You can also check out some classic movies and modern classics with New Orleans settings, like A Streetcar Named Desire and The Big Easy.
  • Or tune in to watch parades and other scenes in New Orleans streaming live (or if you missed the parades, some great video clips) at
One of the locals in Louisiana
All this talk of Louisiana making you want to visit? I have written articles about visiting New Orleans  and Exploring Cajun Country - check them out and start planning your trip (plenty of food recommendations in both!). I'm certainly ready to go back!


Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
Notice that many of the books and movies about Louisiana are focused on FOOD? Yes, Louisiana - and especially New Orleans - is known for its amazing, unique food. This blog post on how to celebrate Mardi Gras includes my own recipes for some classic Louisiana dishes, plus food you can grab locally today and webcams where you can vicariously experience Mardi Gras - there are plenty of suggestions in this post that you can still manage to do between now and Tuesday. Or save it for later if you like - we eat this food all year round. 

NOTE that Zapp's potato chips - which you absolutely MUST try) have been bought out by PA-chip maker Utz, so you don't have to get them by mail-order anymore. We can now find them in local stores like Wawa here in Delaware....though we still ordered a carton of assorted flavors for Mardi Gras! (Cajun Crawtator and Cajun Dill are the best.)


Me & my sons, about 10 years ago


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

What To Do If You Get COVID

NOTE: I am not a medical expert. In this blog post, my goal is to share with you my own experiences and those of my family, along with research I have done. As always, check with your doctor before trying anything new.

Shortly after writing my recent post on My Experiences with COVID and ME/CFS, I realized I had left out some of the most important information: what I had done (and what treatments are available) to treat COVID and prevent side effects, severe COVID, or a worsening of my ME/CFS. So, that's what this post will cover.

To clarify, this post is relevant for:

  • Anyone who has ME/CFS or long COVID (which is usually ME/CFS)
  • Anyone, even without underlying medical conditions, who gets COVID
  • Anyone who had COVID and is suffering from lingering symptoms, i.e. long COVID


With ME/CFS, Prepare Before You Get COVID

If you have ME/CFS, I'm sure you're aware by now that COVID presents some serious possible effects, beyond those in the general population. Our immune systems don't work normally and we don't fight infections the way we should. Also, as anyone with ME/CFS has probably experienced, just being exposed to even a mild infection, like a cold, can often trigger a long-term worsening of all of our usual symptoms (this is because our immune systems are over-reacting, even after the infection clears up). 

COVID, however, is proving to be an even stronger trigger than most infections. In studies, for most common infections that can trigger ME/CFS to start--like mono/glandular fever, parvovirus, Lyme disease, and others--about 10% of those who get infected do not recover but go on to develop ME/CFS. So far, studies show that between 30-50% of those who get COVID do not fully recover but develop lingering symptoms (that are often ME/CFS). Those numbers are stunning! This failure to recover after the infection clears is what is being called "long COVID" in the media.

So, if you already have ME/CFS and then get COVID, your chances of lingering symptoms and/or a long-term worsening of your underlying disease are quite high.


Fully vaccinated in June!

For that reason, it makes sense to do everything possible to avoid getting COVID (for everyone because even a very healthy person could develop long COVID), and especially if you already have ME/CFS. That includes getting vaccinated, if you and your doctor decide it is safe for you to do so. That is an entirely different topic that I have already covered here on the blog. Refer to My Experiences with COVID and ME/CFS for links to my three posts on deciding whether to get the vaccine and how to prepare first. I did get the first two vaccines but later tests showed that I did not make many antibodies. In addition to considering vaccines, wear masks (experts now recommend medical/surgical masks or KN-95's). And, of course, it is still wise to avoid crowds or any groups without masks.

Double-masked now

If you have ME/CFS and have not gotten COVID yet, congratulations! Do everything you can now to give yourself a better chance of recovering if you do get it. That includes topics covered in my vaccine prep post, like:

In other words, do as much as you can to improve your overall condition, which will improve your life and reduce the chance of a worsening if you get COVID. This post summarizes all of the treatments that have been effective for my sons and I. Many of these treatments in that post and listed above are inexpensive and readily available. Some can even be tried without a doctor, if you don't have a cooperative doctor willing to help you. I am mostly recovered from COVID, after six weeks, except for slightly reduced energy/stamina that are slowly improving. I believe that all of these treatments I did over the previous years to improve my overall condition with ME/CFS helped me to recover more quickly.


For Anyone: What To Do If You Get COVID

Whether you have ME/CFS or not, there are some simple things you can do at the first signs of COVID infection to prevent serious complications and/or lingering symptoms (long COVID or a worsening of your ME/CFS). There are also some newer treatments that are available, if you can get access to them. Let's start with those.

Approved, Effective Treatments for COVID

There are now two main types of treatments available for COVID that are meant to be used early in the infection at home and to prevent complications and hospitalization:

  • Oral COVID Antivirals (Paxlovid and molnupiravir - see article)
  • Monoclonal Antibodies

These treatments are intended for use in those at increased risk for severe illness (that would include those with asthma and other lung conditions, older adults, and yes, those with ME/CFS or other immune issues) and are intended to be used to help prevent hospitalizations. 

The problem? Since the holiday surge, they have been mostly unavailable. The two new antivirals were released around Christmas-time and were immediately sold out everywhere--too much demand and not enough initial supply. While monoclonal antibodies are not that new, they have also been unavailable for most patients recently, with limited supplies being used for those already in hospitals. My 96-year-old father-in-law is in a nursing home, and he and I both got COVID the first week of January. We could not get either of these treatments for either of us, not even through the nursing home! Hopefully, those supply issues will be worked out, as more is manufactured and infection rates drop in the spring. My primary care doctor said the next shipments of the antivirals are expected in March.

Alternative Treatments

With the official, approved treatments unavailable, some doctors have turned to alternatives. See the NIH page on COVID antiviral treatments for details and talk to your doctor:

  • Ivermectin - despite all the media controversy, this antiparasitic drug has shown some effectiveness in limited trials in other countries, but there have been no controlled studies proving its effectiveness. Some doctors are prescribing it, but it is also widely unavailable due to increased demand.
  • Fluvoxamine - this SSRI (anti-depressant) showed some effectiveness in limiting serious complications in a study in Brazil. My own doctor prescribed a short course for me for 10 days, when we determined that antivirals and monoclonal antibodies were unavailable.

At-Home Treatments

With most cases of COVID, primary symptoms include chest congestion, cough, chest tightness, and sometimes sinus congestion and/or shortness of breath (plus severe fatigue). My son and I both had most of that, except for shortness of breath. You want to prevent those symptoms from becoming severe and doing long-term damage to your lungs and heart. These simple over-the-counter or prescription remedies can help to keep sinuses and lungs clear and ease symptoms:

  • Mucinex 12-hour Maximum Strength (1200 mg extended-release guaifenesin) - thins mucus to keep it from collecting in sinuses and lungs and becoming infected - we use it often for allergies and colds, to prevent bronchitis and sinus infection, but we took it round-the-clock (every 12 hours) while we had COVID. Get the kind I linked to above, with no other ingredients in it.
  • For sinus congestion, phenylephrine (mild decongestant, sold as Sudafed PE or decongestant PE) or pseudoephedrine (strong decongestant, often sold as Sudafed or decongestant - can't be sold online because you must show ID at the drugstore). Pseudoephedrine can have some side effects, as it constricts blood vessels (which can actually help OI) and is stimulating, so save it for severe congestion. I take PE daily for allergies but only take pseudoephedrine when I get a bad headache (that vaso-constriction makes it very effective for headaches).
  • Throat lozenges/cough drops for cough, sore throat, and throat irritation due to cough. I lost my voice during COVID from the constant coughing, and these were very soothing and allowed me to sleep. Be sure they are SUGAR-FREE or they can worsen yeast overgrowth (which many with ME/CFS have) and make you feel worse. I like Hall's Sugar-Free Lemon Honey or Ricola Sugar-Free Lemon Mint herbal drops (my new favorite), but they come in all kinds of flavors.
  • Albuterol inhaler (prescription required) for chest tightness, cough, congestion, or shortness of breath - these require a prescription from your doctor but can provide extra relief (and prevention of serious complications) by dilating (opening up) bronchial pathways. I already had one for bronchitis, and I used it a few times at bedtime so that I could fall asleep without having a coughing fit. If breathing in deeply makes you start coughing, you may need an inhaler.
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for reducing fever. Ibuprofen will also reduce inflammation. Follow dosing guidelines, especially with acetaminophen, which can damage the liver if you use too much.
  • AVOID oral steroids or a steroid inhaler, unless your doctor deems them absolutely necessary and then only use for a short period. Steroids suppress the immune system so are not a good idea when fighting an infection or when you have ME/CFS (in which parts of the immune system are already suppressed). They can be used for short periods to decrease inflammation.
  • Get an inexpensive Pulse Oximeter to monitor your blood oxygen saturation level. If it dips below 90%, you should call your doctor and/or go to the emergency room.
  • Watch for signs of secondary bacterial infections, like bronchitis or sinus infection, and treat with antibiotics before they get serious. Although my primary care doctor said they are not seeing a lot of secondary bacterial infections with COVID generally, those with ME/CFS tend to be more susceptible to bacterial infections (our dysfunctional immune systems usually over-react to viruses but under-react to bacteria). Bacterial infections need immediate treatment with antibiotics to prevent them from developing into something even worse, like pneumonia. In my case, since I have a long history of bacterial bronchitis, my doctor started me on Zithromax (antibiotic that works against bronchitis) the first day I woke up with chest congestion and called her--not for COVID (it's a virus) but because my congestion was very likely to develop into bronchitis, given my history. If you suspect a secondary infection, like bronchitis or sinus infection, call your doctor immediately.
  • Lots and lots of fluids. You can easily get dehydrated when you are sick, which can make everything worse. Plus, lots of fluids--especially hot herbal tea with a touch of honey in it--can soothe a sore throat. My favorites are Celestial Seasonings Zinger herbal teas.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND REST!! After 20 years with ME/CFS, I thought I knew fatigue, but wow, COVID knocked me out. I mostly slept and ate for 2-3 weeks (and my healthy son was very sick for a week). I am still, six weeks later, needing more sleep at night than usual, have lower energy, and more post-exertional malaise (PEM) than before COVID. All of this is getting better but slowly. Forget about doing anything at all and rest as much as your body needs.

Those are my tips for easing your symptoms when you have COVID and for preventing serious complications or worsening with COVID, based on our own experiences.

What have been YOUR experiences with COVID? What helped you?

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


Monday, February 14, 2022

Movie Monday: Honey Boy

Sometimes I search through the Rotten Tomatoes website, checking out movie ratings for movies we see on our streaming channels. It's always disappointing when you see something that sounds good and then check to find out it had a 30% rating with critics and 20% with viewers! But one movie recently caught my eye because it had an almost-perfect score with critics and viewers alike: Honey Boy, written by and starring Shia LaBeouf (and said to be semi-autobiographical). We both enjoyed this entertaining and moving film about a dysfunctional childhood.

Young Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) stars as Otis, a twelve-year-old child actor, struggling to make it in Hollywood. He lives with his father, James, an ex-rodeo clown and recovering alcoholic, played by an almost-unrecognizable Shia LaBeouf. The two of them live in a shabby roadside motel, and their closest neighbors are a group of young prostitutes. Otis supports the two of them, which his father both relies on and resents. James is one of the most dysfunctional fathers you've ever seen on screen (which is saying something). Alternating scenes take place in the future when Otis, now 22 and played by Lucas Hedges, has become a Hollywood action star, living a life filled with alcohol, drugs, and women. Driving drunk one night, he gets in a terrible accident and is sent to rehab. There, his therapist, played by the great Laura San Giacomo, tells him he displays all the signs of PTSD, though he insists he's never suffered trauma. Little by little in rehab, he begins to open up and remember his childhood, which is shown to viewers in alternating scenes. 

This is a powerful way to tell the story of a traumatic, difficult childhood, by simultaneously showing his childhood as it happens and also the effects of that childhood on his adult self. The movie was nominated for and won numerous awards, especially for the writing by Shia LaBeouf, directing by first-time director Alma Har'el, and the incredible performance by young Noah Jupe, as a child who desperately needs a parent--and love--and is growing up too fast out of necessity. It's a powerful, moving film, but it's also entertaining. While the viewer grieves for the lost childhood of young Otis, we are also given reason to hope for a better future for grown-up Otis. One can only imagine that writing this film and then playing a version of his own father must have been very emotional and therapeutic for LaBeouf. He certainly provides a very raw and honest story, powerfully told.

Honey Boy is from Amazon Studios and is available on Amazon Prime.

If you--like me--are interested in knowing more about Shia LaBeouf's feelings about bringing his strange childhood to life on the screen and playing his own Dad, check out this excellent interview with Jimmy Kimmel.


Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Weekly Inspiration: Celebrate Everything, Big and Small!

I usually write my Weekly Inspiration posts on the weekends, but I didn't have a chance with our oldest son visiting last weekend. Then I realized, they don't have to be weekend posts! Who couldn't use a little inspiration mid-week? Besides, this one is time-sensitive, with some great reasons to celebrate this week, so here it is!

A big part of our family life has always been celebrations. It's the way I was brought up, and the way we began things with our own two sons. Those traditions became even more important after three of us got sick in 2002-2004! Celebrating the small stuff adds joy to your days, breaks up dull routine (especially this time of year), and gives you something to look forward to (see my post, What Are You Looking Forward To?)--all for minimal effort!

I will reprint this entire section from my book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness, below for you to read.

I also made a fun show-and-tell video on Celebrate Everything, Big and Small!, with lots of great ideas and examples, that you can watch at the link. 

Here's the full section from the book, reprinted:

(Excuse some weird formatting, from cutting and pasting from the e-book, and I added some 2022 dates into the text in [ ].)

Celebrate Everything, Big and Small!

Since becoming ill with ME/CFS in 2002, I have been surprised by how life with chronic illness makes me more aware of the small pleasures all around me. Although our lives are often defined by illness-imposed restrictions, we have found ways to add pleasure and meaning to our everyday life, too. One way is to celebrate all kinds of occasions, big and small.

I came by my love of celebration from my mother. When I was a kid, we celebrated everything, and I loved the atmosphere of joy and festivity. My mom was, and still is, a major party animal, so I learned from the best! When I had children, I knew I wanted to do the same thing for them. After chronic illness entered our lives, these celebrations became even more important, a way of injecting fun into our lives, including (especially) on the bad days. Our kids love our celebration traditions, even now that they’re grown!

Of course, we celebrate the big holidays, though we’ve had to scale back since chronic illness hit. We now focus on certain elements of each holiday that are the most important to us. At Christmas, that’s decorating our tree together and getting together with our oldest friends for a cookie-decorating/Grinch-watching party. (To reserve energy for celebrating, we now buy premade cookie dough.)

We also celebrate all kinds of smaller occasions, which can be even more fun and less stressful than celebrating the big holidays. The dead of winter, after the major holiday season is past and before Easter and spring arrive, can be a dark and depressing time. But there are lots of smaller holidays and occasions to celebrate during that time that can add a bit of brightness to an otherwise dreary winter.

One favorite is Superbowl, the first Sunday in February [Feb. 13 this year]. We’re not big football fans, and our days of attending big Superbowl parties are long past, but we still get into the spirit of the occasion. Every year, we have our favorite game-day foods—simple things, like tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole, mini hot dogs rolled in crescent rolls, and my husband’s famous Buffalo chicken (pieces

of chicken breast sautéed in Buffalo wing sauce). While happily munching on our savory treats, we watch the game and the much-anticipated TV ads.

Mardi Gras (the day before Ash Wednesday [March 1 this year]) is considered a major holiday at our house because my husband and I used to live in New Orleans. Before I got sick, we had an annual Mardi Gras party that grew to 50 to 60 people at its height! A few years into my illness, we realized that we didn’t have to completely give up our Mardi Gras festivities; we just had to scale back. Now, we invite a few close friends over, buy some traditional New Orleans’ food (like king cake from a local bakery), and make a couple of favorite dishes, like red beans and rice and jambalaya. Friends bring food, too. We play New Orleans’ music, enjoy the food and company, and sometimes watch the real Mardi Gras parades online.

This season also brings Valentine’s Day (February 14), another celebration we enjoy each year. We hang up heart decorations, give each other cards and treats, and indulge in a simple (dairy-free) chocolate fondue for dessert. Similarly, we observe St. Patricks’ Day (March 17), by wearing green, hanging up sham- rock decorations, and eating our traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t Irish; we still join in the fun and make it a special day. If you like jokes and pranks, April Fool’s Day (April 1) is a fun one to celebrate. One year, I even celebrated Groundhog Day (February 2) by putting little edible groundhogs made from cookies into my sons’ bowls of oatmeal for breakfast!

You don’t need a holiday on the calendar for an excuse to celebrate. Once or twice a year we have Mexican Night. I make our favorite enchiladas, decorate the table with a colorful serape, and mix up a special orange-mango fizzy drink. We used to celebrate the start of summer by blasting “School’s Out for Summer” as my kids got off the bus and then going with friends to play in a local creek. Of course, there is always a party when we visit their grandma (my mom)!

If you are more severely ill, you may be thinking that you can’t celebrate. Here are small ways to make a day special, with the help of friends or family:

Dress for the holiday, even if it’s just colored or themed pajamas and some whimsical socks or earrings.

Hang up simple decorations near your couch or bed. We have different sets of window clings for each holiday, and I still hang up holiday-themed artwork my sons made in school when they were little.

Listen to music associated with the holiday or special occasion, like Christmas carols, New Orleans’ jazz for Mardi Gras, Irish music for St. Patrick’s Day, and oldies but goodies from your younger years on your birthday.

Watch holiday-themed movies, such as A Christmas Story, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras (starring Pat Boone), Ghostbusters (perfect for Halloween!), or Finian’s Rainbow. (A surprising number of results come up when you search for “movies with leprechauns in them.”) Of course, you have to watch Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day—at least twice!

Cuddle with your children or grandchildren (or nieces & nephews), and read holiday-themed books together. If that’s too much for you, let them read to you, listen to audio books, or watch short videos together.

Eat holiday-themed foods—the best part of any celebration! Enlist the help of a friend or family member to prepare the dishes or order in appropriate foods: Chinese take-out on Chinese New Year, corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.

Watch holiday specials and live events on TV or online, likeparades (Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Mardi Gras), New Year’s Eve at Times Square, the Oscars, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, and more. Almost everything is televised or live-streamed now.

Next time you are having a bad day or week or month (or year), find a reason to celebrate and insert some joy into your life!