Tuesday, February 20, 2024

TV Tuesday: The Irrational

While most cable shows had a delayed "fall" season that is only just starting now (due to the strikes), a few new shows did start on time in the fall. Our favorite is The Irrational, a crime show with a behavioral scientist at its center.

Jesse L. Martin plays Alec Mercer, a behavioral scientist at a university in D.C. Alec teaches and has two grad students working with him: Pheobe, played by Molly Kunz, and Rizwan, played by Arash DeMaxi. His ex-wife, Marisa (played by Maahra Hill), works for the FBI, and Alec's sister, Kylie (played by Travina Springer), is a brilliant computer expert who lives with him. Marisa often asks Alec to consult on a case--and sometimes Kylie and/or the grad students get involved, too--so there is usually a new case to solve in each episode. But there is also an ongoing story thread about the terrible burn scars on Alec's face. He got those scars (and spent months in the hospital, with serious burns over much of his body) many years ago, when a bomb was set off in a church. One man was convicted of the crime, but Alec and Marisa suspect there was someone else behind it who was never caught. The bombing left Alec with emotional scars as well as physical, and Marisa and her FBI partner are still looking into the cold case.

Like any crime show, each episode involves a new case, so there is always something new and different  going on. Alec's unique talents in behavioral science provide fascinating insights into victims, witnesses, and criminals that are helpful to the FBI. In each show, though, the viewer also learns more about Alec and the bombing that so traumatized him. The secondary characters are also further explored and fleshed out. Martin is outstanding in the lead role, and his co-stars are all excellent. The writing is fresh, with a sense of humor, and the cases are interesting. There is suspense and a mystery in each new episode, plus the ongoing mystery of the bombing. My husband and I have really been enjoying this show. We'll watch the final episode of its first season tonight, and we were excited to hear that it's been renewed for a second season.

The Irrational is an NBC show, so it's available On Demand if you have cable or on NBC.com (all episodes still available free for all right now) or on Peacock. It's also available on Amazon.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Celebrate Mardi Gras at Home, the Easy Way!



It's Mardi Gras Day! We used to live in New Orleans, so this is a major holiday at our house, as you may have heard in my video, Celebrate Everything, Big and Small, which includes loads of tips for celebrating with minimal effort. We usually celebrate on Saturday and again on Tuesday. Before the pandemic, we had an annual party with all the food, music, etc. on Saturday. With my immune issues, it's now a small celebration with our oldest friends, who lived in New Orleans when we did. We enjoyed takeout from a favorite local New Orleans restaurant (a husband and wife team who were both chefs in New Orleans, under two of the top chefs there!), plus lots of shrimp. Today, Mardi Gras day, we will finish off the season with our annual tradition of Popeye's at that same friends' house (yes, Popeye's is authentic Louisiana food). And, of course, we've decorated for the occasion, and I'm wearing purple, green, and gold with my beads on!

 
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 from last year that features books about and set in New Orleans, Armchair Travel: Destination New Orleans. And if you prefer a video, check out my Recommendations for Mardi Gras Reathathon: Books, Movies, and TV Shows.
 
Great Adult Books Set In/About Louisiana (additional titles in my article linked above):
  • The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells, author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - I listened to Calla Lily's story on audio and laughed out loud & bawled my eyes out! It takes place in southern Louisiana, with plenty of local color.
  • Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen - I loved this memoir about the food, history, people, and unique culture of New Orleans.
  • Trail of Crumbs: Food, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim SunĂ©e - although this food-focused memoir covers everyplace from Sweden to France to Korea, the author grew up in New Orleans, where the food culture impacted the rest of her life.
  • Burn by Nevada Barr - part of her Anna Pigeon series, about a National Park ranger, this one is set in the French Quarter (where there's a National Historic Park). I haven't read it yet, but I plan to this year!
  • Mardi Gras Mourning by Julie Smith - I first read this back in the 90's and am rereading it now for the Mardi Gras Readathon on Booktube. It's a classic detective novel, set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, so the setting and atmosphere are great!
  • The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate - outstanding historical fiction set in Loiuisiana, with a dual timeline in 1863 and 1987. It made my list of Top Ten Audios in 2023
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is another excellent dual timeline historical novel, about twin sisters born in Louisiana. One moves to New Orleans and the other twin decides to "pass" as white and lives a very different life.
  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks - in this historical novel from one of my favorite authors, some of the story takes place in 1800's Louisiana.
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 videos) at www.mardigras.com.
One of the locals in Louisiana
Travel
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!

Crawfish!

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 or ordered on Amazon (Cajun Crawtator and Cajun Dill are the best flavors.)

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

My 2023 In Review: Chronic Illness Rollercoaster!


Chronic Illness is often said to be a rollercoaster (in fact, Riding the Chronic Illness Rollercoaster is the name of a chapter in my book!), and that was definitely true for me last year, with plenty of ups and downs in my life with ME/CFS and Lyme. I'm a little late with my usual year-end wrap-up (and only just set my goals for the new year!), but that's another fact of life when you have chronic illness; we make accommodations. 

NOTE: I like data and am an analytical person. For details on how I simply track how I feel on a calendar, check out my post, My Progress in 2020 and Goals for 2021 and scroll down to My Health in 2020 and below that, the section called "How Do I Know This?" Or you can watch my short video, Chronic Illness: Tracking How I Feel, Symptoms, and Treatments. I use a 1 to 5 rating, where 1 is good and 5 is mostly bedridden. I also rate my exertion each day on a 1 to 5 scale. And for details on the process I use for goals, which focuses on taking very small steps toward what I want in my life, see my video, Setting Goals When Chronically Ill (Improve Your Life in Tiny Steps).

 

2023 in Review: My Health - the Data

Average How I Felt = 2.5 (1 is good; 5 is bad)

  • 13% better than 2022, which was my worst year in 21 years of chronic illness.
  • My best months were 2.2, and my worst was 3.4.
  • Things have been a lot worse for me since 2020 (see my Relapses & Recoveries post), so this was a move in the right direction!

Average % crashed = 15% (meaning I was couchbound/bedridden 15% of the time)

  • Crashed = a 4 or 5 on my scale, unable to function, stuck in bed or lying on the couch.
  • 12% better than 2022, which was a low point.
  • The average doesn't tell the whole story because there were some highs and lows.
  • My best months were April and June, with only 3% crashed, but in my worst month, November, I was crashed and nonfunctional 50% of the time.

Average exertion = 3.8 (on a scale of 1 to 5)

  • 8% better than 2022.
  • My best months were April and October, with 4.3 average exertion, and my worst month was November, with just 2.8--I spent much of that month lying on the couch.
  • I think my exertion level looks better than I actually felt; I know that I was pushing myself too hard and not resting enough during some of those early crash months. I finally gave in and rested in November.

  

What Made Things Worse Last Year:

  • Not listening to my body and resting enough when I crashed.
  • Yeast Overgrowth - this was definitely my biggest issue in 2023:
    • As with many people with ME/CFS, I suffer from chronic yeast overgrowth due to the specific kind of immune dysfunction in this disease.
    • I made the mistake--over and over!--of assuming it was under control because of all the treatments I routinely take/do that normally work effectively. This kept me from recognizing (and treating) the underling causes of my repeated crashes.
  • My diet. I was calling my diet Paleo, but honestly, I wasn't sticking it to it very strictly by last year. This was a huge contributing factor. If I had actually stuck to a strict Paleo diet, the yeast overgrowth probably wouldn't have gotten so much worse.
  • A short round of steroids (prednisone for five days) in November. Since the issue was actually yeast overgrowth, suppressing my immune system was not a good idea!

 

What Helped Me Last Year:

I tried eight new treatments (or adjustments to old treatments) last year that helped me. Below are the changes that helped me the most (some things that I tried, I'm not sure yet if they are helping or not).

  • Normalizing my thyroid function. I spent a full year working with my primary care doctor on this, getting thyroid labs every two months, adjusting my meds, waiting another two months, repeat. All that effort, patience, and persistence paid off, and I am starting 2024 with my thyroid working very well! Besides increased energy, less fatigue, and more stamina, I lost 20 pounds over the past year--back to pre-illness weight! It's been eye-opening to see what a difference this makes. I wrote all about it in Diagnosing and Treating Thyroid Dysfunction in ME/CFS and Long-COVID.
  • Changing my diet. In the very last two weeks of the year, I drastically changed my diet, once my functional medicine specialist pointed out to me that I still had thrush in my mouth, even with all the anti-yeast treatments I was on. I took her advice to "starve the yeast" by switching to a no-carbs Carnivore Diet. It is what it sounds like: meat, fish, eggs, butter, and no carbs at all. It worked, and by the first days of January, I was feeling the best I have felt in many years! Here's my video about my first month on the Carnivore Diet. I am currently about 97-98% Carnivore; I occasionally have a few bites of non-yeast-encouraging veggies or avocado. I am still feeling great (for me!). I've been seeing friends, taking daily walks, and even helping a friend with her move. Today, I went shopping for clothes for the first time in ages (my clothes are all too big now), and it is just such a thrill to be back out in the world!

 

Other Highs and Lows of 2023 for Me:

Lows: Obviously, with all of 2023's health issues and months spent on the couch, many things just didn't get done last year:

  • Not enough time with local friends.
  • Very little writing outside of my two blogs and no magazine articles.
  • No energy for our home--decluttering is getting urgent!
  • Given my poor health many months, I was not able to walk as much as I like or keep up even my tiny on-the-floor strengthening routines. 

Highs: But as always, though my year seemed awful when I was stuck on the couch in November and December, when I look back, I see some wonderful highlights:


My husband and I enjoyed 3 relaxing week-long camping vacations: to Virginia state parks in April, to the Catskills in June, and to the Virginia mountains in October for stunning fall foliage! When we travel with our camper, it is very easy and low-key. (links are to my travel vlog videos, where you can see some of the beautiful natural surroundings we enjoyed).


We enjoyed three weekends with our adult sons and their girlfriends, one at home for Father's Day, one camping in Pennsylvania and one at a rental on a lake in New Jersey. We cherish that quiet, laid-back, fun time with them!

My childhood best friend, Michelle, came to visit me in July, and we enjoyed a wonderful weekend together, reminiscing and making new memories!

In September, I finally got to meet in person my friend from across the world! Annie and her husband were visiting from Australia, and they made time in their busy schedule to meet up with us. Annie and I met online over 10 years ago, in the group I started for Parents of Kids and Teens with ME/CFS and Related Illnesses. We both had sick kids, and we supported each other and bonded. Annie later helped me run the group, and we've stayed in touch even though our "kids" are now grown up (and both doing quite well). It was such a treat to meet in person!


I stuck with my new goal to spend time outside every day and so enjoyed that extra time in nature! Given the state of my health, often that time was spent lying in a reclining chair on our deck or very slowly walking around the little cul-de-sac in front of our house, but the new habit really enriched my life. If you'd like to do the same, Join Me to Notice and Enjoy Nature More in 2024! with my #nature365 project.

 
So, that was my 2023.

How was last year for you?
 
What small joys did you experience?
 
What treatments help you?
 
Share your experiences (or any questions) in the comments below.

 

Monday, February 05, 2024

Movie Monday: Stillwater

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were looking for a movie to watch and stumbled on Stillwater, starring Matt Damon. It was excellent, combining family drama, a mystery, and legal drama, about a father trying desperately to save his only daughter.

Bill, played by Matt Damon, is a widowed oil-rig worker living in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Between jobs and estranged from his only daughter, Bill flies to Marseilles, France, to visit her--in prison. Allison, played by Abigail Breslin, was attending college in Marseilles when her girlfriend was brutally murdered. Allison was convicted of the murder and sentenced to nine years in prison. She won't talk to Bill much at first, but he perseveres and stays there, near her. When Allison finally opens up to her father, she insists that she's innocent. Bill tries his best to plead with the lawyer to reopen her case but is unsuccessful. Allison remembers a guy named Akim hanging out with them that night, and Bill sets off on his own quest to find this mystery man, searching social media and the rough sections of Marseilles where he thinks Akim lives. Meanwhile, he has met a kind French woman named Virginie, played by Camille Cottin, and they become friends. She invites him to live in the spare room in her apartment and becomes invested in him and his daughter and his fight for her freedom. Virginie's little daughter, Maya, really likes Bill, even though she speaks no English and he no French. They teach each other, become close, and Bill becomes a part of the family, helping to care for Maya. But Bill's priority remains proving that Allison is innocent and rebuilding his relationship with her.

This movie really defied my expectations. It's a moving, powerful drama about a father's love, with the suspense and action of a mystery/thriller. In between, there are moments of humor and joy--especially in Bill's growing relationship with Virginie and Maya--and sorrow, too. Both Damon and Breslin give excellent performances, and the rest of the cast is great, too. While we see some of the darker parts of this beautiful city, the movie is an integral part of its surroundings, making use of the setting to emphasize Bill's fish-out-of-water status in France and his grim determination to stay for as long as it takes. Its characterization of Stillwater is a bit less authentic. It's depicted as a down-and-out rural area that's practically a ghost town. My husband went to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater; it's actually a thriving college town with over 20,000 students. But it made a good name for the movie! We both enjoyed this one very much.

Available on Amazon Prime and for a fee on Apple TV and other platforms.


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Video: My First Month on the Carnivore Diet


Lots of people have been asking me about the new carnivore diet I began on January 2 (with a gradual move toward it in the two weeks before that). This has helped me to finally get chronic yeast/candida overgrowth (often a part of ME/CFS) under control, which has resulted in huge improvements for me. My immune symptoms (flu-like aches and exhaustion) cleared up and my energy has been really good for most of the past month (with a few rundown days this past week but today was better).

As I explain in the video, I am not a medical professional and am not recommending other people do this. I'm just trying to share my experiences and what I've learned so far, so you and your doctor can make informed decisions, based on your own medical needs.

In this video, I explain what a carnivore diet is & why I'm trying it, why it's supposed to be helpful for those with immune disorders, what we eat, and my results so far (spoiler: great!), with explanation of alternatives like Paleo & Keto. You can watch the video on YouTube or here:



If you watch it here, I will include the list of notes & links (that I mention in the video) that are below the video on YouTube:

Chronic Illness Vlog 1-8-24: Much Better! The Diet That's Helping

A good place to start on improving diet and helping yeast overgrowth is a Paleo diet. This post explains what it is, the modified Paleo diet we were eating, and how it helped us (note that if I'd stuck to strict Paleo, without the modifications, I might not have gotten as bad as I did!).

 Beginner's Guide to Keto Diet

Effective Treatments for Yeast Overgrowth/Candida

Orthostatic Intolerance (OI) in ME/CFS, Long-COVID, Lyme, and other illnesses

OI video

Harvard Carnivore Diet Study

Article I mentioned on Anti-Candida Diet

Diagnosing and Treating Thyroid Dysfunction


Let me know if you have any questions.

Have you found any special diet that helps with your chronic illness?

Please leave a comment below.

You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Summaries of 2023 ME/CFS & Long-COVID Research and More


It's somehow the end of January already, and I'm way behind on my planned 2023 wrap-ups, so I wanted to get this one up before any more time passes. There are two excellent summaries, looking back at 2023 for ME/CFS and Long-COVID patients, that I want to share with you.

2023: Looking Back on Back on a Year of ME/CFS Research

This post, written by the blog ME/CFS Skeptic: a Critical View into ME/CFS Research, provides an easy-to-understand, patient-centered summary of about 15 different ME/CFS and long-COVID research studies that the authors deemed "most interesting." They've already done the work of explaining each study in simple terms, so you can just scroll through their summary. Some interesting things I noted while reading it:

  • Some aspects of ME/CFS that have long been accepted--like low NK cell function--were not confirmed by the studies cited here. I suspect that is mostly due to differences between patients, how we are all so different, as well as some studies focusing on small groups and differences between short-timers and those who've been ill for much longer.
  • Virus studies failed to find any specific viruses causing ME/CFS and concluded that we likely have dysfunctional immune responses ... which we already know! But it's good that researchers are beginning to zero in on that.
  • New population studies seemed interesting at first but were definitely flawed. One relied on asking people if they'd been diagnosed with ME/CFS by a medical professional--we all know how rarely that happens! Some were surprised the number seemed so much higher than before COVID, but I suspect it is actually much higher.
  • Good news that researchers continue to dig into genetics and the gut. Now, I'd like to see more research focused on immune dysfunction!


Looking Back at 2023 in ME/CFS, Long-COVID, and FM - the Most, Best, Cleverest, and Strangest

As usual, Cort Johnson of the Health Rising website (highly recommended!) has pulled together a lot of complex information into a very easy-to-read, even entertaining format, with all kinds of creative "best of" and "worst of" categories. While some reference the same studies as the above summary, there is a lot here that is new. Some highlights:

  • Encouraging findings in the field of mitochondrial dysfunction.
  • Lots of interesting findings in the growing field of long-COVID research, including high serotonin levels.
  • Call-backs to research from decades ago that noted that clotting could be a factor in the blood of ME/CFS patients (I remember these studies and took them to my doctor), now in the forefront again, thanks to the study of micro-clotting in long-COVID.
  • New funding for "long Lyme" (previously called chronic Lyme), which is long overdue.
  • New "long cold" research on another coronavirus that causes colds and can lead to ME/CFS. The more researchers expand this concept of "long" infections (i.e. post-infection ME/CFS), the more it will help all of us.
  • Plus, a new study on lasting illness after the COVID vaccines. I experienced this, as did many others, and patients have long reported that vaccines can trigger ME/CFS--another step forward in awareness among the medical profession!
  • New clinical trials for treatments.
  • The Mayo Clinic's massive turn-around from the worst place to go for ME/CFS in the US to actually listening to patient advocates and updating their protocols.
  • There's a whole lot more here to peruse, all written in short, snappy (even fun) blurbs - scroll through.

 OK, time for some dinner! I hope you find all of that as interesting as I did.

As for me, my months-long severe relapse that ended 2023 has mostly stayed in 2023. I'm pleased to report that I am doing much, much better, mostly due to a new diet that finally got my yeast overgrowth under control and all the work my doctor and I did last year to normalize my thyroid function. The first few weeks of the new year, I felt better than I have in years! I'll write about it here as soon as I can. In the meantime, this Chronic Illness Vlog 1/8/24: I'm Back, Baby! The Diet That's Helping explains some of it, and I'll be posting a new video all about the diet I'm trying next week.

I hope you find all this research news as encouraging as I do!

Friday, January 19, 2024

Favorite TV Shows Watched in 2023


It's time for my annual wrap-up of my favorite TV shows reviewed in the past year! These are not necessarily new shows, but they are shows that we enjoyed last year, enough that I took the time to write a review. They run the gamut, covering all kinds of genres, so there's something for everyone.

Listed down at the bottom of this post are all of the shows that I reviewed here on my blog in 2023. 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 (note that where to find shows may have changed over the years). And check out my 2022 TV Favorites, too - they're all still available.

I only review shows I like, 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 genre, plus some categories I made up! Links are to my reviews, including trailers and details on where to find each show (subject to change).

 

Best Drama

And Just Like That ... (HBO Max)

I never watched Sex and the City but enjoyed this reboot about women in their 50's (a rarity on TV!) 


 

Best Dramedy (both comedy and drama)

Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max)

My husband and I loved this warm, funny, wonderfully written show.



Best Crime/Mystery/Thriller

Will Trent (ABC)

 Our new favorite crime show, with great characters and a sense of humor. Returning February 20!


Best Sci Fi 

Silo (Apple)
An excellent adaptation of the Silo book trilogy that starts with Wool, a favorite of both of us.
 



Best TV Show That Crosses Genres
 
The Diplomat (Netflix) 
One of our top shows of the entire year, this absolutely hilarious drama starring Keri Russell, about a no-nonsense woman appointed as new US ambassador to the UK when a crisis happens is also suspenseful, with political intrigue, plus the drama of a marriage breaking up.
 




Best Character on a New Show

Poker Face (Peacock)
Natasha Lyonne is fabulous as Charlie, a woman on the run, crossing America, who can tell when people are lying and solves mysteries along the way. Drama, mystery, and lots of laughs. We can't wait for season 2! 





Best Drama Musical
 
I felt this wonderful adaptation of the best-selling novel deserved a mention for its unique combination of drama plus a fabulous fictional rock band you will believe is real.
 

 


Funniest Show With a Potentially Depressing Premise
or
Best TV Role by a Movie Actor

Shrinking (Apple)
 This deserves a mention because it's about grief but is laugh-out-loud funny, starring TV star Jason Segel and the great Harrison Ford (who is surprisingly funny). Another one we are waiting for season 2!



All TV Shows Reviewed in 2023

These were all great! Good enough that I took the time to write a review. Click the links to read my short review (never any spoilers), watch the trailer, and see where they were available when I reviewed them (subject to change). I indicate below where the show originated, though most shows are now available from many services.

Drama

And Just Like That ... (HBO Max)

Daisy Jones and the Six (Amazon Prime)

 

Dramedy (both comedy and drama) 

The Diplomat (Netflix)

Shrinking (Apple)

Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max)

Togetherness (HBO Max)


Crime/Mystery/Thriller

The Company You Keep (ABC)

The Lincoln Lawyer (Netflix)

Poker Face (Peacock)

Who Is Erin Carter? (Netflix)

Will Trent (ABC)

 

Sci Fi 

Silo (Apple) 

 

What were YOUR favorite TV shows watched last year? 

Please leave a comment below.

You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Favorite Movies Watched in 2023


Once again, I reviewed just 9 movies in 2023, in part because there is so much great TV to watch now. I only review movies that I really enjoy, so any movies on my entire 2023 list (below) are worth watching, not just my top picks. These are now all available on streaming.

As in years past, you can see my full list of movies reviewed last year further down, and my top picks in each genre just below. To see all of the movies I have reviewed on my blog (a considerable list), check out the Movies tab, where they are listed by genre, though it's getting harder to categorize a movie into just one genre as there's so much cross-over now. Links go to my reviews, with a trailer. Note that where each movie is available might have changed over the years, since I first reviewed it, so double-check to see where you can watch it now.

Best of the Best Movies Watched in 2023:

(Three categories only included one movie each, so not much of a choice!)

Best Action/Suspense/Thriller

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny 

Why movies were invented! 

Nonstop action and adventure, lots of suspense, plenty of humor, and just a whole lot of fun.

Best Drama

CODA

Warm, funny drama about a teen girl whose deaf family relies on her, though she has dreams of her own.



Best Comedy

A Man Called Otto

Excellent adaptation of the best-selling novel, about a grumpy, lonely old man discovering a reason to live. (and really both drama and comedy).


Best Sci Fi

Leave the World Behind

A tense sci fi thriller, as two families grapple with a mysterious crisis.


Best Musical

Barbie

Super clever, funny, surprisingly thoughtful musical drama with some great music and eye-popping visuals. 


All Movies Reviewed in 2023:

All of these are worth watching! It was hard to pick just one favorite in the first two categories. See the Movies tab for more great movies.

Action/Suspense/Thriller

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Missing

 

Drama

Air

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

CODA

Flora and Son 


Comedy

A Man Called Otto

 

Sci Fi 

 Leave the World Behind

 

Musical

Barbie

 

What were YOUR favorite movies watched last year? 

Please leave a comment below.

You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Chronic Illness Vlog: I'm Back, Baby!


After months of a very bad relapse of my ME/CFS, I had a wonderful week! I felt really good, had good energy, and was active and productive. In this video, you can see me out and about, coming back to life after months on the couch, and I explain how I figured out what was behind my bad crash (in short, still yeast overgrowth!), and the radical diet change I made that resulted in such a stunning turn-around.

You can watch the video on YouTube (there are additional notes below the video - click on "...more") or here:


You will see a very big change from my last chronic illness vlog, a few weeks ago, which was almost entirely from a horizontal position on my couch.

That's all I have time for today - a quick update. My husband and I are going out of town for a few days - just a quick trip to a town about an hour away. They have a wonderful independent bookstore that is hosting a book event for me and my book! I'll have a chance to tell my chronic illness story, read a bit of the book, meet people, and sign books. This has been scheduled for months, so I am very relieved to be feeling well enough to manage it!

 

How was YOUR week?
How are you doing?

Please leave a comment below.

You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.


Thursday, January 04, 2024

Join Me to Notice & Enjoy Nature More in 2024!


In 2023, I created #sky365 to use on social media, and I posted a photo of the sky (almost) every day. Last year was a rough one for me health-wise, but this very simple habit helped me to get outside at least once a day, reminded me to look up, and inspired me to find beauty and joy, even on my worst days.

This year, I am using #nature365 for the same reasons, and I would love for you to join me! You don't have to be a great photographer. The idea is simply to snap a quick photo each day of anything in the natural world: a tree, flowers, birds, or yes, the sky! Then share it on social media using #nature365, so the rest of us can enjoy it, too. Even photos taken from your window--or even of a houseplant--count. It's very flexible, but the purpose is to help us all pay more attention to the outside world and notice and appreciate nature wherever we find it.

Research shows that nature has amazing positive effects on both our physical and mental health, even with just 5 minutes of time or even just looking at pictures of nature. I explain all this in more detail and provide lots of easy tips for enjoying nature, even when you are severely limited, in my book and in this video, Get Out! Nature Improves Health.

So join me and post your #nature365 pics!

You can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, where I will try to post a nature photo everyday, and you can reply with your own. 

Or post on whatever social media platform you prefer (I am determined to finally get on Instagram this year)

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite #sky365 photos from last year - remember even just looking at these photos improves your health! Click on them to enlarge:







Wednesday, January 03, 2024

What Do YOU Want in My Monthly Newsletter?


If you subscribe to my e-mail list,  then you receive each of my blog posts in your e-mail inbox, plus a monthly newsletter that I write, with exclusive content just for subscribers.

I've been sending out monthly newsletters to the mailing list for the past 15 months now, and to kick off the new year, I'd like to hear your feedback on what YOU want to see in the newsletter ... or if you don't read it at all. Whether you are a current subscriber who gets the newsletter or are just signing up for the e-mail list for the first time, I want to hear from you!

Currently, I usually include the following topics in the newsletter that gets emailed at the start of each new month:

  • Life - an update of what is going on in my life
  • Quote of the Month - a quote from a book I read that relates to chronic illness life
  • Blog of the Month - a link to someone else's chronic illness blog and what I like about it
  • YouTube Channel/Podcast of the Month - my recommendation for a chronic illness video channel or podcast (not included every month)
  • From My Book - an excerpt from my own book (and sometimes a sale on my book)
  • A Look Back on the Blog - an older post from my blog that is still relevant
  • My Recent Videos - new videos posted in the last month
  • My Recent Blog Posts - in case you missed anything the past month

Please let me know what you think:

Do you read the monthly newsletter at all or just delete it?

Which features do/would you enjoy?

Which features do/would you skip?

What would YOU like to see in the newsletter?

 

I spend a lot of time each month writing the newsletter, and I want it to reflect what YOU want to get in your inbox. Please tell me your thoughts!

You can leave a comment on this blog post (click on "Post a Comment") or e-mail me at sljackson@suzanjackson.com with your feedback.

You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Monday, January 01, 2024

Movie Monday: Flora and Son

On New Year's Eve, my husband and I watched a wonderful, uplifting movie, Flora and Son. A great way to end the year!

In Dublin, a young woman named Flora, played by Eve Hewson, is raising her son, Max (played by Oren Kinlan), with some occasional help from her ex-husband, Ian (played by Jack Reynor) who is a bass player, though not currently in a band. Flora had Max when she was only 17 years old, and he's now 14, so she's still quite young and was caring for a baby while her friends were out partying. She blows off steam by going to clubs and dancing with her best friend. Max is at an age now where he and Flora are always fighting, he gets in trouble a lot, and he doesn't want to spend much time with her. Flora sees a beat-up old guitar in the trash one day, pulls it out, and gets it fixed by a local music shop. She tries to give it to Max, but when he's uninterested, she searches online until she finds someone offering guitar lessons whom she feels a connection with. She hires Jeff, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, for a cheap price to give her online lessons. Jeff lives in Los Angeles and seems to be at loose ends in his own life, too. Over the course of many lessons, they get to know each other better, and Flora gradually transitions from bitter and derisive to engaged and committed to learning the guitar. Meanwhile, she realizes that Max is also interested in music, though he's focused more on synthesizer music and rap. Music just might be the thing to mend their relationship and bring them closer together, while changing both their lives for the better.

This is just a delightful movie. Flora, Max, and even Jeff are all in bad shape when we first meet them, each struggling with their own demons and challenges. Flora is especially rough at the start, smoking, drinking too much, and yelling and swearing at Max and anyone else who gets in her way. Seeing the way that music--and human connection--changes each of them is wonderfully inspiring. As you might expect, there is plenty of music integrated into the movie, from the electronic dance music in the clubs where Flora goes to the rap and hip hop Max loves to the beautiful harmonies and ballads Jeff is teaching Flora. All of the actors are excellent here, and it is a joy to see their characters' transformations. This heartwarming, funny movie is elevating and delightful, with an ending that will leave you with a smile on your face. 

Flora and Son is playing exclusively on Apple TV+.

And if you like this kind of uplifting, musical movie, I also highly recommend Sing Street (my review at the link), from the same writer/director, and Begin Again, currently available on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu.