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
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 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.