Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Importance of Play

Camping and reading are two ways that I play
Last month, I posted a link to an article I wrote for ProHealth website (an excellent resource for information on treatments, doctors, and the latest research in ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease). My article was called The Importance of Play, and you can see it at the link - I will also include the full text below.

I have written abut play here on my blog before over the past 10 years - it is still something I struggle with. I find it more difficult to make time in my life for play with chronic illness, in part because I feel like I need to be productive during those limited times when I am able to be. This article has lots of great ideas from other ME/CFS patients on ways to add play to your life. I am working on this! In fact, re-posting this article here is a good reminder for me.

How about you? How do you play?

The Importance of Play

In books, magazine articles, podcasts, and TED talks, we hear how important it is to make time for play in our lives. Play has been examined in psychology textbooks, academic theses, and on the cover of the New York Times Magazine. Research shows that taking time out for play increases creativity, lifts mood, promotes happiness, and even improves memory. Studies prove that play is just as important a biological function for us as sleep, and that adults often lose the ability to play that they had as children.

I have a lot of trouble making time in my life for this kind of rejuvenating play and relaxation. I know that sounds odd coming from someone with a chronic illness who needs to rest so much, but my illness has actually made it even harder for me to set aside precious energy for just having fun. Because I need to spend so much time sleeping and resting (which is not the same as relaxing), I feel guilty if I use my limited energy for something that feels as frivolous as play. My play time has also shrunk as my sons have grown up. But play is so important in every life, to recharge and relax and focus on you. Which of us struggling with chronic illness couldn’t use a little mood lift and boost to our cognitive function?

Perhaps you share my struggles of filling my few available hours only with productive activities. Or perhaps you have trouble with play for other reasons. After all, when you live with chronic illness, many of the ways that you used to play are no longer an option. I can’t dance or go backpacking or play soccer with my kids or even go out drinking with my friends. I can’t even stay up past 10 pm!

So, if you, like me, need more play in your life, here are some tips and ideas, both from the play experts and from others like us, living with chronic illness:

Consider your play history. One of the play experts suggests this, and it seems like a brilliant idea. Think back to your childhood, to times when you experienced effortless joy. How did you play back then? What kinds of things did you do that were just plain fun? My best friend and I were board game fanatics! We never cared who won or lost – we just loved playing. I also have many happy childhood memories of time spent outdoors – playing with friends, making forts in the backyard, and exploring nearby “wilderness” (in the suburbs!). On my own, I loved to read and could easily lose myself in books for hours or days at a time, in my living room or my backyard. All of these things (except perhaps physical outdoor games) are great ways for me to play as an adult, too, and adaptable to my current limits. I may not be able to hike for hours anymore, but just spending time lying on my back deck and looking up at the sky and trees rejuvenates me and brings a sense of peace.

Incorporate different kinds of play. The experts point out that there are different ways to play – physical play, creative play, imaginative play, social play, and more. Some types of play may no longer be an option – like playing sports – but there are plenty of other avenues still open to us. Others with chronic illness tell me they play by: reading, playing video games (alone or online with others), watching TV or movies (no multi-tasking allowed!), or even just sitting outdoors and paying attention to the birds, wildlife, and clouds.

Set aside electronic devices sometimes. Although the internet is extremely important to those of us who are unable to leave the house much – and there are some kinds of play you can enjoy electronically – it is also important to set the devices aside and unplug. I spend way too much time online. Besides your brain needing a break to enjoy unplugged play, too much time online can also add to our exhaustion and wear us out more. So, read a book or listen to music or go outdoors.

Give yourself credit. I’ve written a couple of blog posts on this topic, with dozens of wonderful comments from others who can relate. Sharing with me how they play made me realize that I have built periods of downtime and play into my life, but I don’t always “count” those because they are a part of my routine. I set my laptop aside at 7:30 every evening and watch two TV shows with my husband. No work, no to-do’s, no worries about being productive – that is our time together, when we catch up on the shows that we love to watch together. At 9:30, we head up to bed and then read for an hour, side by side. I also read for 20 minutes or so before my nap every afternoon. All of that is relaxing play time for me – I just need to recognize it as such and stop putting extra pressure on myself.

Try something new. Incorporating a new type of play into your life can lift your spirits, invigorate you, and form new neural pathways…not to mention possibly finding a new source of joy in your life. Here are some ideas from others living with chronic illnesses like ours:

·      Knitting or crocheting
·      Stargazing, watching birds through a window, or watching the ocean
·      Going for a ride in the country (perhaps with the help of a loved one)
·      Light gardening or caring for chickens
·      Painting – watercolors or even finger-painting!
·      Listening to music, perhaps a favorite album from your youth
·      Crafting – collages, pressing flowers, creating small items
·      Camping (a favorite of mine, too)
·      Cooking or baking, when able
·      Listening to audiobooks – try middle-grade or young adult, if you have trouble focusing
·      Board games or card games with friends or family members at home
·      Riding horses
·      Jigsaw puzzles – old style or online
·      Making cards, jewelry or other handcrafted items (bonus: you can sell them online)
·      Watching old movies or indie films

Wow, what a list! I am inspired by all of these creative people in the same situation as me with so many great play ideas. I definitely want to play games more because that childhood passion is still with me (I need to find some game buddies now that my sons are grown). I would love to add something creative to my life, like drawing or painting. And I had forgotten about jigsaw puzzles – my husband and I enjoy those. I just need to set my laptop down once in a while!

How do you play? What new forms of play do you want to try? Set down whatever device you are reading this on, and go play!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

TV Tuesday: Time After Time

I am a sucker for anything with a time travel plot. I think what intrigues me so much is how thought-provoking it is - the idea that you could travel through time, to any point in the past or future. My husband and I both enjoyed the new NBC TV series last fall called Timeless, about a ragtag group traveling through time to try to stop a villain from changing the past, visiting all kinds of incredible historical events. So, I was very excited to learn that ABC was getting into the time travel game with its own series this spring, Time After Time, which is based on a novel and 1979 movie by the same name (which I've heard is pretty good).

The main characters in Time After Time are quite famous - or infamous, as the case may be. The story begins in the late 1800's in London, where a young H.G. Wells, played by Freddie Stroma, is entertaining friends one evening and telling them about his time machine prototype in the basement. A late arrival to the party, Dr. John Stevenson (played by the hunky Josh Bowman), arrives, followed quickly by the police who are tracking Jack the Ripper. A bloody knife in John's doctor bag, left at the front door, confirms their suspicions, much to H.G.'s shock. To escape from the police, John heads to the basement to try out his friend's time machine. It works and transports him to present-day New York, where the time machine is on display in a museum. Horrified by what his friend has done (and is), H.G. quickly follows him to 2017 New York to stop him.

When H.G. arrives at the museum, he meets a lovely assistant curator named Jane Walker, played by Genesis Rodriguez. He tries to hide his identity at first, but before long, he has to take her into his confidence. H.G. is desperate to find John before he can kill again. That is the main thread of the show - H.G. and Jane trying to find Jack the Ripper in modern NY, to stop him from killing women - but the plot gets more complicated. Additional characters are added to the mix, included a descendant of H.G. and various people who want the time machine for their own purposes (including John so he can escape).

We have watched four episodes so far and are enjoying this fast-paced thriller with a sense of humor. There are the expected (and fun) fish-out-of-water situations, as both H.G. and John adjust to life in 2017. Can you imagine how fascinated H.G. Wells would be, with all his prognostications, by what the future really did bring? The chase gets more action-packed and complex as more people get involved. And, of course, there is the time travel, which is just starting to ramp up a bit several episodes in.

I've heard some criticisms of Time After Time (and also Timeless) by science fiction buffs, and yes, their arguments are valid - neither of these shows really sticks to the accepted rules of time travel in science fiction (and obviously the science of the machine is complete fantasy!). My husband and I, though, have been able to suspend disbelief and just go with it, enjoying the show for what it is. And what is it? Time After Time is a fun show, above all, with action, suspense, and humor, that puts two well-known historical figures into an intriguing situation. We'll see where it goes from here, but for now, we are enjoying it.

Time After Time is currently airing on ABC Sundays at 9 pm, so you can catch up On Demand or at the ABC website (episodes 2 - 4 are available there now for free) or for $1.99 an episode on Amazon, link below (so you could watch the first episode there & the rest on the ABC website).

For more time travel fun, some of my favorites (besides Timeless) include:
  • Frequency - TV show (not technical traveling through time but communicating across time so similar themes
  • 12 Monkeys – movie - post-apocalyptic time-travel thriller - SO GOOD!
  • Predestination – twisty time-travel movie - a major mind-bender!
  • Project Almanac - fun, fast-paced movie of teens who time travel
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch - amazing sci fi thriller my husband and I both LOVED. 
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis - a modern classic with plenty of humor set in Victorian England (and the present)
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes - a chilling thriller about a time-traveling serial killer
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells! - a classic and the inspiration for this show
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney - a classic time travel novel, set in 1970 and 1882 New York
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - romantic time travel novel from 1945 to 1700's in Scotland
I told you I like time travel stories!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Laura Hillenbrand - My Hero & Role Model

I am a long-time admirer of Laura Hillenbrand, author of the best-selling, critically-acclaimed books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken, and ME/CFS patient. Just her accomplishments alone - writing these amazing books while too sick to get out of bed - makes her an inspiration to me, but I also admire her strength and perseverance in the face of such challenges, much like the unsung heroes she writes about in her books.

When Hillenbrand first became famous for Seasbiscuit, I was hopeful that ME/CFS had finally found its celebrity - our very own Michael J. Fox who would bring our devastating disease into the public eye. But she was far too ill to be a spokesperson. She didn't leave her Georgetown townhouse for two full years, and she wrote much of her books while lying flat in bed with a pad and pencil - with her eyes closed! - due to debilitating vertigo.

Fast-forward to today. Laura Hillenbrand is doing much better. She has finally found some doctors who could help her and some treatments that have helped (as I always say, nothing helps ME/CFS a lot, but there are a lot of things that can help a little, and those add up). Her quality of life is much-improved, and she even moved across the country. And...she is giving an occasional interview, much to my delight.

This latest interview was with Stanford Medicine (they have conducted a lot of recent, ground-breaking research into ME/CFS). I couldn't find a way to download the podcast or to embed it here, but you can listen to this 44-minute fascinating interview with Laura Hillenbrand at this link.

She talks about her books, her writing, her life, and yes, her ME/CFS. She describes what living with ME/CFS is like and exactly how debilitating it was at her worst. She talks about how she's improved (though not details about precisely which treatments have helped) and what her life is like now. And, she talks about dealing with the people - both family and "friends" as well as doctors - who have treated her badly, mocking her, not believing her, etc. I found that part of the interview the most inspiring - she has some great insights into coping with the kinds of resentments that we all harbor from mistreatment.

I hope you find her interview as inspiring as I did. She doesn't say what her next book will be about, but I can't wait to find out!

[P.S. Although she doesn't specify which treatments have helped her improve, I have heard elsewhere that she was finally able to see one of the top doctors in ME/CFS who has worked with her on a variety of aspects of the illness. These top docs are not exclusive - anyone can see them, and there is no magic to what they offer - just a wide variety of treatments that focus on different aspects of the disease, chipping away at it, bit by bit. For examples, this post describes the treatments that have helped my son and I the most (some from our primary care doctor and some from the experts). It takes a lot of trial and error - and a considerable amount of patience and persistence! - but it is possible to improve your quality of life, a little at a time. My son and I are both quite functional now.]

Have you read Seabiscuit and Unbroken? Did you like them? I hope you are as inspired by Laura Hillenbrand as I have been!

Seabiscuit An American Legend
by Laura HillenbrandTrade Paperback 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Webinar by Dr. Rowe: ME/CFS in Adolescents & Young Adults

Dr. Peter Rowe of Johns Hopkins, renowned pediatric ME/CFS and OI specialist, recently gave a webinar: A Clinical Approach to ME/CFS in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Practical Primer. This was part of the Solve ME/CFS Initiative's wonderful webinar series. You can watch his full webinar at the link above, on the Solve ME/CFS website, watch it on YouTube, or watch it right here:

Although the talk is aimed at doctors like pediatricians and family doctors (and is much-needed for that audience!), it is also very interesting and informative for patients and parents, even someone like me who spends a lot of time reading and researching our illness. His talk is aimed at treating children and teens, but everything he says is also applicable to adult ME/CFS patients. He covers:
  • Diagnosis of ME/CFS and how to exclude other conditions
  • The critical role of Orthostatic Intolerance (OI) in ME/CFS
  • Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Joint Hypermobility and the significant overlap with ME/CFS
  • Step-by-step approaches for doctors to investigate their patient's condition and try treatments
  • Patient case studies - both successes and  tougher cases
He briefly touches in the role of infections, immune dysfunction, and mitochondrial dysfunction (in the Q&A at the end), though those topics are not covered in great detail.

If you want even more from Dr. Rowe, here is an earlier webinar he did for Solve ME/CFS, focused on Post-Exertional Malaise (which is also closely related to Orthostatic Intolerance).

I highly recommend you watch this 1-hour presentation - it's chock-full of useful information.

Even better: Send the link to your doctor or your child's doctor and ask him or her to watch it!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

TV Tuesday: Lilyhammer

When my mother was visiting a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I exchanged TV recommendations with her. We told her about Sneaky Pete (which she and her husband are loving) and Good Girls Revolt, and she told us about a unique comedy called Lilyhammer. It was a good recommendation - we are now hooked on it, too!

Lilyhammer features a set-up pretty much guaranteed to bring plenty of laughs. An infamous New York City mobster named Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, played by Steven Van Zandt of The Sopranos, agrees to testify against his former boss and colleagues, if the FBI will protect him and relocate him. He says he won't be safe anywhere in the U.S., but he remembers enjoying watching the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, so that's where he goes, with a new name, Giovanni Henrikson.

Giovanni, or Johnny as he asks his new acquaintances to call him, is a little disappointed when he first sees his modest home and tiny car in snow-bound Lillehammer, but he immediately begins to make the town his own. He joins classes for new Norwegian citizens, where he meets an attractive and out-of-work teacher named Sigrid, played by the lovely Marian Saastad Otteson. Right from the start, Johnny does things his own way, which is quite different from the way Norwegians typically do things. He is very polite but doesn't take no for an answer and believes there is no problem that can't be solved with money or the proper "motivation." From setting up a business to making friends to getting his driver's license, Johnny makes his way through Lillehammer in a most un-Norwegian way. A local Barney Fife-type police officer, bored with the tiny town's lack of crime, suspects something is up with Johnny...but he is way off-base in what he suspects, adding another dimension of humor.

My husband was skeptical at first. He is from Oklahoma and is really not into most mob-related TV shows or movies - just not his thing. However, Johnny has quickly won us both over. The entire cast (mostly Norwegian with no big Hollywood names beyond the lead) is excellent and fun to watch, the laid-back atmosphere of Lillehammer is welcoming, and Johnny's fish-out-of-water escapades are a lot of fun. Besides having plenty of humor, the show is also surprisingly warm, and you soon find yourself rooting for Johnny, despite his unorthodox methods.

We've only watched three episodes so far, and there are three seasons of the show on Netflix, so we look forward to a lot more fun with Johnny. You can also watch Lilyhammer on DVD or streaming on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $12.99 for the entire first season (links below).


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Author Led Life of Kindness & Creativity

I was stunned this morning to hear the horrible news that Amy Krouse Rosenthal died of cancer a few days ago. Born in the same year as me, a writer with kids who grew up in the suburbs of the 70's, I felt a connection to her. As she put it, "we shared a moment (in the form of an e-mail exchange)" back in 2010, after I reviewed her book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (which I loved). In fact, she just e-mailed me again in October to tell me about her new book, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I had no idea she was battling cancer then and was crushed to hear today that she lost that battle. She was a smart, funny, clever, playful, and kind person - and all of that came across in her writing.

You can read my review of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (and then go read the book!). Sadly, I never received the review copy of Textbook Amy Krouse so I haven't read it yet, but I would like to.

I also posted this trio of fun and amusing videos that Amy made, in part to promote Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life - they are short and well worth watching - clever and funny, just like Amy.

Amy's website tells you a lot about her life and her books - and again showcases that wonderful sense of humor. The website includes dozens of short videos that Amy made. One of them, Thought Bubble: Kindness, was the Winner of Best Animation at the Peace On Earth Film Festival 2011. You can watch that one right here:

Amy has also given three TED talks (three! I had no idea). In this one, she explains how she launched her project Beckoning Lovely -  a warm and inspiring concept and project:

Hopefully, that last video will inspire YOU to live your life as Amy did - with warmth, kindness, and creativity. Reach out to other people. Look for the lovely in your own life and share it with others.

The best way to honor Amy's memory is to enjoy the wonderful books she's written (many books for children, in addition to these 2 for adults). She was a talented, kind, smart, funny woman who will be sorely missed.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
by Amy Krouse RosenthalTrade Paperback
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
by Amy Krouse RosenthalHardcover

Friday, March 17, 2017

Blog Improvements and Updated Posts

I thought I should tell you about some blog improvements and updates I am working on, since many of the updates are buried in older posts. I've been posting them on Twitter and Facebook, but for regular readers or new blog readers just visiting the home page, you may not have heard about these yet.

I wrote my very first post for this blog on February 16, 2006, so I have been blogging for more than 11 years now...and other than writing new posts each week, I have done almost nothing to improve or update my blog. The result is that it is looking quite dated, and some of the older posts need updating. Believe it or not, after 11 years of blogging, I am still a novice! I know a lot about writing (I work as a freelance writer), but blog design and all the rest of it is still mostly a mystery to me. I have been trying to rectify this by learning more about blog design and other blog-ish topics I don't understand, and I have started to make some changes here.

Most importantly, I am working my way - slowly - through updating my most popular and informative posts. I am revising where new information or research is available, writing more on our own experiences since whenever the post was first written, and adding in recommendations for specific supplements or other products, where applicable, since I get asked about that a lot.

So, far, I have revised and updated these blog posts:
Unfortunately, each update takes me a long time, so the process is slow, but I hope to get to many more important posts in this updating process. I spent hours yesterday on the methylation post, just trying to get the text to stop switching to "xx-small" every time I published it! I finally figured that out but couldn't stop the font from changing type several times. I'm learning, but it's a slow process!

On the design front, I plan to:
  • Change the design itself (I know some people have trouble reading with the polka-dot background).
  • Update the sidebar, including other blogs to visit and other resources linked to.
  • Add an About Me/Us page (only about 11 years late on that one!)
  • Add a Where Do I Start? page to help new patients and/or those who are new to the blog to find the most important posts that can help them the most.
Whew, so that's a LOT of work coming up for me, but I will also be sure to keep adding new posts & information to the blog.

Please let me know YOUR needs and ideas - is there anything that you would like to see here?  Anything that would help you as a patient or you as a blog reader to get the most of this blog? Please leave comments to let me know how I can better help you.

And thanks for your patience as I struggle with finally learning about blogging 11 years after the fact!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Donate to Research While You Shop!

iGive is a great way to earn money for ME/CFS research - or whatever your favorite charity is! - without costing you a cent.

I start at the iGive site for any online shopping and earn money for ME/CFS research - like the sweater I bought on sale at Lands' End yesterday to replace the one my son has outgrown! Birthdays, holidays, stocking up - we also donate for all the supplements we buy online - and those really add up!

Even better: From now until March 31, if you sign up for iGive (it just takes a moment to enter your name & e-mail and choose your charity), they will donate an EXTRA $5 to the Solve ME/CFS Initiative for ME/CFS research (my chosen charity)! Just use this iGive link to sign up today and choose your favorite charity!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Movie Monday: Mockingjay Part 2

My husband and I (and our sons, too) loved The Hunger Games YA trilogy by Suzanne Collins, her now-famous chilling dystopian series. We watched each movie adaptation: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay Part 1, so we figured we needed to finish it off and watch the final movie, Mockingjay Part 2 (even though it annoys me to no end when Hollywood takes a short novel and turns it into 2 separate movies!). It was a good end to the series...though, of course, the book was better!

If you haven't yet seen or read the beginning of the series, you should go back to those first. Read the books, which are outstanding for teens and adults and very well-written, and then see the movies, which are good adaptations with excellent casting.

So, Mockingjay Part 2 picks up where Mockingjay Part 1 left off: Panem is now at war and Katniss has agreed - reluctantly - to be the face of the revolution, though she still has some misgivings. She and her family and some other familiar characters from earlier movies are safe in District 13 at the start of the movie, but they soon join the fighting in the Capitol. Katniss wants President Snow to pay for all that he has done.

This last part of the story focuses on the war, with a lot of action-packed scenes of battle. It's very well-done, and the special effects are excellent, especially of some of the high-tech forms of warfare that the Capitol unleashes on the rebels. It's been quite a while since I read the books, so there was still some suspense in it for me, as I didn't remember all the details of how it ended.

Of course, as is almost always true, the movie wasn't as good as the book. One thing that was lost in the movie adaptation was Suzanne Collins' very thoughtful and thought-provoking musings (through Katniss) on the nature of war, the price of war, and issues of power and wealth - all topics very relevant to our own world. I described this in detail (no spoilers, though) in my review of the book. The first Mockingjay movie - and to a lesser extent, this one - did show Katniss' moral and ethical struggles to some extent, but it is harder to delve deeply into those kinds of thoughtful issues on the screen than on the page. For me, that was the best part of the book - and the entire trilogy: Collins' thought-provoking commentary on our own world, through the lens of this dystopian world.

But, overall, we enjoyed the movie, and it was a good conclusion to the series. It is action-packed and full of suspense, and Collins is never afraid to kill off significant characters if it makes sense to the plot, so you really don't know what will happen. The cast, including Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, is excellent. We were both glad to have seen the final movie to finish off the series.

All four movies are now available on DVD. You can stream The Hunger Games or Catching Fire for a fee on Amazon (though, oddly, the DVDs are cheaper) and the last two Mockingjay movies are both currently free on Amazon Prime (see links below). All four movies are also available through Netflix (DVDs only).


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Finding Your Way Out of the Storm

This week's Weekly Inspiration comes from a middle-grade novel I recently read called The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart (my review at the link - don't worry - no spoilers!). The story is about a young boy named Mark with a serious illness (probably cancer though it's not stated); he's twelve years old in the book, and he's been sick since he was five. Fed up with so many years of illness and treatments and discouraged by some recent bad news, he runs away from home, with the goal of climbing Mount Ranier. He decides to tackle this big dream of his now because he's afraid this will be his last chance. Of course, he has all kinds of adventures (and challenges, including a big storm) along the way and meets some very interesting people.

Here's what Mark says toward the end of the novel:
"I thought of all my sickness, all my anger, all my fear. All that was just the darkness, just the storm. I got lost in it. But there's always the other side of the storm. And the people who get you there.

All the world's a storm, I guess, and we all get lost sometimes. We look for mountains in the clouds to make it all seem like it's worth it, like it means something. And sometimes we see them. And we keep going."

          - The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

I thought that was such an apt metaphor for living with chronic illness. We can so easily get wrapped up in those dark emotions, the storm, but we need to remind ourselves that the storm will end - there is always another side to it, after you've come through it. Like Mark, our illness may not go away, but we can still come out of that darkness of anger, fear, and bitterness to the other side, where the sun is shining, people care about us, and there is hope.

Besides sharing this thoughtful and relevant quote with you, I also chose a quote from this particular book because it is an excellent middle-grade novel. I know that many people with ME/CFS and related illnesses have trouble reading - concentrating, following complicated plots, etc. One possible solution is to read middle-grade books or books for teens and young adults. The Honest Truth is a great example of a book written for kids - shorter, with simpler language and a simpler plot than most adult novels - that is still thoughtful, moving, and full of suspense. It's an excellent novel for anyone, at any age. And, in case you are worried that it's depressing since it's about a sick kid, it's really not - it has plenty of emotional depth, but the focus - as you can see from the above quote - is on hope.

For more examples of middle-grade books, this link will take you to all of the middle-grade book reviews I've written (a lot!). Use this link to check out the teen/YA books I've reviewed (note that some, like second one listed, were actually written for adults but are appropriate for teens). For more, older reviews of middle-grade and teen/YA books, check out my blog Great Books for Kids and Teens - I combined that one with my Book By Book blog a few years ago, but it still includes hundreds of archived reviews. There are a lot of reviews between the two blogs, so if there is a specific kind of genre you like - realistic fiction, mystery, dystopian, etc. - just let me know in the comments, and I can recommend some of my favorites in that category for you.

You may find - as many with ME/CFS do - that you can manage reading or listening to on audio books written for kids and teens, even though most adult books are too difficult for you to follow.

How about you? Have you, like Mark in the book, ever felt like you made it through a storm of dark emotions and came out the other side? Have you ever tried reading or listening to books for kids or teens?

Monday, March 06, 2017

Movie Monday: Before I Fall

My husband and I took a last-minute mini vacation this weekend. We only drove an hour away and were just gone for 28 hours, but it was a nice getaway and just what we needed after a month filled with sick college kids at home!

One of the fun things we did this weekend was to finally try out the Dine-In Theater that is located near us. We stopped there for lunch and a movie on our way out of town. It was a fun experience, though the food was overpriced for the quality, as you'd expect. I was a bit disappointed that the recliner seats weren't in the same theaters as the dine-in options (and in those giant plush chairs, my feet dangled a foot off the ground!). But I made do and tucked my feet up into the large chair. Oh, and the movie! That's right - this is a movie review....

We saw Before I Fall, a new movie based on a very popular young adult novel by Lauren Oliver. I had wanted to read the book and never got around to it, so I was glad to see the movie adaptation. It's like Groundhog Day for teens.

Samantha, played with great depth by Zoey Deutch, is one of the most popular girls in her senior year at high school, dating one of the most popular guys and hanging out with a group of friends on top of the social strata. February 13th is set to be one of her best days ever. It's Cupid Day at her school, when students can buy roses for each other. As Samantha and her best friends carry their roses around school that day, a quiet boy named Kent, played by Logan Miller, asks Samantha if she'll come to a party he's having that night. After a typical day as Queens of their school, Samantha and her friends get ready for the party. This is also a big day for Samantha because she's told Rob that today is the night when they will finally go all the way, so her friends help her look extra-special.

Things begin to go awry at the party, though, and soon tumble out of control. One bad thing follows another, and the day ends in tragedy. But the next morning, Samantha wakes up safe and sound in her bed and is confused to see the same text about Cupid Day that her best friend, Lindsay, sent yesterday. It turns out it is yesterday, and Samantha seems to be reliving the same day again. This happens over and over, usually with the same - or similar - disastrous outcome. As she relives that same day over and over, Samantha begins to see behind the beautiful facade of her life and the lives of those around her and to look deeper. She becomes determined to somehow get things right, to change things for herself and others, so that she can stop this endless loop.

I knew the plot of the book and was excited to see the movie, but I wasn't sure how my husband would feel about a movie filled with teens. We both ended up enjoying it very much. Although it has all the familiar teen tropes at the beginning - the popular kids, the mean girls, the outcast, etc. - it turns out to have a lot of depth to it, as Samantha peels away the layers of her life, one at a time. The cast and acting are quite good, especially by Zoey as Samantha, and the plot is gripping. It is also quite thought-provoking to think: What would you do? How would you make things right? Though some of Samantha's actions as the movie progresses are a bit predictable, there are still plenty of secrets and surprises to discover.

Before I Fall was just released on March 3 and is currently in theaters. Its DVD and streaming release date has not yet been announced. So, you have plenty of time to read the book first, if you prefer!

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


Before I Fall is in theaters 3/3. Purchase your tickets in advance from Fandango and don't get sold out!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

My 15th Illiversary

Huh, what do you know? It's March 2 again. Another year gone by of my post-ME/CFS life. Today makes 15 years, which seems like quite a milestone. The anniversaries don't really bother me that much anymore, though.

I was feeling bittersweet on my 5th Illiversary, feeling a bit better overall with treatment, but recalling that researchers and doctors often cite 5 years as a turning point (that few people completely recover after being ill longer than 5 years).

By year 8, I was feeling less contemplative. By then, having ME/CFS was just a part of my new normal.

When I hit 10 years of illness, I barely noticed the anniversary date, even though it was a milestone year. I was focused on my sick kids by that point, and my own illness had become the norm for me by then.

Last year, my 14th Illiversary, was a triumph of sorts, as I returned to Baltimore with my husband, where on the first day of my illness, we spent a horrible day back in 2002 that was supposed to be a fun day. Last year, I was able to enjoy Baltimore, including plenty of walking (though I still needed my afternoon nap!).

I'm sure I would feel differently about my ME/CFS anniversary if I was still as sick as I was in those first few years, but over the past 15 years, I have found many effective treatments that have greatly improved my symptoms (and my life), allowing me to be much more active and making crashes rare. I still need my daily nap and have some limitations, but I am quite happy with my life these days. I took a walk with a good friend this morning (wearing my heart rate monitor!) and then spent most of the day writing, so that's a good day for me. Ten years ago, I couldn't have even been able to sit up to write - I had to lie down with my laptop (beta blockers are to thank for that improvement).

So, Happy Illiversary to me! 15 years seems like a lot, but it's mostly just normal life for me now.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

TV Tuesday: Sneaky Pete

Last summer, Amazon released a pilot for a new show, Sneaky Pete. My husband and I watched...and loved it! But then, there were no more episodes. We were thrilled to hear they finally posted more episodes in January and have been enjoying this unique show with a great cast, about a conman who steps into someone else's identity.

The first episode opens in prison, with a guy named Marius, played by Giovanni Ribisi (who will always be Pheobe's brother from Friends to me), getting really sick of listening to his cellmate, Pete, reminisce about his idyllic childhood on his grandparents' farm. Then, Marius realizes there is an opportunity here. He'll be getting out soon (and Pete is serving a long sentence), and he'll need a place to hide out from the gangsters that will come after him as soon as he's released. So, he changes tactics and encourages Pete to talk, describing the farmhouse, telling him all about each member of the family, and more. It seems that Pete's grandparents have a lot of money hidden in a safe in their bail bonds office, which could help Marius pay off his debt to the gangster and finally be free.

So, when Marius is released, he heads to Pete's grandparents' house and presents himself as Pete. Since they haven't seen Pete since he was 8 years old, they have no reason not to believe him. His grandfather, played by Peter Gerety, welcomes him home with open arms, while his grandmother, played by Margo Martindale, is a bit suspicious at first. His cousins - Julia, played by Marin Ireland, and Taylor, played by Shane McRae - have fond memories of playing with Pete as kids, so they are thrilled that he's back. Grandma and Julia even begin to teach the phony Pete the bail bonds business. Marius kind of likes being a part of this family.

Meanwhile, back in NYC, Marius' brother, Eddie, is in big trouble because the gangster Vince, played by Bryan Cranston, is using him as leverage to try to get the money that Marius owes him. Marius always protected his little brother growing up, so he's frantic to pay Vince off and keep his brother safe. However, his scheme to get at Grandma & Grandpa's money runs into a few snags.

With each episode, Marius gets deeper into his role as Pete, with plenty of close calls and being constantly worried that someone will figure things out, particularly his teenage cousin, Carly, who is quite sneaky herself. Meanwhile, he's trying to get at that money and keep tabs on Eddie. Oh, and he - Marius, not Pete - is supposed to be checking in with his parole officer in NYC regularly (played hilariously as a positive-thinking zealot by Malcolm-Jamal Warner). To keep things interesting, it turns out that Pete's family has some secrets of their own.

We are really enjoying this show. The cast is superb, the writing is excellent, and the twisty plot is very, very clever. It's always fun when you, as the audience, knows more than the characters in the midst of the story. It is suspenseful and action-packed and will keep you guessing, but it is also full of warmth and humor. There are 11 episodes so far in this season, and I see that IMDb already has a season 2 listed for 2018.

Since this is an Amazon Original series, it is available only on Amazon Prime (link below).

Monday, February 27, 2017

Movie Monday: Spectre

With our oldest son home from college all last week with the flu, the three of us watched a lot of Colony and Travelers (our latest TV obsession) but broke things up with a movie mid-week. They talked me into Spectre, the latest James Bond film. Now, let me be honest right from the start - I'm not a huge fan of James Bond movies in general. Fast cars, cool gadgets, hot women, lots of fighting & guns - it seems to be a guy thing to me. That said, however, I ended up enjoying this one!

This is Daniel Craig's 4th film as James Bond, and it starts out as you'd expect - with an action-packed sequence, this time in Mexico, complete with gunfire, falling buildings, speeding cars, and, of course, some spectacular moves by Bond (while wearing a neat suit). This was all to thwart a terrorist attack planned later in the day for a packed stadium. Bond discovers there is a secret global organization called Spectre behind both this attack and many other international threats.

Back home in London, there is a new M, played by Ralph Fiennes, who is fighting a political battle to keep the 00 program alive, as others in MI6 want to dismantle it and replace it with a new 24-hour electronic surveillance system. So, for pretty much the entire movie, Bond is on his own, supposedly on leave and with no authority from MI6. But he does have help behind the scenes, including some cool technology provided on the sly from Q. As usual, Bond's exploits take him across the globe, from snowy mountains to the hot desert and everything in between. And, of course, there are a couple of gorgeous women along the way.

One of my problems with many Bond movies is that the plots are so complicated you can barely follow them. This one is complex, but I had no trouble keeping up, and I found it engaging - something solid to hold all those action scenes together. I also enjoyed the side plot about the 00 program itself being in danger. Other than that, I'm not sure exactly why I liked this Bond movie better than other recent ones. I asked my husband, and he said he liked it but that Quantum of Solace was his favorite of the Daniel Craig era.

We watched Spectre for free on Amazon Prime (link below). It is also available on DVD, including from Netflix and Redbox.

Are you a fan of James Bond movies? Which one(s) are your favorites?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

My Progress in 2016 and Goals for 2017

Here it is the end of February already, so it's about time I finally post about my new year goals, don't you think? My college sons were home all January for winter break and most of February for one infection after another, so it's been a hectic start to the new year!

I wrote about my goal-setting process in a recent article for ProHealth: Setting Goals When You Are Chronically Ill (you can read the full article at the link). There, I explained how I have lifetime goals and then set more specific objectives and targets for each of those goals at the start of every year and track my progress. It's a process that anyone can use - not to set unachievable resolutions that will soon be forgotten but to set reasonable step-by-step targets to help you actually get what you want out of life...even in a life of limits, like ours.

You can also look back at my 2015 progress and 2016 goals (those related to health & wellness anyway).

Lifetime Goals
This year, after writing that article for ProHealth, I realized that my Lifetime Goals probably needed some minor adjustments since I hadn't really revised them (only added to them) since getting sick!

So, here are my New and Improved Lifetime Goals:
  1. To nurture and enjoy strong, fulfilling relationships with my husband, my sons, my family, and my friends.
  2. To be a writer, writing about topics I enjoy and am interested in and getting paid fairly for my work.
  3. To spend time outdoors and to travel, doing activities I enjoy and that rejuvenate me, and sharing those experiences with friends and family.
  4. To create and maintain a comfortable and happy home environment - both physically and financially - that contributes to happiness, comfort, and loving relationships.
  5. To be as healthy as I can be and to take care of myself so that I can do the things I want to do.
  6. To give back, help other people, and be part of a community.
SO THAT, I feel happy and content and can spend my time doing things I love.

I feel good about this revision, as it more closely aligns with my life as it is now, with the limitations of my health, my sons now young adults, and no longer being able to contribute a lot to our income (though I contribute in other ways, like handling the medical bills).

2016 Progress
I'm a very data-driven person, so I won't bore you with the details of my progress in 2016, but you can look back here to see what some of my health-related targets were and here is a quick summary of my progress in 2016:

The bottom line for 2016 was an exciting one  -
2016 was my best year ever since getting sick almost 15 years ago!

How do I know this? Like I said, I like data. I keep track of how I feel each day on a 1 to 5 scale (1 being great & 5 being badly crashed/bedridden), as well as my exertion levels (also 1 to 5, with 5 being most active). I just jot those numbers on a calendar at the end of each day, along with any unusual symptoms, new treatments, etc. So, I've been tracking these numbers, with monthly and yearly averages, since I first got sick in 2002. I also look at % of time spent crashed (a 4 or 5 on my scale). This also helps me to tell whether a new treatment is helping. My annual average for 2016 was 2.2, which was an 11% improvement over 2015, and a huge improvement over my early years of illness. I was crashed only 5% of the days in 2016, a stunning achievement, since I usually range between 10-25% days crashed in a typical year! It was also one of my most-active years ever, another indication that I felt better and could do more.

How did I improve my health in 2016? Well, that's complicated - mostly an on-going process and the result of not one miracle cure but a whole bunch of treatments over the years that have each helped a little bit, building on each other over time. The best summary of what has helped me (and my son) the most is in the blog post, Effective Treatments for ME/CFS. In 2016, what helped me improve further was getting even better control over chronic yeast overgrowth (by staying on prescription antifungals) and starting B12 injections (I quit being such a baby about shots!) and glutathione injections. I think the glutathione injections have been especially helpful and will write a blog post about that soon.

2017 Health-Related Targets
I won't bore you with all my detailed targets for writing, family, home & finances, etc., but here are my health-related Objectives and Targets for 2017:

1. Try New Treatments (this is an objective every year - I never stop searching for things that will help my son and I to improve our health & our ability to function).

2. Take Care of Myself:
  • Rest when symptoms flare (>3)
  • Do 2 quiet things just for myself each week (no multi-tasking!)
  • Meditate at least 10 minutes every day
  • No computer after 7 pm
  • Do 2 fun things each week that are not TV
  • Take one "day off" each month
3. Improve Stamina:
  • Walk at least 4x each week (I have worked up to this over the course of years, after first treating Orthostatic Intolerance).
  • 10 minutes of gentle yoga stretches every day.
  • Muscle strengthening at least 4x per week (same as walking, plus I do most of it on my back to keep my heartrate down).
Much of the targets under Take Care of Myself may seem pretty basic, but I still struggle with taking care of myself, taking time out for fun, resting when I should, and relaxing. In fact, as I've improved, I've naturally wanted to do even more, so these kinds of simple self-care actions are even tougher now. My time and energy are still so limited that I want to be as productive as I can when I am up and feeling I need these reminders to take some time out for myself.

We are each at a very different place in our illness journeys, even when we have the same illness, so your goals, objectives, and targets will necessarily be different than mine, but I hope that sharing my goals and progress with you will inspire you to embark on a similar process for yourself. This helps me to actually achieve my goals, instead of looking back at the end of each year and realizing that nothing changed.

Have you set any goals or objectives for yourself for 2017? How was 2016 for you? Please share in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TV Tuesday: Travelers

If you've been missing the awesome Eric McCormack since Will & Grace went off the air and Perception was cancelled, your wait is over! He stars in a new sci fi show on Netflix that my husband, son, and I are completely hooked on: Travelers. Our son has been home sick from college a lot the past few weeks, so we have been binge-watching this intriguing, original, exciting show!

The premise of the show is that the Earth is dying in the future, hundreds of years from now. Much of the destruction can be traced back to a disaster occurring in the 21st century that set off a series of devastating effects across the globe. Their solution is to send people - Travelers - back to our present day to try to stop the disaster and change the course of history. In the opening scenes of the show, we see four different people almost die and then, within moments of their death, their bodies are suddenly taken over by Travelers, and they live.

The Travelers have been trained to assume the identity of their host body's life, without letting anyone around him or her know that anything has changed. This is a challenge because these people from the future are totally unaccustomed to life in the 21st century. They have studied their host's life, through official records and social media, but that only tells them the basic facts. They operate according to strict rules - called Protocols - designed to keep from alerting anyone to their presence or disrupting 21st century life (other than saving the world, of course).

Because they are limited to host bodies in the same region who die at roughly the same time and are suitable to be hosts, the team at the center of the show is a motley crew. Marcy, played by MacKenzie Porter, is a mentally challenged young woman who can barely take care of herself and is under the care of social services (a bit of an error in planning for the Travelers). Trevor, played by Jared Abrahamson, is a high school football champion. Nesta Cooper plays Carly, a young single mother with a baby and an estranged, abusive husband. And Phillip, played by Reilly Dolman, has the bad luck to be a heroin addict. Though there is an intelligent, highly motivated mind from the future inside, he is stuck with his host's addiction. And finally, Eric McCormack plays Grant, an FBI agent and the leader of this away team of Travelers.

There are two integral pieces to the show: each of the travelers trying to fit into his or her new life and the missions they are given from their leaders in the future for trying to alter the course of history and save the planet and the human race. Both aspects are fascinating and ever-changing and make for a very immersive and suspenseful storyline. All three of us love this show. Our son was a little slower to get into it, but after a few episodes, he was hooked, too. As you watch each episode, you learn a little more about the future world that the Travelers come from (our future) and the events that lead to such a disastrous outlook. It is exciting, fast-paced, and completely gripping. I can't wait to watch the next episode tonight!

Travelers is a Netflix original program, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.

Have you watched Travelers yet? What new shows are you hooked on?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Monday: La La Land

Last week, on Valentine's Day, my husband and I went out to dinner and then to the theater to see La La Land. Fortunately, Valentine's Day fell on a $5 Tuesday at the local theater, and this seemed like a nice choice for the holiday. We both very much enjoyed this joyful, original movie that harkens back to Old Hollywood.

The opening scene gives you a good idea of what the rest of the movie has in store. In the middle of a traffic jam in LA, we see the drivers of the stuck cars suddenly jump out of their vehicles - dressed in bright, primary colors - and do an awesome song-and-dance number in the street and on the roofs and hoods of the cars. It's pure Broadway musical and full of joy! Then, the traffic begins to move, everyone gets back in their cars, and we catch our first glimpse of the main characters.

Mia, played by the adorable Emma Stone, is in the way in her Prius, and Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, is behind her, gets impatient and honks, and drives around her car with a snarl at her out the window. Not a very auspicious start for this love story. Mia is an aspiring actress, working in the coffee shop on one of the big movie lots, dreaming of the day when she will be the big star turning heads as she grabs a coffee. Mia goes on one audition after another, but the competition and her lack of success are depressing...and these aren't even good parts.

Sebastian is a jazz musician who dreams of having his own jazz club one day. He even has the spot picked out - a famous old jazz club that is currently a Samba & Tapas place. For now, he has a job he hates, playing piano in a restaurant. It's the holiday season, and the owner makes it clear that he wants him to play only classic holiday standards, no jazz or anything creative. For Sebastian, it's a soul-sucking job.

Mia and Sebastian meet up again, at a Hollywood party, and soon begin to date. So, yes, this is a romance, but it's not at all predictable or formulaic. It's about love, yes, but even more about reaching for your dreams and being true to yourself. It's a wonderful story, where people occasionally burst into song and start dancing. Both Stone and Gosling are wonderful in it - who knew with the dark, brooding roles Gosling usually plays, that he can dance and play the piano and smile like that? La La Land is an homage to Old Hollywood and to Broadway musicals, but it is also a story with emotional depth. This is definitely a feel-good movie, filled with the joy of art - drama, music, and dance - that will leave you tapping your feet and smiling.

La La Land is currently in the theaters. It swept the Golden Globes, winning 7 awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor Awards for both Stone and Gosling, and has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards. I'm glad we saw it on the big screen, with all that glorious color and sound, but it will eventually come to DVD and streaming (no release dates have been announced yet, though DVDs are already available for pre-order).