Based on a recommendation from my son I am currently reading a book set in Alaska during the early 1900’s about a family struggling to settle the land, far from home, against a backdrop of a fierce and beautiful terrain. I’m struck by the descriptions of the mountains and frozen creeks and thick forests, the wildlife and the wind and the snow and the cold as well as the rugged individuals who have chosen to live there. It is an interesting tale and nudges me toward contemplation. How different things are now, in our lives of relative leisure, than they were back then. Would Bill and I have what it takes to endure, to thrive – to survive! – in this environment?

Self-sufficiency isn’t largely associated with those of us who call this country here home. We want for pretty much nothing in comparison to the characters in this story or, in fact, to those people living in hard-to-fathom conditions in many underdeveloped countries around the world.

And yet I wonder. If we were to walk – to bid adieu to the hustle and bustle of our technology-driven lives with 24×7 news, entertainment and more information than we sometimes know what to do with it – where would or could we go? Yes, perhaps Alaska. More of a wild frontier than anything else we have here in the intercontinental United States. Could we truly find a place of solitude that has not yet been touched by the ravages of modern man? And if we were able to, would our soft minds and bodies be able to adapt? Would we miss our devices and our television and the instant gratification to which we’ve become accustomed or would we relish their absences – growing and discovering more about ourselves than we ever thought possible?

To live off the land while being subjected to it at the same time. To quickly learn we have more strength and resolve than we currently realize. To move forward – always – one step at a time while accepting there will occasionally (and likely!) be setbacks. To hunker down within ourselves and find out what is truly important. To understand what our priorities really are or should be.

Yes. I think we could do that or rather I’d like to think that we could. It is both scary and wondrous to consider living our lives in such a challenging manner.  Whether we might choose to pursue such a life remains to be seen.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~ Charles Darwin

July is almost over. And for me that’s just as well. June was pleasant enough – a sampling of what was yet to come. July is where high crimes and misdemeanors take place: crazy days of heat and sun and parties and swimming and picnics and baseball games and lakes and golf and, well, FUN! An ill-timed trio of infections put the kibosh on any hope of that for me this year. And now they’re reporting that July is one of the coolest on record. Enough. July – we are so over you. At least I am anyway…

All well and good. Time to move on. Except that August is normally a hot, humid, miserable month. Oh, it’s great for water sports and swimming, true. But the days start getting shorter and it can be difficult to plan anything with family and friends since this is traditionally when many people go on their summer vacations. There’s the state fair to contend with as well and school seems to start earlier and earlier each year. With the ungodly warm temperatures and all that humidity many people start to yearn for fall during this time. Indeed, for the most part August is a bust.

September is actually the only real true hope I have for ‘summer’ this year. By then, however, I’ll be ready for football and tailgating and cooler weather. This is when I start to gaze longingly at the funky sweaters and jackets and sweatshirts hanging in my closet. I’ll pull out my boots, dust them off and try them on to experiment with different outfits hoping to land on an exciting new look. Cooking starts to sound appealing again with thoughts of comfort foods and soups and stews and apple desserts and pumpkin bread swirling around in my head. I’m ready to pull out the dead, wilted flowers from the pots and containers – they are no longer able to pull off the objective in my efforts at curb appeal and truth be known haven’t for some weeks now. Mum’s the word and I want to fill every pot and planter with their beautiful reds and yellows and other autumnal shades and colors!

Until then we still have a few days left of July to contend with. Pulling up my big-girl panties and dealing with it. July is essentially lost to me forever this year. I’m getting a little healthier but just not quite there yet. There will be other July’s, other summers. This one just didn’t quite work out the way I hoped that it would. Shrug.  In the scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.  But I sure would have enjoyed sitting outside enjoying the fireworks on the 4th of July — the weather was spectacular that night.  Next year — there is always next year!

Several years ago my dad commissioned an acquaintance to create a totem pole for the old homestead. He was quite proud of the results and enjoyed showing off the ‘zombies’ as he once described them to me. Fortunately it occurred to me a couple of months ago after Mom put the place up for sale that maybe I should capture their likenesses for future reference, like maybe when the Zombie Apocalypse they foretell finally does arrive. This way I’ll know what to be on the lookout for.

My mother called me today.   A week from tomorrow the movers will come to start packing it all up — fifty-five plus years of living in the same house, walking the same grounds, tending the same gardens, greeting the same morning sun each day and watching the same sun set each night.  She’ll be leaving the house where she and dad raised the six of us girls, the house where we faced down hardships and rough times and celebrated many happy occasions:  birthdays, holidays, parties, milestones, graduations and weddings.  And the arrival of eleven beautiful grandchildren.

A final send-off is planned for the night before she closes on the new house.  If the weather cooperates we’re hoping to sit around the fire pit one last time.  Contemplating this celebration of sorts today gave me pause.  I didn’t choke up — not yet.  Because I’ve been sick the entire month of July I have not been able to help with the packing so when I go up there to help for the final move I know it’s going to hit me hard.  It’s going to be a difficult time for all of us for that matter.  We need to steel ourselves for Mom’s sake.  Put on a happy, optimistic, just-think-about-what-you-have-to-look-forward-to face. Full speed ahead!

We can’t or shouldn’t deny the sense of loss and finality — it’s going to be all too real for that — but we’ll strive instead to look forward.  Mom’s moving into a house in town where there will be less upkeep, less maintenance and she’ll be closer to friends, church, appointments.  She’s excited and we’re happy for her.  But she knows and accepts that it will be hard to say goodbye.

Since my dad died seven years ago her life has been a roller-coaster ride.  Ups and downs, many changes, health issues, family drama — adjustments to a totally foreign way of life.  Mom and Dad were married for more than fifty years.  My mother is not an out-going woman.  She doesn’t like to draw attention to herself.  Not in a withdrawn, wallflower sort of way but she’s just not one to put herself out there.  She likes her alone time and yet again since Dad’s been gone being alone has been extremely difficult for her as well.

As mothers tend to do she can cause some frustration and annoyance for us, her daughters.  Sometimes its a real challenge dealing with her and her ways.  I would guess we’re not alone in that based on conversations with others and things you read and hear about!  Mom will be 79 this year.  She’s not going to change and well, none of us is perfect.  We all — yes, even you Julie! — possess that innate human ability to drive others closest to us (those we love and who love us) absolutely bonkers.  So we accept her for who she is and do what we can to make these last years as comfortable and comforting for her as we can.

So.  Here’s to you Mom.  To yet another transition and best wishes for a happy, rewarding and enjoyable life change.  Good luck, good cheer and good health — may you have all three in abundance!

 

Laying on our glider after a short nap on the deck, still trying to shake this mid-summer malady that is currently making my life miserable, I began to notice different patterns and textures all within a ten to fifteen foot radius from where I was so comfortably situated. After awhile I was sufficiently motivated to duck inside to grab my camera to see what I could scrape together from the images all around me.

Sigh. Today’s non-post brought to you courtesy of boredom, lethargy and the summer sickness blues.

Retirement has been a recurring theme here on my blog as well as in some of my Facebook posts and conversations with friends, family and co-workers. Most of the time my husband Bill and I are just living our lives, going about our business and only occasionally do we think about retiring like when I’m updating the Excel spreadsheet I created a couple of years ago to track our progress. Now and then an article will catch my eye and I’ll get to thinking, all dreamy-eyed and such, about what it will be like to quit working and begin retirement in earnest. And now twice today I’ve been reminded yet again why this is such an interesting and important topic of conversation for us.

My husband and I are both at that age where if you aren’t thinking about retirement you seriously should be. It’s important to plan for this next phase of life both financially and emotionally.

Financially – unless the bottom drops out of the stock market – I believe we’re on solid ground. After many years of debt and no savings whatsoever I began saving earnestly and ferociously once I began my career after graduating in 1995 with my MIS degree from Iowa State University in an attempt to make up for lost time and lost opportunities.

Bill and I have no debt other than our mortgage and we are prodigious savers. We’ve been fortunate but we have also worked very hard and we have (hopefully!) made good choices about our finances to get us to where we are today. No one can predict the future but making the right decisions about how to get from Point A to Point B are imperative if one hopes to live well and comfortably in their golden years.

With all that due diligence out of the way let’s commence to the fun stuff!

Reminder #1: My sister called today to tell me about a visit she made to the health club yesterday where she and I are both members. It was an early morning swim on her day off and she saw a large group of what she assumed were retirees getting into the pool for a fun aqua workout class. She said it made her think of me and she now understood for the first time why it might just be nice to retire. I completely agree. To have the freedom to do the things you want to do without the nuisance and inconvenience of having to show up for work each and every day sounds heavenly to me. Don’t get me wrong. I like my job, I have a fantastic boss and I enjoy learning new skills and becoming more well-informed about the business as I take on new projects and work initiatives. And making money? Well, that’s pretty darn nice too of course.

It’s just that the alternative is SO much more appealing. It would be even more so if I could retire AND continue to pull in the money every two weeks. Not likely to happen so I’ll content myself with the wonderful prospect of all that free time when I retire to claim as my very own!

This might be a good time to point out that my husband is five and half years younger than me. I plan to retire early (I ain’t getting any younger and I want to relish and enjoy a life of leisure while I’m still relatively healthy). I can fall under my husband’s health insurance until Medicare kicks in and by then (again – hoping the Dow continues her upward trend!) Bill can retire as well.

Reminder #2: A friend posted a wonderful blurb on Facebook this afternoon stating one of the things she loved about getting older was the fearlessness that (my input here) most but not all people are able to harness from somewhere deep inside themselves. She’d talked to a woman in her early 60’s who had been planning a train trip to Canada. Unfortunately each of the friends who had planned to accompany her dropped out and decided not to go. Instead of cancelling the trip the friend decided to go anyway. She toured Canada by way of Amtrak, all by her lonesome, and despite the initial awkwardness said it was the best trip she’d ever taken.

This, my friends, is exactly the approach I hope to exhibit when I retire. Indeed, it’s how I want to live my life RIGHT NOW. Stepping outside our comfort zone can be a scary thing and while the outcome may not live up to our expectations the flip side is that it may just wildly exceed them! We never know until we try.

And now I’m pumped up again and more committed than ever to building up our retirement reserves and emotionally (and yes, realistically as well) planning for this next stage of my life. Life is good now, yes, it is. I am in no hurry to grow older – no one is – but I’m one of those people who enjoys planning adventures and who loves, even more, having them! I want our retirement to be lovely, comforting, nurturing and exhilarating as hell. With continued planning and foresight, a smidgeon of good luck and a kick-ass attitude I’m cautiously optimistic it will be all of those things – and maybe more!

I love quirky movies.

The majority of these kinds of films, while also admired by many others, are often shrugged off by an equal number (or more) of my family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Most of them have a) never heard of these movies or b) think they’re weird. Now I’m no movie critic but I know what I like. When a film employs symbolism or unusual characters or creative cinematic devices to tell the story – and throw in clever dialog, double entendre and twists and turns in a thrilling plot with a powerful musical score (and dancing!) – or anything, ANYTHING that’s unexpected, well, I’m hooked.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of the films that most readily come to mind:

  • Harold & Maude
  • All That Jazz
  • Bambi Meets Godzilla
  • Blood Simple
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • I Am Legend
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Dogma
  • Oh Brother Where Art Thou
  • Melancholia
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Fargo
  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • Pink Floyd The Wall
  • Wild at Heart
  • Out to Pasture (a 2007, Brickstreet Theatre and My Town Pictures Original Film *)

*More on this later

Probably the earliest discovery that my genetic makeup included a preference for what I’ll call the quirky genre of films is a movie that I simply devoured, watching again and again. I also recall discussing this film at work where my boss just shook his head, incredulous that anyone would even like this movie let alone pay good money to see it more than once. It was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse and essentially outlines his life story by way of the Joe Gideon character brilliantly played by Roy Scheider. I am, of course, referring to All That Jazz (1979) which won four Oscars and received several other wins and nominations. I was spellbound by this film!

Mention Roy Scheider and there are the usual references to his role as Police Chief Brody in Jaws but for me he’ll forever be the womanizing but sexy, talented but driven, ambitious but unprincipled Joe Gideon. From the opening number ‘On Broadway’ to the dazzling ‘Bye Bye Love’ finale I was in awe of this film, the story, the characters, and the (amazingly creative!) dance numbers used to convey the numerous ways Joe Gideon had screwed up his life and those who cared about him. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times I still tear up at the end. An utterly fantastic film.

Another very quirky film that I saw not long afterward is the cult classic Harold and Maude (1971), an unlikely love story that is both hilarious and touching with Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. The short (very short!) animated film Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) elicited both a shriek of surprise and a smile followed by stunned silence. My young son and I, with somewhat similar tastes in movies to this very day, thoroughly enjoyed this strangely sweet piece of cinema the very first time we saw it.

The Coen Brothers are well-known for many delightfully clever films but I knew these guys were special years ago when I saw Blood Simple (1984). This dark thriller delivered so many plot twists and memorable characters that I knew I was witnessing something special the first time I saw it. I recall watching it while I waited for a ne’er do well boyfriend who stood me up that night. That relationship didn’t last long but my love affair with almost everything the Coen Brothers deliver has remained strong.

The 2007 film I Am Legend wasn’t something I was intending to see. However, I had just read the book and therefore decided to see it after all especially after hearing my brother-in-law describe some family members who’d seen it and were disgusted but he thought since he knew I liked ‘quirky movies’ that it was something I’d probably enjoy. Prior to that I’d never considered that other people might describe my taste in films as ‘quirky’ but he had me pegged. Guilty as charged!

Recent additions to my list of favorites include Melancholia (2011) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012). The first is quite dark but interesting and well-acted. Moonrise Kingdom is truly, TRULY quirky and an absolute delight! I loved this film.

As promised I want to give a special shout-out to a (very!) little known film, locally produced and acted by my alma mater Brickstreet Theatre in Forest City, Iowa. Out to Pasture (2007) is different, funny, unique and decidedly quirky. But what gives it extra meaning for me is that some of it was filmed on my parent’s property. Years ago Mom and Dad bought the land across the road from my childhood home where my dad built a new sawmill.   On the property he and my mother planted hundreds of trees and dug out a small pond. Out to Pasture was filmed there after my dad died in 2007 and I have a copy of it on DVD. My sisters, on viewing it, were not impressed. They thought it was ‘stupid’. Perhaps some of it could have been better done but this wasn’t some flashy Hollywood production. It was done locally and I personally knew some of the people involved with the film. Kudos to them for their efforts! In any case I thought it was hilarious and I thought it was FUN.

Just like any good quirky film, it delivered. For me that’s all that matters.

See that small, geeky, shy girl with the cat-eye glasses and deer in the headlights look on her face? That was me growing up and how I presented myself going into the fifth and sixth grades, a time when I began to notice how the popular girls were dressed. The Age of Aquarius wasn’t far behind and the three M’s dominated women’s fashion: the Mini, the Midi and the Maxi. I wasn’t brave enough to give the Mini a try and it’s highly unlikely Mom would have let me board the school bus ‘dressed like that’. I really wanted a Midi skirt and may have had one. I just don’t remember but I’m fairly certain I had a Maxi skirt or maybe it was a dress. Something peasant-like in its detailing as I recall.

Sadly the desired effect – looks of admiration from both the boys and the girls – was not to be. Instead I was a laughingstock and, I’m fairly certain, the butt of many jokes. My parents had neither the money nor the inclination to allow the six of us girls to dress as fashionistas and besides I was pretty much clueless about the process. I had no idea about how to pull a look together or about how to style my hair or to apply make-up. Jewelry? Wasn’t even on my radar. Being the oldest I had no one to guide me in these important matters. Nor was Mom someone to show me the way as this was definitely not one of her strong suits either.

In my 20’s the walk of shame continued but this time I was unaware. I didn’t know what I didn’t know but – key to the embarrassment I didn’t realize I probably should have felt – I now thought I knew what was what. I read Glamour and Cosmopolitan and Self and even (gasp!) Playgirl after all so I assumed reading these publications bestowed upon me a certain sense of sophistication.

After having been starved for sartorial splendor in my earlier years I now had a new tool to obtain the clothes I read about and craved and drooled over in all those women’s magazines: credit. Credit cards and in-store credit – and oh, how I made use of these fun little gadgets! My closet overflowed. Shirts and pants and dresses and shorts and blouses and jackets and shoes and sandals! If the red espadrilles were cute then I just had to have them in blue and green as well. Well, you know where this is headed. It wasn’t long before I was in debt up to my eyeballs. It took many years but I ultimately I was able to get this monkey off my back. Word of advice: Don’t do it. I know all too well the temptation to keep up with what your friends are doing (and wearing) but being a single mom in a dead-end job I had no business racking up so much debt. But I digress.

With regard to the clothes I wore in my 20s, those years could be summed up in three words: trying too hard. Laughable now but I cringe to recall some of the things I wore (and did!) during those tumultuous times and so that’s pretty much all the ink I need to devote to THAT particular decade.

Moving on…

The year I turned 30 things started to turn around for me a bit. In my early 30’s I had a fun group of friends and we enjoyed going out for drinks after work, crazy parties (usually with a theme of some sort!), camping trips and other grand adventures. When I was 34 I decided to quit my job and go to college. Without a doubt this was the best decision of my entire life. And this is when I started to figure out who Julie was and more importantly who Julie wanted to be. Because I was no longer gainfully employed I didn’t have the money, during college as a non-traditional student with a 15-year-old-son, for discretionary spending that I’d had before and while I continued to use credit to buy clothes now and then it was definitely not the problem it had been for me before.

As I continued along the academic path I’d decided on for myself my confidence grew. I started to pay more attention to color and fabric and I had a better idea of what looked good on me and what didn’t. Oh, I still managed the occasional fashion faux paus (and I am positively chagrined when I see some of my hairstyles back in the day!) but I was definitely better able to pull a look together. I graduated from college and got married and started my new career. One of the reasons my decision to quit my job to go to school was such a fabulous idea is that I now had money – actual MONEY! – with which to buy clothes. I no longer needed to rely on a credit card. I could now pay with good, old-fashioned, cold, hard CASH.

Once again my closet and dresser drawers were filled with clothes. LOTS of clothes. During my late 30’s and throughout my forties I became, once again, a clothes horse – I love clothes. I’ll admit it! Christopher & Banks was a particular favorite. At one point probably 95% of my wardrobe came from that store. I loved the style, the colors, and the fabrics. And yes I think my love affair with clothes is very much because we had nothing really as kids, almost always wore hand-me-downs and rarely ever had any new clothes.

Then something strange happened.

While I still love clothes at some point I just – stopped. I rarely buy anything new anymore. You could argue – successfully perhaps! – that the reason for this is because I truly don’t NEED anything new. And if I’m honest my attitude now is ‘Meh – this will do’. I still like to dress well and when I feel that I look good in what I’m wearing it helps me feel more self-confident. Some will argue there should be no correlation. Our self-esteem and sense of pride shouldn’t be based on something as shallow as what one is wearing. And yet I’ll argue that if a person doesn’t feel good about how she (or he) looks it’s difficult to feel self-confident, to walk with your head held high or to have a spring in your step, a bounce in your pounce.

So. I guess I’ve evolved over time from someone clueless about clothes (the care and feeding of clothes, the how to, the what and when and where) to someone who obsessed over them to someone who became comfortable in her own skin to someone, now, who is at peace. I’ll still shop for clothes, I’ll still add to my wardrobe but here’s the thing. If I never did again, that would be okay too. Now there’s something 20-year-old Julie could not ever imagine herself saying!