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!

I like what this blogger has to say about travel and the world and wanted to share it with all of you!

The Way I Wander

Someone recently asked me why I love to travel, and I didn’t have an immediate answer for them. It wasn’t something I’d seriously thought about before. My initial reply was simply, “Well, why wouldn’t I? It’s awesome!”

But that’s not a very good answer. And so I’ve thought about it.

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Here it is: the middle of July and that means summer is pretty much half over. Thanks to a nasty trio of infections I enviously watch healthy children, teens and adults enjoying the wonderful summer weather. They are blissfully unaware that losers like myself are confined indoors or swaddled in layers of clothing when venturing outdoors.

That’s fine. Not the end of the world although it is frustrating. On the upside there is still plenty of summer left in what remains of July and all of August. Beyond that we have the lovely month of September and then the very best season of the entire year: FALL! Crisp air, changing colors, leaves crunching underfoot, kids going back to school, football games, apple festivals, HALLOWEEN! While some (negative people) discount the beauty of the season and grumble about what comes next, I love this time of year. Not only is there the delightfully fun trick-or-treat celebration of crazy and color that falls on October 31st there is also Thanksgiving – the precursor to the wonderful Christmas holiday season. Christmas and winter and the first snowstorm and comfort food and hot chocolate eventually yield to the downside of the calendar – that long stretch of cold and snow and wind and ice that us Midwesterners grapple with (in varying degrees) every year. Then there is spring which runs a close second (for me anyway) with all its new growth and green and lovely blue skies and birds chirping and flowers, flowers, FLOWERS!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are still many summer days ahead of us and just as soon as I kick this nasty cough I plan to grab the bull by the horns and enjoy what’s left of it!

My dad died in 2007 after an eight year battle with prostate cancer. Mom struggled those first few years after his death dealing with the inevitable loneliness and grief and trying to find, as a friend described it, her ‘niche’ in life. Along the way she’s also had to deal with some serious health issues. Certainly it’s been very difficult for her and for the six of us girls as well. Mom chose to stay on at the homestead, a place she’s called home for more than 55 years. She sold a couple of sections of land a few years ago but has been reluctant to leave and start a new life living in town.

Until now.

She listed both her house, our childhood home and the adjacent apartment buildings this spring. The apartment buildings, by the way, were originally built when I was in middle school — another one of my dad’s many ‘ideas’ — as a dance hall slash tavern. He called it, appropriately, the Timber Inn. You’ll recall that my dad owned and operated a sawmill so the name was quite fitting indeed. Later my dad sold the Timber Inn to someone who wanted to convert them into apartments. Then a few years later my dad accepted the offer to buy back the property and it served as another source of income for my parents for many, many years. Ultimately the upkeep and expense for my mother to maintain both the apartments and the homestead convinced her that now was the time to sell and buy something more manageable in town where she could be closer to friends and to church.

The apartments were sold first and then a buyer materialized for the house. Mom had to move quickly and was able to find a place in town. The closing date on both homes takes place the first of August and there’s much yet to do. Happily she’s excited about this but I know it will be emotionally wrenching for her — for all of us — when the day comes to actually leave.

As for me I haven’t yet been able to get up there to help pack and otherwise prepare for the move but I plan to be there to help come moving day. And when that day arrives, in the not too distant future, I’m sure it will be fraught with anguish and sadness. I’m not sure how to prepare for it or what to expect. I do know that I’m not alone and that countless others have had to face similar circumstances with their aging parents.

I’d be interested and grateful for any insight and recommendations my readers might be able to provide as my mother and all my sisters and I prepare for Mom to move out of the home she’s known for so many years and to move on with this new chapter of her life.

Alright. I know that’s one very time worn expression and not terribly creative to boot. But, for me, it’s so very true!

Last week right before the three day July 4th weekend I started getting the chills. Then the usual symptoms I’ve become quite familiar with as someone with a weakened immune system who grapples with sinus infections throughout the year: headache, scratchy throat, congestion, a bit of nausea and those dang blasted chills. I’m sure the neighbors wonder about me whenever I venture outdoors — in typical sunny, warm summer weather — wearing sweat pants, a sweat shirt and a turtleneck! But when I get the chills I am positively freezing. So I knew IT was coming again.

And come it did — with a twist and a vengeance. When I finally got myself in to see the doctor (on a Sunday morning by way of Urgent Care) I was surprised to learn that not only did I have pink eye (which I suspected) but I also had an ear infection and the not-one-to-miss-a-Julie-sickness-party sinus infection. I have a bit of a hearing loss as it is (runs in the family on my dad’s side) but over the last several days my husband was growing very weary of my repeated exclamations of ‘what did you say?’ just as I was ready to scream every time he mumbled and failed to enunciate! The diagnosis explained everything.

In 2001 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and in 2003 it was finally brought under control when I started a new treatment regimen of some powerful medicines which unfortunately also serve to weaken my immune system. If you know anything about RA you may already be aware that this disease damages your joints over time due to the immune system essentially working in overdrive and attacking the body causing inflammation, fatigue, stiffness and joint pain. So the meds that I take (gross oversimplification here!) basically deal with potential joint damage by inhibiting the attacks made by my immune system.

These medicines have been a lifeline. Those first couple of years were horrible. Unyielding fatigue, pain and stiffness in my fingers, wrists, hip and feet. At times it took me fifteen minutes or more to walk from the parking lot to my office building which normally took less than a minute or two. A co-worker bluntly asked what was wrong with me. I was often exhausted after getting ready for work in the morning, so much so that by the time I got in my car ready to back out of the garage I felt wiped out. My husband had to cut my food, open jars and car doors, turn faucets on and off and even dress me. I was simply unable to pull up my socks and panties or fasten my bra. He had to zip up my pants and button buttons. Although this was serious business (to me anyway!) I had to laugh the day a friend at work asked how I was doing. She’d heard my husband had to dress me, cut my food and so on. Then she asked ‘Does he do your hair too? I noticed the other day it looked kind of bad.’ Now some women might have felt insulted or miffed but I just laughed. I’d continued to fix my hair in the morning. I had not needed Bill’s help for that! I told my friend I was apparently just having a bad hair day. I know she felt bad and was a little embarrassed but I thought it was hilarious!

Rheumatoid arthritis, at the beginning, was debilitating and painful and I began to fear none of the many medicines my rheumatologist put me on were ever going to fix the problem. Then in 2003 I started Humira and methotrexate — a powerful combination of drugs that finally alleviated the painful swelling of my joints and the mind-numbing fatigue. Since I began using these medicines I rarely have what’s known as a flare up and sometimes I forget entirely that I have RA.

As with most things in life that have value, however, there is a cost associated with the use of these drugs which brings us full circle. These medicines impact the immune system and as a result infections are a real concern. Seasonal flu shots are a must and any time I notice symptoms of a cold or the flu I need to stop taking both the Humira and the methotrexate until I’m well again. Most of the time I’m okay with this. It’s a fair trade-off considering how horrible it was after I was first diagnosed.

Right now, though, I’m frustrated. I just joined a new fitness club with my sister and the two of us have been thrilled about swimming again. Most likely I picked up the pink eye from the pool and while I don’t know that for certain I’ve since learned that people like me with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to picking up the ‘stray’ bacteria (Disclaimer: paraphrasing here — I’m no expert on the subject!) that isn’t taken care of by the chlorine in the water. My rheumatologist suggested I used ear and nose plugs to prevent water from getting caught inside my ears and nose and thereby allowing any bacteria to fester and cause yet another infection.

Once I get well again I’ll give that a try and I sure hope it prevents another triple whammy of sickness like what I’m going through now. Would I go back to the pain and fatigue I suffered early on? Of course not. But getting sick several times a year is no picnic either. So yes I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I am aware, however, of how incredibly fortunate I am. Many people with far worse afflictions would jump at the chance to trade health-places with me. While I am certainly not enjoying being sick right now or the prospect of having to give up swimming I’ll get through this in a few days or worst case a couple of weeks. And there are other activities and exercises I can engage in to keep fit. I’ve been a little tired and grumpy because of this but I do know — I really, truly do! — that things could be so much worse. I have much to be thankful for — including my health. Weakened immune system be damned!

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Nothing like a field of flowers to instill dreamy thoughts of summers past especially those of one’s childhood.  These carefree blooms, photographed at a winery in Missouri, were beautifully swaying in the breeze that day.  Watching their movement, set on an slight elevation overlooking a small pond, with birds  chirping and tweeting as they flew through the mix it was easy to imagine running through the flowers and grasses and wanting to escape to simpler times without the day in, day out worries and demands of our adult lives and responsibilities.  To only think and act as a child, chasing dragonflies and searching for turtles and frogs along the water’s edge.  Leaping with joy and abandon and living only in the moment, shrieking with delight at the smallest discoveries.  Perhaps we should allow ourselves the simple pleasure of appreciating a summer afternoon spent the way a child would enjoy it.  Probably easier said than done since our adult minds seldom let us go too long before thoughts of more serious, pressing matters intrude and spoil the party.  A worthy goal though nonetheless.

 

Creativity is not one of my strong suits. Oh, I appreciate art and creativity well enough (as I interpret these concepts anyway) and there are times when I’m inspired enough to want to produce something, usually via baking or photography, scrapbooking or writing. The first time I baked ciabatta bread I truly felt I’d created something beautiful (and delicious!) My photographs can sometimes turn out to be quite artfully composed – I’m better with composition, however, than I am with the technical aspects of operating my trusty camera. And occasionally (but never often enough) I am able to find the words I’m seeking to convey ideas or emotions that come to mind at those most quiet of times when my heart sometimes speaks — or whenever a word or a phrase pops into my head and I am compelled to flesh it out and DO something with it.

Beautifully and skillfully created drawings, paintings, sculpture, crafts, photography, writing, music and film: I marvel at human achievement. As the old saying goes, I know what I like. Sometimes I’m blown away by what others have created and incredulous that mere mortals are able to fashion such fantastic works of art. And always I’m jealous, wishing I had even a modicum of the talent used to deliver such breathtaking results.

My sisters chide me for my tendency to get choked up when I’m in the presence of light or goodness or grace or the mastery of the written, sung, painted, spoken, woven, sculpted, danced or otherwise illustrated words of the human soul. Watching the Thunderbirds perform at an airshow several years ago brought tears to my eyes. The power and magnificence and beauty of these awesome machines (and the humans associated with them – both the pilots and those responsible for designing and building them) almost brought me to my knees. I was simply awestruck and that moment became lodged in my psyche as a reminder that exquisiteness can be found in many things, if only we are receptive to what’s offered.

Being immensely creative and masterful of any sort of artistic medium is not, as I’ve noted, a characteristic that I possess. I have tried however! In college I took an Art 101 course to fill out my credit requirements for that semester. Going in with low expectations and a willingness to see what I had to offer, I found the assignments to be fun, challenging and sometimes a little off the wall while they allowed me to dabble in a variety of art forms. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that while I wasn’t exactly artistic I did possess a tinge of creativity and that I wasn’t afraid to employ shock value or quirkiness in the delivery of some of my assignments. One especially memorable creation of mine (which the instructor photographed and used in a slide show for future classes) made use of women’s feminine hygiene products as dinner accoutrements – much to the embarrassment of some of the male students in the class. I’m pleased to report I got an A for that assignment and for the course overall.

When I am excited and passionate about what I’m doing, when I am inspired to succeed, when I am motivated and willing to experiment this is when I’m most likely to feel good about the results. So perhaps I am creative after all. It’s just that I don’t have the artistic ability to go with it, to actually produce many things of real beauty. And I’m OK with that (but oh to be able to paint like Monet or write like Jane Austin).  Lest the reader think I’m merely being coy:  for every artistic ‘success’ I’ve had, there are numerous scrunched up pieces of paper in the trash, or cooking/baking results that went awry or photographs that have failed — miserably.  It’s precisely because these efforts — few and far between — have hit their targets that I cherish them all the more.

Where there is passion and motivation for any endeavor the outcome may be seen as pleasing, comforting, interesting or satisfying. When something you’ve made is wrought by your own hands, under your own power, fueled by your own imagination it can be powerful stuff indeed. Some might even call it art.