Movie Review: The Shape of Water

I am very appreciative that my local theater brought this movie to Joplin. The Shape of Water was recently nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. While I typically wait until after the Oscars to watch all of the films in the best picture category, I couldn’t wait to see this one. My sister Linda joined me tonight, to watch this beautiful story unfold.

The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg. The fantasy adventure, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, carries an R rating, for nudity, violence, sexuality and language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.

Elisa Esposito (Hawkins) works at a government run facility as a cleaning woman. Although she has a good friend in her co-worker, Zelda (Spencer), and a special relationship with her gay artistic neighbor, Giles (Jenkins), most people perceive Elisa to be different…defective.

Elisa does not speak. She never has. Her hearing is perfect, and she is bright, sensitive, hard working. And yet because she lacks a voice, she is often overlooked. Found in a river as a baby, with unusual scars on her neck, Elisa grew up in an orphanage and was given the last name of Esposito, an Italian word signifying abandonment.

She may be silent, but Elisa is eloquent in her expressions and actions. She takes care of her aging neighbor, who is struggling as an artist. They both live in vintage apartments above an old movie theater that is struggling to survive as well. She has caught the unwelcome attention of Colonel Richard Strickland (Shannon), a grasping, career minded military man in charge of the facility and a newly acquired secret “asset”.

Elisa becomes curious about the asset, a man-like creature captured in a river in South America. While he shows aggression toward the Colonel, who tries to control him with an electrical cattle prod, the amphibian man returns Elisa’s curiosity. Charged with keeping the top secret room clean, Elisa pauses each day to share her lunch with her new friend, introducing him to music and sign language.

She discovers an intelligence in the creature, and mutual understanding. Although they are very different from each other, the two have things in common as well. They both love the water, share natural curiosity and creativity, find themselves alone in their uniqueness, and communicate deeply without using words.

When Elisa learns that Colonel Strickland intends to kill the creature and dissect him for the sake of scientific knowledge, she knows she must act quickly to save her caged friend. Gathering her co-worker and neighbor to her as allies, and enlisting the aid of Dr. Hoffstetler (Stuhlbarg), a compassionate scientist who is more than he seems, Elisa concocts an elaborate rescue plan that will save the creature from unnecessary death and give him hope of escaping into the sea.

This was such an enchanting movie. I loved it. As a child, I was unexplainably drawn to monster movies. Thinking about that, as I drove home after the movie, I realized why. It wasn’t because I wanted to be scared. I lived with fear and tended to avoid movies and tv shows that ramped that fear up. No, I was drawn because the monsters were unique, otherworldly, and yet grappling with very human emotions or experiences. They were different, alone, scared, trying to communicate or looking for love, life, and freedom.

Guillermo del Toro understands those characteristics and incorporates them into his monster movies, which is why he is able to create such moving films in this genre. He gets what drives these “monsters”. It’s what drives humans too.

I loved the diversity within this film…that the two main characters conveyed such powerful performances without speaking…and that every character had depths to explore and some had strengths that were hidden until they were called forth.

I am a huge fan of Doug Jones, who covered in costuming and make-up, brought compassion and sensuality to the amphibious creature. Doug often plays characters that require extensive make-up and complex wardrobes. He is currently the alien Saru on Star Trek Discovery. It is amazing what Doug is able to convey, while physically limited by prosthetics and intricate costumes, through nuanced gestures and body language. I feel his portrayal in The Shape of Water deserves a nomination, alongside his colleagues who are nominated.

Doug Jones as Saru in Star Trek Discovery.

Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins.

I am inspired by The Shape of Water. It is a love story, an adult fairy tale, and a well done monster movie, all combined into one poignant film. It teaches us that differences are to be celebrated, and life cherished, and hope championed. It reminds us that people possess depths that aren’t immediately apparent. Time is required to uncover those gifts, time and respect and trust.

I will be cheering for this lovely movie as I watch the Academy Awards in March. I hope it takes home lots of Oscars.

Letting in the Light

During my adult years, in the houses I have rented or owned, I have observed a morning ritual. I open up the curtains or the blinds covering the windows, and let the light in. Whether sunlight streams in through the windows or gray light filters in weakly, I welcome it happily into my living space.

I realized this morning that I had not opened the blinds for several days, keeping them closed as a barricade against the chill of winter outside. The sun was shining brilliantly this morning. It was time to let it in.

Moving room to room, welcoming the light, I recognized that the desire that I have to see sunlight was born in my childhood. Horribly frightened in the dark, the return of the sun each morning brought relief, a lessening of my fear, and hope. The light not only drove the shadows from my room, it chased them from my heart as well.

My heart carries its own light now, that is impervious to the darkest night. But it fills me with quiet gladness and simple joy to continue to bring sunlight into my home.

I’ve never been one to slather on the tanning oil and lay for hours in the sun. However I do enjoy sitting in a patch of sunlight for brief periods of time and soaking in the energy. Tipping back my head, eyes closed, I sun gaze for the same reason, to bring in the sun’s energy.

Indoors the sunlight slants across my favorite chair late in the afternoon, inviting me to slow down, close my eyes, and sun bathe before twilight creeps in.

This afternoon, before heading out on an errand, I paused to stand in the full light of the winter sun as it beamed through the window. I learned from Anthony William that the butterfly shaped thyroid gland collects energy from the sun, using it for healing, for balancing its production of hormones and for fighting the Epstein-Barr virus that can burrow there.

Eyes closed, chin raised to expose my throat, I welcomed the sunlight again, into my home, into my body. Shakti Gawain, author of Living in the Light, writes, “The more light you allow within you, the brighter the world you live in will be.”

My heart, soul…and thyroid…are full of light. My world is bright indeed!

Love Note

I get a lot of junk mail. After a perfunctory glance, it goes right into the trash can. But this piece of unsolicited mail was different. The words “Cortona, Italy” on the cover caught my eye. I paused to study what appeared to be a clothing catalog.

Soft Surroundings was the name of the company. I flipped it over. Yes…it was addressed to me. I had never heard of Soft Surroundings, and certainly had not requested one of their catalogs. However, I was intrigued. I loved the subtitle beneath the company name: my time my place my self.

I opened the catalog, a nice quality publication of 60 pages…and felt my heart rate quicken. I smiled. I knew nothing, yet, about the style of clothing within, but the note from the company founder, Robin Sheldon, won me over.

The photo shoot for this catalog took place in Cortona, Italy, located in the Tuscany region. She wrote that they returned from Cortona in love with the country, the cuisine, the warm people…and a couple named Ed and Frances Mayes. Frances is the author of Under the Tuscan Sun. I have not read the book, but the film version of the story is one of my favorites! That movie created a love and a yearning for Italy, long before my grandson chose that country as his graduation trip destination.

I can’t adequately convey how warm and fuzzy this beautiful catalog made me feel, before I even browsed through its pages. I felt loved and treasured, heard and understood, surprising emotions to arise because of a catalog. I brewed a cup of hot tea, sat in my favorite chair, and experienced Soft Surroundings.

I immediately loved the style of clothing offered. The gorgeous dresses, tops, leggings, shoes and home products are a delightful mix of boho and comfy casual…perfect for a long weekend away…or a spontaneous trip to Italy.

As I slowly thumbed through the catalog, I did something that harkened back to my childhood. I turned down corners, marking pages that contained something that strongly appealed to me. Honestly, that was most pages! How fun to spend a leisurely half hour looking at beautiful clothes and bedding, reading snippets about the team’s stay in Italy, and remembering with fondness my own trip there last year.

There was even a fun sensory page, where rubbing my wrist on the paper transferred a subtle, sensual fragrance onto my skin.

This is what I love most about Soft Surroundings and receiving it unexpectedly…it felt like a love note, a wink from the Divine. Things that I enjoy, appreciate and adore are captured within its pages…travel, and Italy in particular, a clothing style that resonates with me as I dabble in fashion design, truly lovely photography with sun soaked Italian landscapes, little stories scattered throughout the pages, which served to connect me to this company, and references to Under the Tuscan Sun, a top ten movie for me.

I didn’t request this catalog. But it seems tailored to me. It’s like a thumbs up or an encouraging hug that says to me…keep going…you are on the right path. The other thing I noticed as I browsed was that I didn’t concern myself with prices. I marked the pages of the items I loved. Prices, which are moderate, were not where my focus was. And I like that. It signals growth in an area of my life.

I appreciate this Divine love note with all my heart. I can’t explain how I received it. They must have gotten my name from a mailing list. However it happened, I am grateful for all the sweet feelings and memories and anticipated pleasures Soft Surroundings evoked. And I am excited about placing my first order. A 20th anniversary edition of Under the Tuscan Sun is even offered. It’s time to read the book that inspired the movie. And dream of another trip to Italy.

Visit Soft Surroundings HERE.

Journey of the Misfit

I’m doing something different in tonight’s post, that I have not done before. It fits well with the theme for this year…story…in that I am calling this post a prelude.

I have felt drawn in a particular direction for several days, and although I didn’t feel ready to write about it, the topic kept popping up, coming at me from a variety of directions and sources. When something appears in a repetitive way it is a signal to me to pay attention. I felt like I had written about this subject before, but apparently there is something more for me here, something deeper to explore.

I have always felt like a misfit…like someone who doesn’t quite fit in traditional roles. As a result, I’ve hidden aspects of myself for most of my life. I no longer mind being a misfit, being different, realizing my creativity and imaginative ideas flow from my unique perspectives. It has been a journey indeed to quit trying to fit in and celebrate my differences and the beautiful differences of everyone I meet.

From my love of the messages within the movie and songs of The Greatest Showman, to the quirky games that I create to play, to my desire to adapt things now to fit me rather than the other way around…I am reveling in the joys of being who I am.

Knowing I was not ready to write about all that is stirring in my heart, I considered several other possibilities for the blog this evening. But no. I was continually, gently, brought back to these ideas…which means it is important.

So instead, as I grapple still with my thoughts, here are the signposts from today’s journey, all pointing me down the same path. I’m going to post screenshots, without explanation, without connecting the dots. However, you can see how the same theme kept tapping on my shoulder, and on my heart today.

All of the above caught my attention during this day, raising my awareness and sparking deep thoughts and deeper questions. This is my prelude, my introduction to an upcoming post. I will share the story tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, whenever all that I am supposed to see and hear and feel and follow is revealed. I’m excited, and curious, to see where the path goes.

Movie Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi

I was late to view the latest Star Wars installment. My sister Linda and I finally caught a showing this past week. Honestly, there were other films I was more interested in seeing, as they released. And as I am gearing up for the Academy Awards in about a month, I have a new slate of movies I want to watch. I wondered if I had at last outgrown the Star Wars saga…or if it had outgrown me. But I have seen every film in this franchise. I was there 40 years ago when Star Wars released and I will see the story through until the end.

The Last Jedi stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Joonas Suotamo, Jimmy Vee, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro and Kelly Marie Tran. This sci-fi adventure, directed by Rian Johnson, carries a PG-13 rating, for sequences of intense action and violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 32 minutes.

We learn from the now traditional opening crawl that the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis), is planning to seize control of the galaxy. A small band of Resistance Fighters is evacuating from their base of operations, under the direction of General Leia Organa (Fisher). They are placing great hope on the return of Jedi Luke Skywalker (Hamill).

Rey (Ridley) pilots the Millennium Falcon to the planet Ahch-To, accompanied by Chewbacca (Suotamo) and R2-D2 (Vee). Their mission is to find Luke and bring him to Leia. Luke is not happy to be found, and indifferent at first to Rey’s requests for help. He eventually comes to recognize that the Force is strong in her and he reluctantly agrees to train her.

As Rey begins rigorous exercises to develop her abilities, she connects mentally with Kylo Ren (Driver), Leia and Han’s son who has gone over to the dark side. Rey and Kylo can see each other and communicate, in spite of the great distances between them. Rey hopes to bring Kylo back into the light. Kylo calls to Rey to join him, telling her the way of the Jedi is over and a new order is coming.

As the Resistance attempts to flee, Leia is injured when TIE fighters attack her ship. As she recovers, Vice Admiral Holdo (Dern) assumes command. She seeks to contain young fighter pilot Poe (Isaac), who is itching for immediate and decisive action. Finn (Boyega) wakes from the coma he has been in, after his fight with Kylo, as portrayed in the last film. He teams up with Rose (Tran), a mechanic who just lost her sister in the attack on the ship. They leave together to find a man called the code-breaker (Del Toro), who can help the Resistance escape Snoke’s pursuing ship.

Out of fuel, and with Snoke and Kylo getting closer, the Resistance leaves their ship in escape pods, heading toward the planet Crait, on which is an abandoned Resistance stronghold. The pods are picked off, one by one by enemy fire, until only a remnant is left. The ultimate confrontation comes on Crait, as the First Order seeks to destroy the last of the Resistance. Finn and Rose arrive, with the code-breaker in tow. Rey returns, without Luke, after very few lessons from the Jedi, and faces off with Kylo.

As General Leia awaits the outcome of this final fierce battle, hope arrives unexpectedly.

Much happens in Star Wars Episode VIII, in a relatively short span of time, storyline wise. There were the usual funny moments, a huge variety of interesting alien creatures and races, and excellent special effects. The best action sequences occurred toward the end of a very long film.

What stood out to me in this tale was the passing of the baton, or lightsaber if you will, to a younger generation. Han Solo died in the last movie. Luke, as the last Jedi…or is he?…fulfills his destiny in the story. And because of the sad, and untimely, death of actress Carrie Fisher, we will not see Leia again. The story will continue with Rey, Finn and Poe, and perhaps Rose who was a delight in this episode. And Kylo Ren assumes the dark shroud of the villain, seemingly following the path of his grandfather, Darth Vader.

It was very touching to watch Carrie Fisher’s final performance. General Leia was integral to the final three episodes, with IX intended to be her pinnacle story. Instead, she quietly shines in this, her last movie, and the concluding film has been rewritten without her. Which for me, made this episode feel like the end of the story. Those dynamic young characters that brought me into the Star Wars saga 40 years ago…Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, even Darth Vader…are all gone.

I am sure I will go and watch the last episode, to see where this next group of fresh characters end up. And I intend to see the upcoming backstory movie, Solo, which gives us a look at young Han at the beginning of his adventures. I sincerely hope that then concludes the amazing story that began…A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Living the Hygge Lifestyle

I have my friend Marijo to thank, for bringing this Scandinavian custom to my attention again. I first heard of hygge a year ago. Greg showed me a book called The Little Book of Hygge. He told me, “This is what you do.”

I glanced at the book and thought it was interesting, but I didn’t pursue the topic. This past week Marijo tagged me on Facebook, bringing hygge back into my awareness. “This made me think of you” she wrote. I read the article she had tagged me on. And suddenly, it all connected. I understood myself better, which is always a good thing.

Hygge, pronounce hue • gah, is a Danish word without an exact English equivalent. It is way of life for the peoples of the Scandinavian region. It translates most closely to “creating an atmosphere of warm and coziness”. Hygge promotes peace and happiness, simplicity and togetherness, warmth and home, wholesome food and hot drinks.

Elements of living a hygge lifestyle include:

Surrounding yourself with family and friends and enjoying the simple pleasures in life. It’s gathering with those we love and celebrating life with good food and fun games and lively conversations. It’s backyard picnics and snuggling under thick blankets in front of a fire on a chilly evening, reading aloud or watching a movie. Togetherness is key to a hygge lifestyle.

Living in the present moment and practicing gentle self care. Hygge means relaxing in a hammock, spending an extra hour in bed, walking in the garden, learning a new hobby or soaking in the tub. It’s about journaling, being creative, having a pet to care for, and creating space to think and dream. Because it promotes healthy living as well, it includes cooking nourishing food and pausing during the day for a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate.

Creating a warm, welcoming environment at home. Hygge encourages warming up the home with textured quilts and cozy blankets, a crackling fire in fireplaces or fire pits, soft candlelight, lamps instead of overhead fixtures, piles of good books to read near a favorite comfy chair. Hygge is all about using simple natural furniture and decor, creating a soothing peaceful space. Piling pillows on beds and sofas, using rugs on the floor, letting natural light in, creating intimate spaces, bringing in plants and flowers, lighting scented candles and using calming neutral colors all contribute to a harmonious space.

I realized, as I have further researched what hygge is, that I have done these things all my life. I am naturally drawn to hygge, from my desire to create beautiful, intimate spaces to my backyard paradise to the bohemian style clothes I love to wear to the many candles throughout my home. My inclination to create vignettes is hygge. The way I nurture myself and decorate my home is hygge, as is my love of hot drinks and piles of pillows and linens, and my preference for lamps instead of overhead lighting.

I suddenly understood it all, in light of my recent DNA test results, when I read this statement by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, and author of The Little Book of Hygge. “Hygge is a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of our national DNA.”

DNA. DNA! My results show that I am 6% Scandinavian, a region that includes Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Hygge is in my DNA! How amazing to realize that. It brought years to my eyes and deep understanding to my heart.

So excuse me. The sun is setting. I will brew a cup of hot tea, turn on a few lamps, light candles, and add a few drops of Young Living lavender oil to my diffuser. My favorite blanket is draped over my chair and there are a couple of books nearby.

I am hygging. My Scandinavian is showing.

An Edible Vignette

Tonight I finally completed the last of five vignettes that I set the intention for doing, back in early January. As part of the Love Your Life in 30 Days course, by Mike Dooley, I selected five areas of my life that I am experiencing growth and shifts in. I chose Blogging/Writing, Abundance, Travel, Creativity and Health. I have enjoyed creating these 3D vision boards for each area in my life.

The final category was health…and I’ve struggled a bit creating this vignette. I came up with ideas for items I could use to represent health. Fresh fruits and veggies seemed a natural inclusion for this vignette, although one of the challenges I had was not eating my vignette before I assembled it! The kitchen was the ideal location for a health vignette, even though I am limited on surface space there.

This evening I decided to go for it. I stocked up on fruits and vegetables and began creating. My other ideas included a tea pot, lots of containers of herbal teas and dried foods, a mortar and pestle, a framed quote and a sunflower, which represents good health.

As I worked, the vignette ultimately became very simple. Food is what keeps me healthy…fruits, vegetables, herbs, legumes, brown rice and a variety of supplements and teas. I used a rustic wooden box that Greg made for me as a veggie crate. It is full of organic potatoes, regular and sweet, onions and cherry tomatoes.

A black wire basket holds a variety of organic fruits…lemons, limes, oranges, bananas, apples and avocados. I added several mason jars containing dry lentils, brown rice, a mix of 13 beans and a small jar of licorice root for tea. There wasn’t space for my tea pot, so I included a small white tea cup and saucer instead. And because I wanted each vignette to have a light source, I fit in a small vintage Bell mason jar with a tea light tucked inside. As an afterthought almost, I hand wrote part of Hippocrates’ quote…Let food be your medicine…and popped it into a tiny frame. The vignette rests on a vibrant antique linen.

It isn’t fancy, but I like how this last vignette turned out. It’s colorful. It’s inspiring. It’s wholesome, real food which is at the core of my health practices. It reminds me of how much my life shifted when I set off down this healing path, and how I continue to become stronger, healthier and more fit.

Five life categories…five vignettes. This last one differs from the others, and that’s okay. It will continue to shift and change because…I will eat that food!

Island of Light

Arriving home late this evening, I considered which story to tell. I had several ideas, however, due to the lateness of the day, I chose to write those stories when I have more time to spend crafting them. Instead, the subject of my story called out to me as I approached the turn onto my street.

Shining brightly, the newly installed lamp post on my corner illuminated my way home. Tonight was the first time that I have had the joy of driving beneath that welcoming pool of light.

It might seem silly to get excited about something so utilitarian. But happy I am about this addition to my neighborhood. Even though temps were in the low 20s, I walked down to the corner, to stand within the glow from the light.

I’ve loved lamp posts since my childhood. On warm summer nights in my city neighborhood, the kids would eventually congregate beneath those posts, knowing our parents would be calling us home shortly. We watched the bats dart in to feast on the insects circling the lighted globes. We jumped in and out of the rings of light ourselves, making up games, laughing and chatting, celebrations of childhood freedoms.

Later in my life I was enchanted by the old fashioned lamp post in the Chronicles of Narnia tales by CS Lewis. That light was a beacon to the children who discovered Narnia. Its light guided them into that magical land and when they were ready, the soft glow showed them the way home.

I so loved that lamp post that I have longed to have a replica in my backyard garden. It represents to me the same things that the Narnian lamp post does…hope, adventure, beauty and the light of home.

I still don’t have a lamp post in my backyard, but now I do have one on my street corner. Standing beneath the light tonight I realized something else.

On May 22, 2011, I stood in that very spot, on that corner, facing west. There wasn’t a lamp post. I was looking up though. The clouds were behaving oddly in the ominously black sky. I couldn’t see what was coming, but I could hear it. The roar of the approaching EF-5 tornado signaled impending destruction. I ran for cover.

My entire neighborhood was devastated by that storm. For weeks and weeks there was no electricity in the area. It was startling to drive down 20th Street, and see the unrelenting blackness to the south, blocks and blocks of darkness without a single light to break up the gloom. Work began in my part of town, by mid summer, and that work has continued for almost seven years. One of the most recent improvements was the installation of these new street lights.

I love that the darkness is now dispelled. I appreciate this bright beacon on my corner. It is an island of light, an oasis, where the darkness cannot gather. It offers hope and the promise that the light will always return, the light always wins. It calls to me. The light guides me home.