A Hallmark Candid Synopsis: Finding Father Christmas

On a certain level I understand that a Hallmark Christmas movie hinges on Christmas being a vitally important holiday that is appreciated, acknowledged, and celebrated — with bells on. But if your only exposure to film was Hallmark channel movies, you’d really have a very terrifying perspective on the absolute necessity of specific Christmas rituals, rites, and saccharine sweet antics.

Finding Father Christmas ticks all the boxes and then some. In a story about a young woman who hasn’t felt up to celebrating the holiday since her mother died during a Christmas play when she was a young girl, this movie needs to make up for any and all lost time. Here’s a short chronicle of the almost cultish obsession displayed with this holiday:

  • Christmas town — You can’t convince me this isn’t a gimmick the producers thought up. A Hallmark Christmas town is essentially a ceramic Christmas village come to life, but instead of that weirding everyone out, they’re happy to live in the snow globe (that’s, by the way, the basis of a totally different Hallmark movie).
  • Tree lighting tradition — Okay, this is a tradition in some places in the world. But can we all agree, this is not a “Christmas necessity”. It’s a fun light show. You could get a better display from a Pink Floyd concert.
  • Gift baskets — I haven’t seen this one before, but basically our love interest’s family has unlimited wealth which is amply displayed in giant pinterest type gift baskets that are given out to the townspeople. And given the off-camera shriek of one of the recipients, it’s the highlight of the year. But honestly, what happened to just mailing out Christmas cards? Isn’t that enough effort??
  • Horse drawn … cart — Yeah, you gotta have a sleigh — or something like a sleigh — pulled by reindeer — or something like reindeer…anyway it’s romantic to go on a ride in an open air vehicle in the winter with a lap blanket and a man wrapped around you. It’s really the only valid excuse for public groping we’ve come up with as a people.
  • White Christmas — I think we can blame several earlier movies for this Christmas necessity. But ever since I could drive I’ve been baffled by the trope. It’s a huge travel day and everyone is thrilled that now the road is an obstacle course with hidden death traps. Happy holidays from the ditch, friends.
  • Christmas eve tradition — The insistence with which people stress “we ALWAYS do this on Christmas eve” had me thinking that maybe it was something major. Like ritual sacrifice. I’d even have settled for a yearly ritual burning of the Elf on the Shelf.
  • Christmas day tradition — In case you weren’t feeling boxed in enough by expectation and history, there’s a Christmas day tradition TOO. Not church though, I noticed. I’m not sure yet if the overt religious themes are being weeded out entirely, but they’re certainly being nixed in favor of what I’m going to term “Christmas religion”.
  • Christmas religion — At some point in the movie someone will be wondering what all this Christmas fuss is about. Why the gift baskets? The lights? The tree? Why is everyone so blessed happy? It’s at this point that our Christmas pro (who probably has a gift wrapping room at the Christmas cottage) gives a small tutorial on “the reason for the season”. It’s not Jesus. It’s “loving people” “life” “taking time for the small moments” “spending time with those you love” “letting people know you love them” “sharing with others”. Honestly, it’s whatever sermonette our heroine has been struggling to grasp for the previous hour+.

My advice is if your own Christmas is lacking in the experience of any of these tropes, watch this movie. You get the vicarious experience with 100% less of the glitter and inevitable family fallout. ALSO This is the first in a series of three. So. There’s so much more to look forward to?

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Hallmark Musings: Married by Christmas

My brother in law suggested that for the entire Holiday season I review Hallmark channel films. It’s a family tradition of hate watching sappy romances and mocking them relentlessly that needs to be shared with more people. The catharsis is real. And sometimes the hangover.

All films I’ll be watching can be found streaming on Hallmark’s website. It’s a fairly cheap subscription so if you want to put yourself through this you’re welcome to, I could use the moral support.

I don’t have a real selection process and am open to suggestions for the next films. So let me know what you’re in the mood for.

This week we have: Married By Christmas

Quick Plot Synopsis: It’s always been assumed that Carrie would take over the family company when her father retired, but a provisional requirement in her Grandmother’s will makes the fate of the company uncertain and leaves Carrie scrambling to wed before her sister on Christmas Eve. When it comes to family and business, where does true love fit in? (Yes, I wrote this synopsis. It came easily and I’m very mad at myself because I think it’s really good.)

Below are my play by play notes on the movie.

  • On imdb it’s called “The Engagement Clause” which is an arguably superior title
  • Both the leads are Irish? #diversity
  • The titles scroll over a Christmas tree, because of course they do.

 

  • This is honestly the ugliest house I’ve seen in a movie. This includes that one about the house that kills people.
  • Oh look at that, our heroine is a busy businesswoman and she has a perky not stick thin assistant. She’s going to give our heroine some home truths later in the film.
  • “Love is in the air.” “So is the swine flu, Zelda.” Classic. I need to use this in real life sometime.

 

  • The Dad has entered with a serious Dad paunch on full display. It’s important you know her dad is a real dad. I bet he golfs.
  • Oh man I know this plot. She thinks she wants to be like her dad and be a successful businesswoman and make him proud, but little does she know he’d be proud if she just married a man. This will greatly influence her later in the movie.
  • OMG her dad calls her “Care-bear”. Such a dad.
  • He calls his wife “Sergeant Bitsy”? The nicknames have gone too far.
  • Also just called her “munchkin”, and “my girl”.
  • He does golf! Confirmed.

 

  • Ethan, little sister Katie’s fiance-to-be, is appropriately pretty for a young man in one of these movies.
  • Wow with no sense of personal boundaries. Dude. don’t pick up strangers. Literally. don’t pick them up off the ground.
  • “He also forages.” Is that some kind of innuendo?? I think for Ethan “pine nuts” means something else.
  • Ew he just did creepy foraging fingers. Not charming. Not funny. #neveragainEthan
  • I think they’re making fun of hipsters? But it’s really just white people displaying why a lot of people don’t like white people
  • Care Bear needs more wine in that glass.
  • “Perpetually pesky Carrie” one more nickname from Paunchy Papa.
  • Everyone’s gotta stop saying Turducken. Please.
  • Ethan’s not “divine”, Katie. He forages.
  • Katie and Ethan are engaged. Does this mean he gets a family nickname too? I have suggestions.
  • Oh man. the men went to watch football while the lady folk decorated the tree? Balance is restored. Finally, women being FEMININE and men being SPORTS.
  • Oh this is a delight. Grandma Lucille had “specific ideas about gender roles”, but the next generation is CLEARLY not into that.
  • But all kidding aside, leaving the company to your granddaughter’s husband is the DUMBEST thing ever. Someone should have declared Lucille not fit to make a will.
  • Oh Ethan’s about to be a terrible person. I am so glad he lives up to that godawful sweater he’s wearing. By not wanting to let Carrie have the company. Didn’t he JUST get into this family?

 

  • Introduction to the prime love interest!! Oh and he has “soft” hands and somehow this is VERY good news.
  • HAHA his last name is “Courtney” ahhh what a girl.
  • Excellent they’re adversarial right from the start and for no real reason. My favorite romance trope.
  • Oh she doesn’t shake his soft hand. BURN and a good way to delay their inevitable first brush of the hands and ROMANTIC AWAKENING
  • White girl dramatics are starting. Her life is over. Obviously. How can there be a movie to watch if her life isn’t over?

 

  • Oh she’s approaching this crazy marriage idea like it’s a business contract. Amazing. I love when movies try to pretend like women who are analytical also don’t understand how humans work. At all.
  • MALE MEAT MARKET MONTAGE
  • All these potential stranger husbands pick her up at her door? That seems unsafe for blind dates.
  • Oh classic romance misdirection. Paul from high school, the one who got away. “Paul was just a red herring.” — Me at the end of this movie.
  • Paul is adorable and charming and cute and flirty. This won’t work out.
  • Why are all the men dark haired with the same haircut? or roughly the same haircut? At least we know Ethan wears horrible llama hair sweaters (this is assumed, but he’s totally that type)
  • She took Paul’s hand. There were no obvious sparks. He can’t be the guy.

 

  • “Carrie you’re not still angry with Ethan and me are you?” This from clueless Katie. NOOOOOOOOO Why would Carrie be mad at you for saying you were going to THINK about taking the company away from her? That’s just crazy.
  • OMG Ethan’s best friend is Soft Hands Courtney? He has no first name now, it’s just “Soft Hands”.
  • Ethan and Soft Hands are almost identical. I can’t believe they didn’t just make them twins.
  • Also Ethan is not wearing a llama sweater, so disappointed.
  • Now with all three men in the same room it’s evident that Paul’s not the right guy. He has zero scruff. A five ‘o clock shadow is MANDATORY. That’s how we know Soft Hands is a real man, worthy of love.
  • Oh “wah” “it is going to cost a fortune to ship all of this to Napa!” says the bride to be staring at all her presents that PEOPLE GAVE HER. It’s too bad she didn’t think of charity donations until AFTER she got the gifts. #blessed
  • Christmas decorations montage. It’s too soon. TOO. SOON.

I took a break here before my eyes started bleeding

  • We’re back. Care Bear is dressed like an Elf. I’m sure the “why” will become clear.
  • Is it too much to ask that one of the antlers on her head (she’s wearing an elf hat and antlers because she has no Christmas self control, pull it together Carrie) accidentally stabs Soft Hands in the eye when she puts her head in her hands? IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK.
  • It is too much. Why God WHY. My life is over.
  • Wow she gave him a candy cane. Both a cheap and unappealing treat. Anything bigger would just be leading him on though.

ICE SKATING MONTAGE

  • Not too many people are brave enough to put a clarinet Christmas solo into their movie. #alternativechristmasspirit
  • Oh she thinks Paul might be perfect. That’s actually how you know he’s not the right guy. That, and the fact that he shaves.

 

  • Oh! perky assistant lady tried to give home truths wisdom and got SHUT DOWN. “Do some assistant thing” Ouch.

 

  • Paul is way too into this movie they’re watching. He and Carrie are destined to be BFFs. I  hope he turns out to be gay.
  • If she wanted to seduce him, should have worn a low cut top.
  • Tbh Paul totally reminds me of me watching a movie. It is insufferable. I apologize. No one likes your movie trivia, Paul!
  • Oh good. Wacky bachelorette guests who drink too much schnapps. Oh! And a little slutty. Fantastic. They’re going to be all over Dylan. And Dylan is going to need someone to save him from those cloying bimbo schnapps females.
  • UGH Ethan take up MORE OF THE COUCH. It’s not like it’s made for three and that you’re sharing it with other humans. It’s possible I hate him for no reason. #neverforgetthellamsweater
  • Someone just said “Festooned” and “Christmas foliage” in the same sentence. I think that means we have to sacrifice an elf.
  • They don’t have cellular reception OR a landline at this horrortastic Christmas cottage? WHY? What kind of commune cult house is this??
  • Paul came bearing alcohol. He is going to need it. I also need it.

Gin break

  • Oh Soft Hands came back from a manly hike to help Carrie bake cookies.
  • She just gave him a naked cookie for a snack. Why would someone give someone else a naked cookie unless you’re trying to send a message? #noonelikessofthands
  • Oh she burned herself. And now we have the hand grazing we’ve been waiting for as he TAKES CARE OF HER.
  • She needs a whole towel for this? Dude, do a shot and slather the aloe and away you go.
  • Paul ruined their moment. OMG Paul go be in a different movie.
  • Maybe one where you can get the girl. You deserve a nice woman, Paul. Or man.

 

  • Sisters who don’t communicate. This is actually a good movie plotline. Why didn’t they just do this.
  • Also Mom can’t pick out presents for shit. This is an excellent sub plot. More of this please.

 

  • This is one of the ugliest wedding dresses I’ve ever seen.
  • “Stevie Nicks lace explosion” excellent dress description. Go team Carrie.
  • Carrie’s selfish for wanting the life she’s been working toward not to be snatched away by her disinterested sister? MMMMMMM not seeing it guys.
  • Wow. Katie and Ethan are the WOOOOOOORST. This is how you ruin families right here. Nice job Grandma Lucille.

 

  • Carrie’s going to roofie Paul and make him marry her in Las Vegas. This is not going to hold up in court.
  • Carrie might be selfish for conning a guy into marrying her so she can get her company back. Maybe.
  • Is Paul’s signature clothing item scarves? Because he seems to own a LOT of scarves. Carrie’s in a sleeveless dress so I have no idea what the weather is right now.
  • She is doing a terrible job of explaining this to Paul.
  • PAUL IS GAY. Oh man. They should definitely get married now. This is a way better movie.
  • Wow Carrie is homophobic. How fun.
  • It’s fine guys. She was joking. and drunk!
  • Drunk dialing Soft Hands. Excellent decision. Sidenote, why does she have his number? I think we missed a crucial plot point here.
  • Also, never in the history of ever has saying “Calm down” helped anyone to calm down.
  • I relate to drunk Carrie on a very literal sober level. *ambivalently waves phone at stranger “can you take care of this?”*
  • There’s a lot of straight guy plaid in this movie, side note.
  • She just fell over and said “shh”. This is some excellent acting right here. She’s an exmplar drunk. I’m just going to assume she’s method.
  • Well that was a long and uncomfortable drunk pajama sequence.

 

  • “I need you to return this and I need to die.” I feel you Carrie.
  • Ooh there’s a home truth. “You don’t own the company now. Nothing has to change.” #zoeywisdom
  • Hungover Carrie Munchkin is not having this excellent wisdom.
  • Wow she doesn’t remember drunk dialing Soft Hands. I wish I could totally erase mortifying moments from my own life.
  • Side note, he’s a corporate lawyer who wears a LOT of not suits during working hours.
  • HOME TRUTH CENTRAL, bring it Zoey

 

  • We have reached the part of the movie where I think Carrie needs to apologize to a lot of people.
  • Drunk slutty bridesmaids are cupids helpers. Drunk girls often fulfill this role tbh
  • One apology down, kind of. Like half a dozen more to go.
  • Ew the guys have a “tijuana trip” featuring in the best man speech. Gross.
  • Apology number two happening right now.
  • Calling someone “pathetic” when they’re actively apologizing? Pretty low.
  • “I don’t think we can allow you to talk to anybody you’re not related to.” Truth Katie. You’re being a dick right now, but it’s true.
  • Okay they’re framing this like Katie is the sensible, reasonable one. And honestly, we know Carrie’s not, but Katie got those mad crazy bride eyes. Sooooooo
  • Side note, getting married on a holiday? Kind of a dick move. I think we all know this is Jesus’ birthday, your wedding does not trump that Katie. Especially in that hideous dress.
  • Carrie’s resigning. Right before their wedding. Ultimate passive aggressive move. Love it.
  • Also, let’s just call this ultimate first world problems — fighting over who gets to own a successful company so the other one can follow their dreams.
  • “I’ve been dreading this since THE DAY YOU WERE BORN.” So dramatic papa nickname. Really??
  • If Ethan is not wearing a llama sweater tux I’m going to be super disappointed.
  • Disappointed.
  • BUT IT’S A PLAID SHIRT so…I feel like we’re all losers now.
  • And his best man is wearing a sweater vest. While Carrie has on a full length strapless gown? Did no one discuss the aesthetic of this event??
  • Oooh coy best man and maid of honor romantic looks over the happy couple #clichesthatwork
  • And literally the shortest ceremony I’ve ever seen. Which is good. I don’t want to know anything more about llama plaid Ethan.
  • There’s maybe 20 people at this wedding and no eligible men so the slutty bridesmaids are dancing with each other. #drunkgirlsdontcare
  • Paul is back. His scarf is missing. And he’s pulling a Rupert Everett from My Best Friend’s Wedding. Not as well though. But I appreciate the sentiment.
  • The cake is in the shape of a log? Oh God. Why did anyone allow this.
  • Wait what the what? She’s going to work for that vineyard that Soft Hands is the attorney for? Yeah you’re right, let’s gloss over this and focus more on the dancing.
  • “i’m a nice guy.” RED ALERT CARRIE. RED ALERT. Nice guys don’t feel the need to say this.
  • Aaaand they’re kissing. And it made me feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because it came on the heels of him whispering “I look sexy in plaid.”

 

And that’s a wrap folks. Think fondly of my sacrifice while you watch better movies. #trueheroesanalyzefilms #icantstophashtagging #sendhelp

 

Mistaken Halloween Identity

At some point in my young human life my mom dressed me up for Halloween as a bunch of grapes. I remember being surprised to discover that I was not the only person to ever experience this necessity being the mother of ingenuity costume design.

Honestly, in hindsight and because I really can’t remember if it was at all awkward running around swathed in a cloud of green balloons, it’s one of my favorite costumes.

Not that I wore a lot of them over the years.

A lot of women experience “imposter syndrome” in their adult work life, but I’ve taken it to the next level I think in not wanting to masquerade as anyone but me in most aspects of life – including on Halloween.

But in all honesty, I’ve pretty much always assumed that for women after puberty all costumes must be slutty, and rebelled accordingly, mostly by not wearing them, but also when I did wear a costume, invariably I’d dress as a man.

There was the year I borrowed my dad’s fatigues (not the blood-stained ones) and boots. The bonus to this was that I could wear long underwear underneath. I was probably the warmest person walking around outside in a costume that October.

For my senior year and the class masquerade I decided to go as an old-timey reporter, complete with fedora and one of my dad’s suits from the 70s (that honestly fit me alarmingly well).

I still can’t fathom the rationale of wearing less clothes at the end of October than you’d normally wear in the middle of summer. It’s never made sense to me. Nor have I understood the “excuse” or opportunity to dress scandalously in the name of…what? Pretending to be someone you’re not? Or having the excuse to be someone you’re not?

I suppose it’s not surprising that a lot of women will seize the opportunity to be sexy under the guise of Halloween fun, but I suppose it’s almost a little sad then that in the heights of fantasy and imagination I sought the freedom and power of dressing up in my father’s clothes.

high school halloween

After all, if you’re never going to be a tough soldier, at least for a night you can look like one.

And maybe I was never going to be a hard-boiled reporter tackling the most important stories of the day, but I could dress like one for an evening.

That’s a lot of pressure to bring to a costume, isn’t it? Picking something to change the way people see you, or to become finally the self you wanted to be.

Makes me think maybe kids are really on to something with their costumes. Like the year I was a red crayon. I can’t tell you why I was a red crayon, and honestly, does there need to be a reason? I was a red crayon cause I could be (also maybe I’m a little addicted to costumes with hats, huh).

early halloween

Anyway, this Halloween maybe do yourself a little favor with your seasonal prep and think outside the box like a kid. Go as static cling, or a globe, or a dinosaur – and not a sexy one, just a rad one. (Ps, I’m not going to post a link to it here because ew, but I did find a sexy dinosaur costume after a terrifyingly brief google search. Sigh.)

No Rain, No Flowers

I’ve been planning and saving money to go visit Malta for two years before I was able to afford the adventure. Most people will tell you that anticipation is half the fun of the adventure, and they’re usually right. I was mentally on vacation each time I checked out a rental, or planned which sites to visit, museums to frequent, food I had to eat, wineries I needed to stop by. In my head the vacation was already epic.

If I tell you the trip peaked in the executive Delta lounge at the Seattle airport, you should know I’m only half joking.

Sidenote: Honestly, the executive Delta lounge is a dream lounge. If you know someone who has a lot of air miles under their belt, travel with them just for this privilege. It felt exactly like being a wealthy snob in an 80s movie. That is to say it felt like the kind of rich indulgence that middle class people imagine goes on in exclusive places. They piped in classical music, the seats were spacious, leather, and private. An attendant walked around with a tray of freshly made complimentary smoothies. The water was infused. I spent about an hour giggling because I’d seen The Blues Brothers the night before and just wanted to turn to an old man and say, “sell me your children.” Seriously, watch the clip.

Fast forward to Malta and my friend trying to roll a bag broken by impatient handlers through several parking lots in weather about ten degrees warmer and a billion times more humid than anticipated. And it started to feel like another kind of 80s movie. Things went from sweaty to unfortunate after a glass-shattering misunderstanding at our rental, a canceled reservation for the last leg of our trip in London, and a busybody landlady.

We were only on day two.

The fourth day we were bound and determined to go out and be tourists. Come sweat or high water. I was walking down a flight of stairs and I stepped wrong. I don’t know how exactly, but I fell down about five or six stone steps, bruised my arm, hip, and lightly sprained my knee.

When you’re lying in bed, knee swelling, it’s very difficult not to get ahead of yourself.

Mentally I was trying to figure out how I was going to walk down the two flights of stairs to leave the rental. How was I going to sit in a car if I couldn’t bend my leg? The plane? Go to London? Would my friends have to carry me everywhere? What kind of vacation is that for any of us?

And of course, all the money I spent to get here and I would be spending the bulk of that time…in bed. In bed! I could have just done this at home for a lot cheaper and with less inconvenience. Why hadn’t I just stayed home?

Self recriminations follow once you have enough guilt built-up. I’d know the stairs would be tricky, had already had that conversation with myself once in the previous days. Why had I gotten so cocky as to think I could take stairs like a regular person?? Once you work yourself into a fine state of panic it’s very hard to come back down.

Thankfully I’ve had enough accidents of minorly crippling proportion to look back on to remind myself that premature panic is useful for nothing. It mostly worked. Maltese Netflix also did wonders (one of my guilty pleasures when traveling is experiencing shows and movies that aren’t streaming in the U.S. Who cares about seeing the sights when you can catch up on Brooklyn 99 abroad, right?)

It wasn’t the vacation I’d planned, and not remotely the vacation I’d wanted. But I’m a firm believer that God’s got a sense of humor. So I’m taking the proverb painted on the stairs outside our rental as a sign of that divine mirth that has become a sort of life hallmark; and perennial encouragement: no rain, no flowers.

Enter Malta: Stage Left

Flying a quarter of the way around the world was more exhausting than I anticipated. I crashed fairly hard when we got to our vacation rental. I woke up just in time to catch my friend headed for bed and in the midst of enjoying a midnight snack I heard explosions echoing off the old rock and stone buildings of Kalkara, Malta.

It occured to me that I’d been fairly out of touch with the happenings of the world, and having no context and no concept of time or, frankly reality, and remembering that Malta used to be a highly fortified island of strategic value my second thought was “Malta’s being bombed.” (My first thought was “explosions are normal right? I hear them a lot out in the county — wait, Malta’s not out in the county…”)

I googled “Malta explosions” immediately. Because if this was a planned thing they’d have a page for that. And if it wasn’t there’d be a news article, right? Unless they were bombing the news offices first!!

There were a few more explosions — that unfortunately woke up my friend — and I think at about this time I looked out our balcony door and saw fireworks. No one’s yet bombed a country with gorgeous colorful displays on purpose, as far as I know.

Fireworks. On a Tuesday. A regular Tuesday evening. They happened again the following morning and evening and became a pattern over the next several days and nights. Which contributed further to my disorientation. I felt like we were closing out the nights at Disneyland, watching the show before dragging our tired selves back home after a full day of visual delights.

This odd displaced feeling was compounded by our walks around the city, each street felt like a fabricated blast from the past. How could it be that real people lived behind such incredible facades?

On Gozo we stayed in just such a house. It looks exactly like a set from a play and I had a strong desire to write a comedic love story during our stay there.

fantasy home

Geoffrey enters stage left from the living room’s french doors, Bianca, nervous about a chance meeting, quickly ducks down as she’s running up the stairs, Gillian, comes out of the bedroom reading and, not looking where she’s going falls into the pool.

Walter hears the splash from above and appears on the balcony, leaping into the water below and her rescue. Rose, stealing the feed from the satellite dish on the roof pops her head over the ledge to enjoy the proceedings. By the end of the scene she’s swung her legs over the ledge and begun enjoying the life show before her.

Geoffrey races toward the stairs to grab a towel for her, trips over Bianca and the pair tumble down tucked innocently and accidentally into each others arms, primed for a romantic kiss except Rufus, the dog, has come bounding out of the kitchen with Bianca’s half eaten sandwich clamped in his jaws and decides to join the fray.

Milton blithely continues showering in the small bathroom just around the corner from the kitchen, loudly singing Ave Maria, very off-key.

It’s disconcerting to find yourself in a place that appears perfectly fabricated. Particularly if you’re sweating heavily. You feel kind of like the audience at a play, you may enjoy the delights before you, but you don’t fit the time period or the style or the atmosphere. Vacations always tend to feel a bit like expensive shows to me, for the simple fact that they’re always so far outside my normal experiences. Even when I’m experiencing the normal routine of island life — the fireworks that signal the beginning of celebrations for Victory in Malta Day — it’s surreal to me. Fireworks on a Tuesday.

There’s a relief then in coming home and sinking back into your familiar role, an active actor in your life’s production. At least here I understand where the explosions are coming from, somewhere out in a field, stage right.

Historical Perspective

America’s a funny place to be from. We don’t really prize or value history, our own being so colorful and horrific. The history we do hold onto isn’t very old. Goes, back a couple generations, maybe but not a lot.

I think it’s probably a very American concept to demolish the old to make way for the new – raze to raise up. And it’s not a bad working concept really, there’s something to be said for flaunting tradition and creating new paths and methods for society.

But I traveled to the country of Malta recently and for the first time in my life I actually stood in a place that’s been standing for several thousand years. To be as specific as possible, 3,000+ years. The Ġgantija temples have been in their spot on the island of Gozo for lifetimes upon lifetimes.

And what struck me when I first saw the ruins was that, well let’s be honest, it’s not that impressive. It’s a few walls of rock. I could say that to you, and that thought certainly crossed my mind, but briefly.

Because I’m standing in a place that people have stood in, all through history, either for religious purposes, or after it fell into disuse, for accidental purposes, or for tourist purposes.

temple 2

And, a quick aside about other tourists. Back when this place was becoming a tourist destination again, in the 1800s or so, people carved their initials into the rock to commemorate their time at the oldest religious site on earth. In their defense, selfies didn’t exist, but also, let’s not defend these monsters who defaced the oldest known religious site in the world. Anyway.

There’s not a lot I can tell you about the temples that wouldn’t be true of other ancient ruins. What people know about thousand year old history is understandably pretty limited, but you can’t quite deny the truly humbling nature of being around something that had a far greater lasting impact than probably anyone could have anticipated.

Certainly, a greater lasting impact than any modern person thinks of leaving behind. I don’t know. Maybe the ancients had a different view. Clearly based on their use of stone and the size of the stone they intended things to be built to last and to matter. But standing there inside Ġgantija, which means “giant” there is a sense of proportion to be felt, a historical humbling. And you do feel small. How can you not? Next to the ambitions and passion of a people with an enduring vision.

Of course, you leave the temple and you’re back on the street and around the corner looking for an ATM next to a Chinese food restaurant. And sure, these are in old stone and rock buildings that have probably been around for a few centuries too, but it’s nothing next to the thousand year old structure you just visited. But that restaurant wasn’t always for Chinese food, that spot in the wall didn’t always hold an ATM, and people didn’t use to visit that temple to get their picture inside of it.

History is transforming all around us, and it’s people that are transforming this world we live in, shaping the places we visit, giving them meaning, giving them purpose, making them beautiful, making them useful, making them work, or tearing them down to make way for something new, something that builds on the old and makes it stronger and more lasting.

Or at least I hope that’s what we’re doing.

 

Guest Post: Child-Free By Choice

Guest post today from a dear friend with a good open heart. Leigh Vander Woude has a voice worth listening to. — Katrina

Spoiler alert: I’m married.

For some reason, Katrina and Jana have entrusted me to host this blog for a post. I’m going to try to share some of my thoughts and feelings on a subject that I think relates to what many of you singles feel. But I’m also very self-conscious of the fact that I am most definitely not single. So I beg for grace from you, awesome single people, as I do this. (I will also try to stop saying “single” so much. I think I’m going to replace “single people” with “awesomely independent folks” instead from here on out.)

So here’s my story.

I have always been a quite traditional and conventional woman. Even stereotypical. I grew up loving Barbies and Disney princesses (and if I’m honest, I still love Disney more than I dare admit). I also love romantic love. I ate up romantic stories in books and movies. I’ve wanted to be married for as long as I can remember. I can’t tell you how many boys I liked growing up, because since the age of 10, I seriously wondered with every single one I met, “is he ‘The One’???”

For basically just as long as I’ve wanted to be married, I’ve loved God. Loving God and loving His plan came pretty naturally for me. It felt natural. I wanted to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I also very much wanted to be married to one person for as long as I lived.

I never wanted kids.

But there’s one stereotype I sidestepped… I never wanted kids. Ever. In fact, even when I think back to the Barbie days, I cannot recall ever playing with baby dolls. I mean, even Skipper was a downgrade. Kids have never been my thing. Playing make-believe always included true love, but never a “mommy” and a “daddy”. I just had no interest in it.

Now let me explain why this is strange, beyond just the fact that I am so otherwise traditionally feminine. It’s strange because I love taking care of people. I love to be there when my people are hurting so I can pick them up and help them feel loved and safe and brave to go after their lives. I even love helping them feel cared for when they’re sick. I once stayed by my sister’s bed when I was 10 for who knows how long, because she had broken her leg and simultaneously gotten the worst case of hives anyone’s ever seen. I laid on the floor next to her bed and got things for her, even feeding her at times, because moving her arms would make the hives break out worse. And you know what? I weirdly love that memory.

Taking care of people is my jam.

Taking care of people is my jam. But actually creating humans and then caring for them? No thank you. When I “finally” met my husband at the ripe old age of 21 (I really had been aiming to be married by 20, not kidding), and we started dating, the dreaded question came up quickly.

“How many kids do you want?” He asked me during a car ride.

“Um… I don’t know. Maybe 1?” I replied tentatively, not wanting to scare him off by telling the truth boldly. I mean, most people want kids. Especially Christians. So I figured he would probably want at least one, too. And he was pretty great, so maybe I could compromise?

“Wait, do you not want any?” He said with a smile. “I didn’t even realize that was an option!”

And that was that. We agreed that we’d leave it open to God, but unless our hearts changed, we weren’t going to have kids. This, of course, did not sit well with either of our mothers and a lot of other people we talked to. I was assured by many that I would change my mind eventually. “Just wait,” they’d tell me with a smirk and a knowing glance. And I would reply with something like, “Okay” and we’d move on. I mean, no use arguing about it. Maybe we would change our minds.

But as of this coming September, Ben and I will have been married for 12 years. I’m 34 and he’s 33. While there’s still plenty of time for us to have kids, neither of us has had the slightest change of heart and we don’t see that changing. I’m fairly certain both our mothers aren’t waiting for us to change our minds anymore, either.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the Christian world around me (and the non-Christian world, too), almost all my friends have gotten married and begun having babies. I have some friends who stopped at one and I have some with four or more that aren’t sure if they’re done yet. Most of those children are under 10, usually closer to 2. And the lives of my friends are, understandably, consumed by their child(ren). Especially at the ages their children are at, parenting is not just a full-time job. It is 24 hours a day, every single day. If your spouse can’t stay home with them, you literally have to pay someone to get a break.

I am the odd woman out.

With this child-consumed lifestyle comes child-consumed conversations. My friends who are moms, when gathered together in a group, rarely talk about much else. Diapers and feedings and school choosing and no sleep and praise God they have daycare at the gym. That’s what they talk about, because that’s what their life consists of. It makes sense. They have playdates with other moms and they go to MOPS. I am the odd woman out. Listening and sympathizing, but never relating. And it’s killing me.

Now let me stop here and say that I think all my parent friends are freakin’ superheroes and I tell them that on the regular. These people give up so much to raise babies. I literally do not know how they do it. But part of that is because to me, there is no upside to their situation. I don’t want kids. So paying the price for them seems unfathomable to me. But to them, they are blessed beyond measure by these gorgeous children. They are God’s gift to them, even when they’re stealing their sleep or peeing on their couches. Because they’re also taking their first steps and saying their first words and giggling in the precious way that only 2 year olds can. They are pure joy to these parents and totally worth the price tag.

But for me, I feel… frustrated. And lonely. And left-out. And constantly combating the idea that I’m selfish because I chose not to do what everyone else seemed made to do.

Ben and I have done some serious soul searching on the kids front since we got married. We have prayed and searched the Scriptures, doing all we could to make sure that kids really were just a blessing and not a requirement. There are plenty of people in the Christian world who would look at our choice and call it “sin”. And while I won’t go into a defensive stance and reflect on all the reasons why I believe that those people are wrong; I do believe they’re wrong. I also believe that God can change my mind and that I truly believe He will if He wants something different from me than the life I’ve chosen based on my (not sinful) desires. After all, that’s exactly what my friends with kids did. They didn’t have kids because they were mandated to or to be more holy. They had them because they WANTED THEM. When people say that it’s selfishness that leads me to not having kids, I really want to say that it’s selfishness on the part of parents for having them. It’s not like anyone has kids because they’re looking to work on their selfishness, for pete’s sake.

So here’s the thing I’ve realized for a long time but been afraid to say out loud: I want a friend who has a life like mine. And today was the first time I really believed that it was okay to ask for it. After all, there are MOPS groups and singles groups. There are even groups for women struggling with infertility. But somehow the CFBC (childfree by choice) group doesn’t exist. And here’s the other thing: I would feel rude, unholy or selfish asking for such a group. Because God-forbid I want to hang out with someone like me… who’s hardcore, sold-out, crazy-in-love with Jesus and wants to give Him her whole life, but also simultaneously doesn’t want to be a mom.

I’d love to be able to go out to dinner with a friend and talk about life things and not feel like I’m condemning my friend’s husband to babysitting duty after a long day of work (I’m sorry, parents, but you do make it feel that way… like your husband can pay the price of watching the children because you’ve paid your dues for the day and it’s his turn to deal with the chaos). I’d also love to be able to go out to dinner with a couple and not feel terrible knowing they had to pay $50 for a babysitter (seriously, what is with babysitting prices these days?!?). Not to mention, most of the time, I feel less-than-useless to my mom friends. I mean, I can sympathize with you that you don’t know what daycare to send little Sally to or that she’s had the same cold off and on for 3 weeks, but ultimately, all I am is really sorry for you and even more sure of my own choices. Which basically makes me feel like a bad friend AND like a selfish jerk. But the truth is I’m ill-equipped to relate on these things and that makes friendship hard at times.

I crave friendship from someone who gets where I’m coming from.

It’s still totally worth it to me, don’t get me wrong, but I crave friendship from someone who gets where I’m coming from. I try very hard to validate the lives of the moms and dads I know, but I rarely get that same validation in return. I would guess that’s mostly because it probably feels a bit like a third world person trying to validate the economic struggles of an American. I’m the one taking naps and sleeping in on weekends and spending our extra funds on things like vacations, while they’re getting four hours of sleep that’s constantly interrupted by things like bodily fluids that need to be cleaned up.

Mybe what I’m asking for is too much. I mean, even just because there may not be another couple at our church who wants a similar life to ours. But if I could possibly just have one friend where we could meet for coffee without it taking a scheduling miracle, I really would love that.

Here’s where I’m hoping it’s relevant for you, awesomely independent folks. I do get what it’s like to feel like the odd man out. I know what it’s like to feel stuck in conversations that have nothing to do with things I relate to currently or will relate to in the future. I understand what it’s like to have no one in your age group who seems to be where you are or who wants to be where you are. I know what it’s like to have people looking at your life and assuming you’re missing out on the best parts of it.

And can I just say, from all us dumb married people, thank you for putting up with our idiocy if you’ve ever felt us looking down on your current state of romantic involvement. The truth is, your relationship status/title (mom/dad, wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, etc.) has zero effect on your worth as a person or the fullness of your life. You are valuable just for being the spectacularly made-by-God you that you are. Anyone who assumes something is missing in your life because you’re single (even if that person is you) is just plain wrong.

I would also like to say that if you happen to know any couples that are childfree by choice, it is very likely that one or both of the people in said couple are very excited to have you awesomely independent people in their lives. I often take it for granted, but my friendship with Katrina is one of my all-time favorites (mostly just because she’s awesome, but it’s also super nice to just get to be adults without children to think about).

I don’t have any solutions to offer here, for my situation or for the awesomely independent folks who feel like they can’t relate. Honestly, I wrote all of this because I just needed to write it down and get it out of my head. There was a weed of bitterness that was taking root and I think this was my attempt to pull it out before it choked the friendship flowers.

I will say that when I stop and look at the big picture, as frustrating as it is not to have someone in the exact same place in life as I am, the truth is there is so much value in being friends with people who aren’t like me. Whether the difference is their relationship status or their parenthood status or their race or their denominational preference. I see different sides of God in the variety around me and I’m so thankful for that.

But I’m still going to ask God for just one friend that gets where I’m coming from. We’ll see what He does with the request.

Word Games

If you’ve been reading this blog for a length of time or know me personally you’ll have gathered I’m not athletic. Never have been, have no plans to be. I like sedentary pursuits. Reading. Sleeping. Being left alone. Doing crossword puzzles alone.

I used to be under the illusion that I liked board games, but have been cured of this belief over the past decade. I think I hate them. This doesn’t exactly leave a large window of group activities, which I find to be telling but I think my friends would probably term “boring”.

While I’m passable at conversations there’s a mistaken notion that I’m word-gifted. Probably encouraging this inaccuracy is my tendency to use words that even I don’t properly understand. But honestly if you say anything confidently enough it sounds incongruous.

In that spirit a friend of mine introduced me to a word game, clearly under the illusion that words are a game to be played. It’s so not true, if anything taught me that it was my sister chastising me for not knowing what “sputnik” was when I was twelve and we were playing Taboo. Don’t worry, sister, I know what the Russian satellite from 1957 is now. #neverforgetsputnik

At any rate, the way this “game” is played is two people, presumably friends (at least at the start of the game) say one word at the same time and then keep saying new words concurrently until they land on the same word.

Once the game was explained to me I was filled with an entirely unnatural and absolutely paralyzing mental blank.

“Pick a word”, they said.

A word?? One?? How do you pick one word?? Do you even know how many words are out there??

“Is it just nouns?” I asked.

“No, it can be any word.” My friend replied, clearly unaware that nothing could increase my tension more.

ANY WORD?? Just think of adjectives ALONE. We were going to be here ALL NIGHT.

Internally as I was aware that this was herculean task I also realized that a child would have absolutely no trouble at all with this game, happily and readily picking a word and not needing roughly five minutes to prepare themselves to choose a word.

But I knew I was going to pick the wrong word. I knew it. I can’t explain this to you. Especially as the game is a team game with no adversary and let’s be honest, no stakes. Either we both won or we both lost. Which is perhaps where some of the anxiety comes from and why golf is my preferred sport if I must sport. Solo activity. If I’m taking the whole ship down then it’s still just me, no one else gets upset.

So after mentally preparing myself to fail at picking a word, I desperately stared at my bookcase for inspiration and came up with “binder”, which of the paper related words is easily the most boring. Not that it matters. Not that my word needed to be scintillating, but honestly BINDER. Ugh.

My friend said “pineapple” and I thought “we’re doomed.” That’s it. Just pack it in, end friendship, say good night, it was a good friendship while it lasted, but we’re clearly on two totally different planes of existence. It’s just not worth it trying to meet in the middle.

After significant coaching and what I definitely consider cheating, we finally got to the same word. (Apparently there are no wrong words? It feels wrong even typing it.)

Friends, it was exhausting.

I know it’s a crazy thing to stress about, an absurd situation to feel anxiety over, and that secretly if I’m being honest, I found it kind of fun, probably, but it was one of those teaching moments of life.

I’m sure you’ve got a word or two here for this kind of life lesson. I’m sure you’re thinking “connection” or “communication”. Perhaps even “trust” or “listening”. All excellent choices. And well done you for taking such a positive message from my train-wreck of social interaction.

But I don’t have one word to end this with.

I’ve tried.

I’ve been sitting here for a good ten minutes trying to think of one, but I’ve got nothing. One word. I mean honestly who can think of ONLY ONE WORD? What is this, prison??

What kind of game puts limits on your vocabulary? Why are we self-censoring??

Whew. Deep breath.

In. Sputnik.

Out. Diploma.

 

I Think I Wanna Marry You?

“How did he propose?” Is one of the most popular questions you ask an engaged couple.  And it ranks up there with stories guaranteed to get couples smiling and reminiscing. That is unless you ask someone from a generation or farther back.

I once asked two couples who had been married for sixty years – on the same day in a joint ceremony – how the proposals happened and they looked at each other, shrugged and said, “we just decided to get married.”

In my parents generation the conversations are much the same. Practical, efficient, no fuss. My older sister’s engagement happened in a similar fashion, privately, quietly, and without fanfare.

I can still remember the first time I watched an engagement video. It was a guy walking down the street singing a song to his girlfriend as a whole cast of friends and family members entered the scene for cameo breaks in their slow, choreographed parade down the street.

“Cute”, I thought. “That’s certainly different.”

And then it wasn’t different. All of a sudden everywhere you looked couples were inventing new and elaborate ways to get engaged. Now asking about the proposal story was to ask about a key element in a relationship. There were photos, videos, staged settings, choreographed entrances, costumes, for heaven’s sake. A real theatrical.

And then of course posting those small movies online and hoping they’d go viral, and so many of them did. I remember vividly gagging at one that was synced to “Marry You” by Bruno Mars (and if you’re thinking “what a charming song!”, please give it another listen before deciding this is the kind of inspiration you want guiding a major life choice).

Obviously not everyone gets engaged this way, and just as obviously the people you see get engaged publicly seem to enjoy the spectacle. It’s the next better thing to a jumbotron screen popping the question for you in a stadium of eager voyeurs.

I’m probably old, and unsentimental, and hopelessly unromantic, and a complete robot, but the sheer herculean task of a memorable proposal would put me right off the idea of a wedding. I mean the wedding itself is usually a gong show, so I don’t understand why you need to have that kind of madcap chaos happen more than once.

Isn’t one public and expensive declaration of your love and commitment sufficient? Do you really need to do a show opener to get people to come? Because I got news for you, if the opening band is more exciting than the headliner, you’re going to leave people feeling like they didn’t get their dinner’s worth out of the whole experience.

Maybe I just don’t understand love, I mean that’s a real possibility here, but I always kind of figured that just getting up the nerve to propose was the biggest obstacle but can you imagine having to work on a lip sync too? And what if you don’t know her well enough and she hates that song. Or maybe you didn’t time the airplanes to fly over at the right moment. Or you did but your dog holding the ring got startled and swallowed the diamond? How can anyone think of starting a preliminary commitment under that much pressure?

When is it all supposed to get easier? Doesn’t this just feel like you’ve not only hit the ground running, but that you’ve hit it at a breakneck speed and you’ve got whiplash till the wedding? And then the wedding and oh dear God when does the circus ever end?

But of course it does and your love story fades into the tepid background of everyone else’s experience with you and suddenly you’re no longer viral, no longer headliners, no longer stars in a romantic drama.

I guess what I’m saying is how can you be sure your love story is going to last through the tedious quiet everyday nights if you’ve only ever experienced the fireworks with friends and family – and complete strangers online?

Like I said, I don’t really know anything about love. And maybe what we’re all just trying to do is save up memorable and important stories. And maybe engagements are the only chance for the couple to express themselves given how much weddings become odes to the parents of the bride and groom.

All that’s possible. But on the whole, it seems a very American thing to take a nice quiet idea and turn it into a big explosive competition where we measure love by the size of the bill and height of the balloon arch.

But I could be wrong about this.

Wanted: Listless Heroine

I recently accidentally read the plot summary of a book whose title is not worth remembering. It was in the teenage angst genre which is a sub-genre of young adult fiction (this is not a real sub-genre, but it definitely could be)

It chronicled one girl’s journey to her identity via a challenging choice between two attractive, wealthy, callous – but deep, non-human males. Also half her family had died.

Would that this was a rarity in fantasy fiction.I believe fantasy is a great genre for exposing real world issues. But the fantasy of orphanhood setting you free to be independent while two supernatural humans being are attracted to one average girl is something we need to get past. Not only because it’s absurd, but because it creates in women a feeling that “average” is something to settle for, or as it’s showcased, aspire to.

Specially Average

In fad terms average is the new “unique”. Don’t misunderstand me, everyone is unique. Sometimes so unique that it comes full circle back to being common, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to find out what’s special about you and make it your own.

Don’t let what makes you unique be your ability to emulate a blank slate. Don’t settle for being the woman things happen to. Be the event maker, the doer, the person of interest in the room. And for goodness sake, don’t expect interesting, sensitive, intelligent, sexy men to find your dull, listless, expressionless self, interesting.

Don’t misunderstand. If you’re quiet, shy, an introvert, this does not make you dull. A lot of research on introversion has shown that many introverts are deep wells of interest. Regardless of your introversion, your extroversion, your sense of humor, your intelligence level, your ability to get things done, you can still be a person “of” something. Be a person of thought, of feeling, of passion, of focus, of dreams, of intent, but be a person of SOMETHING. Not everyone may find it interesting, but that’s their loss. You’re looking for the gems that find you interesting because you ARE INTERESTING.

If you’re reading a book or a watching a movie ask yourself this question “Why do they love each other?” If the answer is “he’s hot” and “she’s human” consider whether this is really a relationship you wish to emulate.

Teenage Drama

In addition to a silly heroine with no discernible judgment, this is a story set to revolve around two boys with our heroine’s deceased family functioning as background plot device.

What?

Right there in the synopsis you find that half her family has died. I don’t know how big her family is, but half of anything is a lot. And yet, it only sets the drama for the romantic tale to ensue.

You know how it is. You family dies and a cute guy or two comes around. Let’s focus on that instead. This, in counseling circles, would be thought of as a poor coping mechanism. It’s certainly not reflective of the mourning cycle of most average teen girls.

In reality, your family is one of the largest single factors in what makes you, you. This influence, or the loss of it is in no way shape or form glancing, or easily resolved with eye candy. And to imply to teenage girls that life is more interesting because of romance than because of complex familial relationships is a tragedy that can only pave the way for disappointment in all future relationships.

Competitive Worth

By far the most grievous offense that teen romance lit has thrust upon us is the idea that a love triangle is common in life. It’s not. It’s really, really not. And a woman’s self worth is not to be found in the quantity nor quality of men competing for her person.

You are not a bride to be bought with camels, and you are not a valuable human because two men desire you. You’re valuable because you’re you. In your desires, your dreams, your hopes, your ambitions, your aspirations, in who you are as a person, the history that has shaped you, the adversity you have faced, the obstacles you have handled, you are valuable.

It’s long time that women put to rest the idea that our interest, our uniqueness, our worth is found in what men may think of us sexually. That couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth, and in this regard, perhaps its perfect home is in the fantasy genre, the best place for unreality.