December 2016

It’s the Best Corniest Time of the Year: Our Love Affair with Christmas Romance TV Movies

The holiday season means gatherings, food and cheer. But it also means allowing ourselves to be “corny” (dictionary definition: predictable, clichéd, stereotyped). We see cars with antlers affixed to their hoods. People wearing santa or elf hats or bright and loud Christmas sweaters. Singing out loud to Ella or Bing, or even the undeniably grating “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”. CORNY.

But starting last year, my family kicked it up a notch further during the holiday season. My daughter Sophia discovered the delirious corn-fest that is the Christmas Romance movie season (much of which can be found on the Hallmark channel ). It started innocently with The 12 Dates of Christmas: “Mom. You’ve GOT to watch this one”. We watched together (it is a fun holiday romance version of Groundhog Day) and had so much fun that one led to another and so on. And this year, the entire family has gotten into the act including husband Pat and 12 year old Theo. There is a lot of talking to the screen and eye rolling at the contrivances,and ultimately, a lot of  corny enjoyment.

If you have not yet had the pleasure of seeing one of these Christmas romances, I will try to summarize for you. The basic plot of most of the movies is that the protagonist (often a hard-charging young career woman) has “forgotten the true meaning of Christmas” and through some plot twists and turns,  has a “come to Jesus” moment (see what I did there? Christmas? Baby Jesus?) and turns his/her life around.

Some of the typical tried and true Christmas romance plot devices:

  • Having to spend Christmas in a small town filled with endearing characters. Typically these are delightful Midwestern villages that are contrasted with the heroine’s stark and empty life on one of the coasts. Kind of like Eva Gabor’s character in Green Acres, the heroine is initially a fish out of water, but the love and values of the small town grow on her as she spends the holidays there!
  • The hunky guy. In some of the variations, he lives in a small town, but don’t think he is some bumpkin! He is smart but laid back (sometimes having left a high power career behind), has some cool business (an inn perhaps) and helps the heroine to see the true meaning of Christmas. In some of these variations, the hunky guy contrasts with the guy the heroine is currently with–the WRONG guy, usually a fiancée who is inattentive, unsupportive and (GASP) not as cute or charming as the hunky guy. In other variations, the hunky guy IS the hard charger and the spunky heroine has to teach HIM the true meaning of Christmas (see Looks Like Christmas).
  • The elevator kiss. This is a classic, often used in the city versions of Christmas romances. The heroine and hunky guy (whom she may not have even met yet) are in an elevator together. The elevator jerks to a sudden stop which of COURSE throws them together, which of COURSE means they have to start making out. Elevator resumes functioning and the two of them find themselves smoothing out their clothes and hair, and then, thinking about THAT KISS for the rest of the movie. For the uninitiated, The Christmas Kiss is THE gateway elevator kiss movie.
  • If there is no elevator around to change someone’s life, a couple of other variations for “life changers” are: Santa or an angel granting a wish (like in Christmas at Cartwright’s), inheriting a time-consuming but ultimately wonderful family business (like in Christmas Land) or being knocked out (as a doctor, this is probably my least favorite plot twist because the reality of concussions is not usually so pretty).
  • The villainess. Often the boss of the heroine who is beautiful, smart and successful but brittle and superficial. A real Cruella (and unreformed hard charger), she even often steals or takes credit for the heroine’s hard work (e.g. plagiarizing her design sketches in A Christmas Kiss!). In some of the variations, the villainess is the girlfriend of the hunky guy. But after one elevator kiss with the heroine, the hunky guy starts to shift alliances!
  • The true meaning of Christmas. This is often the third main character in these movies. Likely for the broadest of appeal, “the reason for the season” (birth of Jesus) is rarely spoken of in these movies, so there tends to be a humanist message of love and family, e.g. people are more important than things, life is meaningless without loved ones to share it with and that taking time to celebrate with loved ones enriches our lives.

If all of this sounds very retro, it IS! These movies are often kind of mash ups—Scrooge meets Working Girl. As a life-long hard charger and feminist, what is funny is how much I enjoy them along with my feminist daughter.

Perhaps this is because, family is so important to us and we DO live in the Midwest. But more likely it is because it allows us some time to be corny and just suspend disbelief (and believe me, you need to do so with some of these plots) and escape from the day’s stressors.

It also been funny to see the progression of my engineer husband, who typically is more into science fiction, as he has blossomed from irritation to enjoyment to addiction. Last night for example, as he came in 10 minutes into “A December Bride”, he plopped down on the couch next to me and said, “Fill me in, what do we have here?”. And I got him up to speed quickly (“Hard charger. Left at the altar by her fiancée for her cousin who are now getting married. Now pouring herself into her job. Has to fake a new relationship so she can hold her head up high at the wedding. Meets new hunky guy…..”).

What can I say? It’s the best corniest time of the year!! Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

kales@umich.eduIt’s the Best Corniest Time of the Year: Our Love Affair with Christmas Romance TV Movies
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How to Age to 100: Family, Friends, Faith, Forests, and Football

For this post, I have a guest contributor, my husband’s stepmother Georgiann Gibson. Georgiann is a positive ager herself, retired and traveling the world with my father-in-law Pat. She has written a wonderful post in honor of Pat’s mother, Helen Gibson, who will turn 100 this week. Helen is an amazing woman who has a singular outlook and approach to life. Georgiann encapsulates it so well in her 5 F’s (Family, Friends, Faith, Forests and Football). Enjoy!

My mother-in-law will celebrate her 100th birthday this week. Among her many blessings is a loving family, some of whom live close-by and see her regularly, good health and a strong mind (albeit somewhat challenged in the short-term memory department lately).  When I think of Helen and how she has aged so well, a few of the words that come to mind are family, friends, faith, forests and football. Family, friends, and faith?  Pretty straightforward. Forests and football?  I’ll get to that.

Born at home near a small Nebraska town to an Irish-Catholic family (the O’Rourkes), Helen grew up on a farm with three sisters and two brothers. She rode to school on a horse and was educated in a one-room schoolhouse.  Whip smart, at a time when only about 30% of Americans graduated from high school, she graduated early, at the age of 16. Her graduation class had 30 students.

Helen as young woman

Helen as young woman

After graduating, she moved into town where she worked at a jewelry store for a salary and tended the owner’s family for room and board. Money was usually not in great supply during much of her life; she learned to use it wisely and save for things that meant the most – like a move west to marry her husband “Hoot”. That decision to move to Idaho showed Helen’s willingness to take well-reasoned risks and her sense of adventure. It was a good decision that led to a wonderful life.  (An interesting aside: One of her brothers married Hoot’s sister and several of the offspring in each marriage look enough alike that they could pass for twins.) Her family members were friends, and her friends were held dear and treated like family.

Life was not perfect for Helen and Hoot. Like all families, they had their share of ups and downs – tight financial times, family members dealing with and eventually overcoming alcoholism, and a young daughter with polio, to name a few. They differed politically too; Hoot (a staunch Republican) used to jokingly ask Helen (a life-long Democrat) why they even bothered to vote because they each only “canceled each other out”. But most issues were overcome with prayer, respect and support for one another and hard work. Disappointments and failures were taken in stride.

Helen now has 14 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren. Until very recently, Helen was the central hub for information related to what was going on in the family as while some of her kids and grandkids live close-by, many are now scattered across the country, and even world.  She liked to know the latest news everyone had to share and always kept track of where her ‘kids’ were.

The extended Gibson clan at the last family reunion

The extended Gibson clan at the last family reunion (Helen is fourth from left in first row)

Helen has led an active life. Raising five kids and running a farm while your husband works tends to keep one active in its own right. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she also worked a part-time job for a while to help save enough money for Hoot to buy a business. Like many moms, she took her turn leading cub-scout troops, coaching baseball and guiding 4H projects. She also headed the Ladies Auxiliary for the Meridian Race Track and coordinated efforts for the local Heart Fund. After her husband died, she began her many years as a volunteer working at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store. She developed quite a reputation for restoring donated rusty cast iron pans to like-new condition, and was loved and admired by all who worked with her. She was on a bowling team until the age of 89 (when she quit because she felt that her score was no longer “up to snuff”) and, until two years ago, was still driving herself to church, doctor appointments and the grocery store. She was able to continue driving because she demonstrated good judgment and limited her driving to daylight hours, short distances and safe road conditions.

Always a devout Catholic, her faith and devotion to her church grew even stronger over the years. She was a long-standing member of the Altar Society and rose through the ranks to their presidency. She volunteered for her church’s Perpetual Adoration service ministry and for many years she attended mass twice a week. Her faith is linked to a uniquely strong sense of positivity. She is the most positive person I know.  She is content with her life, she never complains, and she is always grateful for her many blessings.

Helen owns a very rustic cabin located in the Sawtooth National Forest, hence, the “Forest” reference. The cabin is small, simple, and like her, is treasured by the family. Whether hiking, fishing, tossing horseshoes, relaxing on the deck with a good book or engaging in a “friendly” (read cut-throat competitive) card game, there is something for everyone to savor. The cabin is nestled in a small dale among giant Ponderosa pine trees, sage and wildflowers. Deer frequent the salt-lick and hummingbirds flutter around her geraniums. Only an occasional bear is sighted in this, their natural home, which we share. The cascading water in a nearby creek provides a soothing auditory backdrop, and, as always, being in nature heals the mind and nourishes the soul. It is a little piece of paradise and one more thing that binds the family generations together.

Now, how does “Football” fit into the description of a 100 year-old woman? For many years she, along with most of the Gibson clan, has loved watching football–it is almost a second religion to them.  And of course, given her religious affiliation, she has always had an affinity for Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish. Watching college football is one activity that binds her family together through the generations. Everyone claiming their own favorite teams has created both friendly rivalry and camaraderie. Now she keeps up with most games on TV, but until just a few years ago, each fall she attended a Notre Dame football game with her daughter’s family. Braving cold and snow, she rooted in person for “God’s Team.”

Living to be 100 years old is quite an accomplishment. To reach 100 with most of your mental faculties in tact and relatively good health is like gold dust. Is it luck? It’s hard to deny that luck doesn’t play some part. Is it good genes? Surely, inheriting good genes is key. But there is more.

Helen has lived an admirable life of hard work, strong values, love, and commitment to faith and family. With her positive outlook, she has continued to serve others until later in life, maintaining interests and participating in physical and mental activity. In five words: family, friends, faith, forests and yes, football. Happy 100th Birthday Helen!

Helen now

Helen now

kales@umich.eduHow to Age to 100: Family, Friends, Faith, Forests, and Football
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Zen and the Art of Buying a Winter Coat

Recently, it occurred to me that my 12 year old son Theo needed a new winter coat when he came home from school with a giant rip in the arm of his old one. He had no idea how this happened (typical). Given that Theo is now in middle school, it triggered visions of bullies from 1980’s movies laughing and pointing at “ripped coat boy”.

Prototypical 1980’s movie bully (why do they always look 30 years old?)

Could not let that happen. So, off we went to a local outdoorsy outfitter place for a new coat. Along for the ride was 16 year old Sophia whose eyes are activated to roll by anything Theo does about every 15 minutes.

We walked into the store and we were immediately aided by a helpfully helpful employee who saw it as his life’s mission to get this boy a new coat. Theo made a beeline for what looked like the parka that might have been worn by explorer Sir Edmund Hillary in the men’s section. “I LOVE IT. This one.” Mr. Helpful laughed a little uncomfortably. “Ha Ha. Yes, everyone loves to try that one on.”

Which I immediately took to mean that the Sir Edmund Hillary coat was something aspirational, not something to really buy, but nonetheless, I asked, “Out of curiosity, how much is it?”. Again a nervous laugh. “Six hundred and forty nine dollars”. I barked “Theo take that coat off right now before you rip a hole into it!” “But I LOVE IT”. I peeled the pricey coat off his squirming body and physically moved him to the sale section in the back.

No way Theo. When you are ready to climb Everest, we can talk about a $649 coat.

The next coat Theo saw looked like a junior version of the Sir Edmund Hillary coat (at a fraction of the cost). Giant fur hood. Puffy beyond belief. He put it on and looked like a mini-Michelin Man. Mr. Helpful noted to Theo “check out the built in face mask!”. SOLD. Theo had a new love. “Mom. This is THE COAT. This is the one I want”.

Sophia was not pleased. “Mom, he looks so chubby in that coat”. She used all of her cool teen powers to try to dissuade her brother. She went and found several others that she deemed “so much better”. “Look– this one is kind of retro” (as if Theo could care). She called her University of Michigan sister Tasia and persuaded her to stop studying for her Organic Chemistry test, and come to the store to join the “stop the puffy grey coat effort”.

Time slowed and we found ourselves in an immense dressing room surrounded by eight other coats and THE ONE. Mr. Helpful apologized. He had to go off shift, and so, with a sad smile, he transferred us to a colleague (Mr. Somewhat Helpful). I found myself in the middle of CoatGate, between two sisters (correct that Theo looked more fashionable in some of the alternatives) and Theo (who kept joyfully going back to THE ONE).

Finally, my husband was called (in the middle of his commute home from work. I am sure he was thrilled to mediate CoatGate as he fought rush hour traffic). He weighed in with a solemn but firm voice: “Let the boy have the coat he wants”.

Theo did a quick jig and asked Mr. Somewhat Helpful if he could “wear his coat out of the store”. Theo’s eyes lit up at the “yes”, and he was further delighted that he could donate his old coat to the bin next to the checkout.

Theo wearing THE COAT

Theo wearing THE COAT

In all, we had been there for more than two hours.

In the aftermath of CoatGate 2016, I found myself remembering another CoatGate, long ago. This one occurred in the 1980’s with my Greek grandmother Yia Yia Mina. I was dispatched by my mom to take Yia Yia to a department store, to “get her a new winter coat”. Easy, I thought, she’d pick one out and I’d be back home to hang out with my friends in no time.

Not so fast.

It turns out, while someone like Theo falls fast and hard for a coat, Yia Yia was one to play hard to get. It was already a bit of an uphill battle because she was so petite (under 4 feet 11). But she was also an extreme perfectionist. No coat was good enough.

“Eleni (my Greek name), this one has ugly buttons”. “Eleni, this one has a pocket that I don’t like”. “Eleni, I don’t like the way this one zips”. “Eleni, I would like this one if it had a different collar.” We were there for HOURS. Coats were ceremoniously brought out by hopeful saleswomen. And rejected. FINALLY, she found one she liked. But of course, it would have to be altered to fit her tiny frame AND she would change the buttons.

So, in a way, picking out a winter coat may be kind of a personality test.

Theo is a kid who is joyful and quirky. He dances to the beat of his own drummer whether people think it’s cool or not. He found the coat that met his needs, and would not be dissuaded come hell or high water.

My Yia Yia was definitely a perfectionist. She had high standards for others, but most of all for herself. As an immigrant, this is how she succeeded. But she was also a strong, powerful woman who felt good about herself. So, even in her old age (when many of her Greek female peers were wearing black from head to toe), she felt she was “worth it”, not settling for something that she didn’t feel comfortable in (no matter how many Xanax the saleswomen had to take).

My Yia Yia (aka the Greek General) at my wedding with my cousin Emily. I bet it took her about 12 hours to pick this lovely dress.

My Yia Yia (aka the Greek General) at my wedding with my cousin Emily. I bet it took her about 12 hours to pick this lovely dress.

Recently, I realized that after wearing the same winter coat for years, I was ready for a new one. And strangely enough, I found one quickly (like Theo) but it was also pretty perfect in terms of all of its features—best of all being very slimming on me!

Theo definitely likes it, and I’d like to think that Yia Yia would approve too.

 

kales@umich.eduZen and the Art of Buying a Winter Coat
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