TV

Crazy Christmas Movies

I actually had a night in last night, and as I had no brain, I ended up watching the Christmas movie I recorded the other night. It was called A Snow White Christmas, and since I’m into fairy tales, I figured why not?

And oh, dear, I’m not even sure where to begin. It was so bizarre. I’m not sure if they took this seriously or if it was meant to be a farce. I think some of the actors were in on the joke, but not all of them were.

Let me see if I can adequately describe this insanity … (Spoilers! As if you could spoil something like this)

Blanca works for the candy company her father founded. She’s supposed to fully inherit the business and her share of her father’s money on her 25th birthday, which happens to be Christmas. Her stepmother and her stepmother’s gay best friend/assistant (they’ve basically Karen and Jack from Will and Grace) have cooked up a scheme to get all the estate. They’ve forged a letter from Blanca, giving it all over to her stepmother, and the bestie got certified as a Notary Public so he could notarize the forgery. They just need to get her out of the way until after her birthday so she can’t personally make any claim on the estate. Plan A is to give her a vacation somewhere else, but she wants to be at home for Christmas.

Meanwhile, the stepmother is renovating the family home before the deadline in which Blanca will inherit it officially, and stepmother has designs on the architect, a much younger man who’s a notoriously eligible bachelor (his last name is “Prince,” so you’ll know where he fits in the story). But he falls for Blanca at first sight and barely notices the stepmother. Of course, you realize this means war, so it’s time for plan B. They hire a hypnotist to make Blanca lose all her memories of her stepmother, her family’s business, and her inheritance. She has fond memories of a Christmas she spent with her father at a roadside motel before her father made his money, when they just had the simple things, so they hypnotize her into thinking that’s her life now. They drop her off at the motel so that when she wakes up, she’ll think she decided to spend Christmas there. The catch, the hypnotist warns them, is that true love will break the spell.

And this is where it starts to get weird, like we’re in two, or maybe three, different movies. At the motel, Blanca runs into the band playing at the motel’s restaurant for the holiday season, the Holly Jollies. There are seven members, and you can see where this is going. They all have traits that map to the dwarfs in the Disney version, but since those were actually created by Disney and aren’t from the fairy tale, they don’t use those actual names (“Grumpy” is “Oscar” — get it?). Blanca instantly becomes friends with them, and soon she’s creating her wonderful treats and her supposedly genius idea of a hot cocoa bar for the hotel coffee shop (and somehow managing to do enough baking and cooking to sell in the kitchenette of a motel room). But when she Instagrams herself and her creations, the “Prince” realizes where his girlfriend disappeared to and tracks her down. She doesn’t remember him, and has no idea what he’s talking about when he mentions her stepmother, and she resists when he suggests that maybe she should see a doctor about her memory loss. He keeps doing crazy, over-the-top stunts to win her over, but she’s so not into it (then again, she’s sort of blank and affectless, so it’s hard to tell. She’s not much different when she is really into something).

Meanwhile, Karen and Jack the stepmother and her “mirror” are usually seen cackling evilly about their plans while drinking champagne and indulging in spa treatments. When the architect reports finding Blanca, they send the artist who’s painting a mural in the house (named “Hunter”) to look after her, only telling him that she’s lost her memories and they want someone to make sure she’s okay.

From this point, a Hallmark movie ensues as Hunter and Blanca hit it off because they enjoy the simple things of Christmas. They go shopping for a Christmas tree in the snow, drink hot cocoa, listen to the Holly Jollies not sing on camera, etc. And I’m sure you know where this is going.

Except true love breaking the spell doesn’t solve everything. Somehow, Blanca remembering her stepmother and the hypnosis doesn’t make her go right back home to put up a fight. She overhears Hunter on the phone with stepmom trying to convince him to stall Blanca and keep her away until after Christmas and feels betrayed, but she misses the part of the conversation where Hunter realizes what stepmom is up to and tells her what she can do with it. Blanca is devastated (at least, she says she is, but with her, it’s hard to tell). But there’s the last-minute dash through the snow to reveal the stepmother’s schemes in the nick of time, and somehow it’s possible to force stepmom and her bestie to work in the candy factory even though slavery is illegal in this country.

The stepmom and her mirror seemed to think this was all a comic farce and were having a grand time. I hope the “Prince” was playing a farce and all the over-the-top emoting was an acting choice, but I’m afraid he thought he was playing it straight (for a while, I thought he was supposed to be under a spell, and that’s why he was so obsessed). “Hunter” thought he was in a Hallmark movie and was quite sincere. Blanca wasn’t quite sure what was going on or why people were pointing cameras at her and telling her to say things.

Alas, it wasn’t quite bad enough to be deliciously glorious, but it wasn’t quite good enough to be good. It was, however, quite different. I kept saying I was just going to turn it off and delete it, but I kept watching until the end.

I think my next free night, I’m rewatching Love Actually.

Books

Christmas Reading

I finally get a bit of a break today from holiday craziness. Last night, the women’s group at church had our party, a spa night at a nail salon. I’m not a big manicure/nail polish person, but getting the hand and arm massage was nice. We’ll see how long the polish lasts. It feels weird and that might drive me crazy, unless I get used to it. I think some of the problems I’ve had putting on polish were because I was doing it wrong, based on what I watched from the professional doing it.

And now I get to actually be at home this evening. I don’t have to deal with people today, so maybe I’ll get more work done.

I’ve been reading some Christmassy books, with mixed results. I read one that was the designated Christmas entry in a series I’ve been reading, and it was okay, though the author really should have done more research. The book’s set in England, and there’s a character who’s an American estranged from his family. In this book, his brother shows up, and he’s the stereotypical racist, sexist, homophobic redneck. He’s from a hick town, and you can see why the regular character fled this town that was so isolated from anything resembling culture. The brother has his horizons expanded because for the first time in his life, he’s met people from another culture, and when he meets the town’s Muslim doctor, it’s the first time he’s met someone from a different religion.

And then there’s an offhand reference to the name of the town these characters are from, and I had to laugh out loud (and then pretty much disregard the book). The author must have just picked a town name without doing any research about the actual town (or making up a fake town) because it’s the town adjacent to me (I live in a little bubble of one city that’s isolated from that city but practically a part of this other town, and I live in that town’s school district in spite of having a mailing address from the city). We’re talking about a town of about 40,000 population, with a per capita income of about $200,000. It’s the place a lot of executives live. It has one of the top school districts in the nation, is home to some major corporations, and is adjacent to a major international airport. It’s less than a half-hour drive to downtown Dallas. The population is about 30 percent Indian, and it’s one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse areas in the nation. In fact, the world religions other than Christianity are more represented in this town than just about anywhere else in the United States.

So, the guy coming from there would have had to work really hard to have not met someone from another religion (living in the adjacent town, my neighbors are Hindu and Jewish). This town is pretty much the exact opposite of what’s portrayed in the book. I’d love to know how she picked this town. Even if she just looked on a map, she had to have seen that it’s part of a major metropolitan area and next to the international airport. Did she look on a list of towns and like this name? I follow the author on Twitter, but it would probably be tacky to ask, “Umm, where did that come from, and did you know …?”

Now I’m reading a book that’s a gender-switched telling of Pride and Prejudice. I remember around this time last year I wondered if anyone had done that. This one is so very different from what I had in mind that I think I could still do mine without anyone thinking I’d copied it. I might even get wacky and not make any obvious references (like names), and see if anyone notices what I’m doing.

Crazy Weekend Survived!

I made it through my craziest holiday weekend, including a non-stop Saturday on the kind of cold, rainy day that’s just made for staying home, cuddled under a blanket with hot tea and a book. The holiday stuff gets a little easier now. I just have a party tonight, a choir rehearsal Saturday, and two performances Sunday morning.

I may be missing cable a little when it comes to the TV Christmas movies because the ion ones are just so bad. The scripts are actually decent, but the production values are pretty terrible, which makes them more frustrating. Put these stories with the slightly higher budget from the cable networks, and we might have something. But there was one I watched last week that had terrible sound, like they’d filmed it on an iPhone, using the built-in microphone. The background noise and the dialogue were at the same volume. In some scenes, there was a weird echo effect that sounded like when someone’s microphone isn’t on during a TV newscast and you can kind of hear them through someone else’s microphone, but it’s tinny and a bit echoey, like it’s coming from a distance. In some scenes in a location with a wood floor, you could hear everyone clomping around — even when the characters in a scene weren’t walking, so it must have been the crew moving around. Even if your budget is the change you found in your sofa cushions, you can tell your crew to take their shoes off.

Then this weekend I watched one I’d recorded, and the acting was so bad and stilted that it wasn’t even at community theater levels. It was closer to “we’re studying Shakespeare and reading the plays out loud in class.” There have got to be plenty of people who can act without sounding like they’re reading cue cards. It made me wonder if they just cast local people when they filmed in a small town, or if maybe they funded this through Kickstarter and one of the reward levels was that you got cast in the movie, regardless of acting experience.

Fortunately, there are a few movies on Amazon and others on various other streaming sites, and I’m not watching that much TV, anyway. Last night, I listened to an early music program on the local classical radio station, and it was lovely.

Now, though, I’ve got a short story to revise, a book to revise, and a proposal to write, plus I have more singing this weekend, so I have music to practice.

Sidetracked

I got sidetracked the last couple of days and sort of forgot to post. Wednesday morning, I got caught up in watching President Bush’s funeral. I saw him in person several times and actually met him once. When I was in journalism school and interning in radio news, I covered the state Republican convention when he was running for president and was there to cover his keynote speech. Then while he was president, he was the commencement speaker for my college graduation (it was cool having the president of the United States as the speaker, but the security was a bit of a hassle, as we had to get there and line up hours before the ceremony).

I met him after he was president. I was doing trade show media relations for Ericsson, and we were at a major industry event. The Ericsson US headquarters at the time was in Richardson, Texas, and it was technically Ericsson US being represented at the event, so everyone’s name badge listed Richardson as the location, including the people who came over from Stockholm. Because I have a Scandinavian last name, I always ran into some confusion at these events. My family’s from Norway, but according to the Swedes, my name is actually Swedish, and all the Swedes from Ericsson assumed I was one of them. Even the president of Ericsson thought I was one of his people from the Stockholm office.

Former President Bush was the keynote speaker for this event, and after his speech they were giving him a tour of the major booths in the expo, doing technology demonstrations for him. When he was walking up to our booth, we were all standing there, watching, and he spotted me, said, “A Texan!” and came over to shake my hand. We couldn’t figure out how he managed to pick out the actual Texan among a group of people with Swedish names in the Ericsson booth, when all of us had Texas as our location on our name badges. I hadn’t come close enough to him at those previous events for him to be able to recognize me, if he would have even remembered me. It was just some weird internal radar, I guess. At any rate, he was very nice and surprisingly large, and my hand totally disappeared into his.

I’d just put the funeral on for background noise, but ended up watching and totally forgot about what else I was supposed to be doing that morning.

Then yesterday, I had the guy coming out to give my heater its annual checkup in the afternoon, so I spent my morning doing some frantic tidying. I’d just had the message about my checkup being due, and I was surprised to be able to get an appointment the next day, but that meant I didn’t have that much time, and my housekeeping hadn’t quite recovered from two trips in November. But now I have my usual Saturday chores mostly done, so the house won’t fall apart after a busy Saturday when I wouldn’t have had time to do much cleaning.

And that’s why I totally forgot to write blog posts for a couple of days. Maybe I’ll do better next week.

Life

Leisure Time

I’ve been on a kick of trying to optimize my life, reading books about working habits, motivation, organization, etc. The latest one was Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s about optimal experiences, getting into the frame of mind in which you function almost on autopilot, but at a high level. This is what happens when you really get into a task, to the point you have heightened awareness of what you’re doing while tuning out distractions, time seems to fly, and what you’re doing seems both easy and challenging — there’s enough challenge to keep you engaged and stretching yourself, but you’re in the zone where it still feels easy. I mostly read the book because I want to find good ways to get into this state for writing, but there was some other stuff that really made me think.

One of the things that came up in the research related to the subject was that while few people would think they’re happier at work than during their leisure time, studies show that on measurements of things related to happiness, people actually do tend to feel happier at work. They’re more likely to get into this flow state, to feel like they’ve got a purpose, to feel engaged and challenged in a way that makes them feel alive. What generally makes people unhappy at work isn’t so much the work itself, but the environment, the people, corporate bureaucracy, etc. On the other hand, the way most people spend their leisure time isn’t that engaging. You don’t get into that optimal flow state by watching TV. The exception about being happier at work than at leisure was the people who have active hobbies, so they’re doing something other than watching TV in their free time. The author did consider reading to be “active” and something that can lead to a flow state. Practicing or performing music works, as does listening to music when it’s engaged and active listening, not just using it as background noise. Writing, painting, and making things, gardening, and even housework can also count. The book was written before social media and the Internet really took off, so I don’t know where he’d stand on web surfing or online discussions.

The author thinks that this may be one reason why people seem to be less happy even as life gets easier. Before TV, people had to be more engaged in their leisure time. There were fewer passive pursuits, and people did the passive things that were available less often. Even rich people probably didn’t go to the theater more than once a week, and now we watch dramatic productions every night on TV.

This really got me started thinking. I’d resisted adding more work time to my day because one of the perks of working for myself at home is having more free time, but that free time doesn’t do me much good if I’m not using it well. When I started writing first thing in the morning and was spending more of my day working, I was actually happier and more satisfied, and I didn’t miss that “leisure” time. I feel more like I’ve had a good weekend when I spend a good part of Saturday doing housework and organizing than when I don’t try to schedule my time and just goof off.

I’ve been trying to limit my TV time and instead use that time for reading or doing other things. It’s funny how TV has become such a default activity, or how if there’s something later in the evening, I’ll look for something to watch in the meantime rather than turning off the TV and doing something else. Not that I think it’s entirely bad. A little downtime for the brain is good, and I think you can be mentally engaged while watching. I tend to analyze story elements. But there are so many other things I want to do, and I’m trying to really think about how I use my time.

Apparently, there’s another book by this author that specifically deals with creativity, so that may have to be my next read.

Done/Not Quite Done

I got to the 50,000 word National Novel Writing Month goal, but I still have a couple of scenes to write to finish the story, so that will be today’s fun. Then it’s on to other projects.

I’ve decided that I’ll survive not having access to all the made-for-cable Christmas movies. I still have access to plenty of seasonal programming, but it’s nice not to have something on every night that part of me feels obligated to watch. I did do a bit of a Christmas movie binge yesterday. There was an older one on one of the local stations, and then I watched a couple on ion. So I may have had my fix for the year, though there’s one on ion next Sunday that looks potentially spectacularly awful, in which they seem to be telling the Snow White story in a modern setting at Christmas. I’ve got a concert that night, but I think I’m going to have to DVR it.

This is probably when I should mention that I’ve written a Christmas story. It was originally a screenplay that I was targeting toward Freeform (ABC Family at the time I wrote it). I’d analyzed what was in their movies, and this had all the ingredients I thought would appeal to them. Then when I realized I wasn’t crazy about the idea of doing all the things I might have to do to sell it as a script, I rewrite it in prose form and released it as an e-book. It’s a short read, pretty much a one-sitting thing. It’s called Twice Upon a Christmas, and I guess you could call it a sweet contemporary paranormal romantic comedy. Look for it at the usual places you get e-books.

I had the germ of an idea for a new one hit me last night, but I have other things I need to work on first.

Grocery Glitches

Yesterday got disrupted by having to deal with a grocery glitch. After lunch, while I waited for the kettle to boil to make some afternoon tea, I put away my groceries. The bill had been a bit higher than I’d expected, but I knew I was doing a massive re-stock and buying holiday cooking supplies, so I hadn’t argued at the store. But as I put the groceries away, I was trying to do an estimated running total, and I didn’t get anywhere near the right amount. So I looked at the receipt and saw that it wasn’t just my groceries on it. The first half was the previous person’s order, with mine added on. Then I noticed that the credit card digits showing on it had nothing to do with mine, and it was even a different kind of credit card. So, I ended up running back to the store to straighten it all out. I had to stand in line at customer service, and it baffled the clerk there, who called in a manager. Two managers eventually came over, and they were baffled. They had to call in their front-end supervisor. That involved a lot more waiting (they paged him several times). He groaned because apparently this has been coming up with their latest system upgrade. He copied my receipt so they could investigate further. Fortunately, the person ahead of me has a Kroger Plus account, so they might be able to get in touch with her. They added up my actual bill (nearly $100 less than it had been), and I paid that. I haven’t noticed any odd charges on my card, so it looks like it didn’t get charged at all the first time, either for my groceries or the next person’s.

And I was able to pick up something I realized I’d forgotten.

I think they were a little surprised that I came back to draw this to their attention when it actually worked in my favor, with someone else paying for my groceries. And unless this person pays close attention to her credit card account and notices that the amount is off, she might not notice this unless the store is able to do something to either contact her or void the transaction without having her card.

But I don’t know that I could have lived with myself taking advantage of something like that.

Anyway, I guess that’s a lesson to question when something seems that off and to keep an eye on your credit card statements. I’d have saved myself a trip if I’d said, “Whoa, how did I buy that much? That doesn’t seem right,” right there at the register.

But that was more than an hour out of my afternoon. Still, I’ve got an easy run toward completing the 50,000 word National Novel Writing Month goal. I may or may not get to the end of the story today.

Ready for Crazy Time

It’s not even lunchtime yet, and so far today I’ve written 1,000 words and done my major pre-Christmas shopping expedition. I’ve bought most of my Christmas gifts and did the big grocery run, so I should be set for everything but produce, dairy, and specific ingredients to make certain things until after Christmas. The cupboard had been looking pretty bare. I didn’t even have the key ingredients I needed to make anything out of leftover turkey (bad planning on my part — I should have stocked up on that stuff before Thanksgiving).

I have two days before holiday madness really kicks in, and I actually should start some of the cooking tomorrow. Then I have two things to go to Saturday. I’m probably going to put up my decorations on Sunday. There’s something I want to go to on Monday. The neighborhood tree lighting is Tuesday night. Next Friday is baking day. Next weekend is my official Holiday Crazy Weekend — On Saturday, I’ve got a choir rehearsal in the morning, a luncheon, then a meeting in the afternoon. Sunday morning my children’s choir sings in the early service and I’m singing in a concert that night. Whew! Then there’s a party Monday night, but it’s a spa night, and I may need it by then. I have more choir stuff the following weekend. So I guess it’s good that I got a lot of errands out of the way today.

Once I get the crazy done, I’m looking forward to some quiet. I need to find some appropriate seasonal reading material since not having cable means I’m missing out on the frenzy of Christmas movies. I get the ones on the ION network, and there are a few streaming on Amazon, but I’m not getting all the Hallmark, Lifetime, and Freeform movies. I think it’ll be nice reading instead, with some music playing, a mug of cocoa, and a cozy blanket around me. If you’ve read a good book that’s kind of like the TV Christmas movies — a bit romantic (but more romantic comedy, less on the heavy-duty, sexy romance) with great holiday atmosphere, I’d love some recommendations.

And now for lunch, then more work.

The Joy of Not Commuting

I’m in the home stretch of this draft of the book, and barring a major disaster, I should easily hit the word count I was aiming for. I might even get to the end of the story. I’m quite proud of myself for having made my target word count yesterday, in spite of being out all afternoon.

I had a bit of a flashback to my commuting days, since I was driving home in rush-hour traffic, and I had to stop by the grocery store on my way home, since I needed milk for breakfast today. I even drove part of a stretch of road I used to take when I commuted, though I was going in the opposite direction from the way I used to come home. It made me so glad I don’t have to do that on a daily basis anymore. I can go to the store on weekdays during the day when it’s not so crowded, and I can usually avoid rush-hour traffic. I don’t get on the road at that time of day if I can help it.

I’m so appreciative this morning to be working at home, currently still in my pajamas, bundled under the electric blanket on my bed. I’ll move to the office later, but the mornings are chilly, and it’s nice to luxuriate for a little while.

I swear, I’ll have more interesting things to say next week when I get this draft done and can think about something else, for a change.

Return to the Office

I write this today from my desk in my office. You have no idea what a monumental achievement that is. I spent much of Saturday filing the things that had piled up on my desk, then managed to empty one of the “to be filed” boxes in my office. It’s still a work in progress and there’s a lot more to do, but now it’s not entirely unpleasant to work in here, so I thought I’d give it a try today. Yesterday was so cold that I allowed myself another day curled up on the bed under the electric blanket, but I have some stuff to print today, which meant hauling the laptop upstairs anyway. I’m hoping that moving around and changing my sitting position will mean less back/shoulder/neck pain. Too long in any one position is bad, but moving my working location throughout the day may help.

The trick to working in my office will be to stay focused on the work instead of doing all the stuff I want to deal with in the office. Today, I have no time for getting sidetracked since I have to go this afternoon to speak to a college class. I’ve already done half my writing quota for the day and need to do the rest before lunch.

But if I can do this much before lunch, that opens up a world of possibilities …