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Waco’s Gain(es)

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images-1.jpegI presume you are all familiar with Chip and Joanna Gaines, the Waco power couple who have a hugely popular reality t.v. show, FixerUpper on HGTV? I was late to jump on the Gaines’ train, as I was generally late to cable and “smart” t.v. When I channel-surf, I’m a creature of habit and look at the Big 3, ABC, NBC, and CBS, which were the only channels on when I was a kid. It’s taken me awhile to realize the world is my oyster, as far as television shows are concerned. I forget that there are hundreds of channels available for my viewing pleasure. Our daughters are highly amused when they hear my husband or me announce, sadly, “There’s nothing on t.v. tonight.” Or, “The Spurs’ season is over; now what are we going to watch?” Technology is hard for us, but we’re getting there. I’m proud to say we’ve watched all of Friday Night Lights and Bloodline, and a couple of wonderful documentaries, such as Somme and Chef’s Table. But there are still times when we plop on the couch to watch t.v. and all we can remember are channels 4, 5, and 12. Cable shows are on such channels as 1226, 1450 and 1507. Who can remember that? Of course I’d heard of the Fixer Upper show, but it never popped up on my channel surf, limited as it was. How do people find these things, I wondered.

A few weeks ago I helped my daughter drive home from college in Tennessee. On Day 2, waking up in Little Rock, we looked at the map and realized that we’d be passing through Waco. “We should stop at the Silos,” my youngest said. I agreed, remembering that the Gaines had transformed an old granary in the heart of Waco into a shop and a bakery. (Trust me, I’ve seen your Instagram photos, people!) A few hours later we found ourselves near the silos and saw a line snaking around a cute white building with black awnings. It was a Tuesday at 11:30 in the morning. We couldn’t find a parking space, so we decided to have lunch elsewhere and try again later. We soon headed back and found it only slightly less crowded. We parked and walked toward the silos looming large in the landscape. Everything was so pretty! In the middle of Waco, on a railroad track on a hot summer afternoon, flowers bloomed in window boxes on every building, the grass was green and pristine, children frolicked with their parents, skipping and playing games. And the line still snaked from the bakery door around the building and down the block. We looked at the famous silos which were surrounded by cute food trucks, then entered the retail area unsure of what wonders awaited.  We found every variety of fake flowers and plants in galvanized buckets, multiple candles, and metal signs announcing “Demo Day” and “Adventure” and “Market”. There were lots of inspirational quotes painted on rustic signs. Apparently, signage on the walls of fixer-uppers is a big deal. We passed a table of bobble-headed figures with the names of the show’s regulars on them, like the cabinet guy.  My daughter chuckled. Then we went downstairs to see more of the same. Flowers, candles, galvanized stuff, t-shirts, gimme-caps. Cute, but not my style. My daughter wanted a “Magnolia Farms” t-shirt. (That’s where the Gaines actually live.) The young checker cheerfully asked where we were from. I felt I was letting him down by answering, “San Antonio.” He said that the person in front of me was from Canada and had flown down just to see this. I was perplexed.

Last week I helped another daughter move into an apartment far, far from Waco, in Madison, Wisconsin. Shortly after arriving, we went to a furniture store to look for a sofa and met a darling local girl. “You’re from Texas?” she asked, excitedly. “I went there last year with my mother for spring break.” When we asked what areas of Texas she’d visited, she answered, “WACO! It was amazing.” Oh, I said knowingly, “What’d you think?” “I loved it so much. We met neighbors of Chip and Joanna and stayed in a bed and breakfast owned by a friend of their’s. And I loved the Silos. The cupcakes were awesome!” What cupcakes? She explained they were in the small bakery building but you often had to wait in line for a long time for them. But we have perfectly good cupcakes in San Antonio, I thought, why would I stand in line? My daughter asked, “Did you make it to Austin? or San Antonio? They are really cool cities.” “No,” she answered. “We thought about traveling to Galveston, but it was too far from Waco.” Makes sense, I guess… Next stop, Pier One in Madison. Stepping into the store, we were greeted by none other than Joanna Gaines, the large life-sized cardboard one, hawking her own line of rugs. We couldn’t believe it. Way to capitalize on your fifteen minutes, girl! A few days later it was time to board a plane for home via the Milwaukee airport. I was in line behind a girl decked out in Baylor gear. I caught her eye and asked, “Do you go to school in Waco?” “Yes,” she beamed. “I’m from Wisconsin but I’m going back to Waco for summer school.” Soon, several people starting leaning in, asking her questions. “Have you ever seen Chip and Joanna? Have you been to the Silos?” She smiled, resolutely, as if used to this line of questioning. “No I’ve never met them but I’d sure like to.” Geez. What’s the big deal, I wondered.

One day not long ago, I punched what I thought I’d memorized as the Food Network channel into my remote. I’d made a mistake and hit one wrong number. Eureka! I’d stumbled upon HGTV and was smack in the middle of a Fixer Upper marathon. I began watching and BOOM! My world was twisted on its axis; I was charmed by Chip’s toothy smile and goofy manner, and by Joanna’s no-nonsense approach to “fixing up” and her wealth of patience with her silly husband. Plus, she was so pretty! At the end of the show they revealed the transformation of a house from a dump to a dream home to the startled homeowners and my tears began to flow. This process repeated itself over and over again through the six or eight episodes that I watched that day. When I finally pulled myself away I felt happy. And hopeful. And relaxed. I couldn’t explain it. There’s something special about how Chip looks at Joanna and says, “Sure, Jo. You want to press those salvaged tin pieces into something charming for the ceiling? No problem! You want a custom herringbone wood floor? I’ve got this!”  And while Chip is stuffing cupcakes in his mouth, juggling eggs for his children’s amusement, or trying to climb the silos, Jo doesn’t seem the least bit stressed or irritated with him. She just smiles slightly and indulges him. Then the house their clients bought for under $50,000 suddenly looks like a million bucks. Seriously. There are no pitfalls, no setbacks, nothing disappointing ever happens while they remodel a piece of property. No wonder people love them. This is everyone’s idea of heaven: an affordable property turned into your dream home by two adorable people in a matter of a few weeks. I’ve been through a couple of remodels and, trust me, this is reality t.v. at its finest. Sadly, this week the Gaines find themselves in some trouble. A drunk driver plowed into a fixer-upper home in Waco and caused a great deal of damage. The homeowners are mad. Not at the drunk driver, but at the Gaines and the City of Waco for not telling them the neighborhood was dangerous. Really? They purchased their house in a large metropolitan area for $35,000! Chip and Joanna can only work miracles with the houses they’re given; apparently, not with the whole neighborhood. Although that would make a good sequel. And I’d probably watch.








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images-1“Do you kids really think this is how it works?” My husband looked up briefly from the paper he was reading to address my daughter as she sat, riveted, to The Bachelor finale on t.v. the other night. “No, not really,” she replied, “but I do like Sean and Catherine, and they are making it work,” referring to previous contestants who recently tied the knot in another television special.  It never dawned on me that my daughters might think this was a legitimate way of meeting a spouse until my husband asked the question. Surely, surely they had to know that although this is billed as “reality television,” it’s about as far from reality as you can get! I suddenly felt guilty that I’d never made this point with them before.  I have spent lots of evenings watching the show with my girls, who seem to get a kick out of it. They even attend Bachelor-watching parties with their friends. I’ve always thought it was harmless entertainment, although my spouse has now called this into question. If you’re blissfully unaware of the premise of the show, I’ll briefly explain. Each season a bachelor or bachelorette, in this case, a divorcee with a child, is expected to propose to one of 25+ prospects after 9 weeks of courting. I should have asked my girls, “What self-respecting woman would leave her job, family, LIFE, for a couple of months to flirt with some stranger while cameras film every second, in the hope that she’ll be rewarded with an engagement ring?” Or, “What kind of father would leave his seven-year old daughter at home so that he could parade around half-naked with two dozen women for all the world to see?” As the season progresses, the girls go on group dates with the bachelor, unless he leaves a note inviting one of them on a private date. At the end of the week, he hands out a few roses to the chosen, then sends the others home. Up to the last week of the season, he is seriously courting at least two girls, even going to their home towns and meeting their families. He invites each of them to spend a night with him in the “Fantasy Suite,” where he promises they can be alone without the cameras “to talk and get to know each other better.” (Yeah, right.) Why didn’t I shout, “Girls, don’t ever go alone with a man to a fantasy suite unless you’re married!” Or, “If your boyfriend takes another woman into a fantasy suite, break up with him asap.”  On the last night of the season, the bachelor shows up with an engagement ring for one of the two girls left. He breaks the heart of one and is supposed to propose to the last. Ugh! This show really pushes all my buttons and I can’t believe I haven’t made that clear to the three people entrusted to my care, my daughters.

If you’ve wasted any time watching this season’s Bachelor, you know that the man of the hour was a Latin hunk named Juan Pablo. Viewers were excited by the prospect of this Venezuelan soccer star finding love in prime time. He seemed so sweet and demure when he was one of the prospects on a prior season of The Bachelorette; sadly, JP’s true colors became obvious pretty early on. He managed to insult several young women this season who had the good sense to exit before the “rose ceremony.” Apparently, Juan P had the annoying habit of condescendingly uttering, “It’s okay,” in response to any complaint or comment from one of the girls. One contestant told him that if she heard, “Ees ok” once more, she would strangle him! Claire, who ended up as a finalist on the show, and, sadly, has the same name as my eldest daughter, got uber-cozy with the bachelor one night in the ocean. The next day, he scolded her, reminding her that he had a young daughter for whom he was trying to set a good example. Really? Oh, I see, he couldn’t control himself when a beautiful young thing in a bikini threw herself at him. The finale was priceless; he was in a helicopter on a date with the same ocean-faring Claire, and when he leaned in to whisper sweet nothings, she looked horrified. A few minutes later, she looked into the camera and admitted that he said, “I barely know you, but I’d like to…” followed by something so foul that even she wouldn’t repeat it. Finally, he chose another girl, Nikki, but refused to give her an engagement ring or even tell her that he loved her. This must have truly upset production execs, as this bachelor seemed to be rejecting all that the show stands for – finding true, everlasting love.

Despite my protests, I’ve begun wondering if The Bachelor’s tactics aren’t similar to old-fashioned match making, albeit completely over the top, without parents or professionals overseeing the matching? My husband and I know several couples from countries where “arranged marriages” are a tradition, and they have loving, lasting relationships with their spouse and children. And, what is so different from all the online dating sites, like or e-harmony? We’ve heard several stories of recent online matches that have led to the altar. I guess the old adage that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince may be true. In fact, look at how my husband and I met in college. We went out with a lot of different people,  attended numerous on-campus parties with different dates, before we eventually asked each other to various social events. Eventually, we met each other’s families and became engaged. Please note there were no fantasy suites or rose ceremonies, however. We’ve all dated and broken up with people before, although, usually not in a public forum. Ok, girls, I’m beginning to relax a little. I suppose The Bachelor is nothing more than an accelerated dating service entered into by willing adult participants who accept its convoluted rules of engagement. But, it’s NOT reality.