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Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Name Game

When I was a little girl and daydreaming about my wedding (as admittedly, I often did), I always imagined taking my future husband's last name.

I also imagined marrying Lance Bass at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Yet when I got engaged last October, dropping my maiden name no longer seemed like such a no-brainer.

I was twenty seven years old. I'd had my name for nearly three decades. I liked my name, and I was proud of all the things I'd accomplished with it.

The "J" at the beginning and the double "L" at the end, they remind me of bookends. It's a wonderfully neat name. It's a happy name. It's a determined name—be all. I can be all, anything, everything I want to be.

Losing it suddenly didn't sound so appealing.

I considered dropping my middle name and using Beall instead, but that didn't feel right either. I was named after my grandma, and I love having her name as part of my own.

When I began telling people I was considering going with a double last name (no hyphen, just a simple space), I was surprised by the responses.

I heard everything from what a headache I'd be creating for the healthcare system to "Is Adam okay with that?"

Jeez Louise.

I certainly didn't like the idea of making anybody's job more difficult. And it hurt my heart to know that people would question the strength of my marriage all over the fact that I didn't simply drop my last name and swap in my husband's instead.

I mean, look at Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson for goodness sake. They seem completely fine, if you ask me.

I stopped thinking about the matter entirely for a few months, giving flimsy, fickle answers whenever someone asked if I was changing my last name.

Ultimately, Etsy made me decide.

Because I had to type a note to the seller of my personalized wedding dress hanger.

I entered our wedding date and then paused.

My mind remained confused and unsure.

But my heart was confident.

My heart knew what to do. It always does.

Mrs. Beall Mueller, I typed, pressing each key down with certainty.

I thought my childhood self would approve. I also think she would agree Adam is a much better match than Lance Bass.

Though a wedding at Notre Dame?

That would have been pretty darn glamorous.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Real Prince Charmings

A lot of people—both men and women—turn their noses up at women’s fiction, so often dismissing it as “chick lit.”

But I love this genre. I most ardently love it.

Bring me your flawed, relatable protagonists. Bring me your quick, witty dialogue that literally never happens in real life. Workplace drama? Awesome! A fiercely loyal and clever best friend? I'd expect nothing less. A tumultuous “will they or won’t they” romance?

This is where things get fuzzy.

As my plane landed in Cincinnati this evening, I was flying through the final pages of a recent novel written by a favorite women’s fiction author.

And I was feeling frustrated and disappointed.

Because yet another smart heroine had ended up with yet another eternal-player-turned-monogamist love interest.

Okay, seriously.

Can we *please* stop this already?

It’s not that I’m against a great love story that keeps the reader guessing. I mean, a great love story should have its ups and downs and leave you on the edge of your seat, right?

But there are so many more creative ways to achieve this rather than placing a commitment phobe on a pedestal and having him magically change his ways in the last 5–10 pages.

Why do smart writers continue to allow the clich├ęd “Carrie and Mr. Big” setup dilute their work? Has everyone forgotten what Jane Austen taught us? The Mr. Wickhams of the world are not to be trusted!
Source

And to make matters worst?

There is generally an older, wiser female character who warns the protagonist of the alarmingly handsome, impossibly charming, astonishingly smart, mind-bogglingly wealthy womanizer.

And yet, the lovable heroine just can’t help herself and falls for him anyway. And—surprise!—after all his mixed messages and unreliable behavior, he changes. Because she was special.

Vom.

As a voracious reader and an aspiring author, I am disappointed when I see this trope appear again and again. It hurts my heart a little bit. I think of all the novels I read at ages 11, 15, 18... And I can’t help but wonder how they affected me and my own romantic expectations.

I spent a whole bunch of years entangling myself in flings that were toast before they even started. Some were fun, some were agonizing, and all of them were doomed. Because they all involved men who were carbon copies of the characters I read about in women's fiction.

So while the smart, funny banter, handsome looks, and eternal, beguiling ambiguousness were all there, that final plot twist never came. These guys? They never changed.

When I met Adam, he asked me out on a second date before our first had ended. Within two weeks, he was proudly calling me his girlfriend. On evenings I had grad school class after work, he'd cook me a late supper to enjoy when I was finally free at 10pm.

Adam let me cry big, ugly sobs into his chest when my family dog had a cancer scare, and then he took me to get margaritas after. He literally ran over a bouquet of flowers to my office the afternoon I received good news from a literary agent.

Adam sends me a text each morning, asking how I slept the night before and wishing me a good day. He doesn't let me grow quiet after an argument; he is a fixer and makes things right. When he arrives home from work, he stops into my writer's nook, kisses the top of my head, and then engulfs the dogs into huge hugs. He loves me when I'm not acting very lovable.

He is my actual, totally real Prince Charming, and he's made me realize that true love doesn't play games.

And yet, it's just as much fun. Usually more so.

It's time we celebrate the good guys and stop telling girls the other ones are worth waiting for, that they're going to suddenly undergo some magical, radical metamorphosis.

Besides, can't we all agree Harry Goldenblatt was a way better catch than Mr. Big?

He let Charlotte keep a litter of King Charles Spaniels in the penthouse, for goodness sake.

There are better love stories to be told.

So let's write them.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Taking the Plunge

In January, Adam and I decided to join a gym.

You know, like millions of other Americans.

We toured the Jewish Community Center in our neighborhood, and it had everything we wanted, including an immaculate workout facility (Every treadmill has a TV complete with Netflix—how about that for fancy?), free exercise classes, and an aquatics center.

A lot of evenings, Adam and I will do cardio workouts before meeting in the pool area to walk against the lazy river or just relax in the whirlpool spa.

I often look over longingly at the laps pool as svelte swimmers breaststroke their way from end to end.
Source (Also: not the actual JCC pool)

"Why don't you go swim some laps?" Adam will ask.

"Oh, I don't have goggles," was my first excuse.

"Then buy some."

So I did.

"Want to swim laps at the gym tonight?" Adam asked a few weeks later.

"I need a swim cap," I explained. "It's so cold outside, and I can't leave the gym with wet hair. I'll get sick."*

So off I went to Amazon once again to purchase more swim accessories.

This morning, I proclaimed that this would be the evening I would finally swim laps in the pool. And by the time I got off work, I was well on my way of talking myself out of it.

"Have you been outside today? It is SO windy and SO cold." I texted Adam at half past five. "I don't think I want to leave the house now that I'm home."

"The pool area is warm," he quickly replied. "It will feel great."

I sighed, turning off the TV (I was watching the season finale of I Am Jazz—so good) and trudged upstairs. Before I could talk myself out of it, I threw my bathing suit, goggles and swim cap into a gym bag, changed into workout clothes, and grabbed my car keys.

I was going to the JCC aquatics center tonight, gosh darn it.

Once I got to the locker room, I changed into my bathing suit with its giant, pink bow across the chest.
I took a photo for reference. Darling, right? But admittedly, not very sporty.

I look ridiculous
, I thought. Why didn't I buy a sleek Speedo one piece during my swimming shopping spree?

I nervously gathered my things and walked out to the pool area.

I fumbled with the swim cap, trying to stuff my hair into it neatly, and then I tugged the goggles around my noggin.

Naturally, Michael Phelps' twin was butterflying in the first lane.

Ugh. Of course he would be.

The middle lane was open so I sat on the edge of the pool, took a deep breath, and scooted in.

I swam the breaststroke from one end to the other. And it felt great.

I did a few more laps before noticing the third swimmer in the pool was a middle-aged man doing a sort of doggy paddle. It instantly made me feel better.

It didn't matter if I wasn't Summer Sanders! No one was watching, no one cared!

So I stopped caring.

I swam my heart out for the next twenty minutes. It was exhausting and wonderful.

As I swam, I thought about all the times in my life I had missed out on its magic.

I thought of myself at age fourteen, with a newly acquired set of wide hips and curves I found mortifying. I don't think I swam at all that summer.

I thought of when I first met Adam, and he invited me to a friend's pool. We were so new. I had sat on a pool chair wearing a cover-up and holding a novel "I just couldn't put down." They were my body guards, my defense against embarrassment.

And then I thought of the summer after that, of the first vacation I went on with Adam's family. We traveled to Northern Michigan, and I had felt so free and deliriously happy diving and swimming through the cold, crashing waves of the lake.

I loved the water.

And I was done letting insecurities keep me away from it.

*Side note: My copy chief at work told me that swim caps don't keep your hair dry. I didn't believe her, but she was right. They don't.

**Second side note: I also made it an entire ten minutes in the steam room after my swim, which is quite an accomplishment considering I usually walk in, sit there for thirty seconds, freak out, and leave.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Saying Yes While Wearing the Wrong Dress

I realize it's not terribly cool to be that girl who has dreamed of her wedding since she was like, seven, but I am totally that girl.

One of the aspects I daydreamed about most? Wedding dress shopping.

My mom, Adam's mom, and I made our first trip out to the bridal shops in late October. My mom and I went a second time in November.

While I thought I had found my dress at our very first appointment at our very first shop, I wanted to be absolutely certain. Plus, I loved trying on wedding dresses.

Loved, loved, loved it.

"You can tell me if you hate something," every stylist told me as I sighed over every gown.

"I don't hate any of them. I love them all," I replied.
  
But while there were a few strong contenders, only one made my eyes well up and my heart feel big and full.

So in January, off we went to the original bridal shop to try on THE gown. In addition to my mom and Adam's mom, four of my bridesmaids were also able to come along, which was such a treat. Meg (photojournalist extraordinaire) even brought her fancy camera. 

Rachel picked me up for the appointment, and we arrived outside the shop five minutes early. As she was paying the parking meter, my phone rang.

It was the bridal shop calling.

"Hi Jenna? I see you're coming in soon?"

"Um, yes. We just got here. My appointment is at noon," I confirmed, a sinking feeling starting in my stomach.

"Right. Well, we have a problem. The dress you're coming in to try on? We sold it off the rack earlier this month."

"Oh," was my eloquent reply.

"You can still come in for an appointment if you'd like," the associate said.

Seeing as my group was already there (Adam's sister had even flown in from Charlotte as a surprise!), what else were we to do?

I put on a happy face but spent the first bit of the appointment secretly feeling sorry for myself. Who was this girl who had bought my dress? Why hadn't the bridal shop realized this earlier and given me enough time to reschedule for a later date?

Self-Pity City, population me.

Of course, once a bottle of champagne had been popped and I started trying on more gowns (just to be super sure I still wanted the one from October), everything was completely and totally fine. I got to work with my original stylist who was amazing, and I was surrounded by some of my most favorite people.


Adam's mom and sister had even brought me a tiara to wear. So I was practically Kate Middleton for the afternoon.

Naturally, I managed to confuse myself and fall in love with another dress.


"Maybe this is a sign," I said worriedly. "Maybe the shop was supposed to sell the original dress off the rack so I would find this one."

"Maybe," everyone said supportively, though they did not appear convinced.

"Could we alter the back?" I asked the stylist. "It reminds me of strange bathing suit straps."

Note: if you describe the back of your potential wedding dress as having "strange bathing suit straps," it's probably not the one.

Thankfully, the moms were armed with photos of every angle of the original dress.

God, it was beyond perfect.

It was the loveliest, most magical dress in all of the Greater Cincinnati Area.

What had I been thinking?

"I'm saying yes to the original dress!" I proclaimed, wearing the imposter dress that had almost knocked the dream dress off its throne.

Hurrah!

We all clinked champagne flutes, and my mom gave a very sweet speech, nearly making me cry.

I then tried for the millionth time to convince everyone I could pull off a dramatic cathedral veil that covered my face.

Once more I failed.

Anyway.

I then got to sign mine and Adam's name and our wedding date on the wall, which really sealed the deal.




The appointment certainly hadn't gone as planned, but yet?

It was as fun and special as I always dreamed it would be.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Kitchen Proposal

It's a new year, and it feels like the right time for my very first engagement/wedding-planning post.

Adam and I are getting married on Friday, October 19, 2018.

We have 278 days to go, which is crazy exciting! I remember the date feeling impossibly far away when we first got engaged, and now it finally feels close.

So today, I would like to finally write down our engagement story.

Let's rewind five (!!!) months.

It was a Saturday morning in August, and Adam and I were busy cleaning our new house.

My Grandma Betty was visiting for the very first time that afternoon, and we wanted everything to be *perfect.*

Naturally, I was busy in my writer's nook.

Because perfectly straightened novels and a neatly organized desktop clearly took priority over vacuumed rugs and dusted end tables.

Anyways.

So there I was, meticulously arranging my favorite books and knick-knacks, when Adam called from the kitchen.

"Hey! Can you come in here and help me move something?" he asked.

"Sure!" I replied, internally grumbling that this something had better not be the antique pie safe. That was heavy. "Coming!"

But when I rounded the corner, through our navy dining room and into our cake-batter-yellow kitchen, there was Adam, on bended knee.

One of our favorite David Bowie songs was playing over the Sonos, "Absolute Beginners," but I didn't realize it in that moment. I know Adam said a lot of wonderful things, but I don't really remember those either.

I just remember seeing tears in Adam's eyes and the most beautiful ring I'd ever seen set in a square box in his hand.

I had also forgotten how to speak, as Adam had to prompt me to say something, that something being Yes (of course!).

My hand shook as Adam slid the diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring over my finger. We spent the next half an hour or so talking about how excited we were, shaking our heads incredulously (we were going to get MARRIED!) and hugging one another tight.

We were both wearing old college t-shirts (mine was a sort of "door prize" from when my roommate competed in "DePaul Idol"—remember that, Becca?). Adam was wearing a baseball cap. Neither of us had showered that day or done anything remotely attractive with our hair (not a big deal for Adam, who has the best head of hair ever, but a much larger predicament for my flat, dishwater-blonde locks). And I didn't have a bit of makeup on.

And the funny thing is, even as we started to FaceTime family and friends, we never left our little kitchen, the kitchen where we had spent hours earlier that summer painting—so much painting!—while talking, listening to podcasts, singing along to our favorite songs, and occasionally eating slices of leftover pizza.

It was also the place where we had cooked countless dinners together. I'd usually sit on the steps that lead into our kitchen, petting a dog with one hand and holding a glass of wine in the other, occasionally jumping in to chop fresh herbs or whisk a salad dressing. Adam would constantly be moving from fridge to countertop to stovetop, a tea towel always sticking out of one of his back pockets and his beer always left half-full.

Whenever Adam asked how I imagined our engagement, I told him I wanted to be completely surprised when he proposed, and that I wanted to get engaged in a private place, somewhere special to us.

So his kitchen proposal?

It couldn't have been more perfect.
Our friend Meg took this when we FaceTimed her with the news—it's still one of my favorite photos from that morning!