Carisa McLaughlin

Book Review: The Magic Room, by Jeffrey Zaslow

January 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm , by

As much as it pains me to admit this, I have become addicted to reality TV—especially wedding shows. And I mean all of ‘em: Say Yes to the Dress, Girl Meets Gown, My Fair Wedding, Bridezillas … the list goes on. They’re always all about the bride (duh), and, of course, the dress. Who will design it? How much will she spend? Will she bond with her mom over a box of tissues like she’s always dreamed?

It’s all so dramatic and that drama, sadly, often overshadows what weddings are really about (or supposed to be)—love. Oh, did all of those reality-show tricks make you forget? Jeffrey Zaslow, author of the bestselling The Girls From Ames, hasn’t forgotten. His new book, The Magic Room (Gotham), tells brides’ tales from the gown-hunting trenches, but from a genuine, warm-hearted angle that underscores the process as a special milestone for mothers and daughters.

The Magic Room chronicles the stories that happen inside Becker’s Bridal, a mom-and-pop boutique in small-town Fowler, Michigan. It’s no Kleinfeld, but its legacy as a bridal destination is just as impressive: Founded in 1934, it’s been owned and operated by nearly four generations of the Becker family.

The Beckers have seen their share of brides and moms visit the store’s “magic room” (the mirrored alcove in which you’ll know if you’ve found the one—the one dress, that is), and Zaslow shares six brides’ unique life stories, including the meet-cutes with their fiancés and why they’re shopping at Becker’s, a store that’s become more than just a place you go to pick out a white dress. It’s where you go—with your mom by your side—to decide what you’ll wear on the day that your life changes forever.

One of my favorite brides was the spunky 40-year-old Meredith, who brings her mother and sister-in-law to Becker’s to her help choose her gown. Though 40 isn’t old, per se, it’s certainly older as brides go, and both Meredith and her mother were beginning to think she was never going to find someone to share her life with (she had even sworn off dating!). But one evening at a Polish social hall, Meredith met Ron, a 42-year-old “friend of a friend of a friend.” Now, she’s in the market for a wedding dress. Which one will it be? You may be surprised.

If you’re looking for a slice of truly homespun Americana that’ll make you say “awwwww” (or, okay, even if you just need something to fill the gap between Four Weddings and Brides of Beverly Hills) you’ll devour The Magic Room. Even I, a self-confessed wedding reality show junkie, appreciated the reminder that the big day should come with more than just glitz and glamour.


When Giving Up Is a Good Thing

November 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm , by

I can still picture my mom walking around the house with a cigarette in her mouth getting ready in the mornings. She’d curl her hair and do her makeup with an ashtray on the counter. Everyone knew her as a smoker; her cigarettes were as much a part of her look as the signature blonde highlights in her long brown hair.

She picked up cigarettes when she was just 16, and she smoked for almost 30 years. Even as a kid, I knew she needed to quit. She’d tell me: “Even though Mommy smokes, you should never do it. It’s very, very bad for you.” I used to write her letters, begging her to put down cigarettes for good.

Five years ago this month, she finally did it.

Nicotine, the main chemical in cigarettes, is one of the most addictive substances there is. My mom struggled with cravings for an entire year afterward! But now, just the faintest smell of cigarettes disgusts her.

Being smoke-free is something to celebrate and that’s why tomorrow is such an exciting day. The Great American Smokeout, always one week before Thanksgiving, starts tomorrow and is an incentive for smokers to quit. The American Cancer Society hosts the  Smokeout every year, giving smokers the confidence and support to stop smoking–which is perfect timing considering November is also National Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death in the United States, yet more than 46 million Americans still smoke. The benefits of quitting are immediate: Your circulation and blood pressure improve, and your risk of cancer decreases with every cigarette-free year. Read more

New Turkey Time Traditions

November 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm , by

Chances are, your Thanksgiving traditions usually include waking the kids up early to watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, playing tackle football in the yard, and of course cooking dinner together as a family. But this year, why not try some new traditions? It’s never too late to start something new! Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Volunteer your time at a local food bank.

What better way to show you’re thankful than by giving back to the community? Volunteering can be a great family bonding time and you’ll all feel better knowing that you made someone less fortunate have a great holiday.

2. Create DIY holiday cards.

If you have some free time while the turkey’s cooking, why not get a head start on your holiday cards? You and your family can sit down and craft some really neat homemade greeting cards to send out to your friends and relatives—instead of waiting until the week before to get the leftover scraps from Walmart.

3. Celebrate your family’s achievements.

After dinner, as an alternative to just sitting around in food comas, try something that will make everyone feel better about themselves by holding a little award ceremony. You can craft Turkey Day Awards to reward your hard-working family for all the achievements they’ve accomplished so far this year.

If none of these traditions seem to be up your alley, you can always dedicate Turkey Day to relaxing, catching up on your overflowing DVR shows, and simply enjoying the company of your family. However you choose to spend it, we hope you have a very safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Photo Courtesy Shuttershock