Nikki has started in numerous movies and shows like Truly, Madly, Sweetly, Awkward., Days of Our Lives, and most recently, Cranberry Christmas. You can watch Awkward. on Amazon Prime and watch all of Nikki’s Hallmark movies, here.
If you’re like us and love Hallmark Christmas movies you need to read this article from buzzfeed, this article from the New York Times, and this list of 2020 Christmas movies. Also maybe take one of these personality quizzes.
If you are someone you know needs confidential, emotional support for suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Kate Bowler: Hi, I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. Look, the world loves us when we are good, better, best. But this is a podcast for when you want to stop feeling guilty that you’re not living your best life now. We’re not always living the plotline of the Bachelorette. I used to have my own delusion of living my best life now. I’m a Duke professor, wine and cheese enthusiast, wife and mom. Instagram gold. Then I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That was four years ago and I’m still here. And now I get it. Life is a chronic condition. The self-help and wellness industry will try to tell you that you can always fix your life. Eat this and you won’t get sick. Lose this weight and you’ll never be lonely. Believe with your whole heart and God will provide. Keep this attitude and the money is yours. But I’m here to look into your gorgeous eyes and say, hey, there are some things you can fix and some things you can’t. And it’s OK that life isn’t always better. We can find beauty and meaning and truth, but there’s no cure to being human. So let’s be friends on that journey. Let’s be human together.
Kate Bowler: Dear listener, I have a confession, a guilty pleasure, if you will. This Christmas, the Hallmark Channel will release twenty three new movies in its Countdown to Christmas series, and I will watch every single one unashamedly. Yes, I even have the app. Will the blonde business woman put work aside for once to see that the lumberjack hunk from her hometown is madly in love with her? Will someone be hospitalized by being struck by a Christmas tree and then fall in love with his assailant? I will watch them alone. I will watch them with my dad. I will watch them with my mom. My son knows that two people will share a very chaste kiss at the end and he will hide under the coffee table. I grew up with a dad who is the world expert, historian of Christmas, so like he wrote the biography of Santa Claus, for example. Their house is 90 percent Christmas decorations and 10 percent copies of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Of course, I became a historian and an expert in the idea that good things happen to good people, which is also what a Hallmark Christmas movie is. Ninety minutes of something good happening to two people in Colorado or Maine, but never Texas for some reason, never, ever Texas. But there is something so compelling about these tiny storylines. They are predictable and trustworthy and frankly, they are an escape for many of us, living with pain, grappling with estranged families, reckoning with lives that haven’t always turned out the way we hoped they would. Today, I am speaking with an actress and a bleeding heart who shares my love for Christmas movies. And it isn’t just because she has starred in many of them. Nikki DeLoach is an actress, producer and advocate. She lived my childhood dream as part of the Mickey Mouse Club alongside Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. You may recognize her from television shows like Awkward and most recently in movies like Truly, Madly, Sweetly, A Dream of Christmas. And please watch the one that just came out, Cranberry Christmas, where she reveals her addiction to frozen hot chocolate. She co-founded a blog community for women called What We Are, and she is a tireless champion of the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of her father. She and her husband Ryan, live in California with their two sons, Hudson and Bennett. Nikki, I have been looking forward to this forever.
Nikki DeLoach: feel like I’m in a dream because I love you so much. And also, just listening to that because I have your book and I also have it on tape.
N.D.: No. I have listened to your voice for such a long time. I just can’t believe that I’m talking to you. It makes me you know, because you’re so wonderful.
K.B.: Oh, hon, OK, well, I feel that way about you. And now I get to talk to you. The fact that I will superfan this entire conversation, I do apologize. Since it is the Christmas season, I was wondering if we could start backwards in your life from now backwards and if we could start with Hallmark Christmas. Do you mind?
N.D.: I think there’s no better place to start than Hallmark Christmas.
K.B.: They’re kind of like a genre. So if you see one, you begin to understand the rules. So I wondered if we could play a quick game and give people a sense of what we’re talking about.
N.D.: Ok, Perfect.
K.B.: OK. So for this game, I’m going to ask you about a couple movies that you are not starring in because obviously, you know those other ones inside out and they’d be cheating. Every Christmas movie, leading lady has a dream. So, for instance, in the movie I saw last night, Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses, Abby is a 30 something single mom who works at an old folks home called Shady Grove, where she loves the kindly and wisecracking residents. But Nikki, her real dream is to be what? Does she want to be A: an aspiring real estate agent, B: an aspiring Christmas tree selector for a major television network. These are all true professions, in Christmas Hallmark movies. C: would she like to be an aspiring seasonal hat shop owner? D: an aspiring Christmas tree decorator or E: an aspiring Christmas pageant director?
N.D.: Wow. Can I say all of the above?
K.B.: Those have all been plot points.
N.D.: Christmas pageant director?
K.B.: Unfortunately, her impossible dream is to be an interior decorator.
N.D.: Wow. That, by the way, the Christmas tree director for a network.
K.B.: She needs to go in that one to rural Maine to select the perfect Christmas tree. Oh, that’s I think her nickname is Miss Christmas. And she has to go find the perfect tree. And she knows that tree will speak to the nation.
N.D.: I’m a little upset that I didn’t get to do that. I think I’m going to call Hallmark and say next time.
K.B.: Actually, I think that one was starring, but I think that might have been the Dean Cain one. I think I might be right about that.
N.D.: Oh I love it. I love a good Dean Cain in a Hallmark movie.
K.B.: There’s never enough Dean Cain. This one in Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses. There’s always a gala or a Christmas festival. And this one, she needs to deck the halls of a nearby undecorated mansion owned by a handsome millionaire who may or may not have lost the Christmas spirit.
N.D.: And played by Dean Cain.
K.B.: This one was played by the legally blond guy whose name I forget.
N.D.: Oh, yes, but it should be played by Dean Cain.
K.B.: Absolutely, absolutely, 100 percent. Also, these movies are very romantic, so I thought maybe we could name things that people may not understand or both Christmassy and very romantic. Things like finding Christmas ornaments in an attic. Romantic.
N.D.: Romantic, especially if it has a story attached to it.
K.B.: You’re right, there’s always a story associated with like the ornament. One about like what are those like shaky shake where the snow comes down like snow globes?
N.D.: Yes. The snow globes. I’ve had one with the snow globe! It was called Christmas Reunited. And so this was an idea I’d taken to Hallmark because I wanted to tell the story. You know, there’s a lot of people that are also divorced. And so I wanted to tell the storyline of a mother and father who had gone through a divorce, a family who had gone through that, and they were coming together to spend one last Christmas together. They really had to fight for this story. But there was a snow globe involved in it. And in the snow globe there was like an absolute replica of the house of my grandmother’s house inside of it, that I was given as a gift for my love interest in the movie. But by the way, trying to get the snow globe made was an absolute nightmare. We were supposed to shoot the scene that day and in props comes up to give it to me. And I’m like, this looks nothing like the house. It didn’t even have a house in it, you couldn’t even shoot it. And so then we ended up having to shoot the insert of the snow globe on the last day of production because we finally got the right snow globe. So yeah, there’s a lot of props involved.
K.B.: There’s always like a lot of maybe kind of accidental violence around a Christmas tree like you can fall off one or you can be injured by one. Like you, you’ve had amnesia I think falling off a Christmas tree.
N.D.: I did. So this was one of my favorite movies I’ve actually done for Hallmark, I fell off a Christmas Tree and I wake up in essentially this world that I thought I wanted. I was a very successful business person. I had clothes, I had the money. I had the hair. And what I realized along the way is I didn’t I want that life. I wanted my life. And I loved the message of that movie so much. I think we all think that we want what we don’t have. And just to be able to reflect back on the incredible things that we do have in our life. I remember crying so hard in the all is lost moment of that movie. And in Hallmark, they don’t like you to cry too much.
K.B.: Oh, sweetie.
N.D.: And I am a big crier like, if you know me, you know, I will cry anywhere. I will cry everywhere I ugly cry like Claire Danes in Homeland. It’s like the moment where I can’t take my wish back. And my husband had moved on with another woman and I’m standing upright amongst these Christmas trees in the snow. And I have to say goodbye to him because I’m not going to get him back. And I am sobbing and the director comes up and he’s like, Sweetie, you’re doing great. It’s beautiful, it’s really beautiful work. I can’t use any of this. (Laughter) And I’m like, why? Is it the mascara? He’s like, it’s the mascara. It’s just the all of it.
K.B.: (Laughter) Nikki, that’s so great.
N.D.: I just need one single solitary tear to just, like, delicately, softly run down one of your eyes. Preferably the left one is. And you know what Kate? I did it. I did tear from both sides. But I will never forget. He’s like, I can’t use any of this. And it was my first lesson in like learning how to cry on camera for Hallmark but still making it authentic.
K.B.: Absolutely the real but not too real. I totally get it.
N.D.: Exactly. Yeah.
K.B.: It’s funny, you know, it’s we all have to give up on like the version of the life we thought we’d have. And I, I think that’s and I think maybe people who might see your life on the outside might imagine, like we might imagine that even the actors are living their own Hallmark plotline. But life is really never as neat as we hope it will be. And learning more about your story, we talk a lot about kind of before and afters in these conversations. And I was so struck that your before and after is also a story of you being a mom and that after the birth of your first child, you experienced something that’s so common, but it’s not often talked about, which is postpartum depression.
N.D.: I was so unaware of postpartum depression that I didn’t even realize I was in it till I got, until I became suicidal. I went back to work about four months after having Hudson. He had colic, which actually it just ended up being that my milk wasn’t producing enough fat. So he was hungry all the time. It was the hormones, all of that. And I kept sinking deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper into this thing. And then I went back to work. I was filming. I was on a show called Awkward at the time, and I thought, well, maybe this is just what it’s like for a mom and for a working mom. And maybe this is just what it what it feels like. Then I started slipping deeper into it, the mania started, the suicidal tendencies started. All of that started to happen. And I woke up to the fact that I was really not OK. And I was at my best friend’s house, Jenn Dede, who I started What We Are with and I just broke down in her kitchen crying. And I was like, I’m not OK. Something’s wrong, something’s really wrong. And she held me and she was like, I know I’ve been so worried about you. And she’s like, Did you ever think that it might be postpartum depression? And honestly, until she said it. Because nobody ever talks about it. I didn’t even think about it, though, here I was inside of this body and this brain that I felt like was betraying me so deeply and I and I was so angry because I just worked so hard, I just carried the baby for 10 months, I worked so hard to push it out. And all I want to do is just feel the love and the glory and the all I really want to do. And I couldn’t touch upon it and I just thought I was going to die and that the only way out and luckily I got help is a person being from the south and being told every day, don’t put your dirty laundry on the street. Don’t tell the neighbors. You don’t want anybody to see you sweat, just like smile and act like everything is OK. I it was like I took a baseball bat to this glass house of perfection that had been built around me and I was like, bam, no more. Because so many women are going through this and I want them to know you are not alone and you are not crazy and you should not carry the shame of this.
K.B.: Oh, Yeah. So much of what we end up facing in our lives are impossible to avoid because they are they are part of the cost of love. And you’ve talked, I mean, really beautifully about how parenthood has been has ushered you into this great and terrible and wonderful rollercoaster of being both desperately in love and being helpless to actually solve most of the pain that shapes our kids lives. If you don’t mind taking me back to a story that I’m sure is really difficult during what should have been a totally routine ultrasound with your second child, you discovered that your new little baby was already fighting for his life.
N.D.: I couldn’t wait to see him. And the technician was taking a really long time in a certain area. And I knew something was going wrong. And she exited the room and she said, OK, I’ll bring the doctor in. And I literally just like stood up from the, you know, the little bed, the hospital or the bed that you lay on and started pacing the room. And the doctor came in and told us that he didn’t just have one congenital heart defect, he had three. And then we learned later that he ended up having a fourth one. He had what’s called transposition of the great arteries, where most of the main arteries that go into the two chambers of the heart, they were in the wrong chambers. His aorta was virtually closed and he had a hole in his heart and the specific unique ways in which his heart was messed up, um made the surgery and our journey with this even more difficult. We met with so many different doctors who didn’t have a lot of hope for us until we ended up meeting with Dr.Vaughn Starnes at Children’s Hospital of L.A. And it’s beyond just oh, my gosh, this is going to be hard. It is I don’t like wait, are you telling me that like my son may not live? Like, there’s a really, really large chance, a large percentage that he like, even if he survives birth. I mean, there’s really only like one or two surgeons in the whole entire world that could possibly do this surgery.
K.B.: Oh hon, and then you’d have to wait until you knew. I mean, that much anticipation must have been completely exhausting and surreal.
N.D.: It was so surreal, as you know, as you know, like it’s so surreal, the unknown. Being inside of that, I’ve never it’s I’ve never been more present in my life. It’s crazy how present you get because you actually cannot think. Even five minutes ahead, you can’t think five minutes behind.
N.D.: Because it’s so big and it’s so heavy, the pain and the what’s at stake is so large that all you can do, it takes everything you have just to continue breathing in the presence in which you are sitting.
K.B.: Yeah, and then to live there, I know, I know the pandemic was like an introduction to that feeling for some people where they have to live on the edge of the cliff. But when you realize, like, the thing in front of you is impossible, I just that must have been I mean, you had so many difficult choices then to make so quickly. It sounds like there were sort of dangerous surgeries then that would have to be faced down existentially in rapid succession.
N.D.: And my mentor told me, like she told me in the beginning as she held my hand and she said, this is going to be the hardest thing that you will ever do. But if you allow it to break you open, if you can pry yourself open. And experience the magic and experience the miracles, because there will be many. Imagine who you will become on the other side of this, imagine what your family is going to become, the people you will step into. That’s what I just kept trying to do. Just like when I would want to panic or run or hide, I would just cry and be like, all right, I’m going to stand still inside of this thing.
K.B.: Yeah, that’s right. And that my and let my heart be able to handle the bandwidth of all that this is going to bring in. Yeah, that’s such a good prayer, too, because, like, the temptation is to be like, no, I’m going to reduce it to the level of reality that, like, I can manage because that for for almost all of us, almost all the time. It’s it’s just it’s so overwhelming that it’s hard to take in most of it. So I imagine just like staying there in that. In that like, ongoing medical journey with him was really was like a deliberate act of of constantly keeping yourself open.
N.D.: Oh, man, so much so. I mean. In each surgery, because there have been three of them. In each surgery, there are there’s the moment before there’s the moment you say bye, there’s the waiting and then there’s the return and the healing. Each moment of that, you have to just keep prying yourself open and breathing into your body, trusting, and trusting that you are going to be able to be carried, that you are with him, it helped me to stand next to his bedside when he was second surgery, when he was thrashing for two days in pain. It helped me to be able to sit in that waiting room for each one of us, for each one of them and just keep breathing into my feet because my heart, I had to find a place in my body.
K.B.: Yeah. Yeah, I hear you. It was Jayson Greene, he’s a beautiful author, he wrote this gorgeous book about the death of his daughter. His daughter had been killed by a brick that just like fell off a building when she was just a toddler. And he talked about like what he learned from fear and that so much of that was that he could learn that it was also partly a language of love, that it taught him what he was scared that he couldn’t live without, what his deepest hopes might be like what happens in the space between when your miracle comes true and when it doesn’t and like what might still be there. So I, I think you are absolutely right, because sometimes we get our, man, sometimes we are surprised by what turns out sometimes we’re just I love that you said carried. Sometimes we are just like carried the rest of the way by God’s love and by each other.
N.D.: It’s so true. He’s so right. I call her my sister, wife Lucy. But she was really someone who came into my life for three years to help me with Bennett the first three years of Benny’s life. She went through all three heart surgeries with us and we would do this motto where like on the days where it was really hard, we would be like, everybody’s OK, everybody’s fine, everybody’s Ok, everybody’s fine, everybody’s are OK, everybody’s fine and we would just say it until we were either, like, laughing or crying and we would just say it around the house together, you know. And so now it’s become our thing. Everybody’s OK. Everybody’s fine. Everybody, everyone? Everybody’s OK! Good.
K.B.: That’s so good. But it’s like little engine that could and then eventually you’re just like, OK, we’re there, everything’s OK. Everything’s fine. I love that so much. I’m totally going to do that. That’s genius.
K.B.: That same year, you’re sixty two year old dad was diagnosed with Pick’s disease, a rare form of dementia. People normally imagine that dementia causes the people we love to be forgetful or simply to fade, but they don’t just fade. You noticed huge changes. Within six months, he’d forgotten your kids names. He’d forgotten that he was your basketball coach. That must have been so painful.
N.D.: Yeah, it is, it’s a very rare and aggressive form of dementia. And so there’s four different types of dementia. There’s regular Alzheimer’s that most people fall under that umbrella. There’s vascular dementia, there’s Lewy body, and then there’s the fourth category is frontal temporal dementia, which are usually very rare and aggressive forms of dementia. And my dad falls into that category and he was diagnosed with Pick’s disease. And I found out about my dad and Bennett’s condition in the same week.
K.B.: Oh, hon.
N.D.: Yeah. In the same week, I found out that I was definitely losing my dad and there was nothing we could do about that. And I could potentially also lose my son. The thing I will have to say that, you know, I’m still trying to wrap my love around that I’m still going to wrap my understanding and my heart around. And this is the thing that in your book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. I can’t for the life of me, Kate, wrap my understanding around a scenario where, you know, because I have to be on the ground with my baby and it’s one surgery after another, after another, and also after the first when he came home on oxygen and he was on oxygen for a very long time. And it was all of that, that I couldn’t get home to my dad.
N.D.: I couldn’t actually get to him. And Bennett’s immune system was so compromised he couldn’t travel. We finally got to a place with Bennett where we have him, knock on wood and everything please, Lord Jesus, to where his heart was stable. We got two good echocardiograms in a row.
K.B.: Oh, congrats. That’s wonderful.
N.D.: I was planning and this was at the top of the year. I said, OK, now that Bennett is in a good place, I am going to start going home every six weeks and I’m going to spend a week in Georgia with my dad and then COVID happens.
K.B.: Oh, sweetie.
N.D.: And I can’t travel again.
K.B.: And that love is so messy because it’s such a it’s such a messy illness, like it’s not it’s not a clean grief.
N.D.: No, it is long. It is arduous. Even this morning, I was on the phone with the doctors trying to talk to them about what meds they’re trying to get him on or get him off and he’s not sleeping. And all of this stuff is happening and I am great at at advocating now. I know how to do this. I know how to ask the questions. I know how to, I know how to stand in that room. I know how to like I know how to do this. And all I want to do is get to him and I can’t get to him. And so, I just I’m trying. Yeah. And trying so hard just to go back to the place of like just open, just keep opening, because this is what’s happening and this is the reality of what’s happening and I don’t have to like it, I don’t have to even accept it right now.
K.B.: Yes, totally. Yeah, I know. And our hearts, like they skip forward because just like love is an arrow, right. And it just goes right to them. And then we’re constantly skipping forward.
N.D.: Yeah, don’t skip to the end!
N.D.: I keep saying to my mom, like this morning when she called me just crying and I said, Mom, we cannot think about what’s going to happen next week. We cannot think about what’s going to happen in three weeks or a month or two months. Right now, today, this is what we’re dealing with and this is where we’re at, and then we’re going to go to bed tonight and tomorrow we’re going to wake up and we’re going to see what we have on our plates tomorrow and then we’re going to tackle that. OK?
K.B.: That’s so wise.
N.D.: It’s the only thing that we can do.
K.B.: I know I’m always stuck on that because like the part of me that always wants to save myself future pain is always trying to anticipate the terrible thing and fold it into what I know now. And I’m like, oh, no, that’s realism. That’s realism. Kate, you’re doing hard work. Good for you, 2AM Kate, just working hard. But the truth is, because we don’t know, just holding like holding your ground on the like on the possibility that, yes, it might be terrible, but yes, it might also be beautiful. Like that is a hard place to live. And it sounds like you are like policing the boundaries of it with a lot of ferocity which I love.
N.D.: You talked about this year and how so many people are now touching upon this place, the unknown, and that fear that rolls in, and I think for you and me, man, does my heart, the compassion, the empathy that I have. Because you and I’ve walked that road and we got a little bit ahead of everyone on that because of what we’ve been through.
K.B.: Living with chronic uncertainty, it does give you like a horrible and wonderful skill set that it does really come in handy in a moment like this.
N.D.: My friend Ben says you’re very good in a crisis. And,…
K.B.: I believe that.
N.D.: It’s not a skill set that I ever wanted to have.
K.B.: No, no.
N.D.: In fact, sometimes I’m like, is that it’s that bad? Is it bad? But like it’s just what it is.
K.B.: I know, have I gotten too good at this? Does everyone not need rope and duct tape right now?
N.D.: Yeah. It’s so true. Like, how am I OK inside of all of this? I don’t know but like, you know, my husband said that to me weeks ago, he was like, I’m feeling depressed, how are you oK? And I’m like, listen.
K.B.: I already like that sentence. I already like where that sentence is going.
N.D.: Listen, where do you want me to begin?
K.B.: I’m just thinking of all the people who, when we talk about, like hope and the might be, you know, that place of might be, maybe where when they’re going through something really awful, it’s something they do right now is like is they take out the Christmas lights now or they or they pull out the tree early or they you know, and I mean this in no trite way like that is part of what like Hallmark movies and the beauty of small joys. Like if you watch a Hallmark movie, like there’s always like a montage or someone just like bakes something beautiful or shares a memory or like takes the boxes down from the attic. And like that is that is like the discipline of memory and of then like just reveling in what might be if we make like a tiny little space for a little bit more joy.
N.D.: I got into this whole thing when I was a kid because I watched a movie or I watched a TV show or I read a book or I listened to my grandfather tell a story and I felt connected. I didn’t feel alone. There’s something about the art and the act of storytelling. It’s what you do on this podcast, it is what you see on Hallmark movies that allows us to feel connected to something. And we don’t feel alone in our lives. And it reminds us, especially in the world of Hallmark, what matters and what’s important and it is the little joys. And it’s little things that bring you happiness and it’s the people in your life. And I knew that I wanted to be a part of that. I was like, I want to make people feel like that.
K.B.: Well, mission accomplished. And inspired by, obviously you and Hallmark, I actually do have an annual gingerbread competition every year. I make little baby megachurches, tiny little gingerbread mega churches.
N.D.: Oh, I love it.
K.B.: There’s always like a little Lego pastor. Usually it’s a woman. So I like to shake things up.
N.D.: I love that. I love it so much. We started doing that as well. I mean, Hallmark is actually inspired me to dig so much deeper. I was like, I’m not doing enough for Christmas.
K.B.: Garland deforestation.
N.D.: We need gingerbread house competitions. We need to make all the cookies, we need to decorate, every room needs a tree. I can’t believe I’m so lucky that I, I get to make movies that make people happy. And there’s it’s just such a gift. It’s such a blessing, it really is. I mean, if I have to fall off ten Christmas trees and…
K.B.: And get amnesia.
N.D.: I’d do it over and over again.
K.B.: Well and I will be watching. And you, you’ve called these the best, worst years of your life. And I just thank you for sharing the beauty of that with me every Christmas and especially today. Thank you, Nikki.
N.D.: Thank you so much, Kate. I really appreciate this conversation.
K.B.: Oh, dear one, this year we have lost so much. Jobs, the illusion of health, financial security, people we love, even hope has been in short supply. We are lonely and tired and afraid, and we don’t know when it will be over. Even when it’s tempting to close up shop, to punt celebration and joy for another time in the distant future when things feel lighter. May this be a permission slip for you to find small pockets of joy and celebrate still. Just like Nikki reminded her mom tomorrow holds its own problems, so let’s make decisions with the information we have today. Maybe it’s in a few extra minutes by the fire or indulging in a silly Christmas movie or challenging your friends to a gingerbread house building competition on ZOOM. No, the holidays will not feel the same, but there is still a little room to celebrate the small joys. To know that right now there can still be magic.
K.B.: This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of the Lilly Endowment. Huge thank you to my team. Jessica Richie, Keith Weston, Harriet Putman and J.J. Dickinson. Ok, so it’s the season of Advent. It’s the season of almost. Almost Christmas, almost a vaccine. Still the night but we need the light and I have an idea for how we can spend this together. We need gentle ways right now to find hope and beauty and love. So, join me on instagram and facebook to find out more. This is Everything Happens with me, Kate Bowler.