If there is one item more precious than any other in the Jennie Garth and Peter Facinelli household, it’s the blue dinner plate. Whenever a member of the Facinelli Five—as the couple sweetly refer to themselves and their three daughters—has accomplished something out of the ordinary, that person eats dinner on the coveted blue dish. Luca, 10, got it after a recent soccer goal. Facinelli’s turn came when he landed a role on FX’s Damages. And Garth had been gearing up for weeks of blue plate special moments connected to her upcoming appearance on Dancing with the Stars—if only she hadn’t shattered it in a million pieces. “I broke the blue plate!” says Garth, 35. “Everyone screamed, ‘No!’ We all freaked out. I was like, ‘What are we going to do?'”
But after more than 11 years together, three kids, two dogs, three pet birds and numerous weekends camping in an RV with all of the above, the Facinelli-Garth household knows how to handle a bit of chaos. “We’ll get a new one,” says Facinelli, 33, with a laugh. The blue plate is just one of a dozen homespun traditions—Friday movie nights, bingo tournaments—that keep this Hollywood family grounded. And come Sept. 24, they’ll add another activity to the schedule: watching Mom compete on Dancing. (A special treat since Luca, Lola, 4, and Fiona, 1, are not allowed to see Dad as a key witness on the crime drama Damages.) “The kids are beside themselves,” says Garth, who was inspired to join the cast by her former Beverly Hills, 90210 costar Ian Ziering, a competitor last season. “They’re like, ‘Don’t cry, Mom! Never storm out of the rehearsal room!’ Sometimes I think I’ve lost my mind, but at the same time I’m hugely excited.” Adds Facinelli: “You only live once, so why not?”
Making the most of life’s unexpected twists has been a hallmark of the couple’s relationship. They fell in love in late 1995 on the set of the TV movie An Unfinished Affair, and Garth discovered she was pregnant just nine months later. “We had a baby very quickly,” says Garth. “It was a crazy time, and it would’ve been easy to throw in the towel, but Peter taught me that you have to stick it out.” They were married in 2001. “We’ve been in a relationship for more than 11 years now. It’s like winning an Oscar, it’s huge. We don’t take it for granted.” Says Facinelli: “Marriage requires work. It’s when you push through the tough times that your relationship goes to the next level and you fall even deeper in love.”
Among the compromises they make for each other? She’s a self-proclaimed country girl (she spent her childhood on a ranch in Illinois), and he’s a city boy (he is a native New Yorker). “We’re completely different,” he says. “She loves the quiet and I love the sound of traffic.” Chimes in Garth: “I’m crazy about animals, and he doesn’t really like them.” So, apart from their airy Cape Cod-style home in L.A., they own a six-acre ranch outside the city complete with horses, chickens and goats. Plus, “He’s not a great driver, but I can parallel park an 18-wheeler,” says Garth. His take on it: “She loves to drive vicariously through me! Every time I make a turn, my GPS system goes off at the same time as my wife.”
Living in a household with so many women, Facinelli won’t rule out adding to the family. “Who knows what the cards hold?” he says, explaining that all three of their pregnancies were a happy surprise. “I’m sure there are times Peter feels he’s going to lose his mind being the only male in the family,” confirms Garth. “That’s when he takes a drive around the block on his motorcycle.” But, he adds, “We are already outnumbered now. Having kids is the greatest thing in the world. But having three can get crazy! Sometimes we just look at each other and laugh. We’re determined to make it, and we can’t wait to grow old together.”
Although they rarely have time for a date night, “once the kids are in bed, it’s our time to cuddle and watch a movie,” says Garth. While Facinelli has been in New York filming Damages, “We text message each other,” she says. “I’ll send him his favorite tea to get him through the day. I make sure there’s always something to keep him happy in his hotel room.”
Garth’s stint on Dancing with the Stars will put a crimp in the family’s schedule. The girls plan to attend rehearsals and stay up late on Mondays to watch. “It’s a huge undertaking,” says Garth, who is paired with professional dancer Derek Hough. “I’m not in as good a shape as I was before I had my third baby, so it’s a great way to get in shape.” Is she nervous? “I haven’t danced for 20 years other than with my husband!” she says. “I took dance classes as a little girl, but this is a different league. But I’m competitive and excited.”
And should she win, she already knows what the reward will be. She’ll get to eat dinner on the new blue plate.