Pre-Oscars Movie Viewing Fuels Popcorn Battle Once Again

Last weekend as the movie theater lights dimmed, the previews began, and the music blared, my husband and I looked at each other, nodded, and turned back to watch the screen. With a large popcorn bucket precariously balanced between our two seats, we looked like any other couple ready to sit back, share a snack, and enjoy one of the Oscar-nominated movies. But unbeknownst to everyone around us, we were not just like any other couple. We were a couple firmly entrenched in a never-ending clash of wills that first began twenty-three years ago on one of our first dates.

It was 1991. My love for my husband-to-be (HTB) was even bigger than my hair. We were seeing our first movie together: City Slickers. As we settled into our seats with a large bucket of popcorn between us, suddenly everything I thought I knew about my HTB flew out the door of the movie theater.

As the lights dimmed, the previews began, and the music blared, I turned to look at my HTB, smiled, and daintily placed my fingers in the popcorn bucket. As I placed three kernels of corn into my mouth and turned back to the screen, I heard a strange noise. Intrigued, I looked at my HTB who had suddenly transformed into a less furry version of Cookie Monster. As he stuck his hand back in the popcorn bucket, pulled out a handful, and shoved it all in his mouth at once, I swear I heard him say, “Num, num, num.” I looked down at the bucket. Half the popcorn was gone already. How did this happen? I frantically grabbed three more kernels and popped them in my mouth. He grabbed a handful and shoved thirty-five kernels in his mouth. Three. Fifty. Three. Seventy-five. In a matter of minutes, my husband had devoured nearly the entire bucket of popcorn. My stomach rumbled. He patted his stomach, leaned over, and whispered, “I’m stuffed, how about you?”

Fast forward twenty-three years to a dark movie theater. It was 2014 and my love for my husband was still big, even though my hair wasn’t. During all those years, we had become used to sharing most everything with each other: a checking account, countless bars of soap, and even a toothbrush on one memorable camping trip when I forgot my own. But when it came to popcorn … well, let’s just say that was still a work in progress.

As I daintily placed my fingers in the popcorn bucket, pulled out three kernels, and popped them in my mouth, I heard my husband’s hand enter the bucket. I may be older, but thankfully, I still have my hearing, cat-like reflexes, and peripheral vision. Before he could blink an eye, I grabbed his hand, which was full of popcorn, and shook it until just three kernels remained between two fingers. I smiled. His stomach rumbled. Then we laughed together because both of us knew that although he hadn’t changed his popcorn eating habits since that date long ago, one thing had: the movie theater now offered free popcorn refills.

Twenty-three years ago, I was a little more googly-eyed when it came to love. Although age brings things we don’t really want like aching joints, reading glasses, and hair in places that shouldn’t have hair, I like to think that age also brings wisdom about relationships and what is really important in life.

One day, I imagine my husband and I will be happily spending our days rocking on our front porch talking about our grandchildren, our doctor’s appointments, and where we think we left our reading glasses last. As the afternoon turns into dusk, I’ll ask him,”Do you want me to make some popcorn?” and he’ll answer, “Go find my teeth, honey.” Moments later, I’ll scoot my rocker next to his, place the bowl between us, and turn to look at him, knowing it’s not about how small or big our handfuls are, but that we are still sharing a bowl of popcorn after all these years. Then, I’ll eat three kernels, he’ll eat thirty-five, and we’ll laugh just like always have while the world goes by.

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Who Are You Again?

Who are you? Those three words were screaming through my brain like a runaway train when a woman I swore I’d never seen before in my life shouted my name in a parking lot the other day.

As she approached and asked question after question about me, my children, and my work, I could not for the life of me remember who she was. While I frantically scanned her uniform for a name tag and mentally ran through a list of names, I cheerfully answered her questions with probably a little more detail than interested her. But little did she know that on the inside, I was stalling, freaking out, and planning my escape route.

Want the cold, hard truth? This is what happens when the stars unalign, hormones dry up and blow away forever, and tiny aliens invade an aging brain and scramble it like eggs.

As sweat rolled down my armpits and into my shoes, I tried to recall all the tricks for remembering names. Unfortunately, the only trick I could remember was how to make a coin disappear. Seven minutes later, the woman had learned more about what had happened to me in the last six months than my husband knew. As she reached out for a hug, I embraced her and enthusiastically remarked, “It was soooo great to see you again!” I knew that one day I would really mean it … when I figured out who she was.

Thank goodness I’m not the only one who is suffering from memory loss. Yesterday, while I was feverishly searching for the W-2 form I had somehow misplaced, my husband came into the kitchen, looked up at the ceiling for five minutes, and then walked out. “I’ll be back when I remember what I came in here for,” he yelled over his shoulder. This morning, he was telling someone at breakfast about the wonderful meal he ate last night at a local restaurant. After he completed a lengthy description of a beef and bean enchilada that would make a food critic proud, he suddenly realized there was only one problem: he couldn’t remember where he ate the spectacular dinner. “What was the name of that restaurant again?” he asked me in a panic while the person patiently waited. I just wish I could have helped him. I was too busy trying to remember where I put my wallet.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know it could be worse. Every night, I thank my lucky stars that I’m not wandering around the neighborhood in my underwear, howling at the moon, and calling out for one of my sixteen cats. Not that I could recall the cat’s name anyway. Or the way to get home. Or even that there’s a moon in the sky after dark.

Sharon! See, I knew I’d finally remember that woman’s name. I should call her up. Maybe she knows the name of that restaurant. Now if I could only figure out what I did with her number.

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A Holiday Tradition Stands Firm: No Green Jell-O Salad

In families throughout the world, the holidays are dictated by annual traditions like pushing down fellow customers in a big box store in an attempt to grab the latest “Scratch Me Santa,” pouring rum in the eggnog punch to see what kind of family secrets grandma will reveal when she’s tipsy, and attending church services for the first time all year in a last-ditch effort to avoid booking a room at the Hell Hath No Fury Inn when death knocks at the door.

In my house, the holidays are dictated by many wonderful traditions like the ceremonial untangling of the lights, the haphazard decorating of Christmas cookies, and the frantic last-minute wrapping of gifts. But there is one tradition that no one in my house wants to give up—at least not yet.

Every Christmas Eve, we follow the same protocol we have since the children were little. My husband fires up the grill, I make a chocolate cream pie, and my now teenagers set the table. Nothing varies … ever. The menu, seating arrangements, formal attire, and post-dinner television movie choice have remained the same since 1994. God forbid if someone has a hankering for green Jell-O salad or to sit at the head of the table instead of on the right side or to drink out of a water glass instead of a crystal wine glass or to watch It’s a Wonderful Life instead of A Christmas Story. It’s simply not going to happen. On this night, our tradition stands firm.

To be honest, I’m not sure why this tradition has remained set in stone since the year genetically engineered tomatoes were first introduced and I first discovered stretch marks. All I know is that it works and that each year, something memorable happens. One year I saw a bright object racing across the dark sky that I was certain was Santa’s sleigh. Another year my husband grilled our dinner in 70-mile-per-hour wind gusts and blizzard conditions. One Christmas Eve, my son dressed up for dinner like Robert Goulet, complete with a paper mustache and suit and tie.

I keep thinking that one of these days, my children who somehow turned 19 and 16 when I wasn’t looking, will tell me that they are heading in different directions on Christmas Eve. But for now, they are certain of one thing in life: they want to spend Christmas Eve the same way they have since they can remember: in our cozy little suburban house tucked away from the world where green Jell-O salad is not welcome, the seating chart remains the same, and the magic of this one night reminds all of us that it is the memories, not the gifts, that provide us the most comfort and joy.

Happy Holidays, from my cozy little house to yours.

 “Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”

Dr. Seuss

By Vicky DeCoster, All Rights Reserved

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I Am Still Here: A Life-Changing Mantra

The thing I remember most from that day four weeks ago is the sound of my daughter crying on the phone as I informed her from the side of the freeway that both her father and I had been in a serious car accident. It was my birthday. It was the day my daughter realized how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away. It was also the day I began to live by these four words:

I am still here.

I am known for a few things in my neck of the woods: my addiction to Hot Tamales, my gift for sneezing like Donald Duck, and my knack for worrying about everything including potential chemicals in my drinking water, the amount in my retirement fund, and the person standing behind me in the grocery store line who has just revealed she has a suspicious mole. But while sitting on the side of the freeway on a windy October afternoon, all that worrying suddenly seemed irrelevant because only one thing really mattered:

I am still here.

Yesterday, I shared the sauna at the gym with a stranger. After a few moments of nothing but the sound of my sweat dripping onto the bench, we exchanged greetings for lack of nothing else than to keep ourselves conscious. Soon, we were engaged in conversation that led to him disclosing that he had recently lost the most important person in his life: his wife. As he contemplated out loud all the things they had wanted to do together, but now couldn’t, I listened. When the sauna filled with silence once again, I shared my story of what I learned on the side of the freeway on that windy October afternoon. In a matter of minutes, two strangers were strangers no more. There are those who might say we were brought together for a reason. Maybe so. I like to think we both helped each other reinforce what we already knew: that living in the moment is the best way to live. After all, we are both still here.

My bucket list is entirely too long. Although I’ve been trying to whittle down the list for years, there are still many things I have yet to accomplish, see, and conquer. My drive to continue seeking adventure is stronger than ever. And so out of the mangled metal comes a positive, life-changing mantra that I hope is contagious.

I am still here.

Feel free to make it your own.

By Vicky DeCoster, All Rights Reserved

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Find a Way

Earlier this week, my husband and I intently watched as Diana Nyad staggered out of the water in Key West, Florida, and made history by being the first woman to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. As I picked up the remote and turned off the television, my husband whispered, “Here we go.” After twenty years of marriage, he was already predicting the future more accurately than Nostradamus.

I sighed, “I don’t think I’m doing enough with my life.” I walked to gaze out the window of my suburban house nestled in the middle of suburbia. “It’s really not hard to figure out,” I said to the cardinal who made the mistake of landing on the deck railing in front of me. “I need excitement.”

There was no need to call the doctor. I already knew the diagnosis: I had just come down with a bad case of adventure envy.

I turned and sat on the couch next to my husband, whose eyes darted about the room searching for a quick escape route. I mentally moved down a list of possibilities. Swimming a long distance was out, mostly because I hadn’t yet been able to make my way across the community pool without first strapping on a life jacket and oxygen. Competing in the Ironman Triathlon was out because … well … see above. Due to my fear of bears, heights, and everything in between, climbing a mountain was out as well. After just a few seconds of contemplation, I was already back to square one in Boringville.

Now that some time has passed, I have come to the realization that Diana Nyad’s record-breaking swim was not just about a woman who sought adventure in her life and found it. Her journey across the sea was more about perseverance, inner-strength, and achieving something no one had ever before. Diana Nyad fought for thirty-five years until she found a way.

You’re never too old to live your dreams.

Life is short. Every day, I have a choice, even here in Boringville. You have a choice wherever you are. Adventure comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and prices. Adventure comes when we step outside our comfort zones, face our fears, and walk into the unknown simply because we believe we can do it. Each morning when the sun comes up, we are all provided with a chance to do something great. It can be as simple as running a mile at the gym or as monumental as swimming one hundred and ten miles from Cuba to Florida. Or it can be somewhere in between like mentoring a troubled child, starting a business, or writing a book. But first, you have to believe you can do it.

Find a way.

Today, close your eyes, hold your breath, and jump into the unknown. You never know who you might inspire. Do it for Diana Nyad.

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A New Driver, a Squirrel, and a Scaredy-Cat-Fraidy-Cat

It is payback time in my house: payback for all the speeding tickets, the erratic lane changes, and rolling stops. It is time to teach a new driver how to drive.

Mere seconds after my fifteen-year-old turned fifteen, she handed me a copy of our state’s driver’s manual and requested, “Quiz me. I want to take the learner’s permit test tomorrow.”

Wasn’t it just yesterday when I was cutting up her meat, teaching her how to write her name, and telling her that pottying in her socks was not a talent I wanted her to boast about to all the neighborhood mothers? A day later, my daughter, with a new learner’s permit tucked safely away in her wallet, held out her hand and asked for the car key. “Let’s go, Mom. I’m ready to drive,” she announced.

I motioned to my husband. “Come join in the fun,” I said as I followed her out to the car. Moments later, we were all buckled in the car: my daughter in the driver’s seat, me in the passenger seat, and my husband in the middle of the back seat. I turned to look at him. “Are those the pillows from our bed tucked around you?” I asked.

“This is the safest place in the car. The pillows are just here for added protection,” he answered as he closed his eyes and folded his hands. Just as I was attempting to decipher what prayer he was mouthing with his lips and wondering why he wasn’t wearing his bicycle helmet, the car lurched into reverse and zoomed backwards out of the driveway. “Brake! Brake! Braaaaaaaaaaakkkke!” I shouted.

My daughter stomped on the pedal. The car screeched to a stop. I methodically began removing each fingernail from the dashboard. My husband began praying louder. My daughter squealed with excitement, “Isn’t this great?”

I took a deep breath. It was time to put my NPR radio announcer voice to work. As I calmly began my lecture on residential speed limits and the importance of checking mirrors before switching lanes, my daughter became acquainted with the power of the pedals beneath her feet. The car weaved gently as she attempted to aim the car between the lines. All was going remarkably well until from the back seat, my husband suddenly yelled, “SQUIRREL! 600 FEET!”

My daughter, who is apparently known in some circles for her cat-like reflexes, stepped on the brake with the same force she used to kill an innocent spider who had made the life-altering mistake of wandering into her bedroom the week before, moved her hands from the 10 and 2 position on the steering wheel, and screamed. Or was that me who screamed?

The anti-lock brakes locked. The squirrel looked like a deer in headlights. The car skidded to a stop. “Everyone okay?” I asked as the squirrel skipped across the road, probably heading for the nearest vet’s office to find a defibrillator to restart his heart. I turned to look at my husband. He had a pillow in each hand, clasped firmly to each ear. His eyes darted from side to side.

“Is the squirrel dead?” My daughter opened one eye, then the other.

“The squirrel is fine,” I answered in my now slightly shaky NPR radio announcer voice. “Shall we begin again?”

From the back seat once, I heard my husband quietly declare in a slightly muffled voice, “Take me out of the oven. I am done.”

As my daughter attempted to perform a “Y” turn in the middle of the road that slowly evolved into a cock-eyed mixture of “W,” “X” and “Z” turns, I came to the realization that somehow when I wasn’t looking, my little girl had transformed into a determined woman who knew exactly what she wanted: independence. I took another deep breath. It was time to start letting go. As we headed home to drop off scaredy-cat-fraidy-cat, I silently expressed my gratitude for the few more precious months I had before she turned old enough to navigate on the roads—and through life—without me.

Just as I reached over to pat her knee and tell her what a good job she was doing, my husband shouted from the backseat, “RABBIT! 15 FEET AHEAD!”

This is going to be a long few months.

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Perspective from the Front Porch

The wicker chair on my front porch begged for a companion. It was one of those perfect summer days when the sky was blue, the clouds were puffy, and the breeze was cool.  Without the willpower to resist the temptation, I plopped in the chair moments later with a magazine in hand and sunglasses perched on my nose. With a gentle sigh, I began reading. It wasn’t long before the clacking of cleats on concrete prompted me to look up and gaze across the street where I noticed the neighbor boy, dressed in his baseball uniform, walking down his driveway to put his gear in the car. As my eyes followed his movement, he suddenly stopped, turned around, and stared at a four-foot-high bush in his yard. It was like a force of nature connected our brains at that very moment. I knew exactly what he was going to do. Without a second thought, he backed up, paused, and began sprinting toward the bush. Just as a cloud passed over the sun, he leaped over the bush, landing on the other side without any idea that he had an audience on the other side of the street. Tucked away in a corner of my porch, I couldn’t help but smile.

As a child, I too had the urge to jump over everything. Urged into action by our relentless begging, my dad worked tirelessly over two weekends and built a high-jump set for my sisters and me. In those days, our summers were not guided by stringent safety rules, but instead, by our imaginations. Every morning, we placed the high-jump set on our concrete driveway and invited the neighbor kids over. With two removable nails to hold the pole and mark our progress, we set the pole at the lowest point, slowly moving it up as the sun rose higher in the sky. If any of us were afraid, we never voiced our concerns. We merely looked at fear face-on and ran right through it. Before long, we were all soaring over the five-foot mark, spurred by our lofty personal goals and the trash talk that accompanied every neighborhood competition. As we each made a running start and sailed feet first over the pole, we never wondered what it would be like to jump over cushy mats, wear padding on our arms and legs, or to don helmets. With nothing to cushion our fall, we never questioned whether we would make it over. We simply had to.

As I watched the neighbor boy that beautiful summer day, I thought about all the people I have met in life since I was a little girl growing up in the Midwest. In my opinion, there are two kinds of people in life. The jumpers, as I like to call them, are the kind of people I want to sit next to at a dinner party. They know life is short. They may not have scaled a mountain, swam with sharks, or sky dived, but they always have a good story to tell. Jumpers get out of bed every morning, face their fears head-on, and leap. Then, there are the wanna-be jumpers. Those are the people who really think about all the things they want to do in life, passionately talk about the possibilities with their friends, and then go home, make a baloney sandwich, and watch re-runs of Criminal Minds on cable.

I know what you’re thinking. We’re all not kids anymore. We have mortgages, bills to pay, careers to build, and children to raise. We barely have time to brush our teeth, let alone to plan an adventure. But I promise, if you just stop for just a minute and think about that kid who sailed over the bush in his yard, it might just change your perspective. Truth be known, it only took him thirty seconds to look around and experience the kind of exhilaration I know we are all secretly seeking.

Today, take thirty seconds and change how you look at life. Start small. Hop over a bush. Jump off the high dive at the pool.  Leap over a hurdle at the track. Do it for yourself—and for the person lucky enough to sit next to you at a dinner party.

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