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Mother-son tradition | happy movie time

You wouldn’t think a mother-son tradition would begin with a snake.

A. Very. Big. Snake.

But that’s what happened.

“Mom, I want to take you to a movie for Mother’s Day,” Thomas said. When a 13-year old son wants to do anything with his mother, his mother’s heart goes thumpity-thump and she agrees.

Even when it’s to see the film Anaconda. Yeah, a movie about a very big snake.

I know, the movie looks cheesy and campy now, but seriously – it was a very large snake. A snake that attacked.

Sitting in that theater, I was tense with the suspense of what that snake would do. Suddenly! That big big scary snake sprang from the river. Traumatized, I shrieked so loudly the entire audience heard me. Proof that I’m forever a girly-girl. Oh, sure, go ahead and laugh at my expense. Thomas did. Stupid fake snake.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Thomas asked me on a movie date. That’s been our thing – watching movies.

Perhaps it all started with watching The Brave Little Toaster when he was three. He’d curl up with his blankie next to me on the couch and we’d watch it over and over. That’s what moms do. Spend time doing what their kids like to do.

But the movie he really loved and we watched for years and years was Back to the Future. He quickly learned how to insert and play “the Marty tape” into the VCR. A skill he was most happy with; a skill I had to monitor. Perhaps he was fascinated by the combination of action + music, or the DeLorean and the guitar, because at five years old, I’m sure the time-travel plot went right over his head. But he’d giggle and shout “Great Scott!” and “1.21 gigawatts! 1.21 gigawatts!” (not that any of us knew what that was) or he’d quote, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” or he’d play his “Marty” guitar.

Thomas with guitar 89

Several years ago when we were laughing about how many times he watched the film, he admitted, “I don’t think I understood the story line about the space-time continuum until I was a teenager.”

As he got a little older, we began our regular trips to Blockbuster. He’d browse through the action adventure section or the comedies, steering clear of the romantic comedies or dramas. I think I rented every Jackie Chan movie, including those with sub-titles. No matter the movie, that time spent with Thomas, watching him watch films he enjoyed, was magical. The day could have been bad, or stressful, or a sick day, but within seconds of plopping on the couch with Thomas to watch any movie at all, we were both having a happy time.

One summer before he had his driver’s license, he asked me if I’d take him and a few friends to the drive-in. Yes, there was still a drive-in theater in town. So three teenagers piled into my Crown Victoria off we went to the Ski-Hi Drive-in on State Road 3 for a double showing of The Rock and Face-off. Of course, we had to stop at CVS and the boys bought enough candy for a sugar coma. Movie time with teenagers. Happy. Unforgettable.

Now every spring I anticipate my movie-date with Thomas as we continue our mother-son tradition. In the years after watching Anaconda, we saw The Mummy, Spider-Man, Batman Begins, Transformers, and Star Trek.

And for the last five years it’s been all about superheroes: Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Iron Man 2, Thor, The Avengers, and Iron Man 3.

Last Christmas when a commercial for Captain America: The Winter Soldier came on, Thomas and simultaneously looked at each other and said, “Mother’s Day!”

This year it’s a given that we’ll be in line to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron. You betcha. Happy mother-son tradition. Five stars. [And no big snake.]

{Happy birthday, Thomas! I love you.}

I could eat popcorn every day

I could eat popcorn every day.

If I’m sad, eating popcorn makes me happy. If I’m happy, eating popcorn makes me happier.

Popcorn!The sound of popcorn.

The smell of popcorn.

The taste of popcorn.

The sight of popcorn.

The touch of popcorn.

The music of its popping. The intoxication of its smell. The crunching. The saltiness.

The beauty of individual kernels. Butterflies. Mushrooms. The old maids at the bottom of the bowl.

All the senses love popcorn. All my senses, anyway.

One of my cherished childhood memories was not just falling in love with the taste of eating popcorn, but also falling in love with the ritual of making popcorn. Around our house, Sunday night was mom’s night off, as far as meal preparations were concerned. Which meant everyone for himself. Leftovers.  A bowl of cereal. A bowl of soup.

But mostly, a bowl of popcorn. My whole family could snarf down popcorn, and it was a Sunday night tradition to munch it while watching the The Wonderful World of Disney.

So, just before Tinkerbell shook her magic wand to begin the show, I’d offer to help make the popcorn. I’d pull the two-quart Revere Ware cooper-bottom saucepan from the cupboard, pour the right amount of oil (as I’d been taught) into the bottom, dump the measured popcorn over the oil, and cover with the lid. And wait for another kind of magic to begin.

Standing at the stove, clutching a potholder over the lid, I’d slowly slide the saucepan across the burner, back and forth, back and forth, an easy rhythm. Soon hearing those first small pops and anticipating the lid rising from the full explosion of kernels.

Revereware measuringThen I’d melt the butter in the delightfully miniature one-cup Revere Ware replica of Mom’s two-quart saucepan. As I have a love for all things miniature, preparing the melted butter in that baby pan always made me goosebumpy with enjoyment.

Popcorn time meant family time. And not just on Sunday nights. But for movies. Ball games. Carnivals. Fairs. Christmas.

In memory of my childhood Sunday nights, I can still make a meal out of popcorn. In fact, I often do. I’ve made it for dinner, a quick lunch, and eaten left-over popcorn for breakfast. In high school, popcorn was my meal of choice thanks to Mr. Carmichael and his glorious popcorn machine in the hallway outside the cafeteria.

I eat stove-popped corn, air-popped corn, microwave-popped corn. Overly-buttered and salted popcorn. Overly expensive movie popcorn. Carmel corn. Kettle corn. Gourmet corn. Amish corn. Open-fire corn. Day-old stale corn. Popcorn balls. Artificial buttered-flavored popcorn and the oddly-orange cheese popcorn and the super-sweet caramel corn in those ginomous tins sold everywhere during the holidays.

Okay, I admit it: I may have an unhealthy preoccupation with popcorn. Do I eat popcorn socially? Yes. Do I eat popcorn when alone? Yes. Do I lie about my popcorn consumption? Yes. Do I hide the evidence of popcorn consumption? Yes, Yes. Do I make up lame excuses for popcorn consumption? Why yes, I just may.

I even have a personalized bowl for my pile of popcorn. “Jama’s Popcorn.” Need I say more? Nothing personal. But get your own bowl.

Sometimes I eat popcorn as an almost holy ritual, searching the bowl for the most buttery pieces, eating one by one, marveling at the uniqueness of each kernel. Sometimes I watch every blessed movement of hand to mouth, I’ll eat pieces, one by one, chomping every piece with gusto, lips smacking.

Then sometimes I eat popcorn as a passionate girl who loves with abandon, shoveling handfuls into my mouth as though it’s my last meal, a race to see the bottom of the bowl.

No matter how many times I do this, a posture of worship at the kitchen stove, or staring at the popper with such intensity you’d think this billowing cloud of popped kernels really was a miracle. And as soon as those white drifts start spilling into the bowl, wide-eyed, Do you see this? Do you SEE?!

This popcorn cookery, this popcorn consumption doesn’t lead to epiphanies, not of the startling kind, just inaudible sighs, moments of fleeting gladness.

Recently, during a Girls Night Out, the conversation with my girlfriends meandered around to popcorn. Because who doesn’t want to talk about popcorn? Isn’t that a topic all middle-aged grandmas discuss? Confessions of Popcorn Enthusiasts.

Molly explained that she buys some special white kernel corn and uses coconut oil. Gail recommended popping corn in bacon grease. There was a collective, “Ooooh” at that suggestion. Perhaps for our next GNO we ought to have a popcorn carry-in.

So maybe I’m not alone. Maybe others might also confess to a desire to eat popcorn every day.

Popcorn brings family and friends together. Popcorn just says, “Fun!” Popcorn is scattered, hare-brained. Popcorn is a party. Popcorn is a tent revival.

Any day, any time is popcorn-worthy.

And now word is out that popcorn is an abundant source of fiber, and that it has some B vitamins and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc and phosphorous. That major benefits come from popcorn’s antioxidant properties.

Good news. Seriously. Because I could, happily, eat it every day.

photo by: veggiefrog

Midwest Writers Workshop 2013: Thank You

Wow. What three days those were.

Weeks and weeks have passed since those three days and I’m still thinking about them. Have you ever wanted to blog so badly but your mind was foggy?? Well, that’s me.

After the 40th Midwest Writers Workshop, July 25-27, I feel like my brain has been soaking in a tub of brilliance and questions — the folds soaking up the yes and the what was and the what is next.

MWW13 represented my 34th conference and my 10th as director, and it always has stretched me all kinds of ways, and I am glad I said yes.

My heart is huge with affection for all those attending, and my brain has shrunk under the weight of all that was MWW13. As MWW director, I had the great privilege of serving the 16 faculty and 237 participants and so, all this time, I’ve wanted so much to say something meaningful and to say it well and yet I am tragically bereft of words.

Oh, perfect thoughts appeared, brilliant words. Problem was, they arrived at 3 a.m. Then dawn. And where were those perfect thoughts? Evaporated.

I’m beginning to accept the fact that I will not be able to put into quantifiable words the entirety of what MWW13 meant to me try as I might.

I’ve been back at my day job and a more normal routine for these weeks. And still not cannot find the words of my heart.

So these will have to do.

From here on, parts of the weekend may very well just be woven into my other stories as the experience works its way into the fibers of everyday life.

My time with everyone – faculty, participants, interns, committee – was extraordinary, and I’m still carrying several very important conversations and moments around with me like smooth beach stones in a pocket, reminders of a wonderful experience and an important time.

Jama Fan Page cvrOne of those smooth stones: the surprise of Jama’s Fan Club. What I do for MWW comes from a place of love and appreciation and a giving-back. I never expected that participants/friends would create something so special for me from their own place of love and appreciation and giving back.

My only words:  Thank you.

Then another smooth stone: the coup of my planning committee, presenting me with the Dorothy Hamilton Award. They kept the surprise for months! At the end of the banquet, Holly Miller said, “We had one more item on the agenda, but I need the help of my co-conspirators–the Blue Denim Gang.” The MWW committee all came forward and Holly reminded the audience that they had been introduced to MWW co-founder Dorothy Hamilton, posthumously, the night before.

MWW Jama award foto - with inscription“Dorothy,” Holly continued, “like our banquet speaker Hank Phillippi Ryan, was a master at multi-tasking. She had a day job but also wrote bestselling novels and ALSO found time to help wannabe writers. A few years ago the MWW committee established the Dorothy Hamilton Award to honor an individual who, like Dorothy, was a multi-tasker–someone who was a successful writer but also made time to help other authors, and someone highly committed to Midwest Writers Workshop. We don’t give the award every year, only when we have someone who meets all the criteria. This anniversary year the committee decided it was the perfect time to honor someone who is uniquely qualified. She writes books, articles, newsletters, blogs and serves as our intrepid leader. Jama, this one is for you…”

That said, Kelsey handed me the bronze award and the whole room stood up and applauded! And I was left again. With. No. Words.

I didn’t expect what happened. A coup, indeed. A Happy Day Moment.

An honor also from my committee’s own place of love and appreciation and giving back.

Again, all the meaningful words I have come down to two:

Thank you.

photo by: { k2 }

My Dad, My Coach

My Dad turned 85 this month. So this post is to honor him. For the wealth of childhood Happy Day Moments.

When I was nine, my parents gave me an autograph book for Christmas. Throughout the holiday I pestered family and friends by collecting signatures and messages. I was delighted with that pink book with “Autographs” in fancy writing across the cover. The first page had lines for my name and my “favorites.” For “Favorite Book” was the difficult choice of Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock or Nancy Drew and the Haunted Mansion. But it was not a difficult choice for “Favorite Athlete.” No contest – I proudly wrote “my Daddy” in my best cursive.

BSU coaching smallI nearly swaggered with pride because of my Dad. My Dad had the best job of any dad I knew. Most friends were mysterious about what their dads did; they just came and went in suits and ties. My Dad, however, was a college football coach – that was worth bragging about. Kathy Williams’ dad was a close second because he managed the university auditorium and got to meet famous entertainers like Danny Kaye and The Temptations. And I have to admit I was a bit jealous when Kathy got to go backstage and meet Red Skelton. But, come on, what can really compare to coaching big college football players?

I mean, my Dad got to wear (and use!) a whistle when he worked! And he could yell and not even get in trouble. People called him “Coach,” an honorable title.

One of the best memories about his job was when he invited some of his players to our house on Friday nights for spaghetti dinner. Mom had to retrieve from the basement the biggest pot she had – the one she used for canning tomatoes – so she could cook all the spaghetti. Now, I’d been to plenty of gatherings and both the Kehoe and Drake families had healthy eaters among them, but I had never seen men pack away the volume of food as those football players did. It was amazing to watch.

Getting to sit beside one of the players – Dad usually invited two or three at a time – was the highlight of the meal for us four kids. If we were really lucky one of us got to sit between two of them. Dad even let us call them by their first names (instead of “Mister”), and I would oh so casually mention to my friends that “Mark,” “George,” or “Chuck” had come for dinner over the weekend. Some of them even signed my prized autograph book. I was envied.

A coach’s kid often saw life a bit differently. For example, Xs and Os didn’t mean kisses and hugs; they meant defense and offense. Sunday afternoons didn’t mean reruns of Charlie Chan movies; they meant six straight hours of football. For a long time I never knew there was any other programming than football on Sunday. I didn’t go visit historical battlefields or mansions; I went to football fields and high school gymnasiums. I actually saw my dad run backwards as he refereed high school basketball games. I knew of no other dad who could accomplish such a feat.

BSU 1Dad was, and forever will be, my favorite athlete, my teacher and coach, my Sahib Guru, my champion.

He taught me to punt, pass and kick a football, to throw a spiral and screen pass, to run the sideline and cut in for a long TD, to receive a handoff and sprint for quick yardage, and not to cry when I was tackled.

He taught me to stand in the batter’s box and not be afraid of a fastball, to keep my eyes on the ball and hit a line drive, to wind up and throw a strike, to keep my glove down on ground balls.

He taught me to swing a golf club off the tee, the iron shot, the chip shot, the bunker shot, and the proper putting stance, how to find my ball in the rough and retrieving it from the water.

He taught me how to run faster, how to dribble a basketball, shoot a lay-up and free throw.

He taught me how to hit, serve and pass a volleyball. He taught me to bowl. He even knew a thing or two about wrestling and gymnastics.

He taught me the serve and lob shot in tennis, how to hit a shuttlecock in badminton, how to pole vault and jump a hurdle.

He taught me all the stokes in swimming, even the “pick an apple and put it in the basket” technique of the sidestroke. He taught me to dive from the low board and the high board.

About the only sporting activities he didn’t teach me involved snow and ice. I don’t think I ever saw Dad in ice skates. Mom was the one who took us to the Duck Pond when it froze; she could even skate backwards.

Although Dad taught me the rules and play of so many sports, more important to him than how I played was the way I played – always trying, always perservering, always with respect and sportsmanship, always with dignity whether we won or lost. Often knowing I could improve, but always proud of my effort, he didn’t embarrass or belittle or discourage; rather he was a motivator and encourager.

FB playingHe reminded me that sports are games, they’re supposed to be fun. And by not losing sight of these facts and remembering to play fair and with sportsmanship, I carried the respect and appreciation of other people into every other aspect of life. He never emphasized winning “at any cost” but that winning was just one of several goals he’d like his kids to achieve. He took pride in our accomplishments and in improving our skills, so that we kids saw ourselves as winners, even if the scoreboard didn’t show the numbers going in our favor. Sports gave us new skills, new friends, and attitudes that helped us all through life.

Being a coach’s kid was a great childhood. Being Fred Kehoe’s kid was even better . . . and it’s still the best.

(For more on his faith influence, read Then Came a Miracle

photo by: GioPhotos

Not What I Got Under the Tree

Unlike Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” I never had that ONE special Christmas gift that I dreamed of, obsessed over, and fantasized about. Growing up, I know I received a lot of great Christmas presents. Chatty Cathy. Baby Thumbelina. Little Miss No-Name. I just don’t remember opening them. Although my parents had their financial struggles, they always made Christmas special for their four children. Dad worked an extra job refereeing high school basketball games to bring in a little cash, and Mom was the queen of bargain shopping. The gifts may have been inexpensive, but there was an abundance under the tree.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved getting presents. Presents are fun fun fun. I was not above counting mine to make sure the number matched those of my siblings. And I was not above informing parental units of any present-inequality. And I always made a list of stuff I really really needed and wanted. So, why is it that not one present stands out in my mind as the ONE?

Because what I remember most about the Christmases of my youth, and even those as an adult, is what we did, not what I received.

Stored in happy memories are the family traditions:  helping Mom and Dad drag the Christmas decorations out of the attic. Setting the Nativity on the dining room buffet table. Going with Dad (some years) to select the tree from the Kiwanis. Watching for him (some years) to pull into the driveway with the tree loaded on top of our station wagon. Decorating the tree with strings of blue lights (Mom’s choice – for some reason she rejected multi-colored lights). Hanging the very delicate eggshell ornaments Great Aunt Pearl made.

Memories of Mom making peanut brittle, toffee bars and enough cookies to feed the neighborhood. Memories of secrets and whispers and hiding places. Memories of snow and school vacations and sledding. Memories of hot chocolate and toast. Memories of caroling and sleigh bells. Memories of donating presents and food and serving others.

And Christmas lasting days and days and days. The piles of presents under our tree wrapped in newspaper are more memorable than what was wrapped. The act itself of unwrapping and finally seeing what was beneath the newspaper was thrilling and memorable. But most clear are the images of smiles, the sounds of laughter and “oh, thank you than you thank you,” not the images of toys or clothes.

It’s the experience of Christmas.

The best moments, the happy day moments were not the gifts, but the togetherness, the love of family. Even in the sporadic squabbles of siblings … even in the tiredness of late nights … even in the sometime stress of it all.

And with my own children, I wonder if they remember the gifts they received. Perhaps the Lego pirate ships. Perhaps the Nintendo Game gears. But mostly, I hope they remember what we did and not what they received. Assembling the wooden Nativity on the piano. Playing the Bing Crosby Christmas album. Rushing to peek in their “chomper” ornaments every morning. Reading the scriptures of Jesus’ birth from the Advent calendar. Memories of time, of experiences. The moments we spent as family. The moments we celebrated the best gift of love: the birth of our Savior.

Christmas should not center on what’s on our gift lists. For it’s not about what gifts we give or receive, but about what we do, what we experience.

Those are the happy day moments that matter.

photo by: roybuloy