Mom, Stinky Is NOT a Good Nickname

A sign of your closeness to someone else often is a nickname you have for them. These terms of endearment range from the classic (dear, darling, love) to the more creative (boo) to the downright delicious (honey, sugar, sweetie pie).

The ones we love best, we rarely call by their given names. This is based on my personal experience, anyway. I love my husband’s unique first name (Stanton), but hardly ever address him with it, instead using the shortened form “Stan”…and some other pet names that I won’t embarrass him with by sharing here.

Both our daughters’ names are deeply meaningful to us. Still, I usually shorten the already-short and sweet “Grace” to “G” when I greet my older daughter. We call Grace “Gracers” too. I’m not sure how this silly but affectionate habit started. And I have no clue when or why I began calling my younger daughter, Anna, “Stinky,” which may be as silly as you can get.

The other day, I overheard another mom call her daughter “Turkey.” I had never heard that one before, and it made me smile. The mom told me that, like “Stinky,” “Turkey” just kind of happened…and stuck.

Soon after, Anna looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, ‘Stinky’ is not a good nickname.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. I promised to try to stick to “Anna” or “boo,” my other frequently used phrase for her. Then we headed to Perfect Blend, our favorite local coffee shop.

The ones we love best, we rarely call by their given names.

Right now, one of the seasonal blends at Perfect Blend is Kenyan Peaberry. It’s really good. I ordered a medium size for myself, and a couple of other items. Then I opened my wallet to pay, and saw my credit card wasn’t in there.

Note to self: Do not let the girls play Grocery Store with my wallet again.

“I might have enough cash,” I told the young man behind the counter.

He kindly told me not to worry. “We could start a tab for you,” he said. “You’re always here; you could pay next time.”

I thanked him for being so kind, and I did pay then. I did have to laugh, though. Was I really always at Perfect Blend?

“Yes, Mom,” Anna told me. “This is your favorite place.”

Sometimes the ones we love best know us better than ourselves.

I do love Perfect Blend. As a good local coffee shop should, it provides a warm, welcoming space for folks to gather, to replenish.

Many times I stop by with one or both of my daughters. Sometimes I meet friends there, or go alone to write.

On our most recent visit, Anna was rummaging through my bag. She pulled out a My Little Pony mini puzzle, Owl Diaries paperback, and handful of notebook paper. Anna waved the paper at me.

“What’s this for?”

I sipped my Kenyan Peaberry. “Mom always has paper in case she comes up with a good story idea.”

“Did you, Mom?”

“Well, the pages are still blank, Stinky…Anna.” (Life is one long lesson in humility, as J.M. Barrie once said.)

Anna stuffed the paper back in my bag, and got to work on the mini puzzle.

“This is your favorite place.”

Sometimes when I’m out and about, I overhear snippets of conversation that strike me. I don’t set out to eavesdrop (really!), but every now and then, my ears perk up at an especially quote-worthy moment, and I wonder about the rest of the story. For example, an older gentleman at Perfect Blend once said to the other older gentleman with him, “Now that was a good fortune cookie.”

Months later, I still wonder…what did that fortune cookie say? I wonder too…did the fortune come true?

(Let this be a lesson to any of my local friends who may be reading this: If you see me at Perfect Blend, and I’ve got notebook paper with me…lower your voice, lest you end up in a blog post. 😉 )

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Yesterday evening, both my daughters and I went to another of our favorite places, the Rail Trail. We took a walk and ended up at a nearby park. The girls started playing hide-and-seek.

There are lots of good hiding spots—behind trees, benches and stones. I watched for a while, and then the girls begged me to hide. “OK,” I agreed.

“One, two, three…”

I hid behind a stone. Seconds later, Anna found me. She laughed with delight and then said, “Now we get to chase you!”

“What!” I laughed too, and ran away.

Grace caught me easily enough, and the three of us collapsed on a bench, still laughing.

Anna rested her head against my chest. “Wow,” she said. “I can really feel your heartbeat, Mom.”

I didn’t have any notebook paper with me, or my phone or laptop. But that sentiment—I can really feel your heartbeat—struck me, and I knew I’d incorporate it into a piece of writing.

(Here goes.)

In my writing life, my goal is to get one piece of work published every year. Just one…at least one. A short story, an essay—anything to keep my portfolio current, and my standing as a writer credible.

It’s June now, and that hasn’t happened yet this year. One literary journal editor did email me one of the nicest rejection letters I ever received, and I appreciated his encouraging feedback on the short story I submitted. Still…no publication.

It can be easy to feel down when things don’t go according to plan. It can be easy to default to doubt.

I’d been feeling some doubt.

Then Anna told me she could really feel my heartbeat.

As unexpected as it seems, there’s amazing grace in hide-and-seek. There’s awesome energy in childlike games like that. Moments that allow us to really feel our heartbeat.

Moments in our favorite places, with the ones we rarely call by the names we first gave them.

Anna’s right, though. “Stinky” is not a good nickname.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Tuesday Is Frozen Pizza Night

When I was growing up, my Italian-American family and I had a slew of favorite local pizzerias. They were plentiful in our part of the Northeast: Sal’s, Sabatini’s, the multiple locations of Grotto.

My very favorite pizza place was Revello’s in Old Forge, Pa., about a 25-minute drive from my parents’ house. As a child, 25 minutes felt like forever, and during the drive, I sat in the middle of the backseat of my mom’s silver-colored Buick, scrunched between my two brothers, impatiently awaiting the moment I could take a bite of a Revello’s slice.

For me, the sauce is what made Revello’s pizza so good. It was a red sauce, marinara, and it was peppery. It definitely had a kick.

My family and I—my mom, my dad, my two brothers, my sister and I—usually sat at a table in the rear of the restaurant, by the back door. We often came in through that door, because my dad parked on one of the back roads.

An older woman named Mary was our regular server through the years. I remember her as skinny with short, curly hair; round glasses; and a quick, friendly smile.

Old Forge says it’s the “pizza capital of the world.”  This may even be true; I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of delicious pizza here, and so did two L.A.-based foodies on a “pizza crawl” through Old Forge this past fall.

When I go “home” to Northeastern Pennsylvania now, I love to stop by AmberDonia in Kingston and share a Romeo & Juliet pizza with my husband. We both love the flavor combination of prosciutto and basil atop the olive oil, crushed tomatoes and blend of cheeses. Heaven served wood-fired.

As a child, 25 minutes felt like forever…

As an adult, I’ve also been lucky to live in Richmond, Va., San Antonio, and Delmar, N.Y., and get to experience the (literal) local flavor of these three uniquely beautiful places.

In RVA, you can’t go wrong at Bottoms Up (downtown) or Mary Angela’s (Carytown). San Antonio may be better known for its tacos, but Luciano was a neighborhood favorite for pizza and calzones. And here in New York, Stanton, the girls and I enjoy many a Friday night at Romo’s (impossible to leave without ordering the fried dough knots for dessert).

All these years, all this time eating all kinds of pizza…certainly I can appreciate the art of freshly baked dough, tomatoes and cheese. Certainly I can. And yet in my house, today, we almost always eat frozen pizza on Tuesday.

That’s right, friends: Tuesday is frozen pizza night.

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Having a weekly frozen pizza night isn’t something to brag about, especially when you have a regular going-out-to-eat-pizza night too. But this is life as we know it, for the moment at least.

My older daughter, Grace, has an after-school activity on Tuesdays. My younger daughter, Anna, gets hungry right before this activity starts. Thus, I got into the habit of heating up frozen pizza before we left the house for Grace’s activity. Then I’d pack it up in two travel food-storage containers, and off we’d go.

“You make the best pizza, Mom!” the girls often say. “And the best macaroni and cheese, and Helper!”

“Helper,” just FYI, is our family’s shorthand for “Hamburger Helper.”

Frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, and Helper—welcome to our home, friends.

…this is life as we know it…

There are two brands of frozen pizza that we like. The first is Against the Grain Gourmet. It’s made in Vermont, a relatively short drive away, so is considered “local” at our Hannaford grocery store. We alternate between the three-cheese and pepperoni varieties. Against the Grain Gourmet is delicious and filling. It tastes like real food. As a frozen pizza connoisseur of sorts (again, not something I’m bragging about 😉 ), what more could I ask for?

Our other tried-and-true brand is Caulipower. This frozen pizza has a cauliflower crust. I was talking up Caulipower to someone recently, and they noted that cauliflower crust is trendy now. I am rarely on trend, so I didn’t know this.

(Another friend told me he finds cauliflower crust offensive, which made me laugh. I can certainly empathize with the perspective of, why mess with a good thing?)

I have always loved cauliflower, and the reason is because when I was little, my Poppy made fried cauliflower. This is one of my strongest memories of him—walking in the front door of my parents’ house on holidays, carrying a bowl of fried cauliflower.

The bowl was white with a light blue rim.

If Poppy were here today, he’d probably laugh if I told him he was being trendy with his favorite side dish.

So I’ve loved cauliflower forever, and when I noticed Caulipower in the frozen pizza aisle for the first time, I had to try it. We really like the cauliflower crust, but if you’re more of a classic pizza lover, then this may not be the top pick for you (or my friend).

This is one of my strongest memories of him—walking in the front door of my parents’ house on holidays, carrying a bowl of fried cauliflower.

Chefs and home cooks alike enjoy building on the classics, having fun with new ideas, trying different things. For example, “flatbread” is a word I’ve been seeing more and more. Kind of like pizza, kind of not.

And now you can get gluten-free or dairy-free pizza (or flatbread). The toppings seem endless too, whether you’re in the frozen food section of the grocery store or your favorite pizzeria: pepperoni, pineapple, roasted beets, truffle oil drizzle, fried eggs.

Now, I’m an adventurous eater. If my friend Megan from Richmond happens to read this, then she can attest to my appreciation for all kinds of cuisines, from Cuban to French to Vietnamese. (What I would give for another weekday lunch at Mekong!)

I’m an adventurous eater…and I appreciate the classics too. Truffle oil drizzle is delightful, but plain cheese makes me happy any day.

I read once that pizza is the perfect food. It’s circular (we like circles). It’s easily shareable. It covers a variety of food groups, and it’s not expensive.

I’m not an expert on any of these points, so I can’t say for sure if all of this is true.

I am a writer, though. And I’ve dabbled in poetry.

Truffle oil drizzle is delightful, but plain cheese makes me happy any day.

The poet in me believes that pizza is the perfect food. Because it brings people together.

A hot summer day, or a cold winter’s night. A party for more people than you expected (everyone RSVP-ed yes!). En route to an after-school activity.

I realized, as I was writing this, that pizza often is the first meal we eat when we move into a new home, sitting cross-legged on the floor amid boxes and memories waiting to be unpacked.

Often too, it’s the last thing we eat when we leave. Steadfast, when other things are in flux.

Whether frozen, takeout or homemade, pizza is the food we count on. It’s the food that’s with us through all the moments of our life, ranging from joy-filled to sorrowful to mundane. All the moments—good, bad and indifferent—that make up the full human experience.

The human experience varies cross-culturally, I know. Possibly I speak too much from my American perspective, or Italian-American perspective…and if so, my apologies.

The desire to share a meal together seems universal, though. To break bread together—whether the bread appears as pizza, baguettes, churros, dosas, tacos or any other carb-based specialty.

In my experience, the bread has been pizza. The people I’ve shared it with the most have been those closest to my heart.

Today is Tuesday, and you know what that means.

But you could do worse than break out one of your favorite frozen pizzas for dinner.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

That Didn’t Actually Happen

My sister called me one evening, later than she usually does. I felt a mild sense of concern. Answering the phone, I said, “Is everything OK?”

“Ugh, yes, calm down.”

“Ugh”—the universal beginning of yet another wonderful conversation between loved ones.

Jenna was walking home, and I said I’d stay on the line with her until she got there. “You don’t need to do that,” she replied. But I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard, so I insisted.

She asked me what I was doing. Because Stanton was out of town for work, I was doing what I always do when I’m home alone at night, with the girls sleeping upstairs: watching one of my TV shows. I told Jenna I was loving the first season of “Jack Irish,” an Australian TV noir series starring my favorite actor ever.

“Oh, God, Guy Pearce,” Jenna said.

(Love Guy Pearce.)

“What’s going on with you?” I asked. “Have you found a new urologist yet?”

“Endocrinologist! Endocrinologist.”

Right.

…I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard…

Jenna is taking a course for a certificate, and we talked about that. In the background, I could hear people talking, cars cruising by. Her background, I mean: Center City, Philadelphia.

My background, about 200 miles north near Albany, N.Y., consisted of lamplight, a throw pillow with “Lean On Me” imprinted on the front and my show paused on the TV screen.

“That’s awesome you’re doing this program,” I said.

Jenna mentioned something about the online certificate program I did.

“What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t you do something through the University of California?”

“Oh, right…no, that didn’t actually happen.” I broke off another piece of dark chocolate. “I thought about it, though.”

“Ah, got it.”

Obviously, I was the sibling who grew up to become the big success. 😉 I tapped the remote control against my leg. “Are you almost home?”

“Ugh.”

phone-499991_1920I didn’t mind, at all, that my sister thought I completed a certificate program I never did. And I don’t think she minds (too much) that I’m never 100 percent clear on her health and wellness. But the thought did cross my mind: There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

Over the weekend, Stanton, the girls and I were getting ready for our friends’ party. The girls ran outside. I stuffed tissues, my phone and bug spray into my bag. Then I called to Stanton, “Do you have…”

“The keys? Yes.”

“No, do you have…”

“Yes, I have everyone’s water bottles.”

“Honey.” I looked at him. “I was going to ask if you had the corn and black bean salad. Why,” I added, “do you still try to finish my sentences?”

“Because I never can, right?”

“You never can,” I agreed. After all this time together, we are not one of those magical couples that can finish each other’s sentences.

Stanton nodded and then noted, “I do have the corn and black bean salad, and the Tostitos too.”

He had the Tostitos too. We were good to go, friends.

On the drive to the party, the four of us called my grandmother. It was her 91st birthday, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her over the phone. Yelled “Happy Birthday” to Grandma is more like it, because she has trouble hearing on speaker phone.

“We love you, Grandma!” Stanton, Grace, Anna and I shouted one last time, before hanging up.

I wasn’t sure if Grandma heard us or not…but she knew it was us.

There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

My birthday is in early April, and I was born in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every now and then, it snows in early April in Northeastern Pennsylvania. For years, I thought it had snowed the day I was born. I thought this is what my parents had said. This year, on this birthday, I discovered this wasn’t true.

“The day you were born was sunny and beautiful,” my mom mentioned, when she wished me a happy birthday.

“I thought it was snowing,” I said.

“The day we brought you home, it snowed,” my mom replied. “But not the day you were born.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All this time, I had the story wrong. The story of my birthday, of all things.

My mom repeated that yes, I was born on a beautiful sunny day. And I admit, I like that story better. “Beautiful sunny day” sets a more picturesque scene than “freak April snowstorm.”

But how could that have happened? How did the details of something so important, so personal, get mixed up and stay mixed up for decades?

All this time, I had the story wrong.

When I write or edit nonfiction work, I strive mightily to make sure the information is correct. I fact-check names, dates, places. I proofread according to style guides, spelling out an acronym here and inserting a serial comma there. I consider questions of ethics, especially concerning people’s privacy.

I am the stereotypically Type A, minutiae-obsessed, red-pen-wielding editor.

In my personal life, though…not so much. For whatever reason, or excuse—I have two young children, so much is going on—the details sometimes fall through the cracks.

On some level, this matters. There are times when I could be a better listener. There are times when others could listen a little better to me.

And on another level…whether it was sunny or snowing, it was a beautiful day to be born.

Ninety-one years later, whether you heard the words or not, you know your grandchildren called to sing “Happy Birthday” on speaker phone.

Maybe things didn’t happen how we thought they did, or would. But there were people there for us—with us.

The knack for finishing each other’s sentences may be overrated.

It is a good idea, though, to have a long-distance bodyguard on speed dial.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.