Almost Normal

Last week felt almost normal. On Monday morning, I went to the dentist. My appointment originally had been scheduled for mid-March, but, like myriad other early-spring plans, had been pushed back because of the pandemic.

“Would it be OK if I brought my two daughters with me?” I had asked beforehand. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get a babysitter for 8 a.m. that day.”

The receptionist, also a mom, had said, “No problem, I completely understand.” She asked, though, that the girls wear masks.

Masks? Of course, I’d replied. Face masks have become part of the “things” we pack up as we’re leaving the house.

Wallet, phone, keys, masks? Check, check, check, check, ready to go.

Face masks have become part of the “things…”

Many more buildings and businesses have reopened here in the Capital Region of New York, which is encouraging to see. On Tuesday, the girls and I drove over to Stuyvesant Plaza. Our main destination: Stride Rite for new sneakers for the girls.

The outdoor shopping village featured more benches than I remembered—in an effort to facilitate alfresco social distancing, I guessed—and the flowers in the omnipresent hanging baskets were in full bloom.

“This is awesome!” Grace and Anna cheered. They were delighted to be somewhere other than our backyard or the local bike path. I was too (dentists’ offices usually aren’t that much fun, even in the best of times).

The three of us wore our masks into Stride Rite, and used the complimentary hand sanitizer upon entering.

Everywhere we went, we discovered, had hand sanitizer abundantly available. Meanwhile, everyone we chatted with, from store employees to other customers, was friendly and patient. It seemed as though folks were glad to be out and about again, while respecting the value in sanitizing and social distancing.

After the girls decided on their sneakers, we picked up a book of stamps at the post office and then stopped at Starbucks for coffee (me) and sweets (the girls). The three of us arrived just in time to grab the last remaining table outside.

It felt like a win, friends. #littlethings

…the flowers in the omnipresent hanging baskets were in full bloom.

Later, I needed to call our bank. During the call, the customer service representative asked if I would update some information.

Sure, I said. First, I verified Stanton’s and my email addresses.

Next, the woman asked my occupation.

I paused. “Hmm…”

“Homemaker, or unemployed?” she helpfully suggested.

Are those the only two options? I wondered. “I’m a contract writer/editor for a college,” I said, “but they haven’t needed me for a few months.”

“OK, so…”

“Right, so…” I don’t know what the customer service rep filled in for my occupation. It shouldn’t have seemed like a trick question. In this time of widespread layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions, however, it was.

“Next time, just say ‘writer,'” Stanton said later. “You are a writer, Mel.”

I really can’t express the gratitude I feel for my husband’s (my best friend’s) respect for my writing, despite its current state of diminished paychecks, and lack of Pulitzer Prizes. ❤

Are those the only two options? I wondered.

Crazily enough—or maybe not so crazily enough—this pandemic and its accompanying repercussions (stay-at-home safety measures, overwhelming news reports, etc.) have given me the time and space to work on some fiction writing.

Many an afternoon, I glance at Google News so that I have a general sense of what in the world is going on in the world. Then I set my phone aside and, while the girls are playing in their inflatable pool—arguably the best $99 I ever spent—I write in a notebook with a pen, old school style.

The notebook I’m currently using started out as Grace’s. It has doughnuts on the cover (all shapes, sizes and colors) and 60 sheets inside, the first handful of which feature drawings Grace did in both pencil and crayon. The drawings are very good, and I didn’t mean to poach my 8-year-old’s notebook. I had filled up another one, though (one of my own), and the doughnuts one just happened to be right there, when I needed a notebook.

Grace said it was OK.

You see, if I use my laptop to write, it’s too easy for me to break away from Microsoft Word and begin clicking on websites. Same with my phone. Then before I know it, I’ve spiraled down an online rabbit hole of information overload (and anxiety), or selected “Place Order” for another picture frame, throw pillow or other home decor item that we really don’t need (even though “Up to 50% Off Everything AND Free Shipping!!”).

Note to self: Beware of multiple exclamation points in advertising copy.

😉

Thus…in this time of supercharged video conferencing, remote communication apps and technological prowess, I am retreating (regressing?) from my devices in favor of a doughnuts notebook and ballpoint pen…at least momentarily.

I have found when I write like this, pen to paper, writing in my own hand, that I am very much in the moment, in the zone, with the story. Writing fiction right now, also, has been wonderfully refreshing escapism. And who knows—the end result may even be something some folks will want to publish, and other folks will want to read.

If so, I’ve already decided: We’ll celebrate with doughnuts.

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Speaking of doughnuts (and why not keep speaking of doughnuts?)… Last Thursday, the girls and I went to Indian Ladder Farms, our first time there this whole year, I think.

Grace and Anna stuffed their pockets with quarters. Once we arrived, they cranked their bounty into the animal-food machines, cupping their hands underneath as the food flowed out. The girls fed some goats while I snapped the obligatory pictures for our summer-fun family photo album.

After running out of quarters, the three of us walked over to the market. Inside, we bought a half dozen of Indian Ladder Farms’ regionally famous apple cider doughnuts (yes, we’d like the ones with the sugar on top), as well as a large Jamaican Me Crazy coffee for, mm-hmm, yours truly. “I have not had this coffee in so long,” I told the lovely lady behind the counter.

She smiled and told us to enjoy.

Indian Ladder Farms is a century-old agritourism site, located in a space of breathtaking natural beauty. I had been concerned about its sustainability during this difficult time, but was encouraged to see about 20 new picnic tables that had been dispensed outside the market, inviting folks to enjoy their market fare outdoors, or carry out takeout from the adjoining Yellow Rock Café (indoor dining is currently unavailable). So many local businesses are making huge efforts to safely serve their customers, and I hope they all come out OK and possibly even better than before.

As always, the apple cider doughnuts did not disappoint, and I drank every last drop of my Jamaican Me Crazy.

Speaking of doughnuts (and why not keep speaking of doughnuts?)…

It’s been good to begin feeling “almost normal” again. There’s still a long way to go, of course, and there’s also no going back. Moving forward, things will be/stay different. But really, I have no idea what’s going to happen.

In addition to forgoing my laptop in favor of a doughnuts notebook, I’ve been trying to be—cliché alert!—present. I’ve been making an effort to really be in each moment, to look my daughters in the eye when we’re together and be there, and most of all, to take each day as it comes and not get too bogged down with what might happen a few weeks out, a few months out, the rest of our life.

For me, it’s been helpful to center on one day, only. Today.

Today, I can get up. I can get moving. I can make my girls breakfast (and then a snack half an hour later). 😉

Today, I need to do these three things. I can do that, today.

I can handle today, what is right here in front of me today.

…I’ve been trying to be—cliché alert!—present.

Yesterday, I was in the backyard with the girls. They had been swimming, but were taking a break in chairs near the pool. Earlier, I had brought out two bottles of Gatorade and a box of Ritz crackers for them to share while I wrote nearby (doughnuts notebook and pen: check!).

“We’re probably going to eat this whole box of crackers, Mom,” Grace said, ripping apart another sleeve.

“And drink all the Gatorade,” Anna added, guzzling from her bottle.

I kept scribbling in my notebook, not completely paying attention. “OK, girls.”

The girls began laughing triumphantly. “Oh, my gosh! The whole box of crackers and all the Gatorade!”

Now I looked up and started laughing too. “OK, just…just hang on a minute.”

It was a normal moment. We were in the backyard, livin’ large on Ritz crackers and Gatorade, inflatable pool nearby. But when I looked up from what I was doing, looked up and joined my daughters in that present moment…it was beautiful, and felt almost holy to me.

To be together. To be there.

Cheers to TODAY.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

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.

The Rest is a Secret…or Not

One of my favorite spots for Saturday morning breakfast here in the Capital Region is Iron Gate Café. If you know me in real life, then you probably already know this—I recommend this local restaurant whenever the topic of weekend brunch comes up.

Located downtown near Center Square, Iron Gate Café serves up hearty, wonderfully seasoned meals in a renovated 19th-century mansion. It has lots of space, so folks usually need not wait long to be seated. The servers are always friendly.

There is also an Elvis room.

Stanton and I were there recently for breakfast. A Saturday morning, of course. Our friendly server poured two cups of coffee for us.

Now, another great thing about Iron Gate Café is that it serves Death Wish Coffee, a nationally popular coffee brand that’s headquartered in nearby Ballston Spa. I love Death Wish, but the coffee I tasted that morning was a little different—even more delicious than usual. “This is amazing,” I told the server. “Are you all still using Death Wish?”

She nodded and explained that Death Wish had created a one-of-a-kind blend just for them.

Years ago, I was the editor of a food and wine magazine, and part of me still loves getting this kind of “inside scoop” from the local dining scene. “Awesome,” I said. “What’s in the blend?” I took another sip of my coffee, trying to figure out the flavor combination.

Caramel, she said, in addition to something else that, days later, I’ve now forgotten (possibly chocolate)…but I do clearly remember her saying, “and the rest is a secret.”

I laughed, appreciating the sentiment. Who doesn’t love a secret family recipe of sorts? Stanton just smiled and shook his head, contentedly drinking his coffee, happy just to have it and not needing to know the story behind the beverage.

I was happy just to have coffee too.

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Although…as we were sitting there, I did think about how we often do want to know. Human beings are not much for secrets, or uncertainty. This probably has been true since time began, and we tried to make sense of the world through stories, and later set sail across oceans and sent spacecraft sky-high to discover what else was (is) out there.

Today, technology continuously bridges the gap between uncertainty and discovery. “Just ask your phone, Mom,” my daughters encourage, whenever I say I’m not sure of something.

To some of us, phones are magic.

Yet as curious as I was about the flavor combination that morning (caramel, possibly chocolate and what else?), I really appreciated—more than anything—simply having that time together with my husband. To be there together, being present together…I appreciated that so much. I didn’t need to know all the details to know that I loved that moment.

Sometimes, simply being—simply being present—is sacred.

Human beings are not much for secrets, or uncertainty.

When I see people together in restaurants, I often can tell (and maybe you can too) how well they know one another. How long they’ve been in one another’s lives…how many cups of coffee they’ve shared. This exercise is more art than science, but a dead giveaway once was when a man said to the woman he was with, “Now, what’s your sister’s name again?” Conclusion: Clearly, they were still getting to know each other.

People who look very good for each other at Iron Gate Café at 10 a.m. on a Saturday…mm-hmm, I’d guess they’re still in the early stages of knowing each other too. These couples stand in stark contrast to the still-pajama-clad groups of college students and youngish-looking roommates who roll in together, groggily requesting coffee, coffee, coffee. And then there’s everyone else, a wide range of folks in between these bookends—Stanton and I would fall somewhere in there, somewhere in the middle.

After a while, in relationships, in friendships…you know each other. There are things you just know. And sometimes, there are things you never do.

“We can love completely without complete understanding,” Norman Maclean wrote in his classic memoir (and my favorite book) “A River Runs Through It.” I have found this to be true. Maybe you have too.

This is why, then, I so appreciated the server’s saying that the rest of the coffee blend recipe was a secret. It’s OK, I think, to let some things be. To allow some real magic to exist the world. Even to be blissfully ignorant every now and then.

I told her all this, you know. After we finished our breakfast, I said, “I love that there’s a secret here.”

She glanced sideways, then said, “Actually…I forgot the rest of the ingredients in the blend.”

I gasped. “No way.” But she nodded; Stanton laughed.

And there went a perfectly good blog post, friends. 😉

But that’s life.

Just when you thought you figured it all out…just when you felt you had the answer you’d been waiting for, or reached your final destination (finally!)…hold on now, not quite there yet.

There’s still more to discover. Life can surprise you yet.

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.