Real Mail, for a Change: The Joy of Christmas Cards

A couple of days ago, I reached inside our rectangular black mailbox. A little surprised, I pulled out a fistful of mail—real mail, letters from people I know and care about. (Although, to be fair, there also was some of the usual junk mail: promotional flyers and yet another L.L. Bean catalog).

I had been working but took a break to open these envelopes, some red and green, one winter white. They were all Christmas cards, and they all made me smile.

On one card, a family member’s three-month-old baby practiced his newly learned smile under the holiday greeting of “Fa La La.” On another, a good friend and her sweet husband wished us “Mele Kalikimaka” from a picturesque vista, possibly near their new home in Hawaii. Another card opened up to a heartfelt message, no picture needed.

I don’t know if sending Christmas cards is as common as it once was, considering the popularity of social media and rising eco-consciousness. Not to mention, the postage for a comprehensive family-and-friends mailing list can get pricey. All that being said, I do still mail out (some) Christmas cards, and I really enjoy receiving them.

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In the early years of our marriage, I sent Christmas cards to everyone from Stanton and my wedding guest list, basically—quite a bit of stationery and accompanying winter-themed stamps. As the years have moved along, there has been some ebb and flow to my mailing list, some editing and whittling down. As much as I love our old neighbors from our first home together in Richmond, Va., for example, I limit our season’s greetings to an emailed note and picture rather than printed year-end memento.

These days, I send cards mainly to our immediate family and old friends—a much more manageable stack of notes to write out than all the names on our wedding guest Excel spreadsheet.

Sometimes I cheat a little, and address envelopes to, for example, “Aunt Mary and Uncle John and family,” hoping that “and family” can adequately cover Aunt Mary and Uncle John’s three grown children and their multiple children…and knowing it really doesn’t. So yes, I cheat a little on my Christmas cards, friends.

I do a little hand delivery, too, with neighbors, friends from church, the girls’ teachers. Joy and peace from the Leddys (minus the Forever stamp). Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y). I know, I can be a bit of a weasel. 😉

Hand delivery probably qualifies as cheating too (and/or cheapskate-y).

I call them Christmas cards, but it would be more accurate to say holiday cards. Some of my loved ones are Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. Then there are those folks who celebrate everything, in addition to those who don’t recognize holidays. My mailing list represents all these variations of celebratory spirit, and I try hard to respect everyone’s preference.

Despite my best intentions, I had a bit of a snafu with one card this year. I wrote, “Merry, Merry Christmas!” before remembering that one half of this couple is Jewish. Thus, I added, “And Happy, Happy Hanukkah!” If I had been less distracted at the time (the girls were playing Teenagers, one of their favorite games, nearby), I would have defaulted to, “Happy Holidays!” I’m hopeful, however, that my friends will know I’m wishing them the best, as always.

This is what I love about holiday cards. I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me. I love seeing pictures of them and their families.

This is especially true of friends from college. My old friends—I mean, these are people I roomed with, ate meals with for years, grew up with. I love these people; I even married one of these people.

I love hearing from friends I don’t get to see very much, but who still mean a lot to me.

I’m not an arts-and-crafts-y person, but at Christmastime, I like to hang twine across our fireplace mantel. Then I use wooden clothespins to hang up as many photo cards as will fit. Seeing the smiling faces of those I love truly warms my heart.

I heard a perspective recently that photo cards are essentially “family ads,” which struck me as cynical. We’re all grownups, and we all know nobody’s life is picture-perfect. I sense that the majority of us who exchange holiday cards with up-to-date pictures are simply keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year keeping all the balls in the air: work, life, kids, health, all the stuff.

My old roommate’s daughter is absolutely adorable, with blonde hair, a big grin and a sparkle in both her eyes, which I could see even in a picture, though not in person. “I’m really happy for Jackie,” I told Stanton—happy for her beautiful family, her professional success, everything. I think that may be part of being a grownup too: celebrating the good of others, the good in others, even when our formal celebrations (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) may differ.

For the past several years, our Christmas card has been an actual card, which is pretty off-trend, from what I can tell. That’s me for you, though. 😉 Then I stick a photo of Stanton, the girls and me in each card, which our family and friends can magnet to their fridge, repurpose as a bookmark, or display and then recycle.

My mom took the picture we used for this year’s card. We had a super impromptu photo shoot back in early November. “Do you want to go somewhere?” my mom asked.

I mean, yes, there are so many beautiful spots nearby, but… “You know, let’s just go in the backyard,” I said. It was a hectic weekend, to say the least.

Stanton dragged a bench outside. He and I plopped down and gathered the girls around us. “Smile!” My mom took some pictures; one was pretty good.

“Maybe one year we can have a real photographer take our picture,” Grace said afterward.

“Like, at a place,” Anna added.

“No offense, Nona.”

I laugh-cried. “Girls, I promise, one year a real photographer will take our Christmas-card picture at a place somewhere other than our backyard.”

Something for my family-and-friends mailing list to look forward to as well, no doubt.

…keeping in touch, sending best wishes, celebrating the fact that we all survived another year…

I still have a handful of cards to send to my very-pared-down list of addressees. Hopefully they’ll arrive in others’ mailboxes before 2020.

As I was working on this piece, I was conscious someone might read it and think, “I haven’t gotten a card from that girl in years.” If so, my sincerest apologies. I wish I could exchange season’s greetings with all the wonderful people I’ve known over the years.

It can become a little much, though, in terms of both time and $, and I don’t have unlimited supplies of either. I truly understand when folks need to retire my address from their hard-copy holly-jolly wishes, and I hope others similarly understand in my case.

It is a beautiful thing, though—for everyone, everywhere, I imagine—to receive real mail for a change.

Happy Holidays, friends. ❤

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.

When You Have the Choice to Laugh or Cry

Summer is freeze pops, sunscreen and swimming. Lots and lots of swimming.

Grace, Anna and I were at the pool. My older daughter was swimming—actually swimming. My younger daughter, meanwhile, was alternating between adjusting her goggles, blowing bubbles and throwing a plastic ring for Grace to “fetch”—the myriad activities that little kids engage in when they’re in the water. Then Anna grabbed my arms and began bouncing up and down on my thighs.

“Mom!” Up and down, up and down. “You’re a trampoline!”

“No.” It was one of those moments when you could laugh or cry—it could go either way, equally. “I’m not.” Moms everywhere understand: I’m a person. A person.

Not long after, Anna overheard me tell another mom that I appreciated that my new swimsuit had adjustable straps. Minutes later, I felt the metal hooks on the adjustable straps zoom down.

“Anna!” I stopped my upper body from tumbling out of my swimsuit, as Anna continued to tug on the hooks. “Stop, honey.”

“But Mom, you have adjustable straps.” Anna smiled. “They’re fun.”

Laugh or cry…laugh or cry.

Speaking of my new swimsuit: I ordered it online. When it arrived in the mail, and I tried it on…well, let’s just say I wasn’t #twinning with the model from the website. I peered in the mirror.

Huh.

“Ooh, you got a new bathing suit, Mom!” As always, the girls were nearby.

“Mm-hmm. What do you think, girls?”

There was a pause.

“It’s OK if you don’t like it,” I assured them.

“I like the bathing suit,” one daughter (I won’t say who) said. “But I think it’s for someone who isn’t a little fat.”

Ouch.

“Yeah,” the other daughter (also anonymous in this story) agreed. “It’s just that, you look like you have a baby in your belly.”

Laugh or cry, laugh or cry…

“But you don’t! We know you don’t, Mom. You just look like that.”

I mean, whew. I just look pregnant in my new swimsuit.

“Mom.” Concerned, Grace hugged me. “I love you.”

Anna threw her arms around both of us. “I love you too, Mom. And I love your big, soft belly.”

We group hugged.

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The truth is—actually, there are two truths here. The first is, I do have belly fat. I gave birth to two children, am getting older and do zero (and I do mean zero) lower-ab exercises.

Stanton and I also just got into “The Wire” (15+ years later), and I’ve been spending many an evening beside him on our couch, engrossed in the show and munching on a bowl of raw Brazil nuts.

Just kidding, friends. You know I’ve got Cheetos or Doritos in that bowl.

😉

So I accept my body, as is. Could it be toned? Yes. Should I curb my late-night junk-food habit? Definitely…sometime soon.

Am I, overall, healthy? And happy? Thankfully, the answer to both those questions is also “yes.”

The second truth is, I’m glad my daughters were honest with me. Children usually are honest—brutally honest, one might say. Ask any parent, aunt, uncle, teacher, babysitter, and they’d probably all agree: honest, to a fault.

As we grow up, we learn to temper our honesty with tact, diplomacy. I’ve worked in communications for years now, and I understand why finesse matters, in both professional and personal relationships. I get it.

I get it, and after our group hug, I told the girls they can always be honest with me. Even if they think the truth might hurt my feelings. I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom. I want them to know they can tell me anything, talk with me about anything.

They do now. And I hope they always do.

I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom.

Stanton, the girls and I recently went to the beach. All four of us had been looking forward to our family vacation, but Grace and Anna especially. And we did have a wonderful time—jumping waves, building sand castles, visiting a nature center on a rainy day.

Our last day there, I was swimming in the deep-blue water of Long Island Sound. Stanton and the girls were on the beach. It was late morning in Madison, Conn., and we were some of just the handful of tourists and locals there. The water glided over my shoulders, and when I looked ahead, I could see for miles—the open sea, endless. Since time began, human beings have been drawn to water.

“What was your favorite part of our vacation?” I asked the girls, once I came ashore.

Grace and Anna had been digging in the sand. Grace paused, considered the question. “Breakfast,” she decided.

I grabbed a towel. “Breakfast?”

“I loved breakfast at the hotel,” Grace said. “Especially the waffles.”

Stanton and I looked at each other. “Honey, we make waffles at home. What about the beach, the sand castles…”

Grace shook her head. No, definitely the hotel waffles. “That was my favorite part.”

“Me too,” Anna seconded.

Well, what do you know—the hotel waffles. (Laugh or cry?) “That’s great, girls.”

“That was my favorite part.”

Every blue moon, Stanton and I get a chance to go on a date, just the two of us. So we were out, sharing Irish nachos, drinking Shiner Bock draft (him) and red sangria (me). We’ve been each other’s date for 17 years now, and still enjoy each other’s company, which I’m deeply grateful for.

That being said…17 years is a haul. People know each other well by that point. So when, soon after our entrées arrived, Stanton said he was full and ready to head out whenever I was…I knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Honey.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “You want to take off your pants, right?” (This is all G-rated, friends: I promise.) When my better half comes home at the end of the day, he immediately changes out of his dress pants into a pair of athletic shorts.

Stanton smiled. “Right.”

“Do you ever even wash those shorts?” I wondered.

“That’s the wrong question.”

I nodded, understanding. “How often do you wash them?”

Stanton nodded back. “Bingo.”

Sigh. Not often.

Laugh or cry?

We both laughed.

Life is short. Despite its imperfections, life is beautiful too. The people we get to share it with are gifts.

That’s why, when I have the choice to laugh or cry…all things considered, I usually lean toward laughter.

“I just got one last thing: I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going.” —Jim Valvano, 1993 ESPY speech

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.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

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Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Would You Like to Try Our Kiosk?

I walked into a popular fast-casual restaurant the other morning—my “office” for the next few hours. My car keys in hand and my laptop under my arm, I headed to the cash registers.

“Good morning, ma’am,” a friendly employee interrupted me.

I smiled hello.

“Would you like to try our kiosk?” He gestured to the new iPad-like device up front.

“Um…”

“You can order for yourself,” he explained.

“Um…no, thank you.” I smiled good-bye. Then I continued on my path to the cash registers. A chatty young lady (her name tag said Ashley) greeted me and took my order (breakfast sandwich and small coffee).

Is it old-fashioned or out-of-style to want to talk to people? To prefer human interaction to touchscreens?

Is interpersonal communication going the way of Pokémon cards, VHS tapes and landline phones?

“Would you like to try our kiosk?”

Honestly, sir, no. I’d much rather spend a few minutes in conversation with the cashier up ahead. The real-life human being who can ask me how I’m doing, and then let me return the pleasantry.

I’m not a crunchy-granola-type person (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I have a smartphone, I’ve self-published e-books, I shop online. I appreciate technology.

People matter though. Human interaction matters.

“How are you doing today”—maybe that moment of communication makes a difference to a company’s bottom line. I don’t know. I do know, though, that there’s value in human connection and the empathy that that connection stimulates.

Communication makes a difference too.

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” (Rollo May)

Which would you choose, friends, a person or a kiosk? Tell me why.

Would You Like to Try Our Kiosk

Photo credit: StockSnap.io

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.