Measures of Success and MUCH

Anna, our 2-year-old, has a knack for making Stanton and me smile. First, like many 2-year-olds, she’s a ball of energy, up for riding her new trike around the neighborhood one minute and practicing her t-ball swing the next. She’s a lot of fun. Throw in her big dimples and mischief-making grin, and we can’t help but smile.

We tell both girls, often, “I love you.” Grace replies with, “I love you too,” while Anna merely smacks her lips at us—kiss. When we say, “I love you so much,” Anna has her own shorthand for this expression too: “Much!”

In the morning, as Stanton is heading out, Anna scurries over to him, wraps her little arms around his leg and declares, “Much!” She accompanies her sweet farewell with a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-coated smooch to his crisp dress pants. Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

As I was writing this piece, this Emerson quote popped into my head (bold emphasis mine):

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Anna’s “Much!” expression, and her good-bye kisses to Stanton, made me think of this quote. Here, Emerson is giving us his definition of success: laughter, strength of character, gratitude, positive energy, service. All these things, of course, can’t be measured—at least, not easily.

It’s easier for us to measure “success” with numbers (we think). When we’re young, we take tests at school that assign us grades, scores and percentiles—how well we did on the tests. When we’re older, we think in terms of hourly wages, salaries and project fees—how good we are, our value to a company.

Life requires some level of quantifiable measurement. Test scores and, later, salaries work toward that objectivity. Unfortunately, numbers leave little room for bigger pictures, so to speak. They can’t tell us when a student arrives at school on an empty stomach, thinking about hunger instead of multiple-choice questions. They can’t help us understand why firefighters earn an average of $47,000 annually, while political strategists can take home six figures.

Sticky kisses to clean clothes—the price we pay for the privilege of such wholehearted love.

Stanton volunteers as a coach for Grace’s preschool soccer team. Yesterday, I was scheduled to fill in for him at the weekly soccer practice because he had a work commitment. I joked with Grace, “You can call me Coach, all right?”

Grace smiled and said, “I’m going to call you Mom.”

Both my daughters teach me so much. In that moment, I realized that whatever we might accomplish in our lives—whatever titles we might answer to, whether Coach, or Doctor, or Mayor, or Pastor, or Professor—we’ll still answer to Mom, or Dad, or Aunt Jenna, or Uncle Brian to the handful of people in the world who mean the most to us.

And this handful of people, these kids of ours… Chances are, they’ll be the ones least impressed by our SAT scores (if we even remember them), diplomas and W-2 forms. In my experience anyway, this is just how life works.

Measures of Success Picture 6-13-17

When I was growing up, my dad won various awards from his company for his work. Once, our hometown newspaper featured an article about my mom, a teacher, for developing a “try other things besides TV” educational program. I have so much respect and appreciation for both my parents.

When my parents and I talk, though, what we talk about most are all the times we had together. The funny moments, the family vacations, the movie quotes that have become part of our family lore. (“Well, they say geniuses pick green. But you didn’t pick it.”) The awards and newspaper articles don’t come up.

I imagine the same, or something similar, is true for you and your family too.

A few years ago, I read this article on CNN’s faith blog, regarding “What people talk about before they die.” The article has stayed with me all this time. The author, a hospice chaplain, answers the question her article poses: “Mostly, they talk about their families.”

She goes on to add, “They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave…They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying…they reach their hands out to things I cannot see, and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy.”

This article speaks to what we remember on our last days. We remember our families. We remember “Much!”

I was reading the book “Fancy Nancy: Stellar Stargazer!” to the girls one day recently. In the story, the title character and her lovable little sister, JoJo, pretend to be astronauts and blast off to explore the moon. Afterward, Grace announced she would like to be an astronaut when she grows up.

“Sounds great,” I said. “You’ll be a wonderful astronaut.”

Maybe Grace will be an astronaut someday. Maybe she’ll change her mind, as 5-year-olds often do, and embark upon another path instead. Stanton and I will encourage the girls to do their best in whatever interests them.

I’ll also encourage the girls to make time for the ones they love. To sit down to dinner with their families. To celebrate their friends’ weddings. To take trips, just because. Because…I know that moon landing will be awesome.

And I’m pretty sure, too, that the moments they’ll remember with the greatest joy—the moments that will carry them through their darkest days, and give them peace on their final days—are the ones like when a little person wraps their arms around you, smears a Cinnamon Toast Crunch kiss on your clean clothes and declares, “Much!”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.

At Home in New York: One Year Later

Stanton, the girls and I have called New York home for about a year now. I feel as though I spent the beginning of our time here—summer through spring—in a slightly frazzled state. Moving, getting to know another city, enrolling the girls in school and activities, trying to write as much as possible, finding our house—there were a lot of, um, moving parts. 🙂

But summer is upon us once again, and things feel as though they’re in a good place. We love the sweet town we’re in. We especially appreciate its walkability. It’s so nice to simply go outside and enjoy the nearby nature trail, or walk (Stanton and me), bike (Grace) and stroller over (Anna) to local shops and restaurants. One morning recently, the girls and I had such a good time just walking over to this local park, and hanging out.

Of course, that was right after we stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee (me) and donuts (all of us)… #healthylivingfail

1_Park

The girls have been asking Stanton and me for a pet—specifically, a puppy. Their pleas haven’t yet persuaded us, but our next-door neighbors offered up a great middle-ground solution: babysitting their puppy from time to time. We’ll see how that goes, friends.

We closed on our house a couple of months ago. My friendly yoga instructor recommended her friend, a wonderful Realtor, to us—it is a small world. We’re so thankful to have found our home.

Here are a few pictures.

2_Front Porch

We love our front porch. My mom and dad kindly passed along their not-needed-anymore wrought-iron furniture to us, and it’s allowed us to really enjoy this outdoor living space. Many a morning, I find myself reading “Madeline” or “The Very Busy Spider” to the girls.

3_Family Room

We still need to find (and/or unpack from the many boxes still in the basement) some additional art and décor for the family room. So far, though, we very much appreciate its cozy vibe. Speaking of passed-along furniture, the dining-space set once belonged to Stanton’s grandparents. We are grateful to be stewards of this beautiful family legacy, which traveled amazingly well from Texas to New York.

4_Sunroom

Possibly our favorite part of our home is the sunroom/breakfast nook, nestled behind the kitchen. When family and friends visit, everyone instinctively gathers here. I happened upon the table and benches in a local furniture store, and they’ve become the perfect spot for the girls to eat, color and ask me over and over if we can please get a puppy today.

Lately, the girls have been having so much fun in the backyard. Yesterday after a Fancy Nancy-themed tea party, Anna worked on her T-ball swing. Toddlers: The busiest among us.

5_Backyard

While Stanton was traveling for work soon after we moved in, I enlisted my dad to help with some around-the-house projects. Ever the comedian, he called, “Hey, Melis, look at this!” as he pretended to struggle with hanging curtains. Thanks again, Dad. 🙂

6_Dad Curtains

One of the things I most appreciate about this part of the country, the Capital Region of New York, is the beautiful nature all around us. On our little street alone, there are towering trees; evergreens abound and provide lush color all year. I’ve said to family and friends that being here is a literal breath of fresh air.

We’re lucky that so many loved ones have already come to visit with us. One of my favorite moments from our first year here was this September day, when Stanton’s mom and dad came to be with us. We loved apple picking at Indian Ladder Farms, catching up and simply taking in the splendor of the Helderberg Escarpment.

7_Indian Ladder Farms

The first time I laid eyes on this breathtaking slope—driving upon it from the Hudson Valley—I told Grace, “This is amazing.” Amazing, Grace.

Stanton and I do a fairly good job, I think, of keeping in touch with our families and hometown pals. We do owe our good college friends, though, some quality time. Folks in Virginia—we’re hoping to be your way later this year, or early next. ❤

The longer I’ve lived in the Albany area, the more I’ve learned how easy it is to get to other cool parts of New England and the Northeast from here. For example, Boston, Montreal and New York City are all about a three-hour drive away.

My favorite weekend getaway thus far has been to Manchester, Vermont. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been, friends, but this place is gorgeous. Stanton and I spent some time there for our nine-year anniversary and loved the glorious green mountains, quaint Northshire Bookstore and delicious local restaurants we tried (Thai Basil, Cilantro Taco and The Reluctant Panther).

We can’t wait to go back with the girls.

During this season in our life, it can be difficult to organize formal play dates. What have been so encouraging, though, are all the kind friends we’ve come to know through informal fellowship at our church, Grace’s preschool and the Y. We still miss our church, school and community friends from San Antonio, but love keeping in touch with these special people through Facebook, phone calls and texts.

In the winter, Grace took ice skating lessons at our Y. Then one weekend, she taught me how to ice skate at Empire State Plaza downtown. My 5-year-old daughter was so caring toward me, and patient—it was, friends, one of the best moments of my life.

After living in the South for 11 years, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy winter again. But it was fun, overall. Rediscovering all four seasons with the girls has been fun.

Many years ago in Virginia, one of the first things Stanton and I bonded over was our love of country music. Sometimes when we’re driving, we hear Tim McGraw’s contemporary classic “Humble and Kind” on the radio. I feel the song’s closing lyrics: “Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you…always stay humble and kind.”

We don’t know what the future holds. In this moment, though, things feel good. I’m very grateful.

I hope to pay that positive energy forward as we continue to get to know our community and surroundings.

8_Soccer Field Sunset

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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.

You’re Annoying, I Love You, Talk to You Soon: On Siblings

This past Easter weekend, I got to see my three siblings. We gathered at my parents’ house for the holiday. It was really nice to be “home” together again.

Josh still lives and works in our hometown; Jared is near Philadelphia; Jenna has adopted Queens as her hometown; and I’m now up the Thruway in New York’s Capital Region.

When the four of us talk with one another, we still refer to our parents’ house, the house we grew up in, as “home.” The main reason for this, I think, is because siblings—and any people in close relationships—have developed their own shorthand over time. No backstory, explanation or even punctuation needed. On our group texts, I often communicate with X’s and O’s (and the occasional heart emoji), while Jenna prefers the eloquent, “AHHHH!!!”

Another reason for the “home as parents’ house” shorthand is because for many of us, we learn what “home” means through our families: our parents and those who are like parents; our brothers and sisters.

Home is one of those words that’s more feeling than language. Kind of like when I say to Anna, “I love you,” and she replies by giving me a hug—“I love you, too.” Home is like a hug: You are pulled (back) in; you are loved; you are known.

No one knows us quite like our siblings do. After all, they had complimentary courtside seats to all our cringe-worthy coming-of-age moments. While reminiscing during Easter dinner, Jared couldn’t help bringing up the memory of my wearing bulky sports goggles during my middle-school basketball-playing days.

“Again, with the sports goggles?” I said.

Our parents’ 35th wedding anniversary happened to be the next day, Monday. Jared had suggested we recreate an old family photo as our gift to them, a la this Huffington Post article. So we did.

We chose this picture, which hangs in our parents’ living room.

Original Picture

Then we asked Stanton (our honorary sibling) to make the new memory. Which he did:

New Picture 2017

The four of us haven’t changed much in 20 years, have we, friends? 🙂

Josh, Jared, Jenna and I laughed a lot as Stanton (and Grace!) helped pose us for this picture. It was fun. Later, our Mom and Dad told us they loved it.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, for all sorts of reasons. Certainly, simply having siblings doesn’t guarantee friendships with them.

In my personal experience, though, I am very thankful for my brothers and sister. And I hope, more than anything in this world, that my own daughters have many happy, healthy years together. Stanton, who has three siblings himself, agrees.

Siblings had those courtside seats to all our awkward years. They also were the people we shared summer vacations, Christmas mornings and much more ordinary moments with—instant playmates for after school, the best kind of comfort when Poppy passed away. We have a shared childhood, history, love. We may let others’ calls go to voicemail, but we answer theirs. Likewise, we know they’ll be there for us.

Something that touches my heart is watching my girls become close to my siblings, as I have. Whenever someone brings up Josh, for example, Anna smiles big and says the same three words in slow, sweet succession: “Josh—big—nice.” Yes, he is.

Life is funny. When we’re young, we argue about who gets to ride in the passenger seat next to Mom, or who got the biggest slice of dessert (“That’s not fair!”). When we’re older, what we really appreciate is getting together “at home” once again…with those familiar faces, telling the same stories over and over, so that even the honorary siblings know the punch lines.

“Again, with the sports goggles? You’re annoying.”

“I love you.”

“Talk to you soon.”

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Don’t miss Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Can You Make Me a Paper Airplane?

At the table adjacent to ours, a trio of high school girls was studying for an anatomy test. I know because they were quizzing each other, loudly, on the finer points of the skeletal system. For the first time in about 20 years, I heard the words “metacarpals” and “tibial tuberosity.”

As I sipped my chai tea latte, only one word flickered through my science-challenged brain: brutal.

“Mom.” I glanced over at Grace. She was holding out a page from the coloring book I’d brought. “Can you make me a paper airplane?”

I smiled. “I’m sorry, honey, but I don’t know how.”

“You don’t know how?”

When we’re little, we think of our parents as superheroes. There’s nothing they don’t know, or can’t do. This perception probably peaks around age 7 and then plummets by 16, when we’re full-fledged, omniscient teenagers. 😉

Grace, and Anna too, stared at me in horror. I shrugged. Paper airplanes are Stanton’s forte, not mine.

“Well, ask someone,” Grace suggested.

I glanced around the back parlor of our coffee shop. I wasn’t going to interrupt the intense anatomy test study session, that was for sure. Two other women were huddled by the oversized window, deep in conversation and their second 16-ounce cups of coffee. A man was nearby, a portfolio of papers splayed in front of him. Another gentleman was chuckling at his phone.

“Not right now, honey,” I said.

“Why?” Grace asked.

“Why?” Anna repeated.

I tilted my head at them. “I’m feeling shy right now.”

Anna tilted her head back at me. “Aww,” she empathized.

I love my coffee shop dates with my daughters. Just sitting together, hanging out…

“Mom! I have a great idea!” Grace’s brown eyes were sparkling. “You can ask your phone!”

Indeed I could. “OK,” I agreed, digging my phone out of the diaper bag.

I Googled “how to make a paper airplane.” Grace slid the coloring page across our table. Anna licked pumpkin chocolate-chip muffin from her fingertips.

Paper Airplane 3-13-17

A few minutes later, I had transformed that coloring page into a paper airplane for my 5-year-old. You would have thought I’d hung the moon, Grace was so happy.

“You did it! You really did it!” Grace said.

“Yay!” Two-year-old Anna clapped.

And from the table adjacent to ours, the high schoolers were now debating true ribs, false ribs and floating ribs.

In all honesty, I really enjoyed my high school anatomy class. I had an excellent teacher, Mr. Smedley, who made the subject interesting and relevant. Anatomy is one of those subjects where you actually can use the information in everyday life when you grow up.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

Paper airplane making was one of my Poppy’s finest skills. He served as an airplane mechanic during World War II and later flew airplanes as a hobby. He loved all things aeronautical.

When I was a freshman in college, Poppy mailed me a letter. I was homesick during those first few weeks away from our Pennsylvania hometown, and I loved hearing from my Poppy. Appreciated that memento of home.

I saved Poppy’s letter for a long time, but don’t have it anymore. It got misplaced, or lost, or recycled when I moved from my freshman-year dorm to my sophomore-year one.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

That’s, possibly, the hardest thing about moving, whether across campus or across the country: You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

Luckily, I do remember. I remember that Poppy had drawn an airplane after his signature on the letter. He loved all things aeronautical, right? Yes. And the letter, and the airplane, meant he loved me.

Human beings are resilient, I’ve been told. And I believe that’s true. Every day, I make a conscious effort to, simply, “choose happy.” To focus on the good. Leave people and places better than I found them. That sort of thing.

But there are times when I’m feeling sad, or stressed, or shy, as I was in the coffee shop that afternoon.

During these times, I give myself a moment to acknowledge these emotions. Sadness, stress, shyness. For example, I wish Poppy could have met Anna; he would have loved her. I acknowledge that sadness, that sense of loss.

After I’ve had my moment, I do my best to move forward. To refocus on the good. Celebrate all the good things.

You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

As we journey along, we face all kinds of assessments, from high school anatomy tests to mortgage applications to annual physicals. Someone tells us if we’ve passed or failed based on theoretically objective standards.

Were we good enough? Or do we not get to pass “Go”?

I don’t know, but I suspect, that as we near the end of our journey, we give ourselves a self-assessment or sorts. We reflect on the path we carved—the choices we made—the affection we gave, or withheld. What we’re leaving behind.

“What’s the difference between true ribs and false ribs?”—our end-of-journey self-assessment almost certainly doesn’t include questions like these.

No, more like… “Did I do good work? Did I choose love over hate? Did I do the best I could for my family? Did I take walks, and watch the sun set, and play Marco Polo in the summer and build snowmen in the winter?”

Did I make paper airplanes?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.

Being There for Dinner

The boiling water bubbled over the saucepan. Sssssss! The stovetop hissed.

Grace screamed. Anna followed suit.

“Everything’s OK,” I said, grabbing the pot. I drained the just-cooked pasta in the colander in the sink.

The timer on the oven began beeping: the meatballs. The girls crowded into the kitchen.

“Girls, you need to move…”

The front door opened, then closed. “Dad!” The girls rushed out of the kitchen. Someone tripped and fell on the way; crying ensued.

Welcome to the end of the weekday in many families’ homes, right? Mine. Maybe yours too.

For a while, I would finish making dinner around 6 o’clock. Stanton usually would be home by then. I’d set the food on the dining room table, encourage my family to help themselves, and then retreat to the kitchen to begin cleaning up everything that had gone into preparing the meal.

And, I won’t lie: I often would enjoy a few minutes’ peace to eat by myself without one of the girls climbing into my lap or grabbing from my plate.

Then one evening, about a month ago, I glanced at the dining room table. Anna was sitting on Stanton’s lap, snuggling against his chest. Smudging his dress shirt with her sticky fingers, but they looked cozy and happy nevertheless. Grace was talking about her day at preschool, her eyes wide and excited.

I glanced at that dining room table, and…I missed my family. I wanted to join them. Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

Such a little thing, such a Captain Obvious moment—to sit down for dinner with the people you love the most. Probably not even worthy of being written about, right? But I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed doing it. Clearly, I hadn’t done it all that much, because it resonated with me. Sitting face-to-face with my family, instead of standing alone a room away—what a difference.

Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

A couple of weeks later, I was at the library and came across this book title: “The Surprising Power of Family Meals” by Miriam Weinstein. It was calling my name; I checked it out. During the next few days, I read through it. This book has a wealth of insights, but the ones that most struck me were these passages in which the author quotes theologian Bill Huebsch:

“‘Things work out when you cook and wash dishes together. It’s hard to sit down to table with someone you haven’t forgiven…In most of our lives, meals are also memorials. Almost everyone, when they speak of their lives, they speak about meals’” (pages 146-147).

Wow, I thought. And, yes.

Family, food, forgiveness, memory, life—all intertwined.

When my daughters are older, I’m not sure what they’ll remember about their childhood, or our family dinners. Like all parents, I hope they have many happy memories. I do know, though, that I want them to remember that I was there, at the table with them, instead of missing in action in the kitchen.

I’ve been trying to make this happen. Not every evening…but more often than not. Because life can get hectic. You can’t always be the ideal version of yourself.

Yet.

Being There for Dinner

“Don’t Blink” was a hit country song by Kenny Chesney, about 10 years ago. I heard it just the other day, and these lyrics have been replaying in my head ever since:

“…When your hourglass runs out of sand
You can’t flip it over and start again”

The theme of the song, of course, is that time goes by in the blink of an eye.

When I’ve been sitting down with my family now, I’ve been looking at them, really seeing them. There’s something beautiful about making eye contact with someone you love, and holding that gaze, and connecting. Really connecting.

“‘It’s the facing each other that’s important’” in how we eat, according to scholar Witold Rybczynski in “The Surprising Power of Family Meals.” “It’s the fact of sitting face-to-face, inviting interaction, give-and-take, that matters most” (page 87).

Family—food—face-to-face. Pretty simple.

Something I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, is that the simple stuff is the good stuff. This past Sunday, I made Hamburger Helper for Stanton and the girls for lunch—Stanton’s request. “It’s been years since I’ve had Hamburger Helper,” Stanton said.

“Huh, I wonder why,” the foodie in me replied (the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun).

For years now, I’ve been experimenting with gourmet and/or novel recipes for my family—herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, lime chicken tacos, everything I wrote about here. Why would I bother with Hamburger Helper, when I could prepare something amazing from scratch?

…the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun…

I made the Hamburger Helper. Sat down with Stanton and the girls. Anna took a bite: “Mmm!” Stanton was ready for a second helping within, it seemed, seconds. And Grace declared that she liked my Hamburger Helper almost as much as the frozen pizza I “make.”

The simple stuff is the good stuff. Family. Food. Face-to-face. Hamburger Helper or herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, it doesn’t matter.

As long as you’re there.

I want to be there.

What about you, friends?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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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.

Catching Up With My Dad: 5 Moments

This past week, my mom and dad visited with the girls and me for a couple of days. Stanton was out of town for work, and Anna had just turned 2—great timing for a catch-up. They would give me a hand with the girls, and also deliver some belated birthday presents to Anna.

*

When my parents arrived, my dad hauled a cooler into the house. The cooler contained a huge amount of food that my mom had prepared for my family and me: stuffed shells, minestrone soup, coconut chicken, zucchini fritters, and lots and lots of cookies. There’s a custom, I think: When you grow up Italian-American, you bring your loved ones homemade cookies.

And in my family, it’s customary that my mom handles the cooking and baking, while my dad hauls the cooler.

Teamwork.

*

On Wednesday, I encouraged my dad to come along with me to pick up Grace from preschool. “There’s a McDonald’s drive-thru on the way, so we can stop to get coffee,” I added. Ever a fan of Micky D’s, Dad agreed.

When we got to McDonald’s, I pulled into the drive-thru. “You know, it’s faster to order inside,” my dad said.

“All we’re getting is two coffees,” I replied.

“I’m just saying…”

“By the way,” I interrupted, “do you have any small bills? Because I only have a twenty…”

“Sure, honey,” my dad said, reaching for his wallet. You have to love dads.

I ordered our coffees, Dad paid, and then we pulled up to pick up our order. A lady opened the window and said, “I’m so sorry, we just ran out of coffee. But we’re brewing a new pot.

“It’ll be ready in two minutes…maybe three.”

I sighed. We might be late picking Grace up.

“It’s faster to order inside,” Dad repeated.

I looked over at him. “You know you’re aggravating me.”

Dad smiled. “I know you very well, and yes, I know I’m aggravating you.”

*

The next day, Thursday, the Capital Region saw its first real snowstorm of the season: about 11 inches. Dad did a few rounds of shoveling the sidewalk and driveway. Then I bundled Grace up so that she and her “Pop” could play in the snow for a bit.

My mom and I watched them through the windows (Anna was napping). I smiled as Grace and my dad chased each other through the still-falling snowflakes, tossed snowballs at each other, and shook tufts of snow off the pine trees.

After 15 minutes, they hustled back inside. Grace requested hot chocolate. “Me, too!” my dad said.

“Since when do you drink hot chocolate?” I wondered.

“Hot chocolate would hit the spot right now,” Dad said.

Later that day, he told me he only asked for some because Grace was having it. But I think he really did want hot chocolate that day. (Sorry, McDonald’s drive-thru.)

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*

That evening, my parents headed back to their hotel. They always stay in hotels because Dad snores loudly and, thus, can be a noisy houseguest. “Thanks for all your help,” I told them.

Later that night, I noticed that my dad had dragged the trash cart out for pickup in the morning. I do this when Stanton’s traveling for work, and I can do this—but Dad’s small, thoughtful gesture touched my heart.

I called him to tell him so.

“You’re welcome, honey,” he said. “We’ll see you in the morning to say goodbye.”

*

In the morning, my dad and I dropped Grace off at preschool. On the way back, we chatted about driving in winter-weather conditions, something I’m not practiced at after 11 years in Virginia and Texas.

“If you feel your car slipping on ice, don’t brake hard,” Dad said.

“Take your time; go slow,” he added. “Don’t worry about what the car behind you is doing.”

Good advice in general, right?

Thanks, Dad. P.S. Love you.

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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.

9 Easy Weeknight Dinners for Your Family

One of my goals for this New Year is to add some new recipes into my family’s weeknight rotation of meals. My three qualifications for these recipes are 1) quick, 2) easy and 3) healthy. Maybe you have this goal, too, friends.

Here are some quick, easy and healthy recipes that Stanton, the girls and I have been enjoying lately. I hope you and yours also enjoy. Dig in!

1) Tortellini, White Bean and Turnip Greens Soup

Winter is a wonderful time to make soup, isn’t it? I found this recipe while flipping through the current issue of Southern Living. As written, this recipe is vegetarian, but I used prosciutto and cheese tortellini instead of plain cheese.

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I didn’t see turnip greens at my grocery store, but collard greens worked just fine. And instead of chopping a carrot, I used pre-chopped carrot chips to save time. I served this delicious soup with fresh fruit (those red grapes, pictured!). Grace, my picky eater, opted for leftovers from the night before, but Stanton and Anna lapped up this soup. It is really good, friends.

One change for next time: I’ll add another 14.5 oz. of vegetable broth to make it a little “soup-ier.”

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2) Bucatini with Winter Pesto and Sweet Potatoes

Here’s another seasonal, vegetarian recipe for you to enjoy, compliments of the Country Living website. (P.S. Check out this Seasonality Chart, an excellent resource from a sustainable agriculture nonprofit.)

Some changes I’d recommend to this recipe: Use a different, kid-friendly type of pasta (such as penne or cavatappi)—bucatini, spaghetti and the like can get messy with kiddos! (I love this handy Pasta Shapes Dictionary, which details which pasta works best for different sauces, etc.) I also found the kale to be a bit too hardy for my food processor (although yours may work better!); next time, I’ll chop and mix everything myself.

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3) Chicken and Green Bean Stir Fry

Confession: I intended to make a different stir fry recipe—this one, 4) Chicken, Broccoli and Mushroom. But I forgot to buy broccoli at the grocery store. So I Googled for a stir fry recipe with chicken and green beans, which I already had on hand. This one from The Lemon Bowl came up, and it was delicious.

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I very much appreciated The Lemon Bowl’s link for “Stocking Your Pantry for Asian Cooking.” If you have soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce and a few other essentials on hand, you pretty much can combine any protein with veggies and a side of rice for a quick, healthy and satisfying Asian-inspired meal.

5) Black Bean Quesadillas

Let’s move on to Mexican cuisine. Eating Well has this amazing and oh-so-easy recipe for Black Bean Quesadillas (also vegetarian!). I was shocked—truly—that even Grace loved them.

One tweak I recommend to the recipe: Use a full cup of cheese, not just ½. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll appreciate the extra boost of gooey flavor.

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6) Easy Beef Enchiladas

I love any recipe that begins with the word “Easy.” 🙂 Everyone in my family loves this recipe. One recommendation, though: Skip the can of diced green chiles if your kiddos don’t like spicy flavors.

7) Beef Tacos

I love this beef tacos recipe from Blue Apron. I make it all the time now, minus the cucumber-avocado salsa (I buy store-prepared guacamole instead, which saves time). Simply skip to Step 5 of the directions, friends, and you’re all set—all you need is thinly sliced beef and some Mexican seasoning (any brand will do, or you can make your own), plus tortillas and your toppings of choice (guacamole, lettuce, shredded cheese, etc.).

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8) Pasta Bolognese

The Italian-American in me would be remiss not to include an Italian specialty on this list. 😉 I love this recipe for Pasta Bolognese, which I found in the weekly flyer from my local grocery store, Hannaford. It is incredibly easy to make, and incredibly flavorful—the yellow onion, I think, is the key ingredient.

Of course, use your pasta and pasta sauce brands of choice.

Please note, in the following documentation, Anna digging in to a big bite of this delicious Pasta Bolognese—spinach included! You go, girl.

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9) Chicken Tikka Masala

I haven’t had, or made, Indian cuisine in a while and thought it would be fun to give it a whirl again. Chicken Tikka Masala is a delicious yet traditionally time-consuming Indian/British favorite. The time-consuming part is gathering and then working with all the ingredients for the sauce, which usually include yogurt, ginger, tomatoes, garam masala—to name just a few.

Luckily, I stumbled upon this jar of Tikka Masala curry simmer sauce at the grocery store, and used the recipe on the label to make an easy, three-ingredient version of Chicken Tikka Masala: this sauce plus vegetable oil and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. This is taking the easy way out, but…ta-da!

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Stanton and I loved this. (The girls opted for the rice with leftover black bean quesadillas, again—their new favorite weeknight dinner!)

I’ve included nine recipes here, friends, and I hope you’ve found one or two (or maybe even more!) that you and your family can dig in to in this New Year. Here’s to easy weeknight cooking.

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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.