You Have to Make a Mess Sometimes

I scrolled down the recipe, my all-purpose-flour-smudged finger clouding the laptop screen. On wax paper, roll dough into a 1/2-inch thick square. Yes, that was what I had forgotten during our grocery-store run an hour ago: wax paper.

“What do we do next, Mom?” Grace smiled at me expectantly.

“Hmm…we’re going to improvise.” I pulled out aluminum foil.

“Does the recipe say to improvise?”

I looked at my older, by-the-book daughter. She looked back. “Work with me here, honey,” I said.

“Yum, yum, yum.” Anna was sitting cross-legged on the countertop, scooping up rainbow nonpareils—we had accidentally spilled half the jar a few minutes earlier—and stuffing them into her mouth. Our baking adventure could be going a bit smoother.

(P.S. A fun fact: Aluminum foil is not a good substitute for wax paper, at least in terms of a surface on which to roll dough and then freeze it.)

Beeeeep.

“Mom!” both girls yelled simultaneously.

I held up my hands. “The oven is ready,” I explained. “Everything is OK.”

I peered at the screen. Bake until cookies are light brown, 18 to 20 minutes. I got them into the oven and set the timer.

“I can’t wait to eat them,” Grace said.

Anna looked up from her fistful of a sugar rush. “Me too.”

“We’re making these for Pop, for his birthday,” I reminded my daughters. “We have to save some for him too.”

The girls looked at each other, having a silent, sister-to-sister tête-à-tête in front of me. “Pop can have two,” Grace told me.

Anna nodded her agreement. “He’ll be fine.”

Two cookies out of twenty for the birthday boy—sure, that seemed fair.

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Approximately half an hour later, I let the girls sample a cookie—”Just one, ladies!”—as I’d promised. I poured milk into two glasses too, because everyone knows you can’t really enjoy a cookie without a glass of milk (or cup of coffee).

Then I knocked over one of the glasses of milk.

Milk splashed across the countertop, onto my legs, into a white pool on the floor. I closed my eyes, sighed.

“Mom.” Anna poked her head around the corner. “Do you have our milk yet?”

“Just one second, honey…”

Later that evening, I emailed a picture I took of the girls baking (snapped before things got messy) to my parents and Stanton’s. I shared with the grandparents that making the Funfetti shortbread cookies had resulted in a disaster of a kitchen.

Stanton’s mom always replies to my emails with thoughtful ones of her own. This time, she wrote back, “Just think how discouraging it would have been to have a messed-up kitchen and a not-so-yummy sweet!”

This note struck a chord with me. Because it’s true. You have to make a mess sometimes.

And sometimes, if we’re lucky, our mess yields something sweet. Funfetti shortbread cookies, for example. As I was writing this, I remembered a quote I’ve always liked: “One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” (Andy Rooney)

Cookies, Christmas morning—worthwhile messes, for sure.

…sometimes, if we’re lucky, our mess yields something sweet.

What about the messes we make that are far from sweet? The ones that are, simply, trouble?

Mistakes. Miscalculations. Faux pas and false steps.

Decisions that turned out to be bad ideas.

Around the time of my baking (mis)adventure with my daughters, I was talking with someone I care about. She expressed some doubts, some pain to me. I responded to her with my usual spiel about finding silver linings, things happening for a reason.

The more I thought about it, though…the more I thought, it’s OK to acknowledge you made a mess, plain and simple. It’s OK to look for silver linings…and not find them here. To say, “Here, we simply have a mess.

“I’m human. I made a mess. Now let’s move forward.”

We can recognize the humanity in others, but at the same time struggle to accept it in ourselves.

It can be difficult to forgive people. It can be even more difficult to forgive ourselves. But we do need to forgive ourselves…to recognize and accept our humanity…to move forward.

It’s OK to look for silver linings…and not find them here. To say, “Here, we simply have a mess.”

Even where we can’t find silver linings, we probably can uncover some learning experiences. Oh, learning experiences. Who doesn’t love those, right? 😉

Years ago, I made a mistake I still remember. I could have helped somebody more than I did. Why didn’t I? Partly, I was young and immature.

I’ve come to forgive myself for that lapse in judgment. Looking back now, I still cringe and think, Ugh, I could have been a better person. There was no silver lining there—none that I know of, at least.

There was a learning experience, though. When I have the opportunity, these days, to help people in a similar way, I do. I try to be a better person.

You have to make a mess sometimes, to become a better person.

And if you’re lucky, you make a mess, and you get two cookies on your birthday.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

 

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On Making French Onion Soup

It was a rainy day. A drizzle in the beginning, and then a downpour.

“The earth needs a drink of water,” Anna said. This is how I explained rain to her, once upon a time, and she remembered.

I don’t mind rainy days. Every now and then, especially during summertime, it’s refreshing to take a break from sunscreen, water bottles and hours-long outdoor fun (swimming! sandboxes! biking!) and simply hang out.

Read on the front porch. Watch a movie. Go to the coffee shop (my personal favorite).

Or make French onion soup, as I recently did.

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For Christmas, my brother Jared gave me a copy of The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka. I’ve made several recipes from it since then, and liked them all. My favorite one probably is the recipe for French onion soup.

Do you like French onion soup, friends? It might be an acquired taste; I don’t know.

When I was growing up, there was a local restaurant called Jim Dandy’s. My family and I often dined there. And when we did, I ordered their French onion soup. It was hot and cheesy—what was there not to love? Jim Dandy’s made me fall, hard, for French onion soup.

The foods we prefer now, as adults, usually are the ones we loved as children. It’s why, even at the swankiest restaurants, you often find some version of macaroni and cheese on the menu. Sure, maybe it features bites of lobster. Maybe it boasts Beaufort D’Ete. But you know, and the restaurant knows, that underneath all the glamour and gourmet ingredients, you’ll take a bite and happily remember the Kraft version your mom or dad threw together way back when.

So I recreated that happy childhood memory—French onion soup—that rainy day.

But you know, and the restaurant knows, that underneath all the glamour and gourmet ingredients, you’ll take a bite and happily remember the Kraft version your mom or dad threw together way back when.

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The Skinnytaste recipe for French onion soup estimates that it takes about an hour and a half to cook, start to finish.

I read once that you can’t rush soup…and the home cook in me begs to differ. You can rush pretty much anything if you’re hungry enough, friends.

In this recipe, the onions go through three stages of cooking: 1) softening, 2) caramelizing and 3) simmering. Each stage is supposed to consist of 30 minutes each, but I’ve found you can get the job done in about 25 minutes per stage.

It’s pretty cool, I think, to watch onions transform through softening in the beginning…

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and then caramelizing…

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and finally simmering. I took this picture before adding the dry sherry, white wine and beef stock…but hopefully, you get a sense of the distinctions in the three stages here:

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I didn’t really start cooking until after Grace was born. Before parenthood, Stanton and I loved trying out different local restaurants together, and becoming regulars at our favorites. Given the choice, I still would rather make a reservation than make dinner. 😉

Over the years, though, I have found a fulfillment in feeding the people I love. There must be something innate or biological about this, because I really do love eating out. But when Grace or Anna ask for a second helping of the pasta and meatballs I make every week, or the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets we always have on hand in the freezer (that counts as semi-homemade, right?)…I feel good.

Given the choice, I still would rather make a reservation than make dinner.

Grace and Stanton share similar tastes. Basically, they both love red meat. Burgers, steak, tacos. Grace’s favorite fast-food chain is Five Guys. Do they like my French onion soup? The answer is no, although they will politely have a few spoonfuls. Anna, however, will sit down and enjoy a bowl with me.

Because French onion soup isn’t a crowd favorite in my house, I don’t make it all the time. Just on chance rainy days.

“Some people walk in the rain; others just get wet.” (Roger Miller)

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I didn’t think, when I was younger, that I would grow up into the kind of person who makes soup on a rainy day, and enjoys it. Instead of, say, the kind of person who does something just a bit more interesting.

In the moment, as we’re living life, it’s easy to forget the value in our many, seemingly mundane tasks. Preparing food for a family. Answering the phone when a friend calls, even though we don’t have much time to talk. Helping a co-worker save face. Waving another driver into our lane from the parking lot, even though it means we may not make the green light ahead.

It’s also easy to forget, or maybe not even consider, that who we are now…what we’re doing right now…maybe this is what was meant to be all along, even if the route to our current destination was circuitous, confusing or all-out crazy.

I’m not a great cook. I can’t create a recipe like I can create story. What I can do is (mostly) follow a recipe. I can make sure nobody is hungry. I can offer second helpings and listen to what happened during everyone’s day, and share some of my own.

I offered our neighbor, who told me she had a cold, some French onion soup. She said thanks, but no thanks. “I never really got into French onion soup,” she said.

“It’s an acquired taste,” I agreed.

Anna, who was with me, crossed her arms. “My mom?” she said to our neighbor. “Her soup is delicious.”

Our neighbor laughed; I did too. It’s nice to have somebody in your corner. “I’ll have to give it another try,” she said.

“It’s OK if you don’t,” I assured her.

Some things are acquired tastes.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Last Call: Tell Me Everything

Every night, I rock my 3-year-old daughter, Anna, to sleep. Stanton thinks she’s old enough that my rocking her isn’t necessary. Just lay her down, tuck her in, he says.

It isn’t necessary, I agree, night after night. I just love doing it; she loves it too.

This isn’t efficient, he adds, as I sink into the old recliner, and Anna folds herself into me. “Squishes in to get cozy,” she calls it.

I’ll see you in about 30 minutes, I often say to Stanton. And he—he of adept efficiency—says he’ll see me then.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more. Especially if we have an older child, or older children, whose first instinct these days isn’t to reach for us, but to make requests and issue directives. Can I have a play date with Sophia? I’m tired of eating turkey-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch. Don’t walk me all the way, Mom.

At the end of the day, with my little girl, I’m unapologetically inefficient.

The recliner we have is almost seven years old. Stanton and I bought it a few months before Grace was born. It’s worn; creaky if you lean too much to the right; and the most comfortable seat in our house.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more.

The other night, I was rocking Anna. She wasn’t tired just yet. She was talking to me about Lizzy, my brother- and sister-in-law’s dog. She was saying she loved walking Lizzy, which she had done this past Thanksgiving when we were visiting them.

“Wow,” I said, surprised at her enduring memory. (I barely remember what happened yesterday.)

“Lottie and D-Daddy were there,” Anna went on. “And we walked and walked Lizzy. It was fun.”

“I’m so glad you have happy memories,” I said.

Anna nodded. “I have happy memories, Mom, but they don’t glow like in Inside Out.”

I smiled at Anna’s point of reference. “That’s OK, honey.”

Anna looked up at me with wide eyes. “There was a scary part, and Grace gave me a pillow and held my hand.”

They hadn’t watched the movie together in a while. Again, I was surprised at everything Anna remembered. “Because Grace loves you so much.”

“Yeah, I know that, Mom.” With the abundant self-confidence of a child. “Bing Bong is my favorite,” Anna added, laughing.

I laughed too. “I love all your memories.”

“But they don’t glow, Mom,” Anna reminded me. She snuggled against my chest. “And that’s what I remember.”

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As we go along in our lives, certain memories stick with us, for whatever reasons. Chance? Or maybe something scientific (a process involving synapses perhaps).

I have a clear memory of Anna, and that old recliner. Mostly clear, anyway. I’m not positive of the date, but I believe it was the day Stanton and I brought Anna home, or the day after. So Anna was three or four days old.

It was nighttime. I was in the nursery, holding Anna in the recliner. I had had a cold when I gave birth to Anna (it was February), and now she had the same cold. She could only breathe well if she was held upright; otherwise, she got congested, and coughed and sniffled. I held her upright all the time, for two weeks until she felt better. At that point, though, we were at Day 3 (or 4).

I was holding Anna against my chest, all seven pounds, eight ounces of her. Three years later, I can still almost feel her soft, newborn cheek against my chin.

Stanton walked into the nursery. He asked how I was.

I remember telling him, “I’m so happy.”

I remember that because it’s not something I say very often (which you may find surprising). I say I’m grateful all the time. Another popular self-description is frazzled. But happy—despite my glass-half-full nature, I reserve happy for moments of joy. Deep, conscious-of-something-beautiful joy.

That child was (is) my something beautiful, just like her big sister.

Stanton stayed near the door, looking at us. I remember thinking he looked oddly serious. “What?” I asked.

“I’ll take care of you and the girls,” he said.

That was encouraging to hear, considering I had just given birth to our child. Nice to know he wasn’t plotting a midnight escape, three (or four) days postpartum. 😉

My memory of that night is being happy (though exhausted), and hearing Stanton recommit that he’d stick around.

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random—a motley crew of people, places, blink-and-you-would-have-missed-it moments. Walking a dog, Bing Bong, the hand of someone who loves you.

Lately, after both girls are asleep, Stanton and I have been watching Cheers reruns on Netflix. (Welcome to our cheesy life. 😉 ) Cheers may come across as unsophisticated for today’s sitcom standards (the laugh track! Rhea Perlman’s over-the-top Carla Tortelli! Coach!), but it’s sweet, classic.

I get this, Stanton said recently. A local place. People who know you, people who care.

Who wouldn’t want that? I agreed.

Although, thinking back now, some of us wouldn’t want that. Some of us may prefer living more anonymously, adventuring far and wide, footprints in the sand and memories as picturesque as postcards. I’ve been reading The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, and I love this line from it: “There was no perfect way to live” (page 302).

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random…

However each of us lives, whatever differences there may be among us, I do hope everyone has a good share of happy memories.

Crazy how our minds can speed along a train of thought, a far-reaching railroad track of time, history and memory. Books, TV shows, favorite places, milestones like the birth of a child…nighttime.

The end of the day, with dark outside and lamplight glow in, often offers us the ideal setting for honest conversation. No rush. Tired so that we don’t finesse language, but speak from the heart.

The end of the day is a last call of sorts, whether we’re toasting at a Cheers-like place, winding down the day (the adventures, or the minutiae), or snuggling a child to sleep. Tell me everything…be here next time.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Coincidence (or Fate) and a Few Wrong Turns: A San Francisco Story

About 17 years ago, I was standing outside a high school in my Pennsylvania hometown. It was a Saturday morning, and I was waiting to take the SAT II’s, in Writing and Math. At that time (and maybe still today), the majority of colleges didn’t require SAT II scores in addition to the much more familiar SAT scores. But a college I was interested in—the University of Richmond—did.

Like other writers before me, math has never been an intuitive skill of mine. There are times, today, when I’ll catch a glimpse of one of Stanton’s Excel worksheets on his laptop, chock-full of line after line of numbers and budget items for his job, and my eyes will literally glaze over. Excel = my cure for any bout of insomnia.

So 17 years ago, I was feeling confident about the SAT II in Writing, and concerned about the Math one. Part of my concern stemmed from my unfamiliarity with my new graphing calculator, which my handy SAT II prep booklet had instructed me to bring to the testing site that morning. What were all these buttons for again? Sine, cosine…I was pretty clueless.

Standing outside that sunny morning, I noticed a girl. She was tall and blonde, and—I’m relying on an old memory here, but I believe this next part is true, too—had a large supply of No. 2 pencils. This girl looked prepared, I thought. She also looked like a person who would know how to work the sine and cosine buttons on my calculator. I walked over to find out if she did.

As it turned out, the answer was yes. She was warm, friendly, helpful. She helped me with my calculator. We chatted some more, and I discovered she also was applying to and hoping to attend the University of Richmond. Popular colleges for high schoolers in our part of Pennsylvania include Lehigh University, Penn State and St. Joe’s in Philadelphia. It was extremely coincidental (or, perhaps, fate) that I bumped into anyone else thinking about that particular school in Richmond, Va.

As it turned out, the answer was yes.

Allison and I ended up heading six hours south and attending the University of Richmond together. She was my first friend in college. When she invited Stanton (whom I met in college, and whom Allison knows well, too) and me to her wedding in San Diego, this past weekend, we very much wanted to be there for her, if possible.

Flying from our home in New York across the country to California—that’s a bit of a trip, friends. Not a problem, but a bit of a trip, East Coast to West. Coincidentally, Allison’s wedding date fell around the same time as our 10-year wedding anniversary. Stanton and I decided to combine our good friend’s happy day with a mini vacation of our own—several days in Napa, by way of San Francisco. We flew out to the Golden State earlier that week.

Before we left for our West Coast adventure, my dad gave me his copy of the AAA TourBook for Northern California. I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore? We’ve got our phones with access to Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Uber. A guide book I could hold in my hand—of course my dad had one.

I did read through my dad’s AAA TourBook, but the Millennial in me couldn’t help but turn to Yelp for a first-morning-in-Northern-California breakfast spot recommendation. Yelp recommended the Beanstalk Café, not far from our hotel in Union Square—lots of good reviews, opening soon at 8 a.m., sounded perfect. Stanton consulted Google Maps on his phone for directions.

Seconds later, we trekked up one of San Francisco’s famous hilly streets for breakfast, my dad’s guide book tucked away in my carry-on back at the hotel.

I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore?

If you ever find yourself near Union Square in San Francisco, the Beanstalk Café is a solid choice for breakfast. Stanton and I both enjoyed their signature toast cups (bacon-wrapped scrambled eggs baked within bread—I could have eaten another one!) and coffee. I’ve enjoyed a lot of coffee, in a lot of places, and this place’s coffee is amazing.

Now, I wasn’t planning on writing this post. If I was, then I would have taken a picture of my toast cup to show you, friends. I would have been that person styling and photographing her food (typical Millennial behavior, right, Dad?), instead of doing what generations before us have done with food—putting it in their mouth, and chewing.

But one hour into our San Francisco excursion, things took a turn for the story-worthy. (You never do know when your life is about to take a turn for the story-worthy, do you?)

Stanton and I had been to California before (San Diego, both of us; Monterey, just him), but never to San Francisco. Of course, we wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge; we had to. Also on the itinerary my Type A self had prepared weeks ago: A drive by 2311 Broadway, the house where Party of Five, one of my favorite TV shows, had been filmed.

“Ugh, Party of Five,” Stanton said, as we walked out of the Beanstalk Café.

“Come on, it will be fun!”

“What will you do there, Mel?”

“I just want to see it, Stan.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf. Then we came upon a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. Stanton gestured. “Let’s take the subway to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then we’ll take an Uber to Fisherman’s Wharf to pick up our rental car.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf.

“Why don’t we just take an Uber to both places?”

“Mel, the subway is right here.”

I frowned. “How about a trolley, or cable car? Those things are much more San Francisco.”

“But the subway is here, honey.”

Reluctantly, I fell into step with Stanton as we made our way down. “You know I don’t like being underground.”

“I do. You’ll be fine.”

We walked past a gentleman playing lively music on his guitar, as well as several folks engaged in questionable activities. “I’m also concerned about earthquakes.” I grabbed Stanton’s hand.

“The chances of that happening…”

Huh…I witnessed a few more questionable activities. “Stanton. I am officially out of my comfort zone.”

Stanton squeezed my hand. “We’re fine, Mel. I’ll just buy our tickets, and we’ll be at Golden Gate in no time.”

And when Stanton asked the lady behind the Information Desk how to get to the location, that’s how he described it: “Golden Gate.” (A mistake, as we would later learn.)

“Take the N train,” she told us.

“N?” Stanton repeated.

She nodded. “N as in ‘nasty.’”

The N as in ‘nasty’ train, friends…that should have been our first clue.

The lady directed Stanton to hold his ticket against an electronic reader. He did, and then walked through the turnstile.

“And what should I do?” I asked the lady.

She peered through her glasses at me. “Follow him.” (This is a direct quote.)

Follow him. Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

But I didn’t know then what I know now. So I followed him, friends.

Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

Two other things we should have asked that lady: 1) The N as in ‘nasty’ inbound or outbound train? We didn’t know, and we needed to know. And 2) at which station did we get off the train? Two major questions.

We ended up on the outbound train—an educated guess. Then I asked another rider where we should exit to see Golden Gate.

“The park, or the bridge?”

I smiled blankly. “Excuse me?”

“Golden Gate Park, or Golden Gate Bridge?” this lady said in accented English. “They are two different places.”

“Are they pretty close to each other?” Stanton asked, nodding optimistically.

The lady shook her head. “No.”

I looked at Stanton. “We have no idea where we’re going. Let’s get off this train.”

Stanton grunted his agreement, and we got off at the next stop. We walked back up to street level.

Have you ever seen the movie My Cousin Vinny? There’s a scene in which the title character’s girlfriend, played by the excellent Marisa Tomei, notes that she and her New York City-accented, leather-jacket-wearing boyfriend “don’t blend” in the small-town Alabama setting they’ve found themselves in.

Let me tell you, friends: Wherever in San Francisco we were that morning, at that moment, Stanton and I didn’t blend.

“Stanton…”

“I know, I know, I’m getting an Uber now.”

And then, like many a wife has done during a romantic getaway with her better half, I looked at my husband and hissed, “You did this to us. This is your fault.”

Never one to lose his cool (except when watching his beloved San Antonio Spurs), Stanton continued tapping at his phone.

“We have no idea where we’re going.”

Minutes later, we hopped into our Uber ride. “My husband may have mixed this up when he called you,” I said to the driver, as Stanton shook his head, “but we’d like to go to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge, not the park.”

“OK,” the driver said, confirming the information with his phone. He picked up another passenger, and we were off.

We drove along, and drove along some more. Then I noticed a street sign: Broadway. We continued along Broadway, a thoroughfare lined on both sides with gorgeously maintained Victorians. “Stan…oh, my gosh.”

“Mel, you should feel completely fine here…”

“No, no.” I scrolled through my itinerary (in an emailed “note to self”) and smiled. “This is the street the Party of Five house is on!”

The driver stopped and dropped off the other passenger at a home across the street from the site of the Salinger family’s many and varied dramas. (One of my favorite quotes from the series: “She’s a juvenile delinquent, Bai!” –Will to Bailey, regarding fun but troubled Jill, in the first season.)

“What are the chances?!” I rolled down the window and took a bunch of pictures, as any bona fide fan would do. Here’s one of them, for all the other Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox and Neve Campbell (circa 1994–2000) fans out there:

1_Party of Five

“I can’t believe that happened,” I said, as we began driving through Pacific Heights again. “That was the craziest coincidence. The subway, the N as in ‘nasty’ train, the wrong stop…all of that led to this.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, honey.”

“And I’m not upset with you anymore, Stan.”

“That’s good, too.”

Finally, we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge. Here’s the picture of that, because you can’t go to San Francisco for the first time and not get a picture of yourself against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.

2_Golden Gate Bridge

A breathtaking place.

Stanton and I both loved walking the nature trails of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area surrounding the bridge. The setting, along the deep-blue Pacific Ocean, is amazingly gorgeous and refreshing. We could have stayed all day, simply walking and listening to the waves breaking.

We had to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, though, to pick up our rental car and head to Napa for a wine tasting reservation. Another Uber, please.

(A travel tip, for those who may not know: It’s difficult to find parking in San Francisco, and it can be expensive to park in the city, too. For example, it would have cost us about $60 to park a car at our Union Square hotel overnight, for just one night. Thus, we didn’t want to pick up our rental car until we were ready to drive it out of the city.)

I asked this Uber driver to bring us to Ghirardelli Square, which (according to my dad’s TourBook) was an easy walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. “The original Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is there,” the chocoholic in me informed the driver. He smiled politely, but didn’t seem interested.

Soon after, he pulled over at a busy intersection. Stanton and I exchanged a glance. “Is this Ghirardelli Square?” I asked him.

He smiled politely again, and pointed to his phone. “My phone says it is.”

My phone says it is. Even the Millennial in me will agree (as my dad certainly would) that there’s something unfortunate about that statement, about that philosophy. Stanton and I hopped out, crossed the street, and did indeed find Ghirardelli Square close by.

We enjoyed walking through the elegant space…

3_Outside Ghirardelli Square

…and partaking in Ghirardelli chocolate treats inside the red-brick building. (Impossible to resist.)

4_Inside Ghirardelli Chocolate

Fisherman’s Wharf, nearby, was much more tourist-y, but still fun to see. There was a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on Jefferson Street, and any time I see one of those, I sense I’m in Tourist Trap Central. (Can you believe the hills?)

5_Fisherman's Wharf

We picked up our car, then bags at the hotel, and headed to Napa. On our drive back to San Francisco later that week, Stanton and I exited before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in order to explore the national recreation area again, this time on the north—we love this place. Absolutely beautiful. We conferred with our phones and my dad’s TourBook to find directions, and were mostly successful.

6_North Tower

However, we inadvertently drove into Sausalito, a lovely coastal town opposite San Francisco. It felt like a “hidden gem” find to us. The pace is a little more laid-back, and parking is easier. We had dinner at the Salsalito Taco Shop (gotta love that pun)—a seafood platter for Stanton, some lettuce wraps with chicken and veggies for me (pictured below).

7_Salsalito Taco Shop

How do we end up where we do? On a visit to an unfamiliar city…on a Saturday morning taking the SAT II’s…wherever we find ourselves right now, this very minute?

Some of us may believe that a life is a series of events, strung together across many years, a random collection of people, places and things. Life as chance, as coincidence. A valid point of view, to be sure.

Others of us may believe that some things are meant to be. That people, places and things come into a life for reasons. Even if the reason is simply to surprise and delight us with the apparent craziness of the moment (my Party of Five house moment), so that we can remind ourselves to smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

Have a little faith in the goodness of life, the beauty and resilience of it, and in the goodness of the people who surround us.

Or maybe life is a little of both, part coincidence, part fate.

I’m not going to make a case for one point of view or the other. I am, after all, the person who still isn’t quite sure how to use a graphing calculator, 17 years later. What do I know?

…smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

One thing I do know. This past weekend, my husband and I attended our good friend’s wedding. Allison looked radiant as she walked down the aisle holding the arms of her mom and dad. I felt tears come to my eyes.

I was happy for her, that she had found the perfect person for herself. I was grateful for our friendship, our love for each other.

(Because what good is anything—a special occasion, an ordinary day, a misadventure on a San Francisco subway that becomes a story—if you don’t have friends and family to share that journey with, and reminisce and laugh about it with later?)

Most of all, I was happy to be there.

Whatever coincidence, or fate, may have contributed to my being there, at that moment, to share in joy, friendship and all the good things that words often struggle to explain, and math and science can’t quantify…but that move us in life, and that we remember for years…

I was happy to find myself there.

(P.S. Congratulations and best wishes to the newlyweds. We love you. ❤ )

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

But What Will People Think?

One morning this past week, the four of us were getting ready for the day. Stanton left the house first, as a light snow began to fall. Grace and Anna stood at the window (Anna’s chin touching the windowsill) and wondered if then (7:45 a.m.) would be a good time to build our first snow girl of the New Year.

(Answer: No.)

I was wondering if school would be delayed because of the snow. (Answer: Another thumbs-down.) So I made Grace’s lunch, changed Anna’s shirt (“Mom! I had a spill! But it’s not a problem, Mom!”) and began gathering all our bags.

Do you and your kids also have so many bags to locate, pack and get out of the house each morning? I’m continually loading stuff out of my house, into my car and back again every…single…day.

Backpacks. Lunch boxes. My laptop bag. In the winter, bags with the girls’ snow pants and boots so that they can play outside during recess.

I stuffed a granola bar into my handbag. Anna noticed and noted that she was hungry. Grace held up her finger. “Mom! I need a Band-Aid!”

“Mom!” Anna had forgotten about the granola bar because now, of course… “I need a Band Aid too!”

“OK,” I said. I distributed Band-Aids for one paper cut and one nonexistent medical emergency. Then we all climbed into the car.

I drove Grace down the block to her bus stop. Once she hopped on the bus, I drove Anna to preschool.

Someone once said that the major requirement of parenthood is a driver’s license. This might be true, friends.

I distributed Band-Aids for one paper cut and one nonexistent medical emergency.

En route to Anna’s preschool, I realized I had forgotten to pack her sneakers into her backpack, for her to change out of from her snow boots. Sometimes my almost-3-year-old can be amazingly understanding. Other times, she teeters toward irrationality. Not sure which Anna Parker Leddy I’d be getting, I broached the topic: “Honey, guess what.”

“What, Mom?”

I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel. “I forgot your sneakers.” I glanced in the rearview mirror; Anna was starting to frown. “Oh, well, right? You can be comfy in just your socks…”

“MOM!” Anna exhaled. “But what will people think?”

“They will think…your mom forgot your sneakers.” Hopefully, that was all people would think about Anna’s mom.

Anna sighed. “Oh, Mom… How could you?”

Dear Lord. “I know, honey; I know.” But trust me: At some point, for some reason, I’ll fall short of your expectations again.

Forgetting your sneakers? This is nothing.

What people think. I had forgotten we begin worrying about that at such a young age.

“They will think…your mom forgot your sneakers.” Hopefully, that was all people would think about Anna’s mom.

I remember when I was in third or fourth grade. I had gone to the nurse’s office, and returned back to my classroom with a note recommending that I see an eye doctor to get glasses. That day—and I remember this clearly, to this day—I folded the note up and hid it in the palm of my hand, so that my classmates wouldn’t notice. So that people wouldn’t think something was wrong with me. I was maybe 10 years old, and I worried what people would think.

Twenty-five years later, I’m thankful to share that “what people think” isn’t much of a worry anymore. Yes, I care about things…but I’m comfortable—dare I say, confident—with the person I am.

Many of us reach this comfort zone, I imagine, by the time we’re adults. We’ve lived a little. We’ve probably loved, and lost, a little. If we have a young person in our life—a child, niece or nephew, little neighbor—we’re aware, in a way we probably weren’t before, that life is fragile, and precious. That good health, and family, and friendship far outweigh things we once thought mattered so much: the cool table in the school cafeteria, the right logos, the hot ZIP code.

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On Saturday, I brought the girls to a friend’s birthday party. I enjoyed chatting with the other parents while Grace played (and Anna ran back and forth from the water fountain). It was remarkable—and really nice—how easy the conversation among everyone was.

Easy because, perhaps, all the moms and dads had some shared experiences related to parenthood. When you’re raising a child, you have empathy for those who are doing the same. There’s a kinship, a kindness, a respect.

I’ve been reading a book about teaching children about empathy. The book mentions John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, and his “seven-point creed for life,” which his father gave him. This creed for life includes guiding principles such as “Be true to yourself,” and “Make each day your masterpiece.”

As the New Year unfolds, I’ve been thinking about main guiding principles I’d like to pass along to my own children. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Be the best YOU.

2. Do your best. Work hard, play hard, get enough sleep.

3. Talk to people—really talk to them. Set your phone aside; then don’t look at it. Look at the people who are with you. And listen to them. Be in communion with them.

4. Make each day your masterpiece. (I love this one; I’m stealing it, friends!) If it’s cold out (it’s been cold out, right?!), bundle up and make the most of it. EMBRACE LIFE. There are no do-overs, girls.

5. Count your blessings.

A quote I’ve always liked—and I’ve probably shared it before—is Willie Nelson’s: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” You forgot something. You got bad news. Things aren’t perfect. Yet…

You have so much. You have so much, girls. You have so much, friends.

It can be difficult, though, to feel grateful. For me personally, there have been times in my life when I’ve been down. I can’t know for sure, because I never spoke to anyone professionally, but I’m fairly certain there were times when I was depressed.

Even during those difficult times—which I’m so thankful to have walked through and have left behind—I had moments of clarity when I knew, consciously, that life is good. I struggled with counting my blessings, so I tried to “be a blessing,” so to speak, to others. I tried to be kind to the people around me. I tried to write stories that would make people smile, or laugh, or feel uplifted.

As it turns out, blessing others with kindness can help turn your life around too. At least, it turned out this way for me.

When you’re raising a child, you have empathy for those who are doing the same. There’s a kinship, a kindness, a respect.

I would make that my next main guiding principle:

6. Be a blessing to others.

Or, simply: 6. Be kind. Give love away (to quote another great musician, MC Yogi).

One day you’re riding in the back of the car, horrified that your mom forgot your sneakers. But what will people think? Then in a blink, it seems, you’re up front, driving.

From your vantage point behind the wheel, you have a better sense of what people will think.

Did she care?

Did he try?

Did they show up?

You did?

Then you’re standing on solid ground, friends.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

That Was the Place: Here Comes Memory

Stanton, the girls and I spent Christmas at my parents’ house in my hometown near Scranton, Pa. On Christmas Eve, the two of us headed out for a rare, much-appreciated date at a local café, leaving Grace and Anna in the capable hands of my mom, dad and three siblings.

We were on Bennett Street when Stanton turned onto Wyoming Avenue. Out the window, on the right, was Abe’s Hot Dogs, a local institution. Stanton nodded to it. “Have you ever been there?”

“Of course,” I said. Then I frowned. “Haven’t I ever taken you there?”

Stanton shook his head.

“Never?”

“Nope,” Stanton said, continuing the drive along “the Ave,” as it’s known. “You don’t like hot dogs,” he added, frowning back at me.

I assured him that Abe’s Hot Dogs were amazing. Abe’s was closed for Christmas Eve, but I promised my standing date of 15+ years that we’d drop in next time. “You’ll love it,” I said.

Stanton isn’t a picky eater, so he agreed. We stopped at a red light. He gestured to the right again. “There’s your library,” he said.

There it was indeed—the Hoyt Library, where the bookworm in me spent many happy hours (pun intended!) as a kid. “Oh, man, it’s closed too,” I noted. I would have loved to have ducked in for a minute.

“Ah, too bad,” Stanton said. But he’s not a bookworm; I knew he didn’t care.

The light turned green, and we continued on.

“My old high school is…”

“Right over there,” Stanton finished for me. He smiled over at me. “I know.”

I had shown Stanton all these places many times before. All the places that, when I was young, meant a lot to me. Hole-in-the-wall hot-dog stand, reader’s paradise, school.

That was the place we got lunch at in the summer. That was the place where I won my first writing award. That was the place I grew up.

That was the place.

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A few days after Christmas, my brothers, sister and I went out for dinner—our new-ish tradition, an annual siblings dinner.

Food has always played a big role in our family, since we were little. Partly because of our Italian-American heritage. Everyone knows Italians make the best food. Just kidding, friends! (For the most part… 🙂 ) More practically, we were a family of six, and the kids were always asking—and our parents always wondering—“What are we all going to eat?”

So my siblings and I went out to eat together. Sharing a meal—at first glance, the practice may seem ordinary. In my experience, though, it’s far from it.

To me, there’s something special about a dinner table. The physical space—the table—and the people gathered around it. This gathering place gives people the chance to see one another…to nourish the bonds of family and friendship…to acknowledge the gift of one another in our lives.

I read once that “your presence is your present,” as wording for a birthday party invitation. For me, that rings true not just for birthday parties and holidays, but for everyday life. What we want, for the most part, is for the ones we love to be there.

To be where?

To be…right there. The place where we gather as a family…even if just for a few minutes. All those places that seem so ordinary—the fast-food restaurant, the library, school—that, 34 years later, we’re telling the person who’s ended up beside us, “That place once meant something to me.” Probably it still does mean something.

I hugged Josh, Jared and Jenna goodbye on New Year’s Eve. “I loved seeing you all,” I said.

“I can’t wait to read about myself in your next blog post,” Jared replied. (I’m happy for him that he has a healthy sense of self-esteem.)

Well, here it is, bro. Thank you (and Josh, and Jenna) for showing up for dinner. Thank you for making the time, for sticking around, for telling stories that made us laugh.

What have we done with our time if we don’t have laugh-out-loud stories to show for it?

If we don’t have people to share our stories with?

Thanks for being my people.

What we want, for the most part, is for the ones we love to be there. To be where? To be…right there.

New Year’s Eve, earlier this week. Stanton and I were driving together again, back home to New York. From my parents’ house to our home in the Capital Region, we drive through the Hudson River Valley. The nature along this stretch of highway is breathtaking.

All the greenery, along with the car ride, reminded me of the drive we used to make from our first home together, in Richmond, Va., north to my parents’ house. Back then, we’d drive along 64 West and eventually 81 North (preferring an alternate route to the traffic along 95!).

Somewhere between Point A and Point B was a Cracker Barrel that I always wanted to stop at. Sometimes we did; sometimes we didn’t. Stanton likes to get places; I don’t mind scenic routes.

We knew it was there, though, that Cracker Barrel.

We are still somewhat new to this chapter in our life, to New York. We don’t yet have favorite pit stops along our Hudson River Valley drive.

The girls were napping in the backseat. Stanton and I were listening to the radio; yes, country. Outside was cold, but sunny.

“At some point, we’ll have places we’ve been before,” I said. “A favorite rest stop. A scenic overlook we always go to.”

He smiled at me. “You know how much I like scenic overlooks.”

“Ha…ha.”

Stanton laughed, squeezed my hand. “I’m not worried about it, Mel.”

Because of course, the places do come, and the memories too.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Unexpected People Who Come to Mean a Lot

Every three or four days, I find myself at the local grocery store. I would prefer to get everything our family of four needs for the week in one big trip. Inevitably, though, we run out of milk, or Scotch tape, or coffee filters—something—and I dash over to Hannaford for whatever it is we need.

Of course, while I’m there, I end up picking up a few other things we “need”—happens every time, right, friends?

The Hannaford I go to is a fairly compact store, and I’m there at least twice a week, so I’ve gotten to know the staff pretty well. One of my favorite people is a gentleman named Rick, who works in the deli. As time has gone on, our chitchat has progressed from how I’d like my pound of turkey sliced to how our children are doing. Rick often sees me in the store with my kids, and I’ve bumped into him around the neighborhood with his. The experience of parenthood is a unifying one, an easy and natural common denominator for conversation between folks.

The last time we saw each other—Saturday morning—I told Rick that Anna had not slept well the night before. “Stanton and I ended up bringing her into bed with us, and then she kicked us the whole night,” I said.

Rick smiled and told me he and his wife had been there, too. We chatted for another minute before he finished up my order. Before I left the deli, we told each other to have a nice day, and see you soon.

The experience of parenthood is a unifying one, an easy and natural common denominator for conversation between folks.

There are everyday places in our world that we come to depend on—for example, the grocery store. Over time, these places—and the people we come to know there—weave a meaningful role into the fabric of our life. The places and the people root us in a position of belonging, of community, of “home.”

Think of how disoriented you feel, how out of place, when you swing by a grocery store you don’t usually go to. What should be a 10-minute errand spirals into half an hour of wandering past unfamiliar endcaps and asking people you don’t know, “What aisle is the ketchup in?” (You know where the ketchup is in your store.)

For a lot of us, our grocery store probably is one of the everyday places that mean something to us.

For me, the street I live on is one of those places, too. Two other moms whose kiddos go to school with Grace live on our street. When I see them during the week—even if just for a minute or two—I know I can count on their kindness, their neighborliness and their knowledge of what’s going on at school. When we exchange pleasantries with our neighbors in the morning, or at the end of the day, we may not realize the unconscious way we appreciate one another’s warmth—or, simply, one another’s being there.

Just knowing people are there can provide comfort, security, peace of mind.

Mailbox

One of the challenges for me, in being a mostly stay-at-home mom, is that I’m an extrovert, and I miss having “my people” as working parents do: co-workers, colleagues, clients. When I do work (write), I often set up shop in a place where other people will be around. The liveliness of everyone else energizes me, even though we’re not talking to one another. I still feel community.

I shared with you all last time that I write in a nearby library when Anna is in preschool. On weekends when Stanton is playing with both girls, I like to go to a coffee shop in our town.

All through the fall, I ordered the coffee shop’s seasonal blend, Vermont maple. (Delicious, friends.) Now that it’s winter, I’ve been asking the folks behind the counter to pour me whatever is the hottest—whatever coffee just finished brewing.

On my most recent visit, a new employee told me that would be the Ethiopian. Fine, I said. Then Livia, whom I met when we first moved here, interjected.

“I think you should try our holiday blend,” she said, adding that she was brewing a fresh pot. “I know how much you liked the Vermont maple; I think you’ll like this one, too.”

Sounds great, I said. And it was.

The places and the people root us in a position of belonging, of community, of “home.”

At first glance, conversations like this may seem like nothing special. Try this coffee, Livia says. How are your kids? Rick asks.

But they do mean something. They do.

We can mean something to the people around us, too. We can be the people that others count on—for a kind word, a helping hand, whatever small gesture we might offer that actually may be making a difference in someone else’s life.

Maybe it’s because Christmas is just around the corner, or maybe it’s because I’m usually sentimental anyway…but I believe that when we put our positive energy out into the world, good things happen. We make good things happen for others. And good things can come back to us.

The 19th-century chemist Humphy Davy once said, “Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.”

Happy Holidays, friends, and best wishes for every good thing in the New Year.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.