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.

This Is the Part Where You Save the Day (Again)

A couple of Friday nights every month, Stanton, the girls and I have Family Movie Night. We borrow this cozy idea from friends of ours, who do it with their own three children. Probably other families (maybe yours?) have made it a tradition in their homes too.

One Friday recently, the four of us settled in together on the couch and turned on “Frozen.” The girls have watched the Nordic-inspired story many times before; Stanton and I haven’t seen it that much, but we pretty much can harmonize on “Let It Go” by heart. Still, it’s a good movie, and we didn’t mind watching it again.

At one point in “Frozen,” (our) Anna smiled and said, “This is the part I love.” The part, of course, was when Elsa hugs an ice-cold Anna, and the sisters’ love for each other saves them both—and saves the day for everybody.

“‘This is the part I love'” made me smile. Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Sometimes Grace will tell me how much she likes different teachers at her school, some of whom she hasn’t had yet. I’ll ask why. Every time, she’ll reply, “They know me.”

To be known—it’s a beautiful thing.

Favorite movies, favorite traditions, beloved people and places—they’re what make life sweet.

Many a weekday morning, I hustle Grace outside, my hair still wet from my shower, and watch as she walks down the block to the bus stop. I wait in our yard until I see her get on the bus. Anna, meanwhile, often is tapping on the front bay window from inside, saying she’s hungry for a second breakfast before her school starts, 30 minutes later.

Approximately 9 a.m., Monday through Friday: always a fun time.

I bump into various neighbors almost every morning around this time. Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet, yelling for your younger daughter to just get an apple, or a cheese stick, or “Fine, leftover Halloween candy is fine!” from the kitchen while watching down the block to confirm that your older daughter has safely boarded the school bus.

For better or worse, there are a handful of people on this earth who really know me. 😉

Once I said to one of these people, “For the record, I realize I look crazy every morning.”

“I’m not judging you if you’re not judging me,” he replied, which struck me as both kind and wise.

Possibly nobody really knows you until they’ve seen you standing outside your house at 9 a.m., hair still wet…

One morning recently, Stanton was heading out a little later than usual. I felt less rushed, having him around, another adult in the house. I was in the kitchen making the girls’ lunches, sipping some coffee, when I overheard him amiably ask them, “So, what time does school start, girls?”

My.heart.nearly.stopped.

Did my husband—their dad—really not know the answer to that question?

I peered into the family room. “Honey…are you serious?”

Stanton held up his hands. “What?”

Thoughts began tumbling across my mind, one after the other. Nothing can ever happen to me. I can’t die, ever…or at least not until Grace and Anna have graduated from high school. If anything happens to me, they’ll never get to school on time…or soccer practice…or doctors’ appointments…

“Mel, just tell me, and then I’ll know,” Stanton said.

“Stan, how could you not have known?”

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This wasn’t, however, the hill I was going to die on, friends. It was a difference between Stanton and me, and possibly many other moms and many other dads. It was a difference, perhaps, in the same way that I never lock the bathroom door—just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in—while Stanton locks the door every time.

On the other hand, giving credit where credit is due, Stanton excels in other areas that aren’t my strengths. For example, he plays games all the time with our daughters. Actual games, like Crazy Chefs and Trouble, and make-believe games such as cops and robbers.

I, however, am not a big games person. Go to a park? Yes. Read stacks of books at the library? Count me in. Walk to a coffee shop? I’m there.

Break out the Pete the Cat Groovy Buttons board game, or you-pretend-to-be-Elsa-and-I’ll-be-Anna? Oh…only because I love you.

Grace and Anna have also (already!) shared they want their dad to teach them how to drive, about a decade from now. “Because you don’t know how to parallel park, Mom.”

I mean…truth. I haven’t parallel parked since the day I got my driver’s license. Thus, on numerous occasions over the years, I’ve deposited my car many blocks away from my destination to avoid parallel parking.

“Totally fine if you’d like Dad to teach you how to drive.” I’m not much of a games person, and not much of a car person either.

…just last week while I was showering, Anna pleasantly announced, “I’m barging in, Mom!” before barging in…

I’ve had my car, a Honda CR-V, for nine years now…and I’m still not exactly sure what all the buttons are for. I know how to start my car (not sure if this goes without saying… 😉 ). And turn on the radio, and click open the fuel tank—all the top-priority stuff. Some of the other dials and gauges, though…yeah, not too clear on all that.

This past Tuesday, Grace had her after-school performing arts class, as usual. I had been working from home all day, so hadn’t driven anywhere yet, which meant there was still ice on my car windshield from the particularly cold morning. “I really thought the sunlight would have melted this by now,” I told the girls.

Ask anybody: Sometimes I overestimate the power of natural sunlight.

I hadn’t defrosted the windshield since last winter, and was pretty sure but not positive which buttons to press. I pressed them, and not much happened.

“Mom, am I going to be late?” Grace wondered.

“Sweetheart, I promise, everything here is under control.” I frowned at the dashboard.

Anna laughed. “Everything is not under control, Mom.”

Who doesn’t love a backseat driver?

Stanton was at a meeting in Boston. I called him. He didn’t answer. I called him again. Still no answer. So what did I do?

Exactly, I called him a third time. Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call. And this time, mine did.

I explained what was happening. Stanton listened and confirmed I had pressed the right buttons. “Just wait,” he said, “and the windshield will defrost.”

Suddenly, the windshield wipers began swishing back and forth. What the heck? When had I turned those on? Grace and Anna started laughing. “MOM!”

But the windshield had defrosted, and the girls and I were good to go. Problem solved.

Eventually, a husband will answer his wife’s hammer call.

I do my best to stay calm, solve problems. Sometimes I even save the day. Like this past Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the windshield situation.

“Whoops, Mom, I have a problem,” Anna called.

“What’s wrong, honey?” I was looking through notes, preparing for a conference call.

“I just went to the potty and accidentally dropped my bracelet in the toilet. Can you get it?”

Why? Why do things like this happen, and at the worst possible times?

No worries, friends. I’ll spare you the details of my heroics with the bracelet-in-the-toilet situation. That story ended, however, with this quote:

“Thanks for saving the day, Mom!”

But I mean…that’s what moms do, right? Time after time, over and over. We all know how the story goes, our own recurring Family Movie Night.

This is the part where you save the day (again).

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.

Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

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I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

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.

Thank God for 4th Birthdays: The Blessing in the Everyday

The church that Stanton, the girls and I attend offers a “children’s time” in the beginning of each service. Two Sundays ago, our pastor led the youngster-focused sermon, which takes place on the steps near the altar. Her message centered on love, and loving one another even though differences may exist among us.

At the end of the sermon, someone raised their hand. From where we were sitting, Stanton and I couldn’t see who it was. The pastor asked, “Yes, do you have a question?”

A familiar voice replied, “I turned four.”

Laughter rippled throughout the church. Stanton looked at me. “Was that Anna?”

“Of course that was Anna,” I said, smiling and shaking my head.

The pastor laughed and kindly said to our younger daughter, “That’s wonderful, that’s a milestone.” Then Reverend Amy asked all of us to pray with her.

She began her prayer by saying, “Thank you, God, for fourth birthdays.” She continued with gratitude for other things, and prayed for bigger things, like unity.

It’s funny, and sweet, how simple (and, well, self-focused) a young child’s outlook on life can be. You want to talk about diversity and unity, finding common ground and/or meeting in the middle? Well…OK, but, I mean…I just turned four, you know.

For Anna’s birthday, we invited a few friends over for a very low-key gathering of unicorn-themed arts and crafts, games, and cupcakes. I am an anxious hostess; I worry constantly that everyone is having a good time, especially the birthday girl.

A side note: My husband may have something to do with my party-planning anxiety. The morning of Anna’s birthday gathering, Stanton turned to me, cup of coffee in hand, and said, “So, when is Anna’s party? What time are we doing that?”

I just looked at him, friends. Just…looked at him.

After the party that day, I knelt down beside Anna. She was sucking on one of the lollipops we had stuffed into the unicorn piñata earlier in the day. (Of course there was a unicorn piñata.) “Did you have fun?” I asked hopefully. “How are you feeling?”

Anna pulled the lollipop out of her mouth and smiled at me. “Happy.”

I turned four. Happy. A lot of times, simplicity hits the spot—no grand gestures or big words needed.

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Fourth birthdays are worth remembering, though, are worth saying thank-you for. There’s a lot of blessing in the everyday.

Certainly we celebrate big milestones, and frame and mount above our fireplace mantels the professionally photographed and Photoshopped memories of wedding days, graduations and family reunions. But everyday moments? Those candid-camera shots of high fives and group hugs after winning the neighborhood bar’s Trivia Night, and quiet, contented camaraderie as dusk winds down a backyard barbecue? These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is, ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough,” attributed to a 13th-century theologian, Meister Eckhart. Now, I’m not a theologian, and I more comfortably identify as spiritual than specifically religious. This is probably why I feel this quote so much.

Thank you.

Two words, short and sweet. Simplicity, yet gratitude. Grace.

As a prayer, “Thank you” acknowledges something besides ourselves, and beyond ourselves. It doesn’t delve into doctrine, or get caught up in policies and procedures. Doesn’t split hairs about what various Scriptures may or may not mean. “Thank you” simply…acknowledges.

Despite its simplicity, “Thank you” is mighty. “Thank you” acknowledges, I didn’t do this myself. I’ve messed up, I’ve made mistakes, and yet here by the grace of beauty beyond my control and comprehension, this good thing came into my life.

I feel this way about my children, as many parents do. When I kiss Grace good night, or hold Anna’s hand until she falls asleep, I often think, Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Possibly I’m lazy in my relationship with my God. Maybe I should put more time into praying more eloquently. Lord knows I’ll rewrite a blog post, short story or magazine article until I feel the words are just right.

I mean it when I say I may be a spiritually and/or religiously lazy person. I’m not just saying that to be humorously self-deprecating. Saying you subscribe to spirituality, grace and, “Thank you”—just keeping it simple over here, folks!—can be a cop-out for addressing hard questions head-on. Letting yourself off the hook. (I have been known to cringe when conflict and hard questions arise, in other areas of my life.)

At the same time—and I mean this part, too—the times I have felt closest to God have been simple, everyday moments. Kissing my children good night. Picking blueberries with my family at Indian Ladder Farms, mountains majesty behind us.

My most heartfelt prayers have not been recitations of venerable benedictions and creeds, but words like, “Thank you.”

The blessing in the everyday.

These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

Another simple prayer, which I would guess is very popular, is, “Please.” Please let it be OK. Please don’t go until I get there to say goodbye. We often don’t even finish the sentence beyond the first word. Please. Please. Please.

“Please” and “thank you.” It may not be a coincidence that our most turned-to, from-the-heart prayers are these simple social graces we learned as children.

If you think about it, seemingly simple words help us express ourselves in the most profound moments of our lives. They are the words (and the prayers) we turn to when nothing else—nothing bigger, nothing better—will do.

Please.

Thank you.

Happy.

I do.

Sorry.

Hello.

Goodbye.

I love you.

Thank God for fourth birthdays.

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.

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.”

cheers-839865_1920

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.