Favorite Family Movies (or, Why We Just Watched Fletch for the 20th Time)

The week of Christmas, my parents’ house. Both girls had fallen asleep. Stanton and I sat with my two brothers and sister in the family room. The conversation topic at hand: what movie to watch.

We scrolled through the options on Netflix. I had read good things about “Bird Box,” and “Carol.” Jenna and I, halfheartedly, suggested “Love Actually” (predictably, Stanton, Josh and Jared groaned their dissent). None of these options, however, was ever a serious contender. We all knew—all five of us—that we would, in the end, settle on something we’d seen many times before.

That night, we watched “Fletch,” the ’80s cult classic starring Chevy Chase as investigative journalist Irwin M. Fletcher (and multiple aliases).

Chevy Chase once said Fletch was his favorite role. Personally, I prefer him as Clark Griswold. “Christmas Vacation” is another favorite in my family’s (admittedly short) list of beloved motion pictures. Sometimes, my dad and I even have text conversations consisting entirely of “Christmas Vacation” quotes. (“If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.”)

I loved watching “Fletch” once again too, though. I enjoyed seeing Tim Matheson as Alan Stanwyck, before he was John Hoynes. His back-and-forth with Fletch still made me laugh. (“Do you own rubber gloves?” “I rent. I have a lease, with an option to buy.”) And still, I’m not entirely clear on the LAPD/drug trafficking story line, but that doesn’t impede my enjoyment of the film. It doesn’t matter, to me.

Why? Because “Fletch” is familiar—comfort food, in a way. And I would never think to watch it on my own, without my family. It wouldn’t be as fun: no one to quote punch lines with, no one to laugh with. No shared history, or memories, or paper plates of Doritos (a guilty pleasure, a few times a year).

Favorite family movies. We all have them. (What are yours?)

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While we were all together (in addition to rewatching “Fletch”), Stanton, my siblings and I took part in a local pizza place’s Trivia Night. Our team name? I Don’t Know, Margo, in reference to a “Christmas Vacation” quote (and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character, pre-“Seinfeld”). Of course our team name referenced a favorite family movie quote.

Trivia Night together was a lot of fun. Mostly because we had my brother Josh on our team, I Don’t Know, Margo, won. As we walked to our car afterward, Jenna led us in singing, “We Are the Champions.”

Yes, we were that family. 😉

That family, friends, similar to so many others. All with their share of joys, disappointments and inside jokes. And still coming together again, holiday after holiday, year after year, despite any distances or differences.

After our own Christmas vacation, Stanton, the girls and I got ready to head home. We all hugged one another goodbye. My sister told Anna, “I’ll miss you so much!”

Anna, 3 years old, smiled, shouted, “I’ll be back!” and ran out the front door. Anna makes me smile all the time, and I smiled then too.

“I’ll be back!”—this sentiment sums up why we watch the same old movies again and again. They take us back. Back in time, to a younger, more innocent, less complicated time. When everyone with whom we started out shared the same family room, the same TV.

Favorite family movies bring us forward and keep us together too. We look forward to the special-occasion and everyday reunions that encourage gathering, reminiscing…and cherished-movie rewatching (critics’ reviews, Rotten Tomatoes ratings and actors’ real lives notwithstanding).

“I’ll be back!”—this sentiment sums up why we watch the same old movies again and again. They take us back.

For all our movie watching (and rewatching), Stanton, the girls and I never actually watched a movie together, as a family of four. Kind of crazy, right? When the girls are watching TV, though, we try to get other things done.

We decided to have a super lazy, super cozy New Year’s Eve at home, doing something we’d never done: finally watch a movie together. I made French bread pizza beforehand, and Stanton built a fire in the fireplace. The four of us got comfy on the couch and watched “Beauty and the Beast” (the animated version). The girls had never seen it before and loved it, and Stanton and I enjoyed seeing it again. It was a really simple, really sweet time together, and maybe the start of our own tradition.

Later, after we tucked the girls into bed, Stanton and I tuned in to some of the Times Square Ball Drop news. The New Year’s Eve countdown was on, and winding down. In that moment, I felt an incredible sense of gratitude for my family.

For Stanton, there with me, and our daughters, upstairs. Both our sets of parents and grandmas, our siblings and their families, and our friends who are like family. We’re so lucky for all this love in our life.

When I think about life, and what it is and what it means, the first thing I think is beautiful. And the second thing is fragile.

I try to take care, then, with life and the people in it. I’ve made lots of mistakes, could always be a better person. I do try, though, to seek good, to give love.

Love is the little things. Watching (or rewatching) a movie with family. Speaking kindly to grocery-store cashiers, rather than checking our phones. Basically, being there for people…those we know and those we don’t. Being present.

Why not be present this New Year? Even if we already know all the punch lines.

“Those are three names I enjoy: Marvin, Velma and Provo.”

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.

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You Look Like You Have People With You

Most Sunday mornings, our family of four attends the 9:30 service at a neighborhood church. We very much appreciate the warm community we’ve found there, and the chance to take a seat, take a breath, reflect. And…the girls don’t sleep in, so by 9:30, we’ve already been awake for hours. (“What are we going to do now, Mom?”)

A fellowship follows the service. As the talented pianist plays the postlude, Grace and Anna make a beeline for the hall where tables of cookies, fruit and juice await.

One Sunday recently, they dashed off as usual, Stanton close behind. I gathered up our coats, hats and water bottles. I shrugged my own coat on, and noticed that one of the buttons was loose. Something to take care of…some other time.

I reached the fellowship hall, and bumped into a fellow congregant. He smiled. “You look like you have people with you,” he said, gesturing to my arms full of stuff.

I smiled back. “I do, somewhere in here.” Then I added, “I love that quote; it would be a great title for a blog post.”

He joked that he’d have to be careful what he said around me. “I don’t disparage people in my writing,” I promised. But I can’t help when inspiration strikes.

This is that post, friends.

I’ve been wanting to write this post since that Sunday. It’s been at least three weeks now, maybe four. Other things seemed to keep popping up, most of them related to the people I have with me.

At times, our people’s stuff can weigh us down (all those coats!). The weight can be physical, or emotional. Then a moment might happen that makes it all feel worth it.

This happened to me, just yesterday evening. Snow began falling around 6 p.m. The girls thrust their hands toward the front bay window. “Look, Mom, look! Maybe school will be closed tomorrow. We can build a snow girl together!”

I very nearly cried. Because Stanton has been traveling for work since Monday morning. All of us are traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving this weekend. There was already no school on Monday because of Veterans Day, and all I wanted was a few hours today to finish cleaning, packing and maybe even writing…alone.

I did not want…to build a snow girl.

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Later that night, I tucked Grace into bed, and then Anna. Anna wrapped her little arms around my neck. “I love every part of you, even your eyeballs,” she said.

“Awww, thank you, honey.” I kissed her good night, and then lay beside her until she was asleep, our heads sharing a pillow.

When I looked at Anna, her breathing gentle in the moonlight-burnished room, her hand on mine, I felt a deep sense of gratitude, for both my daughters. For their good health, their safety, who they are.

When I think of my family, I think of a lyric from an old song I used to like (and one you may remember) called “Butterfly Kisses.” Bob Carlisle sings, “With all that I’ve done wrong, I must have done something right”—to deserve the love in his life, specifically his daughter.

I feel this way, completely. For as good as I may look on the outside (my frequent 9:30 church attendance and all), I could do and could have done better, kinder. I am lucky to have my people, and all their stuff.

“I love every part of you, even your eyeballs.”

When Stanton isn’t home, I usually sleep upstairs with the girls, in Anna’s bed. I’m right there if they need me. One night this week, Grace woke up with a bad dream, so I switched beds to talk with her and sleep beside her. A few hours later, Anna awoke and noticed I was missing. “MOM!!!”

We were all pretty tired by the end of that day, so I turned on “The Boss Baby” for the girls. I watched some of it with them.

I really like this movie (any other grown-ups want to join me in that admission? 😉 ).  I love the brothers’ shared quote, at the end: “Every morning you wake up, I’ll be there. Every night at dinner, I’ll be there. Every Christmas, I’ll be there. Year after year after year. We will grow old together.”

The sentiment in these words speaks to having “people.” Friends, family, those we love. Relationships oblige give and take—from lots-of-coats holding and snow girl-building, to end-of-day movie watching and good-night kissing.

We all appreciate solo moments when we can recharge. Sometimes, we may not get as many of these moments as we like. It’s a beautiful consolation prize, though, to have folks who are there for us…year after year after year.

Now excuse me, friends, while I go help build a snow girl.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

I Can’t Picture You Old

My mom and dad came to visit, this past weekend. It was wonderful to see one another.

On Saturday afternoon, I smiled as I watched my dad play soccer with Stanton and the girls. They passed Grace’s gray, much-kicked soccer ball around the backyard. Every so often, one of them scored in the portable goal, which Stanton had set up to the right of a cluster of maple trees.

Later, my parents said they would get good rest that night. I complimented my dad on his enduring soccer skills. Years earlier, he had coached my brothers’ youth soccer teams. Then my mom noted that my dad wasn’t as young as he used to be.

For a moment, I really had to pause. Then I shook my head. “I can’t picture you old,” I told my dad, and my mom.

For me—and maybe for a lot of us—we think of our moms and dads as ageless. Or, if not ageless exactly, then we think of them as always there. This is how I think of my parents, anyway.

I can’t imagine a time in which I don’t receive an email from my dad, in which he signs it “GG”—short for Gordon Gekko, a reference to “Wall Street.” My family and I joke that my dad has only ever seen the same handful of movies over and over again (“Wall Street” among them, right up there with “Rocky” and “The Godfather”). In my replies back to my dad, I sign off with “Bud,” the name of Gekko’s protégé—all old, inane inside jokes, because we’re nothing like these movie characters.

When I check my email, I consider it a given that a note from my “GG” will be somewhere in the mix, just as I have faith that my mom will answer her phone every time I call. You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith.

You might be right.

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While I can’t picture my parents “old,” I have noticed some aging on my husband’s part (sorry, buddy). Stanton’s hair has thinned a bit in the back. “Wow,” I said, the first time I noticed.

“Thanks, Mel,” he replied.

The past few years have been somewhat of a downhill slog for me too, cosmetically speaking. Case in point: I really should work on my abs. With the best of intentions, I got a kickboxing DVD that promises it will help sculpt them. All I have to do is get up early enough to sweep, squat, kick…but I choose sleep every time. Let’s hashtag it, friends: #hopelesscause.

You might say I live at the intersection of Naïveté and Blind Faith. You might be right.

While my parents were here, Stanton and I enjoyed a rare brunch date at the Iron Gate Cafe in downtown Albany. This is one of our favorite local restaurants. We sat at a table for two alongside an exposed-brick wall, and had many cups of coffee as we talked.

When you’re the parents of young children, it can be tricky to truly “talk.” Conversations often focus on logistics—who needs a dentist appointment, what time Parents Night at the elementary school starts, when is the absolute latest we can mail in the soccer-picture-order form. So over Stanton’s Bacado omelet and my breakfast BLT, we really appreciated the time and space we had to break bread, literally and figuratively.

We did talk about the girls, of course. And about my writing and his work, and future trips we wanted to take together. “We’ve got to see Maine,” I said, and Stanton agreed.

As we talked, I noticed that everyone around us was talking too. Folks at the other tables were gathered together…talking. Enjoying one another’s company, as well as the food.

I’ve become so accustomed to seeing people take pictures of themselves and their surroundings, wherever I am, that I was actually struck by the talking/non-picture-taking. How awesome, I thought, for all these people to be engaged with their families and friends. To be present.

In so many ways, it’s healthy to be present. And to live in the present. To appreciate the time we have right now, because the truth is, time ticks away from us, quietly yet relentlessly.

How awesome…To be present.

When my daughters are older, one thing I want to pass along to them is to appreciate men like their dad, and mine. Men who value good conversation, and listen to them (and don’t mind unsculpted abs). Men who get outside and revel in the fresh air, rather than get lost in their phones, TV’s and other toys. Kind, hearty men.

Across the ages, some things stay timeless. Honesty, courage, respect for humanity and the Earth that sustains us all. Those values don’t grow old.

In the face of our humanness and impermanence, sometimes the best we can do for our children and families is live the morals of the stories we tell.

Before my parents headed back to Pennsylvania, we all gathered in the breakfast nook. We had some coffee and apple cider doughnuts from nearby Kleinke’s Farm (another excellent local stop). Anna was telling us about her preschool, and my dad joked that his early childhood education came from the School of Hard Knocks.

“Huh?”

“I’m kidding, sweetheart.” My dad smiled at Anna. “Pop didn’t go to preschool.”

“Poor Pop!”

I smiled at my daughter, and my dad. I love my dad incredibly, and throughout all these years, this is what I’ve learned from listening to my dad’s stories—these have been the morals of his stories: Bring people together. Make them comfortable, make them feel welcome, make them laugh.

The content of the story doesn’t matter so much as the context. School of Hard Knocks or creative nonfiction or a story made up at bedtime, it doesn’t matter. What matters is making people feel better because you were there, gathered together with your story.

I can’t picture you old.

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.

Time to Stop Being Jealous

Summertime is here, along with its pervasive supply of Popsicles—in our house, at least. One afternoon, the girls asked for their favorite ice-cold snack. “Please, please, please, Mom?”

It takes the girls roughly 10 minutes to finish a Popsicle, which translates into 10 minutes’ peace for me. Not quite eternity, but still somewhat heavenly for a mom (right, moms?). Thus, I said yes to Popsicles.

Grace chose strawberry, Anna lime. Lime is my personal favorite, summer’s virgin version of a frozen margarita. But I wasn’t sure Anna would like it.

“I love green, Mom,” my 3-year-old assured me.

“Hmmm, how about red this time?”

“I love green!”

Five seconds later… “Mom, green is bleh. How about red?”

I helped myself to the lime Popsicle, and gave Anna strawberry, like Grace…who had something to say, right away.

Lime is my personal favorite, summer’s virgin version of a frozen margarita.

“That isn’t fair,” Grace protested. “Anna got two Popsicles. That means I get another one, too.”

I willed myself to be patient. “No…”

“Red is better than green,” Anna announced, helpfully.

Grace glared at Anna. “You are so frustrating.”

Anna slurped on her red. “Don’t freak out,” she replied.

(My daughters spend so much time with me, they’ve adopted my predominant figures of speech as their own.)

“Mom!”

“Grace.” I sighed. “Anna made a mistake…”

“She always makes a mistake.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Girls!”

Oh…summer.

I wish I could share, at this point in the story, that the three of us, my dear daughters and I, sat down together on the front porch. Engaged in a no-raised-voices conversation about gratitude, and getting along with your sister, as an early-evening June breeze tousled our trio of ponytails. What happened in real life, however, is…

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“Life isn’t fair, Grace,” I snapped. “You have a Popsicle; be happy with what you have. Did you even say, ‘Thank you,’ for it? Worry about yourself. It’s time to stop being jealous of your sister.”

My 6-year-old pouted.

Anna, meanwhile, kept slurping. “Yeah, Grace.”

“And you…” I frowned at Anna. “No more green Popsicles for you. And you need to remember to say, ‘Thank you, too.”

The girls called a (somewhat grudging) truce.

As we grow up, somewhere along the road, we do learn the futility—the uselessness, the emptiness—in trying to keep track that the count is “fair.” One for you, one for me. Another one for you, another one for me. Life doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes you’re ahead; sometimes you’re not. Once in a while there’s a tie, but much of the time, there’s a winner…and there’s the rest of us. Or, we “win” in different ways, at different times. Everyone has their own vision of a blue ribbon, their own personal picture of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

…somewhere along the road, we do learn the futility—the uselessness, the emptiness—in trying to keep track that the count is “fair.”

Stanton and I recently received the latest issue of our college’s alumni magazine. Now, there’s a lesson in humility. Flip to the back of your alumni magazine, where your classmates can send in news from their postgraduation journeys, and compare their biographical highlights to your own. (I never do this, of course. 😉 )

There are people my age, people I know, who have become law partners and head coaches, who have made Forbes lists, who have fostered children and fought for social justice and made big differences in the world…already. Moments like these, I sigh with face-saving relief that I didn’t email in a note about my newest self-published e-book release. Because when you start comparing one set of circumstances to another, finding parallels—and remembering what matters—become difficult.

Which is why the most fulfilling course of action is to focus on your life. What you’re holding in your hands. This is what I believe, anyway, and it’s what I hope to impart to my children.

A quote I’ve always liked is this one, from Willie Nelson: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” I don’t think you need to be a hippie, country-music fan or churchgoer to appreciate the truth in his message. The message of looking at the good in your life, really seeing it, and feeling gratitude.

I understand, though, if it may take a source more credible than Willie Nelson to make an impression. So consider this fact from Harvard Medical School: “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” The University of California at Berkeley recommends writing in a gratitude journal three times weekly, as a practicable guide to cultivating gratitude in your life.

Count your blessings, not other kids’ Popsicles—the kindergarten version of this life lesson, perhaps.

The message of looking at the good in your life, really seeing it, and feeling gratitude.

Grace just finished up kindergarten. She loved kindergarten, and I’m deeply grateful for that, for her wonderful teacher and school. I’ve shared before that one of my favorite books is All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.

My undergraduate and graduate degrees in English obliged me to read all the classics, to discover and appreciate everyone and everything from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Toni Morrison. Still, I’m not ashamed to admit that Robert Fulghum’s little book of essays is one of the few pieces of literature I turn to (return to) time and again. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten strikes a chord with me.

During one season in his life, Robert Fulghum was a minister. He writes, “I am sometimes amazed at what we did not fully grasp in kindergarten…I was always taken aback when someone came to me and said, ‘I’ve just come from the doctor, and he told me I have only a limited time to live'” (page 6).

He goes on to recall, “I was tempted to shout, ‘What? You didn’t know…Where were you the week in kindergarten when you got the little cup with the cotton and water and seed? Life happened—remember? A plant grew up and the roots grew down…a few days later the plant was dead…Life is short. Were you asleep that week or home sick or what?'”

Life is short. Time is limited. The little cup, the water and the seed.

Anna actually got her cup, water and seed this past school year too…in preschool.

From a very young age, we all understand that our time here has an expiration date. We don’t know when, exactly. But we know life is not for forever.

Why would we ever choose to spend…the precious time we have…being jealous of someone else? When right in front of us, more often than not, we have abundance upon abundance upon abundance?

The past couple of years, I’ve been lucky to be able to spend some good time with my grandmother. She turned 90 earlier this month, as I shared last time. My Grandma lives in a personal-care facility now. Do you know what I’ve noticed, friends, when I’ve gone to visit my Grandma there?

I’ve noticed that pictures—lots and lots of pictures—adorn the walls and decorate the desktops of my Grandma’s room, and others’ rooms too. Pictures of family and friends. And I’ve noticed that that is what perk up nonagenarians like my Grandma: visits from those people whose pictures provide their current wall decor.

That’s what these older folks spend a lot of their time—their very precious, limited time—talking about too. Chitchat about family and friends is right up there with the day’s menu (everyone likes the baked ziti) and upcoming bingo night.

…we have abundance upon abundance upon abundance…

I’m speaking from my narrow personal experience, of course. I am fairly certain, though, that around age 90, the majority of people don’t bring up childhood Popsicle squabbles; the size of their once-upon-a-time paychecks, cars and homes; and the highlights they sent in to their alma maters.

Time to stop being jealous. Time to remember what matters.

And beyond that…why not be downright happy for other people, when they have good news to share? When they accomplish something they’ve worked hard for, something they’re proud of? Or when they make a mistake, and they get the gift of a second chance?

Who among us made all the good things in their life happen completely on their own?

Can we all acknowledge that, at one time or another, each of us accepted a helping hand (or two)? And maybe we even owe some of our good fortune to a random roll of the dice—a lucky break or total fluke? And possibly, just possibly, we find ourselves sitting where we are today by the grace of God and nothing more—nothing we can take any credit for.

Stop being jealous. Remember what matters. Be happy for others.

Lend a hand if you can.

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.

At Home in New York: One Year Later

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

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

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

1_Park

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

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

Here are a few pictures.

2_Front Porch

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

3_Family Room

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

4_Sunroom

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

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

5_Backyard

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

6_Dad Curtains

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

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

7_Indian Ladder Farms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8_Soccer Field Sunset

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

Glitter, Tea and the UPS Guy: This Is Christmas

My desk is covered in specks of greeting-card glitter. Every evening for the past week, I’ve been writing out Christmas cards, a handful at a time, in the cozy corner space where I usually work on my magazine articles, blog posts and short stories. Maybe I’ll have everything mailed before the middle of next week—maybe.

As I scroll though my list of addresses, the names of family members and friends evoke memories of times, places and seasons in my life. Jenna, my sister—Pennsylvania, our childhood; and now New York, our new, shared home turf. Rick and Sara, college friends—Virginia. Steve and Dulce, San Antonio, the first years of our marriage. Every name a memory, and a gratitude I feel for love and friendship that stand the tests of time and space.

This year, I scooped up several boxes of Christmas cards during a buy-one-get-one-free sale at Hallmark. Stanton and I are still patiently waiting for my e-books to top Amazon’s bestseller lists; until then, we won’t say no to a bargain. 😉

Every name a memory, and a gratitude I feel for love and friendship that stand the tests of time and space.

Last week, I lost my voice—a cold going around, friends here guessed. I usually end each day with a cup of tea (accompanied by a piece of dark chocolate). Last week, I drank more tea than usual.

I fell in love with tea three Decembers ago, when Stanton and I escaped for a post-Christmas weekend getaway at a country bed-and-breakfast. The B&B hosted an afternoon tea time featuring Mighty Leaf, a richly flavorful whole-leaf tea. My go-to brands these days are Tazo and Yogi, which are satisfying without being budget-breaking.

That weekend at the B&B was when I felt first a tug in my heart to consider a little sibling for Grace, who was about 2½ at the time. The first year of parenthood had been hard for me, and for Stanton too. We fumbled with questions about how our new roles as “Mom” and “Dad” related to our relationship with each other, and our careers. And we struggled with issues that affect many first-time parents, from sleep to money to depression (OK, that was just me).

Two and a half years later, though, our family life had settled into a good rhythm. We agreed that another family member would be wonderful, if it was meant to be.

It was, and it is. I am so thankful, especially during this time of the year.

glitter

Like other moms I know, I’d rather do almost anything other than shop in a store with my kids. (“Mom, can I have this?” “Mom, I want that!” “Waaaahhh!”)

Thus, I did the majority of my Christmas shopping online this year. Amazon is a perennial favorite, of course. I also found great gifts (and sales!) at the Eddie Bauer, Pottery Barn Kids and Williams-Sonoma websites.

Our local UPS deliveryman is starting to feel like a friend, he’s been bringing packages to our front door so much lately.

The only downside to all my online Christmas shopping: The girls want to open the packages now.

“Not all the presents inside are for you,” I tried to tell them.

“We don’t care,” Grace sweetly replied. “We are so curious.”

“Geor! Geor!” exclaimed Anna. (Curious George, her point of reference.)

Glitter, tea and the UPS guy: This is my Christmas, friends.

Tell me about yours.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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