Fast Food, Slow Walks and the Kindness of Strangers

On New Year’s Day, the girls wanted to go for a walk. What they really wanted, actually, was to walk to the nearby Stewart’s for ice cream. Ice cream on January 1—sure, sounds good.

Stanton decided to stay home, so Grace, Anna and I bundled up and headed out. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, a beautiful day for winter. The girls ended up riding their bikes, myself walking a bit behind.

Quite a few people were out on the Rail Trail too, and we all exchanged “Happy New Year’s.” Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Stewart’s is locals’ go-to convenience store in upstate New York, similar to Wawa in the Philadelphia region. The girls left their bikes and helmets in the park next door; we walked inside.

We bumped into some people we knew. Everyone’s wardrobe of choice on New Year’s afternoon seemed to fall into the ever-popular “athleisure” category, and I fit right in with my fleece sweatpants and oversized tunic. #winning 😉

The girls ordered kiddie cones of chocolate-chip cookie dough (Grace) and rainbow sherbet (Anna), and I got coffee, of course.

The three of us sat at a table alongside a window. Not long after, an elderly woman sat nearby. We smiled at each other, chitchatted a bit. “Nice the coffee’s free today, for New Year’s,” she said.

I smiled again and nodded.

Grace tugged at my arm. “Was your coffee free, Mom?”

“I’ll tell you later, honey.”

When we were back outside, my older daughter reminded me that it was “later.” I explained to her that no, the coffee wasn’t free, but I thought the folks working at Stewart’s hadn’t charged the white-haired woman for it.

“Why?” Grace wondered.

“I think they could tell she was older and probably didn’t have as much money as she used to.”

Grace smiled. “That was kind.”

I agreed. Stewart’s had been kind. It hadn’t cost them much at all, but it had made a difference to someone.

Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Bearing witness to acts of kindness, no matter how small, is always encouraging—to me, at least. In this week alone, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness. For example, the girls and I were at Hannaford on Monday before dinnertime, and it started to sleet just as we walked back outside to the parking lot with our groceries.

A manager whom I know appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Do you need help getting to your car?” He was very kind, and I thanked him. Although I didn’t take him up on his offer because I knew we’d be OK.

After loading up the car, I maneuvered to exit the parking lot. I was waiting to make a left-hand turn to get in one of the lanes to turn onto the street, when the car opposite me gestured for me to go ahead. Now, I know this is a little thing, but I so appreciate when other drivers do this because making a left can be tricky.

Within five minutes, two acts of kindness. Kindness is there in the world, if we open ourselves to see it. This is my perspective, anyway.

My whole life, I’ve experienced beautiful acts of kindness. I’ve also experienced ugly acts of unkindness. I try to pay forward the kindnesses and focus on the good things, with the belief (however naive it may be) that everything happens for a reason, and comes full circle in the end.

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One of my favorite parts of my Christmas vacation was sitting with my grandmother the Saturday after Christmas. My Grandma resides in a nursing home. She has a cozy room that my mom has decorated with pictures of our family—mostly my girls.

Half a wall is covered in full-color printouts of Grace and Anna, with a sprinkling of my brothers, sister, our cousins and me thrown in.

To the right of all these pictures, a TV is mounted on the wall. That Saturday, Grandma had the Penn State/Memphis football game turned on when my mom and I arrived. I would never choose to watch sports on TV, but if Stanton or, in this case, Grandma has a game on, I don’t mind sitting there and watching it too. I enjoy simply being there.

I totally enjoyed doing just that, being there, with my Grandma that day. She reclined on her bed; I sat in an armchair to her right. To my right was a table displaying the Christmas cards she had received, as well as a box of chocolates—yum.

“Could I have one of these, Grandma?”

“Oh, sure, have as many as you want. Your mother’s been eating them.”

I laughed and looked at my mom, who may or may not have rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Grandma.”

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it because she doesn’t have very much at this time in her life. What she has, pretty much, fits in her comfy yet small nursing-home room.

After I hugged Grandma good-bye, I reached over to give her another hug. These days, I’m very conscious that I never know when a good-bye might be the last one.  

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it…

Stanton, the girls and I cherish the time we spend with both our families during the holidays—Thanksgiving with his, Christmas with mine. The past couple of years, we’ve made New Year’s ours—just him, me and the girls—and we’ve especially appreciated this time together too, just the four of us.

On New Year’s Eve, the girls and I stopped by the library to pick out a DVD to watch later that evening. While we were there, we also got some books.

“This is the nonfiction section,” Grace told Anna, pointing to a stack of shelves. “These are the true stories.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to true stories. Listening to them, reading them and—later—writing them. Discovering meaning in things that really happened.

In telling any true story, though, we need to start somewhere. So we pick a beginning, whether in relaying an anecdote to a friend or drafting an article for a magazine. Beginnings can be arbitrary.

Memory isn’t an exact science either. But we do the best we can with our true stories, in the remembering and the telling.

When I write for my website here, I have two main goals. First, I want to tell a good true story. I want to represent life, combining equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. If my story makes someone reading it smile or laugh out loud or simply feel, then that’s my biggest joy.

Second…I want to remember. I want to remember that we watched “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on New Year’s Eve 2019, after eating homemade French-bread pizza on our good china, which we don’t use enough. Not every detail, and not a vanity project of blog posts…but some of the true stories that meant something to me, that I found meaning in and thought others might enjoy too.

“These are the true stories.”

The girls and I took our time heading back home from Stewart’s. I had some coffee left in my cup; it kept my hands warm as I walked.

The girls would ride their bikes a bit, then stop to examine something on the ground, or chase each other around a bench.

“We’re taking forever,” I finally noted.

“Yep,” Grace and Anna agreed. They were in no rush.

A joy everyone experiences when they’re young—the feeling of having all the time in the world.

No matter how young or old we are, we can appreciate the good things that abound, from hot cups of coffee to slow winter walks and unexpected kindnesses. And our stories—the ones we tell at Christmas dinner tables year after year, where everyone gathered knows the punch lines…the ones we write down, in diaries or online posts…the ones yet to come.

May the best be yet to come.

Happy New Year, 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.

Of Course the Noel Sign Lights Up: Merry Everything 2019

The day after we returned home from our Thanksgiving-break trip, I hauled the Leddy family artificial Christmas tree out of the basement. A trail of plastic pine needles followed behind me, from the top of the basement stairs to the front of the family-room bay window.

Clark Griswold would not approve.

“Do you think we’ll ever get a real Christmas tree, Mom?” Grace wondered.

“Yes,” I replied. Not this year…but one year, someday, absolutely.

Stanton searched for a yuletide playlist.

“Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road…”

I raised my eyebrows at my husband. He kept searching.

“No, Dad,” protested Anna. “I love that song.”

We both looked at our 4-year-old daughter. How did she know Lil Nas X?

“We listen to it at preschool,” Anna explained. “The clean version.”

Grace laughed; I laugh-cried. Stanton turned up “Jingle Bells.”

Stanton and the girls began hanging ornaments on our tree while I dug more Christmas decorations out of the basement.

Over the years, I scooped up our decorations during various post-Christmas sales. Thus, every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Stanton is rarely impressed with my bargain finds. “How awesome that this was 75 percent off,” I said, showing him my newest piece of decor, a wooden sign with “Noel” in capital letters, adorned with faux red berries and glitter galore (a Pier 1 find, obviously).

In a previous life, Stanton worked as a buyer. “The retail price isn’t the real price anyway, Mel,” he said, for probably the thousandth time in our life.

“Honey, please…I practically made money here.”

Grace pointed to the sign. “Mom, there’s a box here where you put batteries. Does this sign light up?”

“Of course it lights up, G.” I found it at Pier 1, didn’t I?

“Do you have any batteries?”

I’d get some on my next trip to Hannaford, I promised.

…every December our home radiates a festively hodgepodge theme of Pottery Barn seasonal clearance meets Hallmark Store half-off, with a little Pier 1 last call thrown in for bling-y measure.

Not long after, I drove to Hannaford. The lights at the intersection outside the grocery store weren’t working. People in their cars were treating this fairly busy intersection like a four-way stop, mostly cautiously, but—nervous Nellie driver that I am—I worried an accident could happen.

Once inside the store, I shared my concern with one of the managers I know, a friendly, hard-working young man. He told me the lights hadn’t been working since the morning before.

“I’m a little surprised no one has called the police or anything,” I said.

The manager said he would do that right now. “I think I have the number.”

I was confused. The number was 911, right?

But no, police departments have non-emergency numbers for situations like this. Within minutes—truly, minutes—two workers arrived and fixed the intersection lights. I was thankful for that.

“You solved the problem, Mom,” my daughters said, when I told this story to them later.

Not really, but a little. Solving problems, though—that’s a lot of what moms do, all day long.

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Grace and Anna love getting out and about. I do too; I’m all for it, truly. By about 6 p.m. on a cold winter’s Saturday, though, I’m usually 100 percent content to stay in, steep a cup of tea to perfection and engage in cozy indoor activities, such as reading or Family Movie Night.

This past Saturday evening, the girls were having none of that.

“It’s public skate at the Y, Mom! Let’s go ice skating! Come on, Mom!”

O…K.

If I didn’t have kids, I’d probably hibernate until spring. I’d stay in, drink hot beverages, binge-watch the rest of “Shameless” on Netflix. Maybe even write something a little longer, a bit more prestigious, than yet another blog post. 😉

That, however, is an alternate reality, friends, and overall, I’m wholeheartedly grateful for the reality I have.

Ice skating, sledding, snowman-building in winter—hiking year-round—swimming all summer—raking jump-worthy piles of leaves in fall—all right, come on, let’s do it.

“Come on, Mom!”

Yes, overall, I’m living the dream.

During the next few days, our children will be participating in a total of four end-of-year events. One holiday piano concert, two Christmas pageants and one performing arts holiday performance. There’s also a Christmas party following one of the pageants, for which I signed up to bring cookies. “Because no one ate the salad you brought that other time,” Anna reminded me. (That’s true: That other time, no one did.)

I mixed up some of these save-the-dates on the hard-copy calendar in the kitchen (I know, pretty old-fashioned to use a calendar you can actually write on), so our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

I needed to reschedule Grace’s overdue annual checkup, so circled “G – dr. appt!” and drew an arrow to a following weekday afternoon (making her overdue checkup even later). Anna came along, too, and I asked the receptionist if both my daughters could get (again, overdue) flu shots that day. She said yes, and I reached over to sign some forms.

With my other arm, I was holding Anna. At this point, her ears perked up. She clasped her hands around my neck, physically turned my head back up to face the receptionist, and hissed, “Tell her, ‘Anna does not want a flu shot.'”

The receptionist laughed; Anna frowned.

It’s always a good time, friends.

…our December 2019 page resembles a treasure map of circles, arrows and crossed-out words.

Who’s done with all their holiday shopping? Almost done? Yet to start?

You can put me in the “almost done” category. I ordered some things online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, but I still have some gifts to pick out from I Love Books and Perfect Blend, two of my favorite local shops.

Stanton, the girls and I will be spending Christmas at my mom and dad’s house near Scranton, Pa., and when we show up on their doorstep, I always like to have some coffee from Perfect Blend on hand. Many of our moms and dads don’t really need any more stuff, but appreciate consumable gifts—such as my coffee shop’s Frosty’s Favorite and Sugar Cookie seasonal blends. This is my perspective anyway, and I hope I’m right.

And what do I want for Christmas, you ask? Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef, someone whose skill set includes handing out snacks every 15 minutes from 4 p.m. until dinner is ready.

“Mom, will you open the healthy drawer?” Anna recently asked as I was making dinner.

Grace sighed. “We don’t have a healthy drawer, boo.”

“Yes, we do.” Anna pointed to the cupboard above the coffeemaker.

Grace and I both shook our heads. “Honey, you know that’s the snack drawer,” I told Anna. “Just because you call it the healthy drawer doesn’t make it something different.” It didn’t change the fact that that part of the kitchen cabinetry was stuffed full of popcorn, chocolate and chips of all kinds (potato, tortilla and masquerading-as-not-junk-food veggie).

“Please can I just have the box of cheddar bunnies?”

All I want for Christmas is someone to manage early-evening snack requests.

Just what every other parent of small children asks of Kris Kringle, of course: a live-in housekeeper and/or personal chef…

As cliché and corny as it sounds, what I most appreciate at Christmastime is time with my loved ones. Time is such a gift, I think.

I’m looking forward to driving from New York to Pennsylvania with Stanton and the girls, listening to Christmas music on the radio. Once we get there, I’m excited to catch up with my brothers and sister. Jenna and I want to watch some favorite movies together (“Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” here’s looking at you—and yes, Hugh Grant, the Minetola sisters adore you).

Riding shotgun, chitchatting, watching movies—these are such little things, yet they’ll be my biggest Christmas wishes-come-true.

What about you?

Whatever yours are and wherever you’ll be, I hope this time of year finds your heart happy too.

Merry everything, 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.

Tuesday Is Frozen Pizza Night

When I was growing up, my Italian-American family and I had a slew of favorite local pizzerias. They were plentiful in our part of the Northeast: Sal’s, Sabatini’s, the multiple locations of Grotto.

My very favorite pizza place was Revello’s in Old Forge, Pa., about a 25-minute drive from my parents’ house. As a child, 25 minutes felt like forever, and during the drive, I sat in the middle of the backseat of my mom’s silver-colored Buick, scrunched between my two brothers, impatiently awaiting the moment I could take a bite of a Revello’s slice.

For me, the sauce is what made Revello’s pizza so good. It was a red sauce, marinara, and it was peppery. It definitely had a kick.

My family and I—my mom, my dad, my two brothers, my sister and I—usually sat at a table in the rear of the restaurant, by the back door. We often came in through that door, because my dad parked on one of the back roads.

An older woman named Mary was our regular server through the years. I remember her as skinny with short, curly hair; round glasses; and a quick, friendly smile.

Old Forge says it’s the “pizza capital of the world.”  This may even be true; I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of delicious pizza here, and so did two L.A.-based foodies on a “pizza crawl” through Old Forge this past fall.

When I go “home” to Northeastern Pennsylvania now, I love to stop by AmberDonia in Kingston and share a Romeo & Juliet pizza with my husband. We both love the flavor combination of prosciutto and basil atop the olive oil, crushed tomatoes and blend of cheeses. Heaven served wood-fired.

As a child, 25 minutes felt like forever…

As an adult, I’ve also been lucky to live in Richmond, Va., San Antonio, and Delmar, N.Y., and get to experience the (literal) local flavor of these three uniquely beautiful places.

In RVA, you can’t go wrong at Bottoms Up (downtown) or Mary Angela’s (Carytown). San Antonio may be better known for its tacos, but Luciano was a neighborhood favorite for pizza and calzones. And here in New York, Stanton, the girls and I enjoy many a Friday night at Romo’s (impossible to leave without ordering the fried dough knots for dessert).

All these years, all this time eating all kinds of pizza…certainly I can appreciate the art of freshly baked dough, tomatoes and cheese. Certainly I can. And yet in my house, today, we almost always eat frozen pizza on Tuesday.

That’s right, friends: Tuesday is frozen pizza night.

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Having a weekly frozen pizza night isn’t something to brag about, especially when you have a regular going-out-to-eat-pizza night too. But this is life as we know it, for the moment at least.

My older daughter, Grace, has an after-school activity on Tuesdays. My younger daughter, Anna, gets hungry right before this activity starts. Thus, I got into the habit of heating up frozen pizza before we left the house for Grace’s activity. Then I’d pack it up in two travel food-storage containers, and off we’d go.

“You make the best pizza, Mom!” the girls often say. “And the best macaroni and cheese, and Helper!”

“Helper,” just FYI, is our family’s shorthand for “Hamburger Helper.”

Frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, and Helper—welcome to our home, friends.

…this is life as we know it…

There are two brands of frozen pizza that we like. The first is Against the Grain Gourmet. It’s made in Vermont, a relatively short drive away, so is considered “local” at our Hannaford grocery store. We alternate between the three-cheese and pepperoni varieties. Against the Grain Gourmet is delicious and filling. It tastes like real food. As a frozen pizza connoisseur of sorts (again, not something I’m bragging about 😉 ), what more could I ask for?

Our other tried-and-true brand is Caulipower. This frozen pizza has a cauliflower crust. I was talking up Caulipower to someone recently, and they noted that cauliflower crust is trendy now. I am rarely on trend, so I didn’t know this.

(Another friend told me he finds cauliflower crust offensive, which made me laugh. I can certainly empathize with the perspective of, why mess with a good thing?)

I have always loved cauliflower, and the reason is because when I was little, my Poppy made fried cauliflower. This is one of my strongest memories of him—walking in the front door of my parents’ house on holidays, carrying a bowl of fried cauliflower.

The bowl was white with a light blue rim.

If Poppy were here today, he’d probably laugh if I told him he was being trendy with his favorite side dish.

So I’ve loved cauliflower forever, and when I noticed Caulipower in the frozen pizza aisle for the first time, I had to try it. We really like the cauliflower crust, but if you’re more of a classic pizza lover, then this may not be the top pick for you (or my friend).

This is one of my strongest memories of him—walking in the front door of my parents’ house on holidays, carrying a bowl of fried cauliflower.

Chefs and home cooks alike enjoy building on the classics, having fun with new ideas, trying different things. For example, “flatbread” is a word I’ve been seeing more and more. Kind of like pizza, kind of not.

And now you can get gluten-free or dairy-free pizza (or flatbread). The toppings seem endless too, whether you’re in the frozen food section of the grocery store or your favorite pizzeria: pepperoni, pineapple, roasted beets, truffle oil drizzle, fried eggs.

Now, I’m an adventurous eater. If my friend Megan from Richmond happens to read this, then she can attest to my appreciation for all kinds of cuisines, from Cuban to French to Vietnamese. (What I would give for another weekday lunch at Mekong!)

I’m an adventurous eater…and I appreciate the classics too. Truffle oil drizzle is delightful, but plain cheese makes me happy any day.

I read once that pizza is the perfect food. It’s circular (we like circles). It’s easily shareable. It covers a variety of food groups, and it’s not expensive.

I’m not an expert on any of these points, so I can’t say for sure if all of this is true.

I am a writer, though. And I’ve dabbled in poetry.

Truffle oil drizzle is delightful, but plain cheese makes me happy any day.

The poet in me believes that pizza is the perfect food. Because it brings people together.

A hot summer day, or a cold winter’s night. A party for more people than you expected (everyone RSVP-ed yes!). En route to an after-school activity.

I realized, as I was writing this, that pizza often is the first meal we eat when we move into a new home, sitting cross-legged on the floor amid boxes and memories waiting to be unpacked.

Often too, it’s the last thing we eat when we leave. Steadfast, when other things are in flux.

Whether frozen, takeout or homemade, pizza is the food we count on. It’s the food that’s with us through all the moments of our life, ranging from joy-filled to sorrowful to mundane. All the moments—good, bad and indifferent—that make up the full human experience.

The human experience varies cross-culturally, I know. Possibly I speak too much from my American perspective, or Italian-American perspective…and if so, my apologies.

The desire to share a meal together seems universal, though. To break bread together—whether the bread appears as pizza, baguettes, churros, dosas, tacos or any other carb-based specialty.

In my experience, the bread has been pizza. The people I’ve shared it with the most have been those closest to my heart.

Today is Tuesday, and you know what that means.

But you could do worse than break out one of your favorite frozen pizzas for dinner.

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.

Remember the Time? On Family, Memory and Where You Keep Your Shoes

My sister mailed me a card for my birthday, a couple of weeks ago. The front said, “‘Remember the time…?'” followed by, “There are about a thousand different ways to end that story!” in multicolored font. I loved everything about it, from the sentiment to, especially, Jenna’s heartwarming note inside.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took one (excuse my amateur photography skills!) to illustrate my message here. I put my sister’s card in the last remaining spot, on the bottom, of the hanging card holder in the kitchen. See it there? You can also see our family’s kaleidoscopic collection of other well wishes for assorted birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, special occasions… Yeah, Marie Kondo probably wouldn’t approve. 😉

So—”‘Remember the time…?'”

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Inside the card, Jenna wrote about how she always enjoys our adventures and conversations. Over the course of our life together, there have been a lot of them—not “about a thousand,” but thousands upon thousands. Jenna, along with both my brothers, were there, and continue to be there, for…well, my life.

Last night, I was lying beside Anna as she drifted off to sleep, and all of a sudden, a long-ago memory came to mind. I don’t know why, but I thought about the refrigerator in my grandparents’ old house. Before I left for college, I put pictures all over it. I joked that I didn’t want Grandma and Poppy to forget me, so I transformed their fridge into a collage of photos and magnets.

After Anna fell asleep, I called Jenna to share this memory with her. Because your sister will always answer the phone, even if you’re calling about your grandparents’ not-sure-if-it-even-exists-anymore refrigerator. “Awww,” Jenna said when I told her.

“I also remember—I mean, I can almost see this—Poppy sitting in the sunroom, just smiling, his arms crossed, watching TV. And,” I added, “he’s wearing that blue polo shirt he always wore. You know the one…?”

“Yeah, with the pink on the collar.” I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, so, I just wanted to tell you about that…”

“Do you remember,” Jenna said—she really did send me the perfect birthday card—”every New Year’s, we would all go outside and bang on pots and pans? And set off Mom’s car alarm?” We laughed.

Maybe a little corny at times, and certainly loud a lot of the time, but this was/is our family…and I love them.

I knew Jenna was smiling on the other end of the line.

I have been truly lucky with my husband’s family too. After I talked with Jenna, I called Stanton’s mom to say hello. Charlotte was exercising, and I apologized for interrupting her. She asked me how I was doing.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I just poured myself a glass of milk and am about to eat a cookie. I’m doing the exact opposite of what you’re doing.” (You simply can’t make this stuff up, friends.) Like with my sister, my mother-in-law and I shared a good laugh.

Stanton had just been in San Antonio for a conference, and I was glad he got to spend some time with his family while he was there too. It’s a busy season of business travel for him, and he told the girls about a few other upcoming trips.

I made the joke (in retrospect, not a funny one) to the girls, “What’s Dad doing home now, girls? Does he live here too?”

Anna gave Stanton one of her wonderful bear hugs. “Of course he lives here,” she said. “This is where his shoes are.”

Sometimes life lends itself to quotable moments.

Home is where you keep your shoes. It’s where you hang up your cards, and pictures. It’s where, at the end of the day, you call the people you love. You call them to share a memory, or just to say hello.

Home is where you get the best bear hugs too.

Remember the time?

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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.

 

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.

(Most of) the Boxes Are Unpacked Now: At Home One Year Later

A few days ago, Stanton, the girls and I marked the one-year anniversary of moving into our “new” home here in New York. I’ve heard people say it can take up to a year to feel moved in somewhere, whether physically as in a house or emotionally as in a season of life. In my experience, this one-year guidepost rings true.

As I’ve shared before, it took us three tries, over the course of six months, to figure out the best setup for the living room furniture. It took almost this whole past year to unpack all our boxes. Most of them are unpacked now, friends. Although a couple of them will remain in the basement, purposefully, for years to come…possibly forever. (Yes, I’m talking about the ones that contain Stanton’s college fraternity and general life-before-wife memorabilia. 😉 )

I felt an odd mix of comfort and accomplishment when I lugged my favorite cookbooks up the basement stairs, from a box, and nestled them into a bookshelf in the kitchen. (You might notice that Anna also likes to store one of her sticker books on this bookshelf, under “Jack’s Wife Freda.” This is life with kids.)

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It takes time to get a feel for a space (and a place)—to move in and settle in—to feel at home.

Something Stanton and I thought about, when we closed on this house, was converting the three-season back porch into an actual part of the house—hiring some help to put in installation, do whatever was needed to turn the porch into a den.

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We still might do this down the road. As the girls get older, they might appreciate having their own hangout, with a comfy couch and TV to spend time with friends. For the moment, though, we love this back porch as it is, especially now that it’s spring again—a pleasant space for after-school snacks and not-in-a-hurry weekend cups of coffee.

I’m thankful we followed the advice of our smart and kind Realtor, which was to move in and live in our house first, see how everything worked for us, and then commit to which projects might make the most sense. We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

We did take care of two projects within months of moving in. 1) We love the original fireplace in the living room, and on the recommendation of our home inspector, we had a masonry and chimney company rebuild parts of it so that it meets current safety standards. This was an important, non-cosmetic priority.

We wouldn’t have been able to experience the back porch as we have, if we changed it up right away.

2) Sadly, we needed to hire a company to remove the beautiful 100+-year-old Northern maple tree in the front yard.

A couple of months after moving in, we noticed that a woodpecker—the same woodpecker, every few days, it seemed—liked to get comfortable in this tree and peck at the wood. The girls loved looking for him, and watching him when he came. But we soon learned that when a woodpecker likes a tree, it’s a sign the tree is diseased. In our case, the bark had gotten sick and soft, and the tree was in danger of falling.

A bittersweet goodbye, for sure.

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (trying to do a hundred things simultaneously—you too, right?!). Another future project might be to replace the current countertops with natural stone. Right now, though, what we have functions well.

I created a mini workspace for myself at the end of this counter, with a lamp, stool, and spot for my writing books and laptop. This is also where I look through the girls’ school folders at the end of each weekday, and try to hide and drink my coffee every morning. (For better or worse, my family usually finds me. ;) )

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After figuring out furniture arrangements and tackling essentials, it’s fun to decorate. I am not an interior designer, not by a long shot. But I do love great finds, especially when they’re cool and when they’re local.

One of my favorite finds has been this painting of a scene in Paris, which I came across at our church’s annual yard sale. I paid a small donation for it, and now enjoy it every day when I see it in the little hallway outside the guest bedroom.

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We love when family and friends visit us. Some of our visitors thus far (I won’t give them away 😉 ) have dared to sleep past the girls’ 6:30 a.m. wake-up. On these mornings, Grace and Anna have slipped notes under the guest room door with a simple, pointed message: “When will you wake up??? We want to play!”

The girls spend most of their time in the breakfast nook/sunroom, and I think I finally found the right piece to complete this space: this “cottage window” mirror from Pier 1. What I love most about this piece is how it reflects the sunset from the facing window at the end of each day, bringing the outside in (to quote many an HGTV interior designer I’ve heard over the years!).

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Something that took a much longer time than I ever thought it would was picking out window valances for the bedrooms. Possibly at some point we’ll get plantation shutters, my personal favorite window treatment, for the windows. We’re currently committed to valances, however (all the rods were installed when we moved in—we took the easy way out and just rolled with them). For example, Grace’s room…

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In another year or so, we need to repaint the living room/dining room—the current paint shows wear. We’ve decided to wait until Anna’s old enough to stop adorning the walls with her after-dinner handprints. 🙂

One last bit of home improvement, now that the boxes are mostly unpacked… This past weekend, Stanton and the girls planted flower and vegetable seeds in the back yard. We are all eagerly awaiting the first blooms and buds.

In true 3-year-old fashion, Anna asked, the very next day, “Why didn’t anything grow yet?”

It takes time, we told her. But just wait.

This is something I’ve learned, again and again, in my life, maybe beginning from the time I was little like my daughter. And it’s a worthwhile lesson, a good reminder for anyone in a not-quite-there-yet season of life: It takes time. But just wait.

Things will grow, will bloom, will fall into place.

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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.

3 Tries to Get the Furniture Right

I almost didn’t write this post. Would anyone (besides my sister) care about the evolution of the furniture arrangement in my family room?

Then I remembered my surprise at how many people read and shared a previous post, “My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog,” in which I divulged pictures of my messy house back in Texas. Lesson learned: We like to peek inside people’s lives.

We especially like to peek inside their junk drawers. (I’ll show you ours next time.) 😉

So, friends, here’s another peek, in case you might still be interested.

Stanton, the girls and I moved into our “new” home in April, about seven months ago. Our Cape Cod-style house was built in the 1930s, and we love its old-school craftsmanship. We especially love the walkable neighborhood that surrounds it. Like many older homes, though, ours has smaller, contained spaces. A challenge has been making some of these spaces work, particularly the family room.

Our favorite feature of the family room is the fireplace. When we first moved in, we put the couch adjacent to the fireplace. We thought this arrangement would allow us to enjoy the coziness of the fireplace, while separating the family room from the dining space in the back.

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The problem with this plan was that it limited seating. We had a settee under the bay window across from the couch, but nobody sat there much. Mostly, the girls used the settee as an operating table for their toys when they played “Hospital.” (This is real life with kids, right?)

Several months later, we moved the couch so that it faced the fireplace, with space behind the couch as a separate entrance/walkway. I scrolled through the thousands of photos on my phone, and the best depiction of this layout that I could come up with is this one:

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Yes, this picture also reveals Stanton partaking in a Sunday Night Football game while Grace watches with shared interest, and Anna (not interested) peruses an issue of High Five. Before I snapped this memory, I was hiding in the kitchen, eating my dinner in peace. Yes, friends, we know: We won’t be winning any parenting awards anytime soon. 🙂

This second furniture arrangement worked well, for a while. Then on Sunday, we put up our Christmas tree, near the fireplace. And suddenly, we had limited seating again (the tree replaced a chair we had nestled there).

On Wednesday evening, I told the girls I was going to try one last interior design idea for the family room. I began moving the couch. Anna started crying.

“I love the couch!” she yelled. “Put it back!”

“I’m just putting it over here,” I tried to explain. As Anna watched with suspicion, I rearranged the coffee table and two end tables too.

Grace crossed her arms at my vision. “This doesn’t feel like home,” she announced.

Anna crossed her arms too. Her assessment: “I don’t like it, Mom.”

Lord. Help. Me.

“Girls, come on now.”

Grace tried to reason with me. “Mom, what happens when Dad comes home? He’s not going to have any idea what’s going on.”

I had to smile, friends. Because it wouldn’t be the first time…

“Dad be lost,” Anna worried.

I gestured around the family room. “Girls, I think this is good. I think this is it. Why don’t we give it a try?”

My daughters looked at each other. Sighed. “OK, we’ll try,” Grace said.

Here’s the family room, currently. (Like all aspiring lifestyle bloggers, I swept up the Cocoa Krispies crumbs and shoved the girls’ toys out of sight before grabbing my camera!)

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In this case, I feel as though the third time was the charm. After the holidays, I’d like to get an arm chair to go where the Christmas tree is. It would be a cozy spot, I think, for one of us to read (or watch Sunday Night Football), and for guests to get comfortable at the end of the day. And one day, I’d like to get a big piece of local artwork to hang above the couch. For the moment, though, everything feels good.

Your thoughts, friends?

Through the years, in the various homes I’ve lived in, I’ve found it takes a little time to find “the right spot” for everything. Everything doesn’t fall into place at once.

It can be hard to be patient. And it can be discouraging to fumble through imperfect furniture arrangements, specifically, and wrong turns, generally. Missteps, and mistakes.

But eventually, you find your way. You see the light at the end of the tunnel—you get there. You arrive. You figure it out, and you feel peace.

I love this quote from the writer Neil Gaiman, and it’s fitting for this time of the year: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

Do something—an energizing New Year’s resolution, perhaps.

Thanks so much for checking in with me today, friends. Have a great day.

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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.