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.

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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.

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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.

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The Christmas Presents I Remember

Yesterday morning, Anna and I stopped by our local post office. While Anna munched on crackers and thumbed through a display of bubble mailers, I addressed several flat-rate envelopes and stuck the last of our Christmas presents for family and friends inside. I felt two emotions at the same time—hope, that everyone would like what I’d picked out for them; and relief, that my Christmas shopping and boxing was now (literally!) wrapped up.

For all its festiveness, the end of the year can be a stressful time. Arranging get-togethers and travel plans with loved ones. Finishing work projects. And buying presents. Always…buying…presents.

To be honest, I love picking out presents for people. I especially love doing this for my daughters. Stanton and I are so looking forward to Friday morning, when the girls will open our Christmas presents for them before we drive to my mom and dad’s house in Pennsylvania.

I think Grace will love the blue watch we got her—actually, I know she will, because she told me that’s what she wanted: “a blue watch.” And I can picture Anna’s eyes lighting up when she opens her box of dress-up headpieces. And I picture…ripped wrapping paper on the hardwood floor; hot chocolate with marshmallows in mugs on the coffee table; and staying in our pajamas longer than we ever would on a normal Friday morning.

I thought back to my own childhood. I tried to remember, what were some of my favorite Christmas presents? I thought harder…

christmas-present

What came to mind, instantly—and as clearly as if it had just happened—was my parents’ living room. There was ripped wrapping paper there, too. And my Dad with a big Hefty bag, cleaning up.

I remembered my Dad.

And my Mom. In my memory, my Mom was sitting on the couch, holding a cup of coffee because she’d been up until 2 a.m. wrapping all the presents and baking the last of our Christmas cookies. Although I didn’t know it at the time.

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

My Dad and my Mom.

My brothers and sister, too—I remembered them. We were all there together. Later that day, my grandparents would come over…and other family and friends…and we’d celebrate Christmas all day long.

I remembered all those things very clearly.

Not one single Christmas present, however, is a clear memory. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)

Kids never know, until much later, all the things their moms and dads did for them.

Christmas presents are fun—the giving and the getting. They’re especially fun for kids. It’s unfortunate, though, that some of the things related to the fun and festivity of this season can be stressful.

So if you’re feeling stressed right now, friends…if you still haven’t addressed all your Christmas cards (me neither!)…or wrapped your kids’ presents…or crossed off some lingering end-of-year to-do’s…take a breath. Take a moment.

Remember.

What the people you love will remember…is YOU. That you were there.

That you cared.

They love YOU.

Merry Christmas, all. 🙂

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.

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.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

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Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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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.

The Things You Hold Onto

The closet was big but not well-ventilated. My sleeveless shirt clung to my skin. I couldn’t bring myself, however, to step out into the air-conditioned bedroom just yet.

Fifteen minutes earlier, I had opened the closet door with the intention of cleaning out this storage space. This closet contained a “neat mess,” as oxymoronic as that sounds. It was stuffed with boxes stacked atop one another, and odds and ends packed in here and there (a dented lampshade, kids’ art supplies, Christmas decorations).

I had intended to declutter this mess. I brought up three trash bags, just like professional organizers say to do—one for things to keep, one for things to donate and the other for the landfill. I was even filling up the bags at a fairly steady pace.

Every now and then, though, something from one of the boxes would catch my eye—stop me mid-declutter—and take me back.

This picture frame, for example, with this picture in it.

Evanses

That’s 18-year-old me with my two favorite neighbors of all time, Mr. and Mrs. Evans, on their front porch. I grew up next door to them in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m not sure who took this picture, but I took it with me to Richmond, Va., when I went to college there. I remember having it on the bookshelf in my freshman dorm room.

I remember Mr. and Mrs. Evans too, both deceased now. They always made time to talk with my siblings and me. They always bought whatever we were selling for our school fundraisers. They came to my wedding, and the videographer captured a moment of them dancing happily together. For all of these reasons—for the people they were—I hold onto this picture.

Another eye-catching find, a memory trigger: This antique decanter.

Decanter

Richmond, the summer of 2008. Probably as hot as it is now. Stanton and I stopped by an estate sale with some college friends. (We had been married a few months.) I want to say Jackie and Kevin were with us, but I’m not positive.

We were sitting outside under an expansive white tent, taking in the auction at the front, when all of a sudden Stanton gestured, and then even more suddenly he was the owner of this decanter.

No more estate sales for us, friends. It was a funny moment, though, a fun afternoon with friends, a memento worth taking with us from Richmond to San Antonio.

I read once that when people move from place to place and home to home, they often move the same boxes with them. And some of these boxes remain unopened through all the moves. But the folks to whom these boxes belong know the contents inside, and they know they matter.

They mean something.

They’re worth holding onto.

What are the things that you hold onto?

What are the mementos that you can’t let go of? What are the keepsakes that have outlasted your decluttering attempts and relocations?

And…why?

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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.

My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog

Every evening after dinner, Stanton usually takes a walk with the girls to our neighborhood mailboxes, just down the street and around the corner. It takes the three of them about fifteen minutes to walk back and forth—check the mail, chat with some neighbors, “find the moon” (Grace loves pointing it out to Anna).

These fifteen minutes give me enough time to run the vacuum cleaner through the kitchen and adjoining family room, the part of our house that is concentrated with crumbs, dirt and random disposable clutter by 7 p.m. I often try to sort a load of laundry into the washing machine too. And I always take a minute to enjoy a square of my favorite dark chocolate bar—guilty pleasures, guilty pleasures.

A few evenings ago, Stanton and the girls returned from their routine walk. “We got the mail, Mom!” Grace announced, depositing it on the freshly vacuumed family room floor. Anna squealed and ran through the pile, ripping some junk-mail flyers and leaving a trail of shredded paper in her wake.

“Thank you, guys,” I said. Then I noticed one of the pieces of mail on the floor: the newest Pottery Barn catalog.

Ah, the Pottery Barn catalog.

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Like many suburban moms, I enjoy flipping through the Pottery Barn catalog. Every page, every artfully staged person-less scene offers an escape into a serene space (free of crumbs, dirt and clutter). Simultaneously, all of these picture-perfect settings remind me that I’m far from achieving the aspirational Pottery Barn life.

The Pottery Barn brand is classic, gracious and organized—very organized. If you live a Pottery Barn life, for example, then you come home to this fashionable yet functional storage system:

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This scene looks so bright and inviting, I’d love to jump right into it. Unfortunately, the mud room entrance to my house looks more like this, especially after the girls and I get back from the pool. Yes, not quite as Instagram-worthy:

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Please don’t judge me too harshly, friends. 🙂

After an afternoon of swimming, what better way to chill than to hang out in the family room, right? Who wouldn’t want to kick back in this Pottery Barn family room—clean, cozy and wonderfully coordinated:

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Now let me introduce you to a typical afternoon around here:

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Cue “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Finally, a tale of two dining rooms. First, the Pottery Barn prototype:

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Versus…hello, home sweet home:

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For the moment, my beautiful dining room table serves as a landing spot for several loads of laundry. Hopefully these clothes (and other odds and ends) will get put away by the weekend. And hopefully we’ll break out our own candlesticks and wine glasses for a well-appointed family dinner sometime soon.

When you fill the scenes of your life with people, you also open the door to everything that those relationships bring about: beach towels on summer days, picture frames and greeting cards in the family room, and life happening everywhere.

My life is not a Pottery Barn catalog. I am so grateful for the people who make that possible. What about you?

Photo credits: Pottery Barn

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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.

A Hostess Cupcake Can Take You Back

“Be right back,” our next-door neighbor Sophia said.

The girls and I watched as she dashed inside her house. It was about 5 p.m. on a weekday, and the four of us were drawing with sidewalk chalk on Sophia’s driveway. The afternoon before, we had done the same thing on our driveway, so much so that the entire slab of concrete was covered in chalky pictures (Grace and Sophia) and scribbles (Anna).

This afternoon, Sophia had told us that her driveway had room for more pictures and scribbles.

Now, Sophia darted back outside. She held her hands out to us—two Hostess cupcakes. “These are my last ones,” she said.

Anna squealed and grabbed for one.

“Awww, thank you, Sophia,” I said. “You’re so nice.”

I read once, somewhere, that children like hearing that they’re nice. It boosts their self-esteem, apparently. Whenever my own child or someone else’s does something kind, I do my best to tell them so.

“What are these?” Grace wondered, eyeing the cupcakes. She could tell they were something good.

“These are called Hostess cupcakes,” I said. “I remember eating them when I was little. I haven’t had one in a long time though.”

“Why not, Mom?”

“Well…” I unwrapped the cupcakes for Grace and Anna. Sophia watched us, smiling. Where to begin? The saturated fat? The sugar? The infinite shelf life?

www.legends1027.com - Hostess cupcakes

No, I wasn’t going to be “that” mom and ruin this sweet moment for these children with a soapbox on nutritional value.

“The truth is,” I said, “my mom used to buy these for me. But they’re not something I buy for myself. In fact,” I added before Grace could pepper me with another “Why?” “I remember the exact kitchen cupboard in my mom’s house where she kept our Hostess cupcakes.”

I also remembered, growing up as the oldest of four kids, that I often “claimed” and labeled any sweet treats that I wanted to save for later. I would grab a Hostess cupcake, scrawl “MELISSA’S FOOD: DO NOT TOUCH” across the packaging in black marker and hide it somewhere in the kitchen. (It goes without saying that my brothers and sister didn’t really appreciate me until our adulthoods.)

Sophia shared with us that her mom had bought these for her too. Then she said, “I miss my mom.” Her mom was out of town for a bit.

There are times that I, as a grown woman, miss my mom too. She lives halfway across the country from me—two plane rides, as Grace describes. I could only imagine how a child would miss her out-of-town mom.

That afternoon, I told my little neighbor that her mom must love her so much to buy her Hostess cupcakes. I had a feeling, though I didn’t read it anywhere, that kids like hearing that their families love them.

“My mom does love me,” Sophia agreed.

“I knew it,” I said.

Grace ate her last bite of chocolate cupcake. Anna licked some of her vanilla crème filling. Then her cupcake slipped from her fingers onto the driveway.

“Oh, no!” Sophia exclaimed. “That was my last one, remember?”

I did remember. I remembered how thoughtful it was for a mom to make sure her kitchen had a few sweet treats in it. I remembered how hard it was for a kid to share those treasures with other kids.

I scooped up Anna’s cupcake. I told Sophia again that she had been so nice and that the girls had loved their cupcakes. Sophia told me that I should get some cupcakes like hers the next time I was grocery shopping.

“You should, Mom,” Grace said.

Anna licked at the last of the vanilla crème filling on her fingers.

“Maybe,” I said.

Grace and Sophia rolled their eyes at each other.

Kids know what “maybe” usually means—“no.” I remembered that from my childhood too.

The kitchen cupboard with the sweet treats. The annoying-oldest-sister “claiming” of food. The eventual generosity that comes with motherhood.

“For sure, though,” I said, “we’ll do chalk together again really soon.”

The girls agreed that that sounded good.

Photo credit: Legends 102.7 WLGZ

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.