Twice in My Life I Got Really Lucky

Every few days, I find myself at the grocery store. One or both of my daughters is usually with me. Occasionally—very occasionally—I fly solo through the aisles of Hannaford, an experience many moms (including myself) would equate to a day on a desert island, pastel-colored drink with cocktail umbrella in hand.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience. The other day, the girls and I rolled into Hannaford. “Don’t forget the junk food, Mom,” Grace reminded me. She had actually written up her own list, and handed it to me.

I scanned her nearly-8-year-old penmanship: potato chips, Nantucket Nectars, ice cream… “We are not getting a dog, Grace. Hannaford doesn’t sell pets anyway—you know that.”

Grace laughed.

Anna, meanwhile, was climbing out of the cart I had just (thought I’d) fastened her into. “I have to go potty,” she said.

Finally we were rolling through the aisles again. You know how that goes, friends. Can we get this? Can we get that? Why can’t we get a dog today?

“Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a huge glass jar. “Pickles!”

“Don’t touch it,” I said. “Remember what happened that one time.”

Anna smiled and nodded. “But they cleaned it up, Mom.”

“But they’d rather not, honey.”

Moving right along.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience.

A few things ended up in the cart that were not my doing. For example, two bath bombs. The girls must have tossed them in when I was picking out shampoo. Also, a box of fortune cookies.

“What are these?” Anna asked, later at home.

I looked at the box on the breakfast-nook table. “What the heck?”

The girls laughed.

“You’re driving me…”

“CRAZY! We know! We love you, Mom! Can we have some cookies! Please say, ‘Oh, fine!'”

Oh…fine.

Two mornings ago, I asked the girls what they wanted for breakfast.

“Cereal and a fortune cookie,” Grace said. Breakfast of champions.

“Me too.” Anna clambered up beside her at the table. “Why is it called a fortune cookie?”

I explained that the little piece of paper inside each cookie was a fortune, or prediction for the future. Sometimes there were Chinese words with translations, and sometimes lucky numbers for lottery tickets.

In that moment, I was perched between my daughters, all of us still in our pajamas with our hair just-woke-up crazy—you know what I mean—and I felt a ripple of quiet contentment. “You know,” I said, giving them each a little squeeze, “twice in my life I got really lucky.”

Grace smiled. “Anna and me.”

“Yes.”

Then she jerked her thumb toward the family room. “I think you’re forgetting somebody.” (I swear this happened, just like that.)

And yes, I got really lucky with their dad too. Three times really lucky. Although, truth be told—really lucky countless times.

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We each have our own understanding of what lucky means. Lucky is hitting it big on a lottery ticket (maybe we used the numbers from a fortune cookie). Lucky is missing a flight, but meeting the love of our life while we wait—all the frustrating-at-first-glance detours that led to our true final destinations. Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together, seeing the Seven Wonders of the World and leaving behind legacies all our own.

What makes me feel lucky is the love and friendship I have in my life. My children, my husband, family and friends.

Later that day, I got a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends. Kathleen and I have known each other since kindergarten, and I loved hearing her voice and catching up. We don’t always have the time to talk, but when we do, it’s effortless and heartfelt—a conversation that started 30 years ago and can hold until next time when needed. I’m deeply grateful for my good old friend, and told her so.

I’m deeply grateful for a good new friend, too, who stopped by soon after. When she came by, the house was a mess, and Anna was upside down on the rocking chair—but it was completely OK. I was happy to see her, and not concerned or self-conscious about the messy house (or upside-down parenting).

What a gift it is to have a friend who’s had your back since age 5, and another whom you don’t need to clean up for.

Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together…

Gifts, good luck, lucky breaks. Blessings. We don’t always use the same words, or speak the same language…but sometimes, we mean similar things.

Yesterday, the girls and I went back to the grocery store. We needed milk. That was all. But I believe it’s scientifically impossible to go to the grocery store, with two kids in tow, and buy “just milk.” So…we didn’t.

Once again, Anna tried to sneak different items into the cart. “No,” I said. “Put that back.”

“Oh, fine,” Anna said, in a flawless impersonation of her mom. She grabbed the bag and trudged back to a shelf.

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “That child,” she said (another flawless impersonation of yours truly). “She cracks me up.”

My daughters and I spend so much time together, they sometimes sound like me. I’m grateful for the time, the companionship, all the adventures. All the crazy, and all the love.

Love and friendship have been the biggest gifts in my life.

And twice in my life, I got really lucky.

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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Cocoa Krispies Goodbye Kisses: What Love Looks Like Sometimes

Yesterday morning, Stanton said he was heading out. “Have a great day, girls,” he told our daughters.

Anna, in the midst of eating her breakfast, jumped off her seat. “Love you, Daddy!” She wrapped her arms around his legs, and started to kiss him.

“Whoa, careful there,” Stanton said. He grabbed a napkin and wiped some Cocoa Krispies off of the sweet child’s mouth. At which point Anna delivered her kiss to his navy dress pants.

The moment struck me. This is what love can look like, I thought: a Cocoa Krispies kiss goodbye. Heartfelt, off the cuff, a little messy but worthwhile—love, in a nutshell.

Soon after Stanton left, I brought the girls to soccer camp. It was Anna’s first time at a camp, and I was a little worried. “I could stay and do camp with you,” I said.

“Mom,” Grace hissed. “That would be so embarrassing for Anna and me. Plus, you don’t have shin guards.”

It was true: I didn’t have shin guards.

Anna cupped my face in her hands. “I love you, Mama, but will you please go?”

The irony was not lost on me, friends. Love, also, is letting go.

Heartfelt, off the cuff, a little messy but worthwhile—love, in a nutshell.

Eventually, I did go. I came back too, of course, and when I did, I loved hearing the girls’ stories from their time at soccer camp. There were Popsicle breaks (lots of them) and nice coaches and lots of fun, overall.

“I can’t believe how much I missed you both,” I said. I had grown so accustomed to having them around this summer. I asked if they had missed me too.

“Not at all,” Grace said.

“Just a little,” Anna reported.

I was happy, truly, that my daughters had had a wonderful time without me. Because I want them to be healthy, confident and emotionally strong. I wouldn’t mind if my older daughter missed me somewhat, but… 😉

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There’s so much to love about summer. Dining alfresco. Weekend trips to catch up with family and friends. Catching fireflies in mason jars.

And if you have kids, you also need to figure out how to keep everyone occupied for the several months that school’s out. Camp, child care, to grandmother’s house they go—every family engineers what works for them.

I’m grateful my work schedule can be flexible; the girls and I have been together a lot lately. And it’s been…well, crazy/beautiful.

One morning this past week, I was trying to finish a writing project. I was at my laptop in the kitchen, and the girls were playing on the back porch. Then I heard a crash, followed by Grace’s voice: “Don’t tell Mom.”

Generally not a good sign.

I had my own cringe-worthy quotable moment a few days later. The girls and I were at a playground with friends. Anna needed to use the port-a-potty, which she did. Then she didn’t want to leave the port-a-potty.

“Anna, come on,” I said. “Go play outside, or…I’ll eat all the Doritos.”

If my friend happens to read this, then she can attest that this is a true story, and a direct quote. Not that I’m proud of either of those things. But we had Doritos (a guilty pleasure) at home, and Anna knew I was capable of some serious damage.

(I wish I craved things like roasted fava beans or seaweed salad, which I do find delicious, but no, in moments of end-of-day tiredness…pass me the heavily processed nacho-cheese-flavored tortilla chips with the long list of ingredients on the label, MSG, Red 40 and all. Pass ’em on down, friends.)

Anyway…my threat worked. Anna got out of the port-a-potty, and I didn’t eat all the Doritos. Win-win.

…”Don’t tell Mom.” Generally not a good sign.

Anna’s still young, and a challenge can be that I’m still involved with many of her physiological functions. Accompanying her to the restroom. Applying sunscreen and bug spray. Answering the question, “Is this the right foot?” every time she reaches for her shoes. I don’t mind these things, but I feel I’m responsible for an additional body besides my own.

Again, not the most quixotic thesis on “what love is”…but love nevertheless: port-a-potties, OFF! and shoes.

As I drove the girls to soccer camp this morning, I told them about this post I was writing. “I started it last night,” I said. I had a few Doritos too, but I left that part out (poetic license, you know).

Grace asked me what the title of the post was, and I told her. I glanced in the rear-view mirror, and she was smiling. I smiled back.

The stuff that life’s made of happens in all these little moments, I think. And the biggest, grandest gestures may not be able to make up for missteps, or what we missed.

This is why I try to be patient as I carry Anna, dripping wet, to the restroom fifteen minutes after we got into the pool. And why I read one extra chapter to Grace before bedtime, and take the girls back to the library to see the newly hatched chicks even though we were just there the day before.

I’m not always patient, and I don’t read an extra chapter every night. But I try. Because I sense these things matter.

These things, and Cocoa Krispies kisses goodbye.

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.

All the Beautiful Pictures

Tubes of sunscreen on the back porch, flip-flops piled up nearby, the freezer stocked with ice cream and the lazy Susan cabinet with sugar cones—summer has settled in at our house, and yours too, I’m sure.

Summertime presents a picturesque backdrop. The other evening I was taking a walk alongside rows of century-old evergreens, and the pink-tinted clouds outlining the setting sun took my breath away. It was an Instagram-worthy moment, to be sure, and I almost did take a picture. But then I thought, no…be present, enjoy the moment.

Probably about half the time I’m present, enjoying the moment…and the other half I’m taking pictures, documenting life.

(Partially, I consider my picture-taking habit part of my “mom” job description. If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so images of the past ten years…the majority of them shot tilted upward, which women everywhere know shows our thighs from the most unflattering angle. P.S. Love you, honey! 😉 )

During a different walk, with the girls, Grace asked for my phone. She wanted to take a picture of a butterfly. I told her I had left my phone at home.

“So we can be present,” Grace grumbled.

“Agh,” Anna added.

Huh. “Right,” I said. “Be present together.”

The girls groaned.

Everything in moderation, I’ve tried to explain to my daughters, from screen time to swimming to ice cream. We don’t want to zone out, wear out, sugar-rush out. And I try to practice what I preach.

If I left the photographic record-keeping to my husband, we’d probably have only a dozen or so pictures of the past ten years…

I’m a people person, though, and I do love keeping in touch with family and friends, sharing pictures through text, email and social media. I try to strike a balance between good days and not as good, moments that are both “proud mom” ones as well as “I can’t believe this happened.”

I try not to be annoying, or brag, although I’m sure I’ve done both at some point(s).

A while back, the girls gave me a sticker from a weather-themed sticker sheet. The sticker depicted a sun with “No Bad Days” scrolled underneath. We were driving in the car, on our way to somewhere, and I stuck the sticker under the car radio.

“Do you like it, Mom?” the girls asked.

Of course, I told them. I loved the cheerful-looking sun, and I appreciated the positive-thinking sentiment: “No Bad Days.” There are bad days, though, I told the girls, and that’s OK. We just make the effort to move forward from them.

Recently, I shared a picture, and a friend replied, “Beautiful!” It was a beautiful picture: summer, sunlight, glorious colors and smiles galore. And I thought…all the beautiful pictures.

Each of us may be, consciously or not, on a journey to collect beautiful pictures.

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We want to remember our good times, and our iconic moments. The first day of kindergarten, the time we arrived at the crown of the Statue of Liberty.

All the times we arrived.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and beauty can be found, too, in the moments we wouldn’t adorn with a “No Bad Days” sticker—in the times people showed up for us, were there for us in our darkest hours.

Still, our for-posterity’s-sake photo albums trend toward years of memories cast in perma-sunlight. Mine do, anyway. Why memorialize dusk?

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing. And if a fortune teller looked into their crystal ball and divined for us a lifetime of “No Bad Days”…who wouldn’t want that, at first glance?

My lifetime of 36 years thus far has run the gamut of “Clear/Sunny” to “Cloudy,” with wind speeds ranging from light to strong. There have been some scattered showers, and even a natural disaster or two. It has not been a lifetime of “No Bad Days.”

But if I had the chance to do it all over…I really think I would do it all over, even the truly dark hours. Because I’m not sure I could have ever known what happiness meant, until I felt sorrow too. “Inside Out” told this story too, several summers ago—and it wasn’t the first time a children’s story had a powerful truth to share.

A weather forecast of “Mostly Sunny Forever” sounds enticing.

Movies, we know, are pictures in motion. In high school, I loved the movie “Meet Joe Black.” It was long, clocking in at three hours, and a “box office bomb,” according to IndieWire. But I loved it then, and love it now. “Meet Joe Black” asks questions about life and death, love and family, and includes an awesome coffee-shop scene.

One of my favorite scenes is between Brad Pitt’s Joe Black character and an elderly Jamaican woman who is ailing. Her time on earth is winding down. She tells Joe, “So take that nice picture you got in your head home with you…If we lucky, maybe, we got some nice pictures to take with us.” Joe asks her if she has some nice pictures; she says yes.

This summer, every season, let’s celebrate our beautiful pictures. Every gathering with loved ones, each beach trip, all the ice-cream cones too. Every pink-tinted sunset we pause to photograph, or simply savor as a memory in our head.

All the beautiful pictures represent our Mostly Sunny moments, and every one of us deserves some of those.

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.

Mom, Stinky Is NOT a Good Nickname

A sign of your closeness to someone else often is a nickname you have for them. These terms of endearment range from the classic (dear, darling, love) to the more creative (boo) to the downright delicious (honey, sugar, sweetie pie).

The ones we love best, we rarely call by their given names. This is based on my personal experience, anyway. I love my husband’s unique first name (Stanton), but hardly ever address him with it, instead using the shortened form “Stan”…and some other pet names that I won’t embarrass him with by sharing here.

Both our daughters’ names are deeply meaningful to us. Still, I usually shorten the already-short and sweet “Grace” to “G” when I greet my older daughter. We call Grace “Gracers” too. I’m not sure how this silly but affectionate habit started. And I have no clue when or why I began calling my younger daughter, Anna, “Stinky,” which may be as silly as you can get.

The other day, I overheard another mom call her daughter “Turkey.” I had never heard that one before, and it made me smile. The mom told me that, like “Stinky,” “Turkey” just kind of happened…and stuck.

Soon after, Anna looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, ‘Stinky’ is not a good nickname.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. I promised to try to stick to “Anna” or “boo,” my other frequently used phrase for her. Then we headed to Perfect Blend, our favorite local coffee shop.

The ones we love best, we rarely call by their given names.

Right now, one of the seasonal blends at Perfect Blend is Kenyan Peaberry. It’s really good. I ordered a medium size for myself, and a couple of other items. Then I opened my wallet to pay, and saw my credit card wasn’t in there.

Note to self: Do not let the girls play Grocery Store with my wallet again.

“I might have enough cash,” I told the young man behind the counter.

He kindly told me not to worry. “We could start a tab for you,” he said. “You’re always here; you could pay next time.”

I thanked him for being so kind, and I did pay then. I did have to laugh, though. Was I really always at Perfect Blend?

“Yes, Mom,” Anna told me. “This is your favorite place.”

Sometimes the ones we love best know us better than ourselves.

I do love Perfect Blend. As a good local coffee shop should, it provides a warm, welcoming space for folks to gather, to replenish.

Many times I stop by with one or both of my daughters. Sometimes I meet friends there, or go alone to write.

On our most recent visit, Anna was rummaging through my bag. She pulled out a My Little Pony mini puzzle, Owl Diaries paperback, and handful of notebook paper. Anna waved the paper at me.

“What’s this for?”

I sipped my Kenyan Peaberry. “Mom always has paper in case she comes up with a good story idea.”

“Did you, Mom?”

“Well, the pages are still blank, Stinky…Anna.” (Life is one long lesson in humility, as J.M. Barrie once said.)

Anna stuffed the paper back in my bag, and got to work on the mini puzzle.

“This is your favorite place.”

Sometimes when I’m out and about, I overhear snippets of conversation that strike me. I don’t set out to eavesdrop (really!), but every now and then, my ears perk up at an especially quote-worthy moment, and I wonder about the rest of the story. For example, an older gentleman at Perfect Blend once said to the other older gentleman with him, “Now that was a good fortune cookie.”

Months later, I still wonder…what did that fortune cookie say? I wonder too…did the fortune come true?

(Let this be a lesson to any of my local friends who may be reading this: If you see me at Perfect Blend, and I’ve got notebook paper with me…lower your voice, lest you end up in a blog post. 😉 )

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Yesterday evening, both my daughters and I went to another of our favorite places, the Rail Trail. We took a walk and ended up at a nearby park. The girls started playing hide-and-seek.

There are lots of good hiding spots—behind trees, benches and stones. I watched for a while, and then the girls begged me to hide. “OK,” I agreed.

“One, two, three…”

I hid behind a stone. Seconds later, Anna found me. She laughed with delight and then said, “Now we get to chase you!”

“What!” I laughed too, and ran away.

Grace caught me easily enough, and the three of us collapsed on a bench, still laughing.

Anna rested her head against my chest. “Wow,” she said. “I can really feel your heartbeat, Mom.”

I didn’t have any notebook paper with me, or my phone or laptop. But that sentiment—I can really feel your heartbeat—struck me, and I knew I’d incorporate it into a piece of writing.

(Here goes.)

In my writing life, my goal is to get one piece of work published every year. Just one…at least one. A short story, an essay—anything to keep my portfolio current, and my standing as a writer credible.

It’s June now, and that hasn’t happened yet this year. One literary journal editor did email me one of the nicest rejection letters I ever received, and I appreciated his encouraging feedback on the short story I submitted. Still…no publication.

It can be easy to feel down when things don’t go according to plan. It can be easy to default to doubt.

I’d been feeling some doubt.

Then Anna told me she could really feel my heartbeat.

As unexpected as it seems, there’s amazing grace in hide-and-seek. There’s awesome energy in childlike games like that. Moments that allow us to really feel our heartbeat.

Moments in our favorite places, with the ones we rarely call by the names we first gave them.

Anna’s right, though. “Stinky” is not a good nickname.

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.

That Didn’t Actually Happen

My sister called me one evening, later than she usually does. I felt a mild sense of concern. Answering the phone, I said, “Is everything OK?”

“Ugh, yes, calm down.”

“Ugh”—the universal beginning of yet another wonderful conversation between loved ones.

Jenna was walking home, and I said I’d stay on the line with her until she got there. “You don’t need to do that,” she replied. But I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard, so I insisted.

She asked me what I was doing. Because Stanton was out of town for work, I was doing what I always do when I’m home alone at night, with the girls sleeping upstairs: watching one of my TV shows. I told Jenna I was loving the first season of “Jack Irish,” an Australian TV noir series starring my favorite actor ever.

“Oh, God, Guy Pearce,” Jenna said.

(Love Guy Pearce.)

“What’s going on with you?” I asked. “Have you found a new urologist yet?”

“Endocrinologist! Endocrinologist.”

Right.

…I’m an excellent long-distance bodyguard…

Jenna is taking a course for a certificate, and we talked about that. In the background, I could hear people talking, cars cruising by. Her background, I mean: Center City, Philadelphia.

My background, about 200 miles north near Albany, N.Y., consisted of lamplight, a throw pillow with “Lean On Me” imprinted on the front and my show paused on the TV screen.

“That’s awesome you’re doing this program,” I said.

Jenna mentioned something about the online certificate program I did.

“What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t you do something through the University of California?”

“Oh, right…no, that didn’t actually happen.” I broke off another piece of dark chocolate. “I thought about it, though.”

“Ah, got it.”

Obviously, I was the sibling who grew up to become the big success. 😉 I tapped the remote control against my leg. “Are you almost home?”

“Ugh.”

phone-499991_1920I didn’t mind, at all, that my sister thought I completed a certificate program I never did. And I don’t think she minds (too much) that I’m never 100 percent clear on her health and wellness. But the thought did cross my mind: There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

Over the weekend, Stanton, the girls and I were getting ready for our friends’ party. The girls ran outside. I stuffed tissues, my phone and bug spray into my bag. Then I called to Stanton, “Do you have…”

“The keys? Yes.”

“No, do you have…”

“Yes, I have everyone’s water bottles.”

“Honey.” I looked at him. “I was going to ask if you had the corn and black bean salad. Why,” I added, “do you still try to finish my sentences?”

“Because I never can, right?”

“You never can,” I agreed. After all this time together, we are not one of those magical couples that can finish each other’s sentences.

Stanton nodded and then noted, “I do have the corn and black bean salad, and the Tostitos too.”

He had the Tostitos too. We were good to go, friends.

On the drive to the party, the four of us called my grandmother. It was her 91st birthday, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her over the phone. Yelled “Happy Birthday” to Grandma is more like it, because she has trouble hearing on speaker phone.

“We love you, Grandma!” Stanton, Grace, Anna and I shouted one last time, before hanging up.

I wasn’t sure if Grandma heard us or not…but she knew it was us.

There are people we love very much whose details we don’t know very well.

My birthday is in early April, and I was born in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every now and then, it snows in early April in Northeastern Pennsylvania. For years, I thought it had snowed the day I was born. I thought this is what my parents had said. This year, on this birthday, I discovered this wasn’t true.

“The day you were born was sunny and beautiful,” my mom mentioned, when she wished me a happy birthday.

“I thought it was snowing,” I said.

“The day we brought you home, it snowed,” my mom replied. “But not the day you were born.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All this time, I had the story wrong. The story of my birthday, of all things.

My mom repeated that yes, I was born on a beautiful sunny day. And I admit, I like that story better. “Beautiful sunny day” sets a more picturesque scene than “freak April snowstorm.”

But how could that have happened? How did the details of something so important, so personal, get mixed up and stay mixed up for decades?

All this time, I had the story wrong.

When I write or edit nonfiction work, I strive mightily to make sure the information is correct. I fact-check names, dates, places. I proofread according to style guides, spelling out an acronym here and inserting a serial comma there. I consider questions of ethics, especially concerning people’s privacy.

I am the stereotypically Type A, minutiae-obsessed, red-pen-wielding editor.

In my personal life, though…not so much. For whatever reason, or excuse—I have two young children, so much is going on—the details sometimes fall through the cracks.

On some level, this matters. There are times when I could be a better listener. There are times when others could listen a little better to me.

And on another level…whether it was sunny or snowing, it was a beautiful day to be born.

Ninety-one years later, whether you heard the words or not, you know your grandchildren called to sing “Happy Birthday” on speaker phone.

Maybe things didn’t happen how we thought they did, or would. But there were people there for us—with us.

The knack for finishing each other’s sentences may be overrated.

It is a good idea, though, to have a long-distance bodyguard on speed dial.

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.

The Rest is a Secret…or Not

One of my favorite spots for Saturday morning breakfast here in the Capital Region is Iron Gate Café. If you know me in real life, then you probably already know this—I recommend this local restaurant whenever the topic of weekend brunch comes up.

Located downtown near Center Square, Iron Gate Café serves up hearty, wonderfully seasoned meals in a renovated 19th-century mansion. It has lots of space, so folks usually need not wait long to be seated. The servers are always friendly.

There is also an Elvis room.

Stanton and I were there recently for breakfast. A Saturday morning, of course. Our friendly server poured two cups of coffee for us.

Now, another great thing about Iron Gate Café is that it serves Death Wish Coffee, a nationally popular coffee brand that’s headquartered in nearby Ballston Spa. I love Death Wish, but the coffee I tasted that morning was a little different—even more delicious than usual. “This is amazing,” I told the server. “Are you all still using Death Wish?”

She nodded and explained that Death Wish had created a one-of-a-kind blend just for them.

Years ago, I was the editor of a food and wine magazine, and part of me still loves getting this kind of “inside scoop” from the local dining scene. “Awesome,” I said. “What’s in the blend?” I took another sip of my coffee, trying to figure out the flavor combination.

Caramel, she said, in addition to something else that, days later, I’ve now forgotten (possibly chocolate)…but I do clearly remember her saying, “and the rest is a secret.”

I laughed, appreciating the sentiment. Who doesn’t love a secret family recipe of sorts? Stanton just smiled and shook his head, contentedly drinking his coffee, happy just to have it and not needing to know the story behind the beverage.

I was happy just to have coffee too.

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Although…as we were sitting there, I did think about how we often do want to know. Human beings are not much for secrets, or uncertainty. This probably has been true since time began, and we tried to make sense of the world through stories, and later set sail across oceans and sent spacecraft sky-high to discover what else was (is) out there.

Today, technology continuously bridges the gap between uncertainty and discovery. “Just ask your phone, Mom,” my daughters encourage, whenever I say I’m not sure of something.

To some of us, phones are magic.

Yet as curious as I was about the flavor combination that morning (caramel, possibly chocolate and what else?), I really appreciated—more than anything—simply having that time together with my husband. To be there together, being present together…I appreciated that so much. I didn’t need to know all the details to know that I loved that moment.

Sometimes, simply being—simply being present—is sacred.

Human beings are not much for secrets, or uncertainty.

When I see people together in restaurants, I often can tell (and maybe you can too) how well they know one another. How long they’ve been in one another’s lives…how many cups of coffee they’ve shared. This exercise is more art than science, but a dead giveaway once was when a man said to the woman he was with, “Now, what’s your sister’s name again?” Conclusion: Clearly, they were still getting to know each other.

People who look very good for each other at Iron Gate Café at 10 a.m. on a Saturday…mm-hmm, I’d guess they’re still in the early stages of knowing each other too. These couples stand in stark contrast to the still-pajama-clad groups of college students and youngish-looking roommates who roll in together, groggily requesting coffee, coffee, coffee. And then there’s everyone else, a wide range of folks in between these bookends—Stanton and I would fall somewhere in there, somewhere in the middle.

After a while, in relationships, in friendships…you know each other. There are things you just know. And sometimes, there are things you never do.

“We can love completely without complete understanding,” Norman Maclean wrote in his classic memoir (and my favorite book) “A River Runs Through It.” I have found this to be true. Maybe you have too.

This is why, then, I so appreciated the server’s saying that the rest of the coffee blend recipe was a secret. It’s OK, I think, to let some things be. To allow some real magic to exist the world. Even to be blissfully ignorant every now and then.

I told her all this, you know. After we finished our breakfast, I said, “I love that there’s a secret here.”

She glanced sideways, then said, “Actually…I forgot the rest of the ingredients in the blend.”

I gasped. “No way.” But she nodded; Stanton laughed.

And there went a perfectly good blog post, friends. 😉

But that’s life.

Just when you thought you figured it all out…just when you felt you had the answer you’d been waiting for, or reached your final destination (finally!)…hold on now, not quite there yet.

There’s still more to discover. Life can surprise you yet.

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.