All the Mistakes I’ve Made (So Far)

On our last day of summer vacation, I squeezed a dollop of sunscreen into Grace’s hand. “Mom,” she said, “remember that time you squirted spray sunscreen onto my face?”

I groaned. “Yes…one of the dumbest things I ever did.” That happened during a previous summer (“vacation”?), when Grace was 4, Anna six months old, and myself six months postpartum and still sleep-deprived.

Then, as now, we were getting ready to go swimming, and I didn’t know—how could I not have known?—that I could use spray sunscreen on my child’s body but not her face.

Seven-year-old Grace laughed. “You were supposed to spray it in your hand, and then rub it on my face.”

Anna, age 3 1/2, laughed too. “Geez, Mom!”

“My eyes and nose burned!”

I cringed at the memory. “OK, OK. Let’s talk about something else.”

“How about,” Anna brought up, “when you were pulling me in my little red wagon, and it tipped over?”

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “Remember when you did that, Mom? That was, like, this year.”

“Ugh, yes.” Walking home from our town’s Memorial Day parade.

“Mom.” Anna lowered her voice. “My head was bleeding.”

“I know, I know.” I closed my eyes at the horrible memory. “Why do you both remember so well all these mistakes I made?”

The girls just laughed.

I laughed (a little) too. “I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”

“We will,” Anna promised.

Grace nodded her agreement. “Of course, Mom.” Then she said, “Remember the time we were playing outside, and you almost dropped Anna?”

I buried my head in my hands.

“I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”

A few days later, Grace went back to school. I took some pictures to commemorate her first day of first grade (and I’ll do the same when Anna returns to preschool this week). Later this year, as I always do, I’ll compile these pictures, along with other good memories, into an annual family photo album.

I was thinking, though…decades from now, will the highlight-reel moments from these family photo albums actually be what my daughters remember? The first days of school, and first soccer games and piano recitals; holidays with extended families and friends; summer-vacation swimming (after all the sunscreen had been applied). All the wonderful, memory-worthy occasions.

Or—or instead, will the memories that stick top-of-mind for my daughters be a collection of my not-best-moments? “All the Mistakes Mom Made”?

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Well, if personal experience can offer any indication…then yes, unfortunately, my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them. Because I still remind my own mom of some of her snafus from my childhood. Which is, I am well aware, childish and pointless at this point…because I’m 35 and a mom myself, and I should cut my mom some slack.

But no, sometimes for no good reason, when talking with my mom, I remind her how she often was late picking me up from my high school volleyball practices. I, of course, sprayed sunscreen into my 4-year-old’s face, but my mom had the nerve not to leave work in time to pick me up from tossing a ball over a net with my classmates.

As a new mom, I promised my newborn daughter I’d never be late picking her up anymore. “Mommy may blind you with spray sunscreen, sweetheart, but she’ll be on time, gosh darnit.”

Life is humbling, isn’t it?

…my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them.

If my daughters were to ask me, in fact, what I’ve learned about life—what 35 years of experience and “learning experiences” (ahem, mistakes) have taught me—that’s what I’d tell them: Life is humbling.

You think you know what you’re doing, or what you’d do, and then you don’t.

You think you did something worth status-updating about, and then you learn about something even more impressive, or heroic, or selfless that someone else did.

You cause your daughter to fall out of a wagon and hurt her head, and then later that evening, she wraps her little arms around you and, totally unprompted, says, “I love you, Mom.”

Have you ever had a moment like that? I’m sure you have. A moment of humility and unconditional love, in which you recognize, “I’m so lucky. I have done nothing to deserve this. In fact, I’ve done stupid things, I’ve made mistakes, and yet I get the gift of this.”

My mom may have made some mistakes regarding timeliness and my volleyball practices, but she (and my dad) did a million things to give my siblings and me a loving and love-filled life. And of all the things, the best things were my siblings. (P.S. to Josh, Jared and Jenna: Really. 😉 )

…of all the things, the best things were my siblings.

I called my sister recently, and she answered but said she couldn’t talk. I remembered, from speaking with her earlier, that she was out with friends then. So I said, half-jokingly, “Are you really telling me you have something more important to do than talk to me?”

Jenna laughed, apologized…and hung up. She called me back the next day, and we talked then.

But I was only half-joking when I asked if she really had something more important to do. Because my sister is always there for me. We talk, text and email all the time about a wide range of topics covering varying degrees of importance (family, friendships and careers…the latest paparazzi photos of Prince Harry).

Over the years, Jenna has also helped me see our parents with more patient eyes. “You need to get over that,” she once said (probably after I brought up the volleyball practices for the 250th time).

I’m sure she’s right, about whatever it was. She usually is. I do, however, share my daughters’ talent for a long memory.

Which brings me back to my children, and our family memories.

It’s possible they’ll forgo the annual photo albums in favor of “All the Mistakes Mom Made.” Seventy years from now, Grace and Anna might be huddled over a kitchen table, cups of coffee in their hands and easy conversation flowing between them. And instead of reminiscing about apple picking at Indian Ladder Farms or sledding at Maple Ridge Park, they’ll recall the spray sunscreen. And the Memorial Day wagon incident…and on and on and on.

And when they’ve retold the last story of many, from “All the Mistakes Mom Made,” they’ll still have each other.

I’m extremely thankful for that.

I was telling my mom about this blog post. “I’m going to call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made.'”

“You should call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made So Far,'” my mom replied.

We both laughed. Then my mom noted that she made her share of mistakes too.

“I know,” I said (in that half-joking way of mine that doesn’t irritate my family members at all). “I didn’t repeat any of your mistakes, Mom.”

“Well, that’s great, honey.”

“I made a bunch of my own, though.” And I did—a bunch.

“I made a bunch of my own, though.”

Somewhere along the way, we grow up. Or we don’t, but hopefully we do. We grow up, and we realize our parents did the best they could. They made mistakes, and so did we. So do we.

We realize we are all perfectly imperfect. We recognize life is fragile, and beautiful, and not for forever. We can either forgive, forget and move forward, or dredge up every past misstep and choose ill will over joy.

I hope my daughters choose forgiveness and joy. And I hope they grow to be very old, and very happy, and get to have many cups of coffee and much conversation together, like the picture I have in my memory.

Even if they are conjuring up “All the Mistakes Mom Made” while reaching for the half-and-half.

(Oh, and Mom? Thank you. For helping me with this post title, and for all the other things I should have thanked you for, but never did.)

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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On Making French Onion Soup

It was a rainy day. A drizzle in the beginning, and then a downpour.

“The earth needs a drink of water,” Anna said. This is how I explained rain to her, once upon a time, and she remembered.

I don’t mind rainy days. Every now and then, especially during summertime, it’s refreshing to take a break from sunscreen, water bottles and hours-long outdoor fun (swimming! sandboxes! biking!) and simply hang out.

Read on the front porch. Watch a movie. Go to the coffee shop (my personal favorite).

Or make French onion soup, as I recently did.

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For Christmas, my brother Jared gave me a copy of The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka. I’ve made several recipes from it since then, and liked them all. My favorite one probably is the recipe for French onion soup.

Do you like French onion soup, friends? It might be an acquired taste; I don’t know.

When I was growing up, there was a local restaurant called Jim Dandy’s. My family and I often dined there. And when we did, I ordered their French onion soup. It was hot and cheesy—what was there not to love? Jim Dandy’s made me fall, hard, for French onion soup.

The foods we prefer now, as adults, usually are the ones we loved as children. It’s why, even at the swankiest restaurants, you often find some version of macaroni and cheese on the menu. Sure, maybe it features bites of lobster. Maybe it boasts Beaufort D’Ete. But you know, and the restaurant knows, that underneath all the glamour and gourmet ingredients, you’ll take a bite and happily remember the Kraft version your mom or dad threw together way back when.

So I recreated that happy childhood memory—French onion soup—that rainy day.

But you know, and the restaurant knows, that underneath all the glamour and gourmet ingredients, you’ll take a bite and happily remember the Kraft version your mom or dad threw together way back when.

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The Skinnytaste recipe for French onion soup estimates that it takes about an hour and a half to cook, start to finish.

I read once that you can’t rush soup…and the home cook in me begs to differ. You can rush pretty much anything if you’re hungry enough, friends.

In this recipe, the onions go through three stages of cooking: 1) softening, 2) caramelizing and 3) simmering. Each stage is supposed to consist of 30 minutes each, but I’ve found you can get the job done in about 25 minutes per stage.

It’s pretty cool, I think, to watch onions transform through softening in the beginning…

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and then caramelizing…

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and finally simmering. I took this picture before adding the dry sherry, white wine and beef stock…but hopefully, you get a sense of the distinctions in the three stages here:

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I didn’t really start cooking until after Grace was born. Before parenthood, Stanton and I loved trying out different local restaurants together, and becoming regulars at our favorites. Given the choice, I still would rather make a reservation than make dinner. 😉

Over the years, though, I have found a fulfillment in feeding the people I love. There must be something innate or biological about this, because I really do love eating out. But when Grace or Anna ask for a second helping of the pasta and meatballs I make every week, or the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets we always have on hand in the freezer (that counts as semi-homemade, right?)…I feel good.

Given the choice, I still would rather make a reservation than make dinner.

Grace and Stanton share similar tastes. Basically, they both love red meat. Burgers, steak, tacos. Grace’s favorite fast-food chain is Five Guys. Do they like my French onion soup? The answer is no, although they will politely have a few spoonfuls. Anna, however, will sit down and enjoy a bowl with me.

Because French onion soup isn’t a crowd favorite in my house, I don’t make it all the time. Just on chance rainy days.

“Some people walk in the rain; others just get wet.” (Roger Miller)

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I didn’t think, when I was younger, that I would grow up into the kind of person who makes soup on a rainy day, and enjoys it. Instead of, say, the kind of person who does something just a bit more interesting.

In the moment, as we’re living life, it’s easy to forget the value in our many, seemingly mundane tasks. Preparing food for a family. Answering the phone when a friend calls, even though we don’t have much time to talk. Helping a co-worker save face. Waving another driver into our lane from the parking lot, even though it means we may not make the green light ahead.

It’s also easy to forget, or maybe not even consider, that who we are now…what we’re doing right now…maybe this is what was meant to be all along, even if the route to our current destination was circuitous, confusing or all-out crazy.

I’m not a great cook. I can’t create a recipe like I can create story. What I can do is (mostly) follow a recipe. I can make sure nobody is hungry. I can offer second helpings and listen to what happened during everyone’s day, and share some of my own.

I offered our neighbor, who told me she had a cold, some French onion soup. She said thanks, but no thanks. “I never really got into French onion soup,” she said.

“It’s an acquired taste,” I agreed.

Anna, who was with me, crossed her arms. “My mom?” she said to our neighbor. “Her soup is delicious.”

Our neighbor laughed; I did too. It’s nice to have somebody in your corner. “I’ll have to give it another try,” she said.

“It’s OK if you don’t,” I assured her.

Some things are acquired tastes.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Last Call: Tell Me Everything

Every night, I rock my 3-year-old daughter, Anna, to sleep. Stanton thinks she’s old enough that my rocking her isn’t necessary. Just lay her down, tuck her in, he says.

It isn’t necessary, I agree, night after night. I just love doing it; she loves it too.

This isn’t efficient, he adds, as I sink into the old recliner, and Anna folds herself into me. “Squishes in to get cozy,” she calls it.

I’ll see you in about 30 minutes, I often say to Stanton. And he—he of adept efficiency—says he’ll see me then.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more. Especially if we have an older child, or older children, whose first instinct these days isn’t to reach for us, but to make requests and issue directives. Can I have a play date with Sophia? I’m tired of eating turkey-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch. Don’t walk me all the way, Mom.

At the end of the day, with my little girl, I’m unapologetically inefficient.

The recliner we have is almost seven years old. Stanton and I bought it a few months before Grace was born. It’s worn; creaky if you lean too much to the right; and the most comfortable seat in our house.

Sometimes we, as moms, can’t help wanting to hold our children just a little bit more.

The other night, I was rocking Anna. She wasn’t tired just yet. She was talking to me about Lizzy, my brother- and sister-in-law’s dog. She was saying she loved walking Lizzy, which she had done this past Thanksgiving when we were visiting them.

“Wow,” I said, surprised at her enduring memory. (I barely remember what happened yesterday.)

“Lottie and D-Daddy were there,” Anna went on. “And we walked and walked Lizzy. It was fun.”

“I’m so glad you have happy memories,” I said.

Anna nodded. “I have happy memories, Mom, but they don’t glow like in Inside Out.”

I smiled at Anna’s point of reference. “That’s OK, honey.”

Anna looked up at me with wide eyes. “There was a scary part, and Grace gave me a pillow and held my hand.”

They hadn’t watched the movie together in a while. Again, I was surprised at everything Anna remembered. “Because Grace loves you so much.”

“Yeah, I know that, Mom.” With the abundant self-confidence of a child. “Bing Bong is my favorite,” Anna added, laughing.

I laughed too. “I love all your memories.”

“But they don’t glow, Mom,” Anna reminded me. She snuggled against my chest. “And that’s what I remember.”

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As we go along in our lives, certain memories stick with us, for whatever reasons. Chance? Or maybe something scientific (a process involving synapses perhaps).

I have a clear memory of Anna, and that old recliner. Mostly clear, anyway. I’m not positive of the date, but I believe it was the day Stanton and I brought Anna home, or the day after. So Anna was three or four days old.

It was nighttime. I was in the nursery, holding Anna in the recliner. I had had a cold when I gave birth to Anna (it was February), and now she had the same cold. She could only breathe well if she was held upright; otherwise, she got congested, and coughed and sniffled. I held her upright all the time, for two weeks until she felt better. At that point, though, we were at Day 3 (or 4).

I was holding Anna against my chest, all seven pounds, eight ounces of her. Three years later, I can still almost feel her soft, newborn cheek against my chin.

Stanton walked into the nursery. He asked how I was.

I remember telling him, “I’m so happy.”

I remember that because it’s not something I say very often (which you may find surprising). I say I’m grateful all the time. Another popular self-description is frazzled. But happy—despite my glass-half-full nature, I reserve happy for moments of joy. Deep, conscious-of-something-beautiful joy.

That child was (is) my something beautiful, just like her big sister.

Stanton stayed near the door, looking at us. I remember thinking he looked oddly serious. “What?” I asked.

“I’ll take care of you and the girls,” he said.

That was encouraging to hear, considering I had just given birth to our child. Nice to know he wasn’t plotting a midnight escape, three (or four) days postpartum. 😉

My memory of that night is being happy (though exhausted), and hearing Stanton recommit that he’d stick around.

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random—a motley crew of people, places, blink-and-you-would-have-missed-it moments. Walking a dog, Bing Bong, the hand of someone who loves you.

Lately, after both girls are asleep, Stanton and I have been watching Cheers reruns on Netflix. (Welcome to our cheesy life. 😉 ) Cheers may come across as unsophisticated for today’s sitcom standards (the laugh track! Rhea Perlman’s over-the-top Carla Tortelli! Coach!), but it’s sweet, classic.

I get this, Stanton said recently. A local place. People who know you, people who care.

Who wouldn’t want that? I agreed.

Although, thinking back now, some of us wouldn’t want that. Some of us may prefer living more anonymously, adventuring far and wide, footprints in the sand and memories as picturesque as postcards. I’ve been reading The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, and I love this line from it: “There was no perfect way to live” (page 302).

So many memories that stick with us center on people who’ve stuck with us too. Just as many are random…

However each of us lives, whatever differences there may be among us, I do hope everyone has a good share of happy memories.

Crazy how our minds can speed along a train of thought, a far-reaching railroad track of time, history and memory. Books, TV shows, favorite places, milestones like the birth of a child…nighttime.

The end of the day, with dark outside and lamplight glow in, often offers us the ideal setting for honest conversation. No rush. Tired so that we don’t finesse language, but speak from the heart.

The end of the day is a last call of sorts, whether we’re toasting at a Cheers-like place, winding down the day (the adventures, or the minutiae), or snuggling a child to sleep. Tell me everything…be here next time.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Coincidence (or Fate) and a Few Wrong Turns: A San Francisco Story

About 17 years ago, I was standing outside a high school in my Pennsylvania hometown. It was a Saturday morning, and I was waiting to take the SAT II’s, in Writing and Math. At that time (and maybe still today), the majority of colleges didn’t require SAT II scores in addition to the much more familiar SAT scores. But a college I was interested in—the University of Richmond—did.

Like other writers before me, math has never been an intuitive skill of mine. There are times, today, when I’ll catch a glimpse of one of Stanton’s Excel worksheets on his laptop, chock-full of line after line of numbers and budget items for his job, and my eyes will literally glaze over. Excel = my cure for any bout of insomnia.

So 17 years ago, I was feeling confident about the SAT II in Writing, and concerned about the Math one. Part of my concern stemmed from my unfamiliarity with my new graphing calculator, which my handy SAT II prep booklet had instructed me to bring to the testing site that morning. What were all these buttons for again? Sine, cosine…I was pretty clueless.

Standing outside that sunny morning, I noticed a girl. She was tall and blonde, and—I’m relying on an old memory here, but I believe this next part is true, too—had a large supply of No. 2 pencils. This girl looked prepared, I thought. She also looked like a person who would know how to work the sine and cosine buttons on my calculator. I walked over to find out if she did.

As it turned out, the answer was yes. She was warm, friendly, helpful. She helped me with my calculator. We chatted some more, and I discovered she also was applying to and hoping to attend the University of Richmond. Popular colleges for high schoolers in our part of Pennsylvania include Lehigh University, Penn State and St. Joe’s in Philadelphia. It was extremely coincidental (or, perhaps, fate) that I bumped into anyone else thinking about that particular school in Richmond, Va.

As it turned out, the answer was yes.

Allison and I ended up heading six hours south and attending the University of Richmond together. She was my first friend in college. When she invited Stanton (whom I met in college, and whom Allison knows well, too) and me to her wedding in San Diego, this past weekend, we very much wanted to be there for her, if possible.

Flying from our home in New York across the country to California—that’s a bit of a trip, friends. Not a problem, but a bit of a trip, East Coast to West. Coincidentally, Allison’s wedding date fell around the same time as our 10-year wedding anniversary. Stanton and I decided to combine our good friend’s happy day with a mini vacation of our own—several days in Napa, by way of San Francisco. We flew out to the Golden State earlier that week.

Before we left for our West Coast adventure, my dad gave me his copy of the AAA TourBook for Northern California. I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore? We’ve got our phones with access to Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Uber. A guide book I could hold in my hand—of course my dad had one.

I did read through my dad’s AAA TourBook, but the Millennial in me couldn’t help but turn to Yelp for a first-morning-in-Northern-California breakfast spot recommendation. Yelp recommended the Beanstalk Café, not far from our hotel in Union Square—lots of good reviews, opening soon at 8 a.m., sounded perfect. Stanton consulted Google Maps on his phone for directions.

Seconds later, we trekked up one of San Francisco’s famous hilly streets for breakfast, my dad’s guide book tucked away in my carry-on back at the hotel.

I smiled with affection, and some amusement. Does anyone but a dad still actually have these kinds of hard-copy guide books and maps anymore?

If you ever find yourself near Union Square in San Francisco, the Beanstalk Café is a solid choice for breakfast. Stanton and I both enjoyed their signature toast cups (bacon-wrapped scrambled eggs baked within bread—I could have eaten another one!) and coffee. I’ve enjoyed a lot of coffee, in a lot of places, and this place’s coffee is amazing.

Now, I wasn’t planning on writing this post. If I was, then I would have taken a picture of my toast cup to show you, friends. I would have been that person styling and photographing her food (typical Millennial behavior, right, Dad?), instead of doing what generations before us have done with food—putting it in their mouth, and chewing.

But one hour into our San Francisco excursion, things took a turn for the story-worthy. (You never do know when your life is about to take a turn for the story-worthy, do you?)

Stanton and I had been to California before (San Diego, both of us; Monterey, just him), but never to San Francisco. Of course, we wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge; we had to. Also on the itinerary my Type A self had prepared weeks ago: A drive by 2311 Broadway, the house where Party of Five, one of my favorite TV shows, had been filmed.

“Ugh, Party of Five,” Stanton said, as we walked out of the Beanstalk Café.

“Come on, it will be fun!”

“What will you do there, Mel?”

“I just want to see it, Stan.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf. Then we came upon a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. Stanton gestured. “Let’s take the subway to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then we’ll take an Uber to Fisherman’s Wharf to pick up our rental car.”

Stanton grumbled a bit more about my ‘90s nostalgia and enduring affection for Scott Wolf.

“Why don’t we just take an Uber to both places?”

“Mel, the subway is right here.”

I frowned. “How about a trolley, or cable car? Those things are much more San Francisco.”

“But the subway is here, honey.”

Reluctantly, I fell into step with Stanton as we made our way down. “You know I don’t like being underground.”

“I do. You’ll be fine.”

We walked past a gentleman playing lively music on his guitar, as well as several folks engaged in questionable activities. “I’m also concerned about earthquakes.” I grabbed Stanton’s hand.

“The chances of that happening…”

Huh…I witnessed a few more questionable activities. “Stanton. I am officially out of my comfort zone.”

Stanton squeezed my hand. “We’re fine, Mel. I’ll just buy our tickets, and we’ll be at Golden Gate in no time.”

And when Stanton asked the lady behind the Information Desk how to get to the location, that’s how he described it: “Golden Gate.” (A mistake, as we would later learn.)

“Take the N train,” she told us.

“N?” Stanton repeated.

She nodded. “N as in ‘nasty.’”

The N as in ‘nasty’ train, friends…that should have been our first clue.

The lady directed Stanton to hold his ticket against an electronic reader. He did, and then walked through the turnstile.

“And what should I do?” I asked the lady.

She peered through her glasses at me. “Follow him.” (This is a direct quote.)

Follow him. Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

But I didn’t know then what I know now. So I followed him, friends.

Stanton and I would later joke that this was not the best advice anyone ever gave me.

Two other things we should have asked that lady: 1) The N as in ‘nasty’ inbound or outbound train? We didn’t know, and we needed to know. And 2) at which station did we get off the train? Two major questions.

We ended up on the outbound train—an educated guess. Then I asked another rider where we should exit to see Golden Gate.

“The park, or the bridge?”

I smiled blankly. “Excuse me?”

“Golden Gate Park, or Golden Gate Bridge?” this lady said in accented English. “They are two different places.”

“Are they pretty close to each other?” Stanton asked, nodding optimistically.

The lady shook her head. “No.”

I looked at Stanton. “We have no idea where we’re going. Let’s get off this train.”

Stanton grunted his agreement, and we got off at the next stop. We walked back up to street level.

Have you ever seen the movie My Cousin Vinny? There’s a scene in which the title character’s girlfriend, played by the excellent Marisa Tomei, notes that she and her New York City-accented, leather-jacket-wearing boyfriend “don’t blend” in the small-town Alabama setting they’ve found themselves in.

Let me tell you, friends: Wherever in San Francisco we were that morning, at that moment, Stanton and I didn’t blend.

“Stanton…”

“I know, I know, I’m getting an Uber now.”

And then, like many a wife has done during a romantic getaway with her better half, I looked at my husband and hissed, “You did this to us. This is your fault.”

Never one to lose his cool (except when watching his beloved San Antonio Spurs), Stanton continued tapping at his phone.

“We have no idea where we’re going.”

Minutes later, we hopped into our Uber ride. “My husband may have mixed this up when he called you,” I said to the driver, as Stanton shook his head, “but we’d like to go to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge, not the park.”

“OK,” the driver said, confirming the information with his phone. He picked up another passenger, and we were off.

We drove along, and drove along some more. Then I noticed a street sign: Broadway. We continued along Broadway, a thoroughfare lined on both sides with gorgeously maintained Victorians. “Stan…oh, my gosh.”

“Mel, you should feel completely fine here…”

“No, no.” I scrolled through my itinerary (in an emailed “note to self”) and smiled. “This is the street the Party of Five house is on!”

The driver stopped and dropped off the other passenger at a home across the street from the site of the Salinger family’s many and varied dramas. (One of my favorite quotes from the series: “She’s a juvenile delinquent, Bai!” –Will to Bailey, regarding fun but troubled Jill, in the first season.)

“What are the chances?!” I rolled down the window and took a bunch of pictures, as any bona fide fan would do. Here’s one of them, for all the other Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox and Neve Campbell (circa 1994–2000) fans out there:

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“I can’t believe that happened,” I said, as we began driving through Pacific Heights again. “That was the craziest coincidence. The subway, the N as in ‘nasty’ train, the wrong stop…all of that led to this.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, honey.”

“And I’m not upset with you anymore, Stan.”

“That’s good, too.”

Finally, we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge. Here’s the picture of that, because you can’t go to San Francisco for the first time and not get a picture of yourself against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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A breathtaking place.

Stanton and I both loved walking the nature trails of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area surrounding the bridge. The setting, along the deep-blue Pacific Ocean, is amazingly gorgeous and refreshing. We could have stayed all day, simply walking and listening to the waves breaking.

We had to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, though, to pick up our rental car and head to Napa for a wine tasting reservation. Another Uber, please.

(A travel tip, for those who may not know: It’s difficult to find parking in San Francisco, and it can be expensive to park in the city, too. For example, it would have cost us about $60 to park a car at our Union Square hotel overnight, for just one night. Thus, we didn’t want to pick up our rental car until we were ready to drive it out of the city.)

I asked this Uber driver to bring us to Ghirardelli Square, which (according to my dad’s TourBook) was an easy walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. “The original Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is there,” the chocoholic in me informed the driver. He smiled politely, but didn’t seem interested.

Soon after, he pulled over at a busy intersection. Stanton and I exchanged a glance. “Is this Ghirardelli Square?” I asked him.

He smiled politely again, and pointed to his phone. “My phone says it is.”

My phone says it is. Even the Millennial in me will agree (as my dad certainly would) that there’s something unfortunate about that statement, about that philosophy. Stanton and I hopped out, crossed the street, and did indeed find Ghirardelli Square close by.

We enjoyed walking through the elegant space…

3_Outside Ghirardelli Square

…and partaking in Ghirardelli chocolate treats inside the red-brick building. (Impossible to resist.)

4_Inside Ghirardelli Chocolate

Fisherman’s Wharf, nearby, was much more tourist-y, but still fun to see. There was a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on Jefferson Street, and any time I see one of those, I sense I’m in Tourist Trap Central. (Can you believe the hills?)

5_Fisherman's Wharf

We picked up our car, then bags at the hotel, and headed to Napa. On our drive back to San Francisco later that week, Stanton and I exited before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in order to explore the national recreation area again, this time on the north—we love this place. Absolutely beautiful. We conferred with our phones and my dad’s TourBook to find directions, and were mostly successful.

6_North Tower

However, we inadvertently drove into Sausalito, a lovely coastal town opposite San Francisco. It felt like a “hidden gem” find to us. The pace is a little more laid-back, and parking is easier. We had dinner at the Salsalito Taco Shop (gotta love that pun)—a seafood platter for Stanton, some lettuce wraps with chicken and veggies for me (pictured below).

7_Salsalito Taco Shop

How do we end up where we do? On a visit to an unfamiliar city…on a Saturday morning taking the SAT II’s…wherever we find ourselves right now, this very minute?

Some of us may believe that a life is a series of events, strung together across many years, a random collection of people, places and things. Life as chance, as coincidence. A valid point of view, to be sure.

Others of us may believe that some things are meant to be. That people, places and things come into a life for reasons. Even if the reason is simply to surprise and delight us with the apparent craziness of the moment (my Party of Five house moment), so that we can remind ourselves to smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

Have a little faith in the goodness of life, the beauty and resilience of it, and in the goodness of the people who surround us.

Or maybe life is a little of both, part coincidence, part fate.

I’m not going to make a case for one point of view or the other. I am, after all, the person who still isn’t quite sure how to use a graphing calculator, 17 years later. What do I know?

…smile, take a breath, have a little faith.

One thing I do know. This past weekend, my husband and I attended our good friend’s wedding. Allison looked radiant as she walked down the aisle holding the arms of her mom and dad. I felt tears come to my eyes.

I was happy for her, that she had found the perfect person for herself. I was grateful for our friendship, our love for each other.

(Because what good is anything—a special occasion, an ordinary day, a misadventure on a San Francisco subway that becomes a story—if you don’t have friends and family to share that journey with, and reminisce and laugh about it with later?)

Most of all, I was happy to be there.

Whatever coincidence, or fate, may have contributed to my being there, at that moment, to share in joy, friendship and all the good things that words often struggle to explain, and math and science can’t quantify…but that move us in life, and that we remember for years…

I was happy to find myself there.

(P.S. Congratulations and best wishes to the newlyweds. We love you. ❤ )

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

When a Picture Falls Out of a Book

One corner of my kitchen countertop is a mess, always. Stuff just accumulates there.

My daughters’ ponytail holders. My Us Weekly magazines (I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit, I’ve been a subscriber, off and on, for years). Stanton’s various electronic gadgets. Pens, batteries, coupons, Shopkins, the occasional card. Lots…of…stuff.

The other day, I tried to clean up some of the stuff. Scoop the ponytail holders into a drawer. Recycle the magazines. Then I picked up an overstuffed file folder and a coming-unbound book—“Chocolatina” by Erik Kraft, one of the girls’ favorites—and a picture fluttered out of the jumble of paper and pages.

This picture:

When a Picture Falls Out

This picture shows my three siblings and me with our mom and her parents, our Poppy and Grandma. I’m the cute one. Just kidding, friends. 😉 I’m the one wearing the orange shirt.

My brother Josh is making bunny ears on my head. My other brother, Jared (in the striped shirt), would grow up to become the cute one. My sister Jenna is resting her head on the table.

I’m not sure whose birthday we’re celebrating here. If one of them is reading this, maybe they’ll help me out. (Hint, hint…)

I emailed this picture to my family, along with some old friends who have been around us Minetolas so long, and sat at that kitchen table with us so much, that they, too, know all the characters in this story.

Jared replied all: “photo cred: John Minetola?” That would be my dad, and I replied that yes, I thought so. Otherwise, he would have been in the picture.

This was before the selfie stick era, you know.

When this picture fell out of that book, I wasn’t expecting it. But instantly, after I picked it up, I smiled.

I smiled because it was a happy memory. Not a perfect memory—whose birthday cake was that?—but a happy one, because we were all there together. And I’m grateful that we still do gather around that table, many years later, for dinners and rounds of Uno and other normal, nothing-special moments that actually are special in their togetherness.

Poppy, of course, has since passed way, five years ago now. I miss him, but I know he’s in a good place.

I do wish he could have been here to have met Anna. I know he would have loved everything about her—every little thing, from her dimples to the mischievous twinkle in her eye, which is exactly like his.

Poppy did have a chance to meet Grace, about a year and a half before he died. I will always remember the way he leaned over to her—an old man with glasses, looking with big love at my baby—and said, “I hope you live to be 90.” Grace looked back, and I like to think she understood what he said.

Sometimes, our best pictures are the ones we don’t take. But our memories, strong and enduring, of times that touched our hearts and stay with us forever.

“I hope you live to be 90.”

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo writes that it can be difficult to organize pictures. Not only do we file them into photo albums, but we also stick them into books as bookmarks, or magnet them to the refrigerator, or pull them out of our photo albums to send to loved ones. Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Have you ever opened a book, or knocked a day planner to the floor, and a picture or other memento fell out, rousing a memory?

What did you remember, friends?

Reflecting on a past moment, we might slip on our rose-colored glasses. We might romanticize a time, long gone, that we struggled through in real time, years ago.

I’ve had my moments with rose-colored glasses, and romanticism too. I’ve had my moments, friends.

People aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. Life is beautiful, and it’s also humbling.

Life is both/and; shades of gray, not black and white.

Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

Poppy loved nature. The older I get, the more I love and seek it out too.

Last week, my parents were in town for the girls’ winter break. One morning, I brought my dad and Grace to Five Rivers, a nearby nature park. We spent some time bird-watching at the visitor center, using binoculars to look out the expansive windows. We spotted many eastern bluebirds, and even an opossum.

“Poppy would have loved this,” my dad said.

I agreed.

“The best thing about a picture,” Andy Warhol said, “is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” I loved seeing Poppy again in the picture that fell out of the book. I so appreciated remembering him, too, when I was bird-watching with my dad and my daughter.

Years from now, I wonder if my daughters will stumble upon an old picture, or frayed certificate of participation that I saved—a memento of some kind. So much of our life is digitized now, but we still keep hard copies of this and that here and there.

I wonder what Grace and Anna might find. I wonder what they’ll remember.

I hope they’ll skim over the imperfect parts. The persistent morning rush and end-of-day crankiness. My forgetting Anna’s teddy bear on “Bring Your Teddy Bear to Preschool Day” (that happened yesterday), Stanton’s coming home later than he’d said (two nights ago).

I hope they’ll skim over those parts, and remember that we loved them. At the very least, that we tried.

That is, after all, what families do: Love. Work. Play. Be there for one another. Try.

This quote made me laugh, so I’ll end with it, for your enjoyment too: “My whole family is lactose intolerant, and when we take pictures, we can’t say, ‘Cheese.’” –Jay London

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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.

Book Review: Devoured—How What We Eat Defines Who We Are

Devoured CoverWhen I was growing up, I loved taking the quizzes in magazines like All About You and Cosmopolitan. All I had to do was choose scenario A, B or C for, say, 20 questions, and instantly, I had the answers to, “Which celebrity style is most like yours?” and “What kind of friend are you—true blue, fair weather or just an acquaintance?” Pressing questions, friends.

These days, I don’t click on every BuzzFeed quiz that comes across my Facebook news feed. But I still do a double-take when a quiz, magazine article or book promises to reveal to me some secret of my psyche.

This time, the book turned out to be “Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies—How What We Eat Defines Who We Are” by Sophie Egan (2016). Ms. Egan works for The Culinary Institute of America as its director of programs and culinary nutrition. She also holds impressive degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford.

What most impressed me about her book, though, was her love for the subject matter. Through her writing (always enlightening, while at times laugh-out-loud funny), I could tell she really wanted to write this book. And she really wanted to share this information with people—everyday people, not just academics. These genuine passions, then, made “Devoured” a compelling and fun read about our culture and its cuisine and eating habits.

Egan begins with an introduction into “the American food psyche” and then notes that “convenience has always been part of our national heritage.” (Yet another thing for Americans to be proud of…) “Devoured” blends psychology, anthropology and various other fields of study.

Through her writing (always enlightening, while at times laugh-out-loud funny), I could tell she really wanted to write this book.

In these early pages, a fact that struck me, because it hit close to home, was this one: “Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, signed legislation crowning yogurt as that state’s official snack. Yes, yogurt is a fan favorite, but this might also have something to do with the fact that Chobani and Fage have major production facilities upstate” (page 34). I didn’t know that yogurt was my state’s official snack (what’s yours?), and was interested to learn that. And once again, I was interested to see a probable connection between business and politics.

I loved Egan’s chapter on “The Democratization of Wine,” and especially her discussion of Trader Joe’s and its “Two-Buck Chuck” here. For those who may not know, Trader Joe’s store-brand wine sells under the label Charles Shaw, which fans nickname “Two-Buck Chuck” because it retails for about $1.99 per bottle. That is, obviously, incredibly cheap for wine, and incredibly cheap in general. A quart of Tropicana costs more than Two-Buck Chuck.

People…love…Two-Buck Chuck. Just like they (we) love Trader Joe’s. Here’s why, according to Egan: “Part of what makes Charles Shaw, like Trader Joe’s itself, so widely appealing and so American is the way it shrugs at refinement…We’re the country of the T-shirt and jeans” (pages 197-218).

That we are, friends: T-shirts and jeans, convenience, and a mosaic of other customs and institutions that, whatever their imperfections, signal America.

“One of the traits we sought to shed from our British roots during the American Revolution was the snootiness,” Egan writes on page 218, as she sums up the chapter on wine (and Trader Joe’s/Two-Buck Chuck). “So it’s exciting to think that lowering the snobbery of wine—in the wine itself, and in how we market and deliver it—can also boost its sustainability.”

…T-shirts and jeans, convenience, and a mosaic of other customs and institutions that, whatever their imperfections, signal America.

So, 200 pages in, did I figure out yet who I am, based on what I eat? Two hundred pages in, I would say I’m a fairly average American. (You probably are too.)

After “The Democratization of Wine,” Egan explores stunt foods, such as the Doritos Locos Taco (Taco Bell) and the Strawberry Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich (Carl’s Jr.). Many folks loved these creations—Jimmy Kimmel said, Egan remarks, “‘Is Carl’s Jr. reading my dream journal?’” (page 231)—but just the thought of them makes me gag. Still, though, I’m a fairly average American, because I’m open to trying new things, including new foods (but hold that Strawberry Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich, please).

In case you’re keeping track, our America list now includes convenience, T-shirts and jeans, mosaic-ism, and a sense of adventure.

“Just as we collect wine corks or shot glasses, coins or seashells, we collect life experiences,” Egan writes on page 243, adding that “checking off items on our bucket list of personal experiences seems a way of measuring how full a life we’re leading. It’s also about projecting a self-image of having done a lot of exciting things. And for many people, an important component of that experiential résumé is trying new foods.”

Egan’s comment about “projecting a self-image” made me think of a meme I saw floating around the Internet the other day. The meme said something to the effect of, “I’m so old I remember when people ate food without taking pictures of it.” I do wonder if Egan might have spent a little more time on the topic of how social media and self-image-representation may affect Americans’ eating habits.

(For those who are curious, a quick Google search produced this article from The Guardian: “Click plate: how Instagram is changing the way we eat.”)

All in all, “Devoured” is a wonderfully researched and immensely engaging read. It touches on everything from Americans’ love for customization (Chapter 3: Having It Our Way) to the contemporary gluten-free trend (Chapter 4: Selling Absence) to the devotion to brunch, or “Secular Church” (Chapter 5). And it concludes with a chapter whose name makes me smile: “The Story of Spaghetti.”

All in all, “Devoured” is a wonderfully researched and immensely engaging read.

In “The Story of Spaghetti,” Egan explains why Italian cuisine wins the popularity contest for most Americans: “Italian cuisine has on its side not only easy preparation but also easily accessible ingredients” (page 303)—pasta, sauce, cheese. She notes, “If as a child the first thing you learned to cook on the stove top was Kraft Mac and Cheese, your first encounter with the inside of an oven probably involved a frozen pizza…So Italian American food’s popularity both in and outside the home is what truly sets it apart.”

Egan notes, too, that pasta is a plain, simple food that children will eat. No spices to worry about. And for parents, how easy is it to prepare—just boil some water, right? We grow up with pasta, with Italian-American food. It’s why we’ll always say yes to spaghetti and meatballs, or pizza…because “the foods we like as kids get special status for life” (page 301).

Our childhood. Nostalgia. Our comfort food.

“When you ask what comfort food means, different people will likely offer different answers,” Egan says. “Perhaps it’s something very simple that doesn’t set your mouth on fire or upset your stomach. But a common thread will surely relate to what we ate as children” (page 301).

Let me be honest here, friends: When I read that line, my eyes teared up.

I thought about my own Italian-American upbringing: my mom’s homemade Christmas ravioli, and the hundreds (really, hundreds) of cookies she makes throughout the year for family members and friends. When my mom comes to visit me these days, she comes with coolers of her meatballs, stromboli and zucchini fritters. She takes care of me still, with the food she nourished me with as a child.

I also thought about my husband and our own two children. Many a Saturday morning, Stanton gets up with the girls so that I can sleep in a little. And many a Saturday morning, when I join them in the kitchen, I find that he’s made cinnamon toast for them—a recipe his mom used to make for him.

“Look what Dad did!” Grace and Anna will exclaim.

We grow up with pasta, with Italian-American food. It’s why we’ll always say yes to spaghetti and meatballs, or pizza…because “the foods we like as kids get special status for life” (page 301).

What we ate as children, whatever it was—someone who loved us prepared that food. They made it—the cinnamon toast, the ravioli—because they loved us. And even if our tastes have changed over time, that made-with-love food can bring up happy, cared-for memories.

When my daughters are grown, and making Saturday breakfasts of their own, I hope they remember their dad’s cinnamon toast—their grandmother’s cinnamon toast, really—and the love and the history behind it. I hope they remember my mom pulling up with a car trunk full of meatball-stuffed coolers. I hope they remember how much they were loved.

“Nostalgic sentiments tend to be shared by people with a common history,” Egan writes, as she wraps up “Devoured.” “Part of that has to do with geography. For example, Rabobank’s Nicholas Fereday was raised in the UK. He says, ‘You can keep your Reese’s Pieces—they mean nothing to me. But if you put a Cadbury Crème [Egg] in front of me, it would be gone in a minute’” (page 271).

What would be gone in a minute, if someone put it in front of you? Well, friends…that’s who you are.

Photo credit: HarperCollins Publishers

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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.

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.