When You Find Yourself Double Fisting Cotton Candy (and Other Stories)

How is everyone’s fall going? Fun? Festive? Fast and furious, perhaps? Yes, mine too—fast and furious, that is.

October was a whirlwind of apple picking, pumpkin picking, multiple Halloween events and Saturday-morning soccer games. All good fun, but…I am fall-festivities-ed out, and secretly delighted soccer season is over. To celebrate, I might stay in my pajamas until lunch time tomorrow.

Livin’ it up, friends, livin’ it up. 😉

On Halloween night, I was at the neighborhood fire station with the girls. They kindly host a party complete with balloon twisting, a bounce house, and treats galore. Stanton was tied up with a situation that is too convoluted to tell here, but he was on the way, he said.

Grace and Anna seemed oblivious their dad was MIA. Their trick-or-treat bags were overflowing from our lap around our street, and now they were in line for cotton candy. The firefighter operating the cotton-candy machine was wearing a white, head-to-toe poncho-type covering over his clothing.

It’s a sticky job, he told me.

I’ve heard, I replied.

I watched as he spun a huge cone of cotton candy for Grace…and kept spinning it. “Wow, that’s probably enough,” I said.

He shared with me that he had been having some trouble stopping the cotton candy from spiraling on the cone.

Got it. A common Halloween-party problem, I imagined.

Eventually, the gentleman pulled Grace’s cone away, presenting her with a fluffy pink sugar rush twice the size of her head.

Twice the size of my daughter’s head. I’m not exaggerating, friends.

“Yes!” Grace dug in.

Then Anna got hers, which was also outrageously big.

After a few bites each of cotton candy, the girls wanted to get into the bounce house. “Here, Mom!” They handed me their cones.

“Don’t eat mine,” Grace added.

I wasn’t even close to being tempted. “Be careful,” I said, as the girls clambered in to the bounce house. “And have fun. Also, I’m a little concerned you’re bounce-housing so soon after eating…try not to throw up.”

Be careful, have fun and try not to throw up—words to live by, one might say.

All good fun, but…I am fall-festivities-ed out…

I watched as Grace and Anna (dressed as a witch and monarch butterfly, respectively) ricocheted around the bounce house. “Hi, Mom! Woo-hoo!”

It was at this moment I realized I was double fisting cotton candy—cotton candy that wasn’t even mine.

Also at this moment, I realized the cotton candy was disintegrating. “What the heck?” I watched as the pink fluff began clumping up into tiny wet balls, which then slowly but steadily dripped onto my hands and wrists. “AHHH!” Halloween was getting crazier (and stickier) by the minute.

Somebody explained to me that the moisture in the air was causing the science experiment I was holding in both my hands. I think my neighbor, who’s a super smart geologist, is the person who told me this. The night had become such a blur, though, that I can’t say for sure—I’ll have to ask them. The bottom line is, I was ready to wrap things up.

Soon after, the girls and I began walking back home. We turned the corner and bumped into Stanton. “Dad!” the girls cheered.

I looked at my husband. “Hello there.”

“I’m so sorry,” Stanton said. He sighed as he hugged the girls and kissed me. “I know you can’t tell, but on the inside, I’m very frustrated with the situation tonight.”

For the record, friends, when I am frustrated with a situation, you can tell. You can tell on both the outside and inside.

Again, just for the record.

The four of us walked the rest of the way home together.

…I realized the cotton candy was disintegrating.

On Saturday morning, two days later, Stanton, Grace and I headed to New York City with Grace’s performing arts group. Her wonderful instructor had organized the trip so that the students could see a Broadway show and meet with the actors afterward.

This was Grace’s first time in the city, as well as her first Broadway show. When we began walking around Midtown Manhattan, I watched as Grace took in the skyscrapers, the iconic yellow taxi cabs, all the glitz and activity. “What do you think?”

“New York City is amazing and so busy,” Grace said. “I can’t wait to come back with Anna.” (My mom and dad were back at our house taking care of her.)

We’ll come back, Stanton and I promised.

We were seeing “Beetlejuice” at the Winter Garden Theatre. Before we arrived, I told Stanton and Grace to stop and turn so that I could take a picture against the backdrop of the Theater District. As I did, I bumped into another woman, and quickly apologized.

“Here, I’ll take a picture of the three of you,” she said, and she did.

“Thank you so much,” I told her, as she smiled and disappeared back into the crowd.

New Yorkers can get a bad rap for being rude, but in all my experiences, they’ve been incredibly kind and helpful.

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At the Winter Garden Theatre, Stanton, Grace and I found our seats in the mezzanine. We were in one of the front rows, and had an amazing view of the stage. I pointed toward the orchestra level below.

“When I was younger, like maybe in middle school,” I told Grace, “I came here, to this theater, to see a show called ‘Cats,’ and sat over there with Pop, Nona, Josh and Jared. Jenna was still little, so she stayed home with Poppy and Grandma.”

“Like Anna,” Grace said.

I smiled. “Yes.” Ah, the poor youngest siblings among us.

“Cats” went on to become one of the longest-running Broadway shows, and was the longest tenant at the Winter Garden Theatre, spanning more than 7,000 performances across nearly 18 years.

As a child, I had no idea I was watching musical theater history in the making. I also never could have imagined that nearly 20 years later, I’d be back in that same place, in the mezzanine, sitting alongside my college-sweetheart husband and the older of our two daughters. In that moment, waiting for “Beetlejuice” to begin, I felt a sense of wonder at how life can come full circle.

How life can bring you back.

Maybe the people are different, and the time surely is, but the place still stands as beautiful as it was back then. And now, like then, you feel lucky just to be there, to be part of it.

I was very grateful for that day.

 …I felt a sense of wonder at how life can come full circle.

Monday was the last day of the book fair at Grace’s school. I hadn’t made it any of the other days, so this was my last chance to join Grace during her lunch period to eat together and then pick out books. (“Everyone else had someone come, Mom.”)

First, I had to pick up Anna from preschool.

“I don’t want to go to the book fair,” Anna grumbled.

“Come on, honey,” I said. The school secretary printed off “Visitor” name tags for both Anna and me. I stuck mine on my jacket.

Anna threw hers on the ground.

“Really?” I asked her.

I can’t make this stuff up, friends.

Grace, Anna and I bumped into the principal, a lovely lady. “I didn’t know you had books published,” she said.

“Well, some of my stories have been published in magazines, but I self-published all my books,” I explained, not wanting her to be unnecessarily impressed.

“Still, that’s wonderful!”

Later, Grace noted, “Mom, you’re basically famous.”

“Awww, Grace, you’re so sweet, but…no, I’m not.” I hugged my daughters. “Do you know what makes me truly happy? Like, happier than being basically famous?”

“Dad, Anna and me,” Grace said.

“And Pop and Nona,” Anna added.

“And Josh and Jared and Jenna…”

The list went on. And the answer was yes, to every one of the names.

Be careful, have fun, try not to throw up, and stick together (even during the sticky-like-cotton-candy times).

Because when the curtain closes for the last time, that’s pretty much what it was all about.

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.

It’s OK If You Cry (and Other Things You Don’t Learn in School)

It was a Saturday morning. Stanton was driving, and the girls were in the backseat. We were on our way back to the town soccer fields.

Grace had already played her game, at 9 a.m. The four of us had been there together and were now heading out again for Anna’s 12 noon match, after a quick lunch (and more coffee) at our house. This would be Anna’s very first soccer game.

From the passenger seat, I overheard Grace (a veteran, you might say, at this point) giving her little sister some pro tips. There were orange slices at half time, Popsicles at the end. Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Sometimes the grass is wet, from dew or rain, Grace noted. Kids can fall. “If you fall, just get back up,” Grace said.

I smiled and turned around, just in time to see Anna nodding along, taking everything in. She trusted Grace, completely.

Then Grace paused, considered. “If you fall, you might get hurt. It’s OK if you cry.”

In that moment, friends, I wanted to cry. “Grace,” I said. “That’s beautiful advice.”

My older daughter smiled.

“What else, Grace?” Anna wondered.

Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.

Kids are back to school now, and every school day abounds with thoughtful curriculum and instruction. I love listening to Grace explain fact families to me, and looking at Anna’s preschool artwork. I’m deeply grateful for the girls’ wonderful schools and teachers.

Also, overhearing Grace’s soccer tips to Anna reminded me that sometimes we learn meaningful lessons outside classroom doors too. Athletic fields, playgrounds, performing arts stages—even sitting cross-legged on kitchen countertops, keeping our parents company while they prepare yet another after-school snack—all these places offer up additional spaces for learning.

“It’s OK if you cry” is a good first lesson for sure. There are times when life hurts; acknowledge that, let it out. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed; ask for help when you need it. Cry, and then try to move forward.

Here are some other lessons that I try to teach my children on a regular basis, and live out every day. And tell me, friends—what else should be on this list?

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2. Spend time outside every day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to walk around the block, or sit on the front steps to open the mail. Give yourself a break from your desk, your screens, the unending stacks of dishes and piles of laundry indoors.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life. Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air.

3. Let the people you love know that you do. If your sister’s standing next to you, hug her. If, someday, she lives in another city, call her, get together; stay close.

Mail your oldest friends cards on their birthdays, and when they welcome a child into their family. Invite new friends over for dinner. Send your 91-year-old grandma, who took care of you when you were a baby, flowers every now and then, just because.

Don’t take your people or their love for granted.

4. Don’t keep score. Not in personal relationships, anyway. I called you, now it’s your turn to call me. I made dinner tonight, you’ve got tomorrow.

Tallying up life’s minutiae is painfully time-consuming, if not practically impossible. We each have our own strengths (and weaknesses). Aim for fairness. And if the circumstances start to feel unfair, bring that up; talk it through.

5. “No” is a complete sentence. Recently, a friend shared this perspective with me, from an article she had read, and I love it.

As we journey through life, peers may invite us into situations we may not feel good about. Later, people may offer us jobs that conflict with our values, or volunteer opportunities that conflict with our time. This has happened to me, and for years, I’ve tried to finesse my negative RSVP’s with diplomatic explanations and apologies. I realize now that a simple “no,” expressed kindly yet firmly, is enough.

Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life.

6. Home is and isn’t about the “stuff.” Anna calls our family room “the cozy room.” When I first heard her say that, I asked her why she liked to say cozy room. “Because this is where you snuggle me on the couch and read to me,” she replied.

That answer resonated with me. We’re lucky to live in the house we have, in the neighborhood it’s in. Those material things are important, yes. But what happens in that house—the time spent together, the warmth and safety and acceptance of the space—is equally important.

7. Sometimes, you need to let go. Of material stuff, for sure. The other day, I (finally) acknowledged I was never, ever going to fit back into a classic top I had worn for years. So I passed it along to our local clothing drop box, and hopefully somebody else will enjoy it as much as I did.

More difficult, however, can be letting go of the immaterial stuff. Memories of times that could have been better, people who could have treated us kinder. There’s no joy in being a grievance collector, though.

I was taking a walk, and all of a sudden, a memory came to mind. I shook my head, remembering this past irritation. Then I thought, just as quickly, it really is time to let that go. I breathed in deeply (the scent of pine needles, where I was now, content)…and did. It felt so good, friends—letting go.

8. Don’t underestimate the value of a good cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep. Mornings can be rough, and nightfall too. We can be frazzled at the start of day, sad or sentimental at the end. Just hang on ’til morning, and start the new day with a good brew.

9. There are a million other little things, tidbits I’ve picked up here and there, wisdom that’s become mine through “learning experiences” (less kindly known as “mistakes”).

I also want to tell my girls…go to the dentist regularly. Be careful with credit cards. Don’t vape; eat your vegetables. Watch “The Wire” and “Parks and Rec.”

Your first job probably won’t be your dream job. Still, do a good job. You’re investing in your growth, your future.

Things usually come full circle, and make sense in the end. Look for silver linings until they do.

Dine alfresco as much as possible. Roast marshmallows and make s’mores year-round.

Dark chocolate is more delicious than milk.

Travel—make sure you see London, Paris, San Francisco, Australia.

Be a regular somewhere. Overtip. Be generous when you can.

Two things you can never say too much: “Thank you,” and “I love you.”

There are a million other little things, but not enough time or space to share them here. And that is the main lesson I’d like to impart to my daughters:

10. Life goes fast; time is precious. Make the most of everything. Walk out the front door. Do stuff; have experiences. Get kinder and more patient with age.

You can always come home.

(Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me.)

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.

How Did I Miss This?

For a few mornings in a row, my older daughter refilled her cereal bowl with a second helping. I’d like to say it was a second helping of something whole-grain or sugar-free, but no…it was definitely Cocoa Krispies, friends.

The fourth or fifth morning, I helped Grace pour more milk into her bowl, atop the second helping of Cocoa Krispies. I watched as the milk splashed over the cereal, quickly misting into swirls of chocolate in the bowl. And that’s when I realized—my 7-year-old daughter needed a bigger cereal bowl.

She was using a small pink plastic bowl, which she’d been using since she was a toddler. Of course she needed a second helping of cereal every morning—she’d long outgrown these bowls. That moment, that morning, I felt a mix of both “aha!” and “agh!”…because how could I not have noticed this?

I’d been there with my daughter, every morning, every breakfast…and still, I missed this. Something right in front of me, something so obvious.

“I’m so sorry, Grace,” I said.

“Mom, it’s fine,” she replied.

The right size of a cereal bowl—not a life-or-death matter, to be sure. But…I hadn’t been paying attention.

I’d been there…and still, I missed this.

Stanton, the girls and I start and end our day in the breakfast nook of our home. We love this cozy space. Previous owners of our Cape Cod added this room to the back of the kitchen, and a big window overlooks the backyard. One evening, I was sitting at our L-shaped bench and table, and looked out the window.

It’s mid-May now, and the trees outside are flush with leaves. But it seemed to me that just yesterday, the view outside my window had unveiled bursts of the trees’ spring blossoms, airy puffs of white, pink and green.

“Stan, look,” I said, pointing. “When did the blossoms turn into leaves?”

Stanton didn’t know, either.

But we agreed that, like the blossoms, the leaves were beautiful too.

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Things like this happen all the time, one thing after another, that I realize too late.

I forgot my parents’ anniversary. That day last month, I called my mom at the end of the day, as I usually do. “Hi Mom, I’m super busy,” I said. “I just wanted to call, say hello. How was your day, anything I should know about?”

“Well…today was our anniversary.”

Agh. I felt horrible, and said so.

My mom said not to worry, it was fine. Just as Grace had said. But still. Often I’m distracted, self-absorbed, overwhelmed…or simply not paying attention.

Another mom texted one morning last week, asking if I was walking Grace to the elementary school for Walk to School Day. “Ugh!” I texted back. I had forgotten.

We managed to walk to school that day, arriving with seconds to spare. “We did it,” I said, hugging Grace good-bye.

Grace said thanks, hugged me back and then ran into the red-brick building with her friends.

At which point Anna poked her head out from under her stroller canopy. She reminded me that she couldn’t be late for preschool, which started in several minutes.

And off we went, friends. Off we went, before my 9:30 a.m. meeting.

Things like this happen all the time…that I realize too late.

In the meantime…Anna and I perused the sale section of the West Elm website one afternoon this week. After much discussion, we picked out new, larger cereal bowls for Grace (and Anna too, of course).

After I clicked the “Place Order” button, Anna asked, “Are they here yet? Did they come?”

I reached for more coffee.

As I was trying to finish writing this post, Anna asked if she could watch TV. I said no, it wasn’t a TV day. She then said, “Come on, Mom. Because if I don’t watch TV, then what I want to do is push your buttons, and that would be distracting. Please, Mom, please.”

Anna meant the buttons on my laptop, but I smiled at the irony in the expression “push your buttons.” Then I laughed because…honestly, I was just so tired. Anna started laughing too, and threw her arms around me.

“I love you, Mom! And…TV?”

“You’re driving me…”

“Crazy!” Anna kept laughing. “I know, Mom. You tell me all the time.”

All the time.

All the time.

Sometimes, without our even realizing it, all the time goes by. And we were right there, the whole time, and didn’t really notice. Not until something happened that woke us up a little.

For me, that was a cereal bowl.

I try to be kind to others, kind to myself. Try to meet people where they are, and do better the next time when I make a mistake. So I can let the cereal bowl, and the trees, and my parents’ anniversary go. Let it all go.

But I am going to make an effort to be more conscious, pay more attention.

Sometimes, without our even realizing it, all the time goes by.

I’m not sure how successful I’ll be in this new endeavor toward mindfulness. I can envision myself failing miserably at it, in the weekday morning rush and calls for “Mom! Mom! Mom!” at various hours of the day (and night). For example, just a few nights ago: “Mom, there’s no clean underwear in my underwear drawer! What am I going to do, Mom?” And I thought—yes, you guessed it, friends—AGH.

But I’m going to give it a shot.

Because one day you’re eating Cocoa Krispies out of a pink plastic bowl, and the next, you’re the person in charge of somebody else’s clean underwear drawer.

If you don’t pay attention, it can all go by in a blink.

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.

Thank God for 4th Birthdays: The Blessing in the Everyday

The church that Stanton, the girls and I attend offers a “children’s time” in the beginning of each service. Two Sundays ago, our pastor led the youngster-focused sermon, which takes place on the steps near the altar. Her message centered on love, and loving one another even though differences may exist among us.

At the end of the sermon, someone raised their hand. From where we were sitting, Stanton and I couldn’t see who it was. The pastor asked, “Yes, do you have a question?”

A familiar voice replied, “I turned four.”

Laughter rippled throughout the church. Stanton looked at me. “Was that Anna?”

“Of course that was Anna,” I said, smiling and shaking my head.

The pastor laughed and kindly said to our younger daughter, “That’s wonderful, that’s a milestone.” Then Reverend Amy asked all of us to pray with her.

She began her prayer by saying, “Thank you, God, for fourth birthdays.” She continued with gratitude for other things, and prayed for bigger things, like unity.

It’s funny, and sweet, how simple (and, well, self-focused) a young child’s outlook on life can be. You want to talk about diversity and unity, finding common ground and/or meeting in the middle? Well…OK, but, I mean…I just turned four, you know.

For Anna’s birthday, we invited a few friends over for a very low-key gathering of unicorn-themed arts and crafts, games, and cupcakes. I am an anxious hostess; I worry constantly that everyone is having a good time, especially the birthday girl.

A side note: My husband may have something to do with my party-planning anxiety. The morning of Anna’s birthday gathering, Stanton turned to me, cup of coffee in hand, and said, “So, when is Anna’s party? What time are we doing that?”

I just looked at him, friends. Just…looked at him.

After the party that day, I knelt down beside Anna. She was sucking on one of the lollipops we had stuffed into the unicorn piñata earlier in the day. (Of course there was a unicorn piñata.) “Did you have fun?” I asked hopefully. “How are you feeling?”

Anna pulled the lollipop out of her mouth and smiled at me. “Happy.”

I turned four. Happy. A lot of times, simplicity hits the spot—no grand gestures or big words needed.

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Fourth birthdays are worth remembering, though, are worth saying thank-you for. There’s a lot of blessing in the everyday.

Certainly we celebrate big milestones, and frame and mount above our fireplace mantels the professionally photographed and Photoshopped memories of wedding days, graduations and family reunions. But everyday moments? Those candid-camera shots of high fives and group hugs after winning the neighborhood bar’s Trivia Night, and quiet, contented camaraderie as dusk winds down a backyard barbecue? These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is, ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough,” attributed to a 13th-century theologian, Meister Eckhart. Now, I’m not a theologian, and I more comfortably identify as spiritual than specifically religious. This is probably why I feel this quote so much.

Thank you.

Two words, short and sweet. Simplicity, yet gratitude. Grace.

As a prayer, “Thank you” acknowledges something besides ourselves, and beyond ourselves. It doesn’t delve into doctrine, or get caught up in policies and procedures. Doesn’t split hairs about what various Scriptures may or may not mean. “Thank you” simply…acknowledges.

Despite its simplicity, “Thank you” is mighty. “Thank you” acknowledges, I didn’t do this myself. I’ve messed up, I’ve made mistakes, and yet here by the grace of beauty beyond my control and comprehension, this good thing came into my life.

I feel this way about my children, as many parents do. When I kiss Grace good night, or hold Anna’s hand until she falls asleep, I often think, Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Possibly I’m lazy in my relationship with my God. Maybe I should put more time into praying more eloquently. Lord knows I’ll rewrite a blog post, short story or magazine article until I feel the words are just right.

I mean it when I say I may be a spiritually and/or religiously lazy person. I’m not just saying that to be humorously self-deprecating. Saying you subscribe to spirituality, grace and, “Thank you”—just keeping it simple over here, folks!—can be a cop-out for addressing hard questions head-on. Letting yourself off the hook. (I have been known to cringe when conflict and hard questions arise, in other areas of my life.)

At the same time—and I mean this part, too—the times I have felt closest to God have been simple, everyday moments. Kissing my children good night. Picking blueberries with my family at Indian Ladder Farms, mountains majesty behind us.

My most heartfelt prayers have not been recitations of venerable benedictions and creeds, but words like, “Thank you.”

The blessing in the everyday.

These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.

Another simple prayer, which I would guess is very popular, is, “Please.” Please let it be OK. Please don’t go until I get there to say goodbye. We often don’t even finish the sentence beyond the first word. Please. Please. Please.

“Please” and “thank you.” It may not be a coincidence that our most turned-to, from-the-heart prayers are these simple social graces we learned as children.

If you think about it, seemingly simple words help us express ourselves in the most profound moments of our lives. They are the words (and the prayers) we turn to when nothing else—nothing bigger, nothing better—will do.

Please.

Thank you.

Happy.

I do.

Sorry.

Hello.

Goodbye.

I love you.

Thank God for fourth birthdays.

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.

28 Quarters in a Ziploc Bag: A Laundromat Story

A sign next to the front door offered a welcome, of sorts: “Use machines at your own risk.” Lines of washers and dryers (front-load, high-efficiency and large-capacity) wrapped around the rectangular space. The voices of Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain filtered through the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh and whirrr-whirrr of the appliances. The sole TV hung overhead, in a corner and turned to “The View.” I don’t watch daytime TV—this isn’t a judgment, just a fact—and I had to Google those names together, “Whoopi Goldberg Meghan McCain,” to confirm exactly which show was on (I’m slightly embarrassed, but only slightly, at my lack of morning-talk-show trivia). 

That day, a late-fall morning, I was at a laundromat, for the first time in a very long time. It’s been a random, persistent convenience in my life that all the spaces I’ve called home have come equipped with a washer and dryer. My parents’ house, where I grew up. The house I rented with a friend, after college. The five addresses my husband and I have shared during our 11 years of marriage, from rental apartments to family homes we’ve owned—every one of them had a washer and dryer. 

I set my pink plastic laundry basket on the white-tiled floor. Overflowing from the basket was a comforter, very much in need of a clean. Which is why I was there, to wash my big comforter in a large-capacity washer. 

I made a fist around the Ziploc bag of quarters in my bag, making sure it was there. The metal on metal clinked and clanked. I had no idea how much it would cost to wash my comforter, how many quarters I would need, and I did something earlier that morning I’m not proud of: I shook some extra coins out of my younger daughter‘s piggy bank, just in case. 

My older daughter noticed, of course, saw me mid-shake. “Mom, what are you doing? Stealing from Anna?” 

“No, no…” 

It had been that kind of morning, already, and it was not even 10 o’clock.

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Clutching the bag of quarters, I peered at the pair of large-capacity washers. Another woman, about my age with similar shoulder-length brown hair, was using both of them. I wondered if there was some sort of laundromat etiquette. I wasn’t sure, so I asked the woman, “Would it be OK if I used one of these when you’re done with it?” 

She nodded yes, then added, “This one has twenty minutes left on it.” The little girl who was with her smiled at me.  

I smiled back, then thanked the woman. “I’ll be waiting over there.” I gestured to a row of chairs under a window, across from the TV, on which Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain now seemed to be exchanging heated words.  

She nodded again, and I retreated to a chair, with my comforter and quarters. 

Besides myself, the woman and her daughter, a few other folks drifted in and out of the laundromat. Two youngish men, in their early twenties. One of them wore a scarf that looked to be more for style than function; they were both hipster types. And then several older women, grandmother types, and one old man. After loading their laundry, the young men passed the time by fiddling with their phones, while the septuagenarians chatted with one another. 

What type might I be, I wondered? “Clueless, But Has Quarters”? Maybe…probably. 

I had brought a book to read, “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” a creative nonfiction writing guide. Because when both girls are in school, as they were then, that time is (supposed to be) my writing time. Like many maternally disposed writers before me, though—and all moms in general—“my” time sometimes becomes “theirs.” The grocery store, post office, laundromat. When I find myself running errands for our family, I try to tuck in some writing-related work too. 

Thus, my book about writing. 

I wondered if there was some sort of laundromat etiquette.

When the woman gestured to me that her load had finished in the washer I was waiting on, I headed over, lugging my comforter. I fished the bag of quarters out of my bag. I gazed at the machine. Lots of dials. Lots of options for settings. Aaahh…what do I do? 

“I’m super sorry,” I interrupted the woman again, “but how does this work? Could you help me?”  

She helped me.  

I had 28 quarters in my Ziploc bag, and I inserted every last one of them into the coin slot. Clink, clink, clink. In case you didn’t know, as I didn’t, it costs $7 for one load in a large-capacity washer—at least, it does at that laundromat. More money than I’d thought it would be. 

“Now press that button,” the woman said, pointing to one of many buttons on the machine.  

I pressed that button, and the machine turned on and began washing my comforter. “Thank you so much.”  

The little girl beamed, clearly proud of her mom. 

I had 28 quarters in my Ziploc bag, and I inserted every last one of them into the coin slot…More money than I’d thought it would be.

Unlike me, my sister has lived in apartments in cities for years: Sunnyside, Queens, and now downtown Philadelphia. She’s used laundromats for years too. When I told her about this post I was working on, she said, “I hope the point of your story isn’t that people in laundromats are nice because of course they are.”           

“No, that’s not the point,” I replied.  

Although everyone had been nice. After my comforter was clean, I stuffed it back into my laundry basket. I didn’t have time to dry it because I had to pick up Anna from preschool. (Besides, I was all out of quarters.) The comforter was wet and heavy in the basket. As I was struggling toward the front door, one of the older women walked over and held it open for me. I so appreciated her kindness. 

But what was the point? I kept thinking about why that morning at that laundromat had resonated with me.  

The point is…sometimes I have no clue how convenient my life is. How easy things are, relatively. How much I take for granted—so many things, and the littlest things.  

Since that morning, I’ve been noticing laundromats more. Some have clever names, like Missing Sock and Dirty Harry’s. Others have signs that simply announce, “Laundromat,” as mine did. 

Weeks later, I was flipping through my book, the writing guide. A crumpled Ziploc bag floated out—the bag from the laundromat, the bag with my quarters. I had repurposed it as a bookmark and forgotten about it.  

I skimmed the bookmarked page. The author, Lee Gutkind, writes about the richness of experiences, which offer writers “more material, more reference points, more ideas” (page 237) for their work. I bookmarked that page because I agree.  

You can only learn so much from a book or sound bite. You have to have experiences.  

Even ordinary ones, because they offer insights too. 

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.

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…

IMG_4709

and then caramelizing…

IMG_4712

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:

IMG_4721

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As it turned out, the answer was yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come on, it will be fun!”

“What will you do there, Mel?”

“I just want to see it, Stan.”

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

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

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

“Mel, the subway is right here.”

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

“But the subway is here, honey.”

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

“I do. You’ll be fine.”

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

“The chances of that happening…”

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

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

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

“Take the N train,” she told us.

“N?” Stanton repeated.

She nodded. “N as in ‘nasty.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The park, or the bridge?”

I smiled blankly. “Excuse me?”

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

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

The lady shook her head. “No.”

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

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

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

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

“Stanton…”

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

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

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

“We have no idea where we’re going.”

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

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

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

“Mel, you should feel completely fine here…”

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

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

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

1_Party of Five

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

“I’m glad you’re happy, honey.”

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

“That’s good, too.”

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

2_Golden Gate Bridge

A breathtaking place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We enjoyed walking through the elegant space…

3_Outside Ghirardelli Square

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

4_Inside Ghirardelli Chocolate

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

5_Fisherman's Wharf

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

6_North Tower

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

7_Salsalito Taco Shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of all, I was happy to be there.

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

I was happy to find myself there.

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

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