On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade 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.

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.

When You Have the Choice to Laugh or Cry

Summer is freeze pops, sunscreen and swimming. Lots and lots of swimming.

Grace, Anna and I were at the pool. My older daughter was swimming—actually swimming. My younger daughter, meanwhile, was alternating between adjusting her goggles, blowing bubbles and throwing a plastic ring for Grace to “fetch”—the myriad activities that little kids engage in when they’re in the water. Then Anna grabbed my arms and began bouncing up and down on my thighs.

“Mom!” Up and down, up and down. “You’re a trampoline!”

“No.” It was one of those moments when you could laugh or cry—it could go either way, equally. “I’m not.” Moms everywhere understand: I’m a person. A person.

Not long after, Anna overheard me tell another mom that I appreciated that my new swimsuit had adjustable straps. Minutes later, I felt the metal hooks on the adjustable straps zoom down.

“Anna!” I stopped my upper body from tumbling out of my swimsuit, as Anna continued to tug on the hooks. “Stop, honey.”

“But Mom, you have adjustable straps.” Anna smiled. “They’re fun.”

Laugh or cry…laugh or cry.

Speaking of my new swimsuit: I ordered it online. When it arrived in the mail, and I tried it on…well, let’s just say I wasn’t #twinning with the model from the website. I peered in the mirror.

Huh.

“Ooh, you got a new bathing suit, Mom!” As always, the girls were nearby.

“Mm-hmm. What do you think, girls?”

There was a pause.

“It’s OK if you don’t like it,” I assured them.

“I like the bathing suit,” one daughter (I won’t say who) said. “But I think it’s for someone who isn’t a little fat.”

Ouch.

“Yeah,” the other daughter (also anonymous in this story) agreed. “It’s just that, you look like you have a baby in your belly.”

Laugh or cry, laugh or cry…

“But you don’t! We know you don’t, Mom. You just look like that.”

I mean, whew. I just look pregnant in my new swimsuit.

“Mom.” Concerned, Grace hugged me. “I love you.”

Anna threw her arms around both of us. “I love you too, Mom. And I love your big, soft belly.”

We group hugged.

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The truth is—actually, there are two truths here. The first is, I do have belly fat. I gave birth to two children, am getting older and do zero (and I do mean zero) lower-ab exercises.

Stanton and I also just got into “The Wire” (15+ years later), and I’ve been spending many an evening beside him on our couch, engrossed in the show and munching on a bowl of raw Brazil nuts.

Just kidding, friends. You know I’ve got Cheetos or Doritos in that bowl.

😉

So I accept my body, as is. Could it be toned? Yes. Should I curb my late-night junk-food habit? Definitely…sometime soon.

Am I, overall, healthy? And happy? Thankfully, the answer to both those questions is also “yes.”

The second truth is, I’m glad my daughters were honest with me. Children usually are honest—brutally honest, one might say. Ask any parent, aunt, uncle, teacher, babysitter, and they’d probably all agree: honest, to a fault.

As we grow up, we learn to temper our honesty with tact, diplomacy. I’ve worked in communications for years now, and I understand why finesse matters, in both professional and personal relationships. I get it.

I get it, and after our group hug, I told the girls they can always be honest with me. Even if they think the truth might hurt my feelings. I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom. I want them to know they can tell me anything, talk with me about anything.

They do now. And I hope they always do.

I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom.

Stanton, the girls and I recently went to the beach. All four of us had been looking forward to our family vacation, but Grace and Anna especially. And we did have a wonderful time—jumping waves, building sand castles, visiting a nature center on a rainy day.

Our last day there, I was swimming in the deep-blue water of Long Island Sound. Stanton and the girls were on the beach. It was late morning in Madison, Conn., and we were some of just the handful of tourists and locals there. The water glided over my shoulders, and when I looked ahead, I could see for miles—the open sea, endless. Since time began, human beings have been drawn to water.

“What was your favorite part of our vacation?” I asked the girls, once I came ashore.

Grace and Anna had been digging in the sand. Grace paused, considered the question. “Breakfast,” she decided.

I grabbed a towel. “Breakfast?”

“I loved breakfast at the hotel,” Grace said. “Especially the waffles.”

Stanton and I looked at each other. “Honey, we make waffles at home. What about the beach, the sand castles…”

Grace shook her head. No, definitely the hotel waffles. “That was my favorite part.”

“Me too,” Anna seconded.

Well, what do you know—the hotel waffles. (Laugh or cry?) “That’s great, girls.”

“That was my favorite part.”

Every blue moon, Stanton and I get a chance to go on a date, just the two of us. So we were out, sharing Irish nachos, drinking Shiner Bock draft (him) and red sangria (me). We’ve been each other’s date for 17 years now, and still enjoy each other’s company, which I’m deeply grateful for.

That being said…17 years is a haul. People know each other well by that point. So when, soon after our entrées arrived, Stanton said he was full and ready to head out whenever I was…I knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Honey.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “You want to take off your pants, right?” (This is all G-rated, friends: I promise.) When my better half comes home at the end of the day, he immediately changes out of his dress pants into a pair of athletic shorts.

Stanton smiled. “Right.”

“Do you ever even wash those shorts?” I wondered.

“That’s the wrong question.”

I nodded, understanding. “How often do you wash them?”

Stanton nodded back. “Bingo.”

Sigh. Not often.

Laugh or cry?

We both laughed.

Life is short. Despite its imperfections, life is beautiful too. The people we get to share it with are gifts.

That’s why, when I have the choice to laugh or cry…all things considered, I usually lean toward laughter.

“I just got one last thing: I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going.” —Jim Valvano, 1993 ESPY speech

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.

This Will Be a Funny Story Someday

Summer weekends are made for road trips, and this past weekend, Stanton, the girls and I drove two hours east to Connecticut to visit with family there. We set out on Saturday morning.

Grace and Anna had insisted on packing their own bags. Grace had filled her Little Mermaid suitcase (it had been mine, 30 years ago) with books, toys and some of her favorite clothes. Anna, meanwhile, had stuffed her entire underwear drawer into her striped backpack. Just underwear, and a box of Band-Aids. I had some extra things for both girls in my own big bag.

Five minutes into our drive, as if on cue, Anna asked if we were there yet. Not yet, we told her. “Here,” Grace added, passing Anna a coloring book and crayons from the Little Mermaid suitcase. “I brought you an activity.”

“Yay!” Anna got busy.

I turned in my seat. “Grace.” My older daughter smiled. “That was so thoughtful.”

Anna stopped mid-coloring. “I brought Band-Aids.”

“You’re so thoughtful too, Anna.”

Summer weekends are made for road trips…

We drove across the Castleton Bridge, the Hudson River below us glistening bright blue in the hot sun. The radio station had been static-y, but then Elton John’s voice glided through the car.

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…”

We had a lovely visit with my cousin and her family. Because we were in the midst of a heat wave, we stayed at their home for most of the day, enjoying catching up and playing with the girls. There were burgers and, later, takeout pizza from the family’s favorite local spot (every family has one), complete with Funfetti cupcakes that the girls got to frost and decorate.

We were all thankful for the time.

Stanton, the girls and I stayed at a hotel overnight, and then headed an hour north to Amherst, Mass. One of the beauties of New England is that so many cool places exist within just an hour or two’s drive. Our next destination: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

We wanted to have lunch before getting to the museum. “Can we find a McDonald’s?” Grace asked.

I groaned, but Anna cheered. “I want a McFlurry!”

“Why don’t we look for a cool little local place?” I suggested. I glanced at Stanton; he shrugged. He would have been happy with a Big Mac himself.

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We ended up stumbling across Atkins Farms, which perfectly fit the bill of “cool little local place.” At the deli, we ordered grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches for the girls, and Italian grinders for the grownups. We sat at a four-top with a view of the expansive country market: wooden cartons of rainbow-colored produce, fresh flowers galore, the aroma of freshly baked cider donuts everywhere.

“I love this place,” I said.

“You say that about every place,” Grace said.

After lunch, Stanton, the girls and I had such a good time at The Eric Carle Museum (just up the road from Atkins Farms). Stanton truly could have stayed another hour or so, working on a collage in the Art Studio or making music on the large, outdoor xylophone in Bonnie’s Meadow. But friends had recommended we check out the nearby Beneski Museum of Natural History, and the girls wanted to see the dinosaur skeletons and footprints there. So we hustled over and had another fun museum visit.

“I don’t think we could have planned a better road trip,” I said, as the four of us climbed into the car and began the 100-mile drive back home. Soon after, the girls fell asleep in the backseat. I sighed, content.

And that is when the air conditioning in the car stopped working.

We sat at a four-top with a view…

Around 5 p.m. Sunday on the East Coast, the heat index hovered around 100 degrees. Stanton pulled over into a service plaza on the Massachusetts Turnpike. I woke up the girls and got them out of the car, while Stanton popped the hood.

“What’s going on?” Grace wondered.

I explained that the AC wasn’t working. The girls asked if Dad could fix it. I glanced at Stanton, who appeared to be consulting Google for auto-repair tips. Hmm. “I don’t know.”

We entered the service plaza, and walked right into a McDonald’s. The girls’ eyes lit up. “Mom, can we get McFlurrys?”

“OK,” I said.

Grace pumped her fist. “Best day ever.”

Right-o.

Grace got an M&M’s McFlurry, while Anna opted for the new flavor, Galaxy Caramel. (Just FYI, the Galaxy Caramel McFlurry is extra sticky.)

After a while, Stanton joined us. He shared the unsurprising news that we wouldn’t be able to fix the AC then, and would need to drive the rest of the way with the windows down. Not the end of the world, we both agreed.

Back in the car, we put the windows down and started home again. Grace observed that the ride was noisy. Anna pulled her sneakers off, then aimed one toward the window.

“Don’t throw that out the window,” we all yelled.

“I’m just pretending,” she said.

Stanton glanced at me. “This will be a funny story someday.”

“Today is not that day, but yes, someday,” I agreed.

“Best day ever.”

Once, Grace asked me what kind of stories I write, when I submit fiction to literary magazines. Usually, stories about families, I told her. Of course, each family is imperfect in some way, because nobody wants to read a story about a perfect family (or a blog post about a perfect road trip 😉 ).

The truth is, the best stories are the ones from our own lives, from the times with our own families. Even when things didn’t go exactly as planned, or veered off course toward the end. Possibly especially during these times of adjustments and off-road adventures.

One thing I know for sure: The best stories happen when we’re with the ones we love.

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.

But We Had a Great Time

Last night, I read two bedtime stories to my daughters. The second one was “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox, a wonderful Australian author. Midway through reading this story, I had to catch my breath—the words, and the moral, physically moved me.

The story is about memory. The title character, a little boy, lives next door “to an old people’s home.” He learns that Miss Nancy, his favorite person there, has lost her memory. Then Wilfrid Gordon asks the grownups he knows what memory is, and each replies with their own understanding of the word, and the idea: something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh…something as precious as gold.

Encouraged by this new information, Wilfrid Gordon sets out to help his old friend remember. And he does.

After I finished the story, I asked my older daughter if she could think of an especially happy memory. (My younger daughter had already run off somewhere.) Grace paused. Then she smiled and said, “When we first moved here, and we were driving around and didn’t know where we were going…but we had a great time.”

I caught my breath again. (Yes, friends, I am that sentimental.) “Honey, that touches my heart.”

“Mom.” Anna had returned, and had crossed her little arms across her chest. “I touch your heart too, right, Mom?”

This is exactly what happened last night. A bedtime story, what felt like “a moment,” and then a reality check.

“I love you both so much,” I said, kissing the girls good night.

Throughout my parenting, I’ve tried to teach my children to make the best and most of everything. When things aren’t going perfectly, or as planned…when their mom gets lost, despite Google Maps’ best intentions and directions…roll with it. Be open to silver linings.

I so appreciated, then, that my older daughter had a happy memory of having a great time despite the imperfections.

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Earlier this year, Stanton needed to travel to Philadelphia for work. I went along, and we were able to spend part of that time together in Center City. That day happened to be windy and rainy. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, en route to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the wind did not let up, not once.

But…we had a wonderful time. We stopped by LOVE Park, and a very friendly and gracious fellow tourist took our picture in front of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture. I still remember how she balanced a pastry atop her Styrofoam coffee cup while adjusting my camera phone in her other hand. I thanked her several times, wholeheartedly, and now that memory I love sits framed on our mantel at home.

We didn’t reenact the famous Rocky run up the museum steps once we arrived, but we did hustle inside. Stanton isn’t quite the arts-and-culture person that I am, but much to my surprise (and his), he loved wandering through the museum with me. Afterward, we power-walked over to the Reading Terminal Market, where Stanton treated himself to the legendary roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, and I warmed up with Old City Coffee.

Despite the wind and rain…”I had the best time,” I told Stanton. He agreed it had been a lot of fun. Later, I joked that that’s what I’d like on my gravestone, years from now—Melissa Leddy: She Had the Best Time.

…the wind did not let up, not once. But…we had a wonderful time.

Over the years, several of my female friends and family members have joked with me that what they’d like on their gravestone is, “She Tried.” I’m realizing now that only women have shared this sentiment with me, “She Tried.” I realize, too, that my sample size is small, and possibly the lighthearted conversation topic of gravestones doesn’t come up as organically with, say, my uncle as it does my aunt. 😉

Yet I can’t help thinking that (many) women tend to be harder on themselves than (many) men, in both life and work. For example, several years ago I read this Harvard Business Review article on gender differences in applying for jobs. It explored a statistic that found that women apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; men, 60 percent. Fewer reservations about fewer qualifications, and perhaps less inner conflict about making everything work…reminiscent of “Just Do It.”

Now there’s a gravestone inscription for you: “Just Did It.”

Currently, Stanton is in Las Vegas for a conference. Last week he was in New York City for a few days. Before we started a family, I traveled here and there for work, too, and I know business travel can be tiring. I know it’s work, not a vacation. And…it can be fun to experience new places.

I shared this thought with my husband, as he was packing yet another suitcase. “I wouldn’t want to travel all the time, but sometimes would be fun,” I said. “But…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.” This is (unfortunately, for a few reasons) a direct quote.

Stanton looked at me, smiled; he understood. “And you can’t be in two places at once.”

“Impossible,” I confirmed.

I do feel very grateful for what I do have, though, which is writing work I genuinely enjoy, that I can do somewhat flexibly from home.

“…I could only do what you do if I had a me here.”

Earlier in the evening, before I read “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” the girls and I were having dinner and chatting. At one point, Grace mentioned she wanted to be a teacher, writer or scientist when she grew up—maybe all three. Anna said she wanted to be those three things too, and a mom.

Of course, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be, adding that I knew they’d be wonderful at whatever they worked hard at doing.

“Do you know what would make me happy?” I said. “Really, truly happy?”

“What?” my daughters asked.

Anna was sitting on my lap, and Grace was across from us. I gave Anna a squeeze, and squeezed Grace’s hand across the table. “I would be really happy,” I said, “if you both grow up, and you’re two little old ladies—like, sixty or seventy years from now—and you still meet up for coffee together, and you talk together, and you’re really good friends still.”

“Little-old-lady friends?” Anna repeated, laughing.

I nodded.

Grace smiled one of her beautiful smiles. She told me she and her sister would definitely be really good little-old-lady friends someday.

Anna chimed in that that was true.

Hearing that made me happy. Really, truly happy.

Along the way, every one of us experiences loss…compromise…lists of pros and cons, with silver linings for each. We also experience moments of being really, truly happy, moments that may astound us in their seeming simplicity. We each have our own something warm, something that makes us cry, something as precious as gold.

If we talk to one another, we’ll probably find our stories are more similar than we ever imagined.

It was a great time.

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.

I Think We Have a Game Plan

Mornings are…not smooth…in our house. Maybe yours too.

One morning recently, however, the girls and I arrived at Grace’s bus stop several minutes early. We weren’t rushing (that usually happens). Anna didn’t melt down on the porch, at the last minute, because she wanted a different hair accessory (that almost always happens). In my not-fully-caffeinated-yet state, I didn’t raise my voice for the girls to stop bickering about something (unfortunately, that pretty much always happens too—the bickering, and the voice-raising).

Things went so smoothly that particular morning, and we were early, that I remarked upon it. “Wow, girls,” I said. “I wonder how many times we’ve had such a good morning.”

Grace paused. A moment later, she said, “This is the second time.”

Aha. Out of the hundreds of mornings of our family life together, two times ever did things go smoothly.

There’s some perspective. I half-laughed, half-cried.

In the midst of our could-be-smoother mornings, and family life in general, I often find myself telling the girls, “Everything’s going to be OK. I think we have a game plan.” What mom isn’t a de facto coach and default cheerleader?

The game plan consists of making sure everyone has what they need for the day. Backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, science fair registration form (Grace), something green for show-and-tell (Anna). Then I consult our calendar to confirm where we need to be outside of routine spots like work and school.

When Stanton and I were first married, our daybreak conversations were, scientifically speaking, one thousand times more romantic than they are now.

“Honey, Grace’s science fair is tonight. Do you want to come home first, or meet us there?”

“Meet you there, gotta go, love ya, bye.”

One thousand times more romantic, scientifically speaking.

What mom isn’t a de facto coach and default cheerleader?

Stanton and I recently celebrated our 11-year wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a day together, just the two of us, which was rare, and lovely. Later that day, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Of course there was an Italian restaurant. There often is.

This Italian restaurant was small, with a small menu too. “But what they do, they do well,” reviewers wrote, over and over again. The ambiance was exposed brick, globe string lights, a view of the kitchen. Photographs framed on the walls. The kind of place that makes you feel at home.

As we were sitting at our table for two, we reminisced about the night we met. What’s an anniversary without a little reminiscing? Stanton said, “So, I don’t think I ever told you this, about that night…”

“I can’t believe,” I interrupted, “there’s something about you I don’t know. I just can’t believe there are any surprises left.”

As it turned out, there was one surprise left. Just one, friends. 😉 A funny story about something that happened about an hour before we met at a college party.

That night, that college party, goes back even longer—17 years ago. “I don’t have many memories without you in them, Mel,” Stanton said.

How did all this time go by? We asked ourselves this question, and—like everyone else who asks this question—had no answer.

We did agree, though, that it’s really nice to still like spending time with the person sitting across from you at a table for two.

As it turned out, there was one surprise left.

As a gift for us to enjoy with the girls, Stanton’s parents sent a globe. The girls have loved looking at it, gently spinning it, pointing out all the places around the world.

Stanton showed the girls Australia, where he spent a year after high school. He talked about the outback; Anna asked him about joeys, one of her favorite animals. “Let’s definitely go there someday,” she said.

That would be awesome, someday, we all agreed.

The globe has been a wonderful gift for discovery—conversation—possible game plans. Where to go (Lisbon), or return to together (La Jolla Cove).

Like many children, the girls say to us, “What are we doing today? Where are we going? Let’s go places!”

Just like the Toyota commercial, on repeat.

We load into the car, or climb on our bikes, or start walking.

Then…

“Aup-aup-aup!”

“Mom! Anna’s doing her dolphin voice, and it’s annoying me.” (The little sister loves animals.)

“Anna, please stop that.”

“Aup-aup-aup!”

“Mom!”

“Anna!”

“Oh, fine. Aup.”

They say it’s all about the journey.

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On Saturday evening, the four of us had dinner outside. It was warm, but windy. Still, I thought it would be fun to dust off the outdoor table and chairs, and embrace that spring had sprung after a winter’s worth of snowgirl-building, sledding and ice skating. All good fun, but let’s hear it for springtime.

The girls were sitting on the backyard patio. Through the sunroom window inside, I saw them munching apples and chitchatting. I was holding the last of the food to bring out when I saw one of the paper plates fly up and bop Grace on the forehead. “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed, as Grace and Anna doubled over in laughter.

When Stanton and I got back outside, the girls were still laughing. “Mom, Dad!” Anna greeted us. “Guess what!”

“I saw through the window!” I said. “Grace, are you OK?”

Grace nodded through her laughter.

“It’s so windy, the paper plate bopped Grace,” Anna said, shaking her head. “Then we started laughing hysterically.”

Now all four of us were laughing. “Anna, I love how you tell stories,” I said.

“We just started laughing hysterically, Mom,” Anna repeated.

I sank into a chair. “I may have had a bad idea, girls,” I said. “Eating outside when it’s windy.”

No, it’s fun, they assured me. Fun and funny.

My al fresco springtime meal had turned into a fun and funny family memory. Not the original game plan, to be sure, but where we ended up instead.

And in the end, that was wonderful 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.

Not Quite There Yet: The Family Vacation

We’re knee-deep in summer, and the season of family vacations.

My husband let me know he needed to travel to Martha’s Vineyard for work the week of July 4th. The girls and I had never been, and we all decided it would be fun to go together. Stanton had meetings, but would join in on the family time when he could—a mini vacation of sorts.

Before embarking on our trip, I did what most parents (most moms?) do. Laundry. The grocery store for snacks.

I located everyone’s beach paraphernalia: swimsuits, cover-ups, goggles, towels, chairs, flip-flops, sunscreen.

I also stopped by Walmart to buy sandcastle-building equipment…and then learned Walmart had just sold its last beach bucket. Next stop: Dollar Tree, where I had better luck with beach buckets, sand shovels, and seahorse and starfish molds.

Now, we’ve become quasi pet owners, you might remember. Ping, our betta fish, joined the family this past spring. She needs a pinch—just a pinch—of fish food every morning. Just a pinch of fish food still requires planning.

I asked our neighbors if they’d pet-sit Ping while we were away. They kindly agreed. And then, because I couldn’t carry Ping and her two-gallon fish tank down the block…I wheeled her over in Anna’s stroller, to the raised eyebrows of some passersby.

You can’t make this stuff up, friends.

So began our family vacation.

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Our drive to the ferry for the island took about three and a half hours. We started out in the morning. I gathered stories, coloring books and crayons, puzzles—hours of fun—into a bag, and placed the bag between the girls in the backseat.

Like kids everywhere, about five minutes into our drive, one of the girls shared, “I’m bored.”

The other wondered, “Are we there yet?”

Not quite yet, girls. Not quite yet.

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As a kid on family vacations or reunions, did you ever have to bunk with a sibling, or distant relative? It can be a little tough, right?

It was a little tough for Grace, who informed Stanton and me after our first night in the hotel, “Anna kicks, and she takes up a lot of space.”

For such a little person, she really does. I so appreciate how kind and patient Grace (usually) is with her little sister:

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During our time in Edgartown, the girls loved playing at the nearby beach and swimming in the ocean, which we learned is technically Nantucket Sound. I loved the beach too, and I was excited to check out the other sights. I promised the girls Popsicles if they’d come exploring with me.

Popsicles: As good a bribe as any.

We played in Cannonball Park, admired the Old Whaling Church, and stopped in local shops like Murdick’s Fudge. We wrapped up our sightseeing by sitting at the dock, watching the harbor boats and Chappy Ferry rides. Later, I asked the girls what their favorite part had been.

“Pretending to fish with that string we found,” they replied.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s always the little things.

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There’s a saying, which you’ve probably heard, that life isn’t about the destination, but the journey. I think this is true, too, of family vacations. We can read the latest issues of Travel + Leisure and plan the most TripAdvisor-approved odysseys—or make the most of last-minute adventures—and then find that what we love the most, and what our loved ones remember, are the seemingly littlest things. And we can be anywhere in the world for this it-never-fails phenomenon to happen: Lake Como, or the lake that’s an hour’s drive from home.

Sometimes crazy things happen too. And a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come, for better or worse. For example…

When I was growing up, my parents, siblings and I went to Orlando, Fla. We were in Epcot one day when I became horribly sick. My mom brought me to the on-site infirmary, where the medical staff diagnosed me with food poisoning. Ugh.

(As I’m writing this, I’m shuddering at the memory. Shuddering and gagging.)

The Epcot folks took good care of me. Then, per Disney policy, they arranged for a wheelchair for me, to transport me back to our rental car.

You can bet my brothers begged my mom to photograph that moment for posterity’s sake. Good ol’ Melissa in a wheelchair at Epcot. “Take a picture, Mom!”

Decades later, that crazy moment from Epcot still comes up during family get-togethers. (What does your family remember at summer BBQ’s and Thanksgiving dinners?)

…a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come…

After we got the girls to bed one night, Stanton opened a bottle of red wine he’d bought. “This was surprisingly thoughtful of you,” I said.

“Glad I can still surprise you sometimes,” he replied, pouring two glasses.

Then, despite the thousands of brand-new TV and movie options available to us, we watched a rerun of “The Office.” Season 2, “Email Surveillance,” the episode where Jim doesn’t invite Michael to his party. It still made us laugh.

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On our drive back home, the four of us played the License Plate Game. Our family’s version of this game is to find license plates from the four states we’ve called home: Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Now, we acknowledge other license plates. Indiana, OK. Florida…Maine…North Carolina. Utah, whose license plate declares, “Greatest Snow on Earth!” We acknowledge other license plates, but we get excited about Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Driving through Massachusetts, it was, of course, easy to find license plates from neighboring New York and nearby Pennsylvania. I was amazed, though, to see more than a handful of license plates from the Lone Star State. There were a bunch of Texans in New England that holiday week—who knew?

We were about five miles from our driveway, and we still hadn’t seen Virginia. I was about to give up when, out of the corner of my eye… “Grace, look!” I pointed to the car to our left.

Grace’s middle name is Virginia, so she can recognize the word right away. She looked at the car, saw the white license plate with navy-blue letters, and grinned. “Virginia!”

Anna cheered. “We found Virginia!”

Indeed we did.

I loved our impromptu getaway. It wasn’t perfect, of course. We all had our moments, and traveling with kids is tricky, in general. But for all the moments we had together…I appreciated them so much. And some of those moments, possibly, will be ones we’ll remember years from now, when the four of us—a little older, and maybe not living under a shared roof anymore—are lucky enough to be gathered in the same place.

“For such a little person, she took up a lot of space. She kicked me all night.”

“Oh, you were fine…”

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“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” (Buddha)

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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.

A First-Timer’s Guide to Napa and Sonoma

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary with a three-day trip to Napa and Sonoma. It was our first time in California wine country, from New York. (We also were in the Golden State to attend our friend’s wedding in San Diego later that week—more about that adventure here.)

Before we left, I read everything I could find about Napa and Sonoma: various experts’ and visitors’ rankings of the best wineries in each valley; which valley, Napa or Sonoma, was more “you”; where to eat. I also asked friends who had been to offer up their recommendations, which they kindly did.

In this case, though, the best education was experience. Not until I set foot in Napa and Sonoma did I have a true feel for the place(s). Disclaimer: I’m not a travel expert, just someone who was recently there and would like to pass along what I learned, in the hopes it will help others.

Here’s what I figured out, then, along with some specific recommendations regarding wineries and restaurants. I hope this information helps you plan your upcoming trip.

And when you get there, enjoy.

Napa or Sonoma, or Both?

The Napa and Sonoma valleys are next to each other, separated by a mountain range (I believe it’s called the Mayacamas). It takes about 20 minutes or so to drive between Napa and Sonoma on State Highway 121—they’re super close.

A major difference is that Sonoma is more spread out, geographically, than Napa. It has roughly the same number of wineries, but on twice the land—an outdoorsman’s paradise, you might say. Napa, meanwhile, features a (breathtaking) landscape of one winery after another: vineyard after vineyard for miles.

When I was researching Napa and Sonoma, I read some reviewers’ perspectives that Napa and Sonoma differ in terms of vibe as well as geography. For example, Napa is more luxury SUV, reviewers wrote, while Sonoma is more Subaru. Napa is to Ralph Lauren what Sonoma is to T-shirts and jeans—those kinds of comparisons. I didn’t find these comparisons to be true, though.

In my experience, both Napa and Sonoma are friendly, welcoming places. Stanton and I loved them both (and we’re Subaru-type folks, in case you were wondering 😉 ).

If you’re making the trip to California wine country, then I recommend stopping by both valleys for a taste (literally) of both Napa and Sonoma, if you can.

Upon arriving in this picturesque part of the country, our first stop was Napa’s Domaine Carneros, known for their sparkling wines and gracious table service. Two thumbs up:

Domaine Carneros Winery

Where to Go in Napa?

There are two main roads in Napa: State Highway 29, and the Silverado Trail. I much preferred driving along the Silverado Trail than Highway 29.

If you like scenic routes, the Silverado Trail is absolutely beautiful, and much less commercial than Highway 29. The Silverado Trail is also home to some wonderful “hidden gem” wineries. (Stanton and I loved Paraduxx, our favorite winery in Napa, and Frog’s Leap.)

A view of Frog’s Leap, from the charming back porch:

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Highway 29, however, features big-name brands like Robert Mondavi and Cakebread, which you may not want to miss. We did stop by V. Sattui for a picnic lunch, and can highly recommend V. Sattui (Napa’s most visited winery, according to reports) for fresh, delicious food options and an easygoing ambiance. Next time we’ll have to try their wine too (we were in between tastings!).

Post-lunch, I napped in a chair in V. Sattui’s courtyard, and the staff didn’t (seem to) mind:

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A note about wine, and wine tastings. Which wineries you choose to visit may (should?) depend upon what kind of wine you prefer to drink. If a winery is known for Chardonnay, and you live and die by bold reds, then you may not enjoy a winery that specializes in white wines, despite that spot’s numerous five-star TripAdvisor reviews.

On the other hand, let yourself be open to discovery, and pleasant surprise. Personally, I love red wine—Cabernet and red blends are my favorites—yet I tried a Zinfandel at Frog’s Leap, and was amazed by how much I enjoyed it.

…let yourself be open to discovery, and pleasant surprise.

Remember not to drink on an empty stomach, friends. For breakfast in Napa, I strongly encourage you to stop by The Model Bakery, recommended to me by my in-the-know friend Haeley of Design Improvised. Stanton and I went to their Oxbow Public Market location two mornings in a row. The breakfast sandwiches are fabulous, and I can’t say enough about the Chocolate Rad cookie. Trust me on this: Whatever you order, get a Chocolate Rad cookie to go with it. 🙂

Oprah (as in Winfrey) loves The Model Bakery’s English muffins so much that she has them flown in to her. The breakfast sandwiches feature these English muffins:

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Where to Go in Sonoma?

When you’re in Sonoma, be sure to check out Sonoma Plaza, the central gathering space. It includes a variety of art galleries, shops and restaurants, as well as historic sites such as Mission San Francisco Solano.

We visited Mission Solano during a morning walk through the Plaza. The nature here is beautiful:

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Of all the wineries we visited in both Napa and Sonoma, we had the most fun at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma. It bills itself as the oldest premium winery in California, and is an Historic Landmark very close to the Plaza. The staff members dress up in 19th-century costumes (the winery’s founder was a European count), and their customer service is excellent (our tour guide, Tim, gave us amazingly generous pours!).

You are bound to have fun wine tasting inside one of Buena Vista’s caves:

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We also enjoyed our Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, about 10 miles from the Plaza. An enlightening tour, with amazing views of Sonoma Mountain opposite the vineyards.

If you’re eating in Sonoma, then I highly recommend the Sunflower Caffe and the girl & the fig as excellent lunch and/or dinner options.

In between wine tastings, I devoured the Smoked Duck sandwich at the Sunflower Caffe. Stanton and I split the Griddled Johnny Cake in the middle of the table; it is to die for:

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I hope what I’ve shared here helps you make the most of your visit to Napa and Sonoma. Cheers!

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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.

11 Types of People You See at Airports

Post-Thanksgiving, I was standing in line at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the San Antonio airport. It was about 5 a.m. on a weekday morning, and the long line comprised mainly holiday travelers like me.

A yuppie-looking couple (he was wearing the latest North Face jacket; her hair was blown out and stunningly styled at, yes, 5 a.m.) near me was debating whether or not they should continue waiting for their order.

“I mean, how long does it take to make a breakfast sandwich, really?” she asked him.

He seriously considered her question, then shook his head in defeat. “We’ve been waiting a while now.”

She tapped a stacked-heeled foot against the floor. “We may just need to take a hit on ten dollars. Our flight’s already boarding—I just heard the announcement.”

“Yep, I guess so…”

I exchanged glances with the older, sleepy gentleman in front of me. I just want some coffee, our eyes communicated to each other.

The couple power-walked over to their gate, while my Dunkin’ Donuts line inched closer to the register.

In that moment, I realized there are some reliable “types” of people you see at airports. Here are 11 of them.

1. The Couple Still Getting to Know Each Other. Like my yuppie friends above. I have a theory, based on zero scientific evidence and years of people-watching, that the fewer complete sentences couples speak to each other at 5 a.m., the better they know each other.

2. The People Who Just Want Coffee. In their un-caffeinated state, they aren’t interested in deep questions like, “How long does it take to make a breakfast sandwich?” They don’t want to make small talk with the other people in the Dunkin’ Donuts line. They are about 15 minutes away from a caffeine headache. All.they.want.is.coffee.

I have a theory, based on zero scientific evidence and years of people-watching, that the fewer complete sentences couples speak to each other at 5 a.m., the better they know each other.

3. The People Still Wearing Pajamas. On the other extreme of The Couple Still Getting to Know Each Other, The People Still Wearing Pajamas could not be bothered to put on clothes at 5 a.m., let alone comb their hair. This type literally rolled out of bed and arrived at the airport.

During my most recent travels, I saw two children wearing pajamas—one at the Chicago airport (a plaid flannel set), the other in Albany (theme: Disney princesses). OK: They’re kids; they’re tired; I get it. But adults? Come on now, folks. Why not change into some clean (yet still comfortable) “activewear”?

airport-2-12-5-16

4. First-Time Parents Flying With Their Child for the First Time. I feel for these folks, because I was them once. This type of airport traveler is laden down with baby gear: car seat; stroller; baby carrier in case the baby isn’t feeling the car seat/stroller combo that day; packed-to-the-max diaper bag; sometimes a Boppy pillow. Often, I let them know I’ve been there, done that and assure them everything will be OK (after I’ve had some coffee, of course).

5. Parents Traveling for the 100th Time With Their Kids. The more-seasoned moms and dads bring two main things with them: an iPad and a party size bag of something crunchy (Veggie Stix is a popular choice).

6. The Pet-Obsessed. At Baggage Claim in Albany, I watched a middle-aged woman speak lovingly to her tiny dog, who looked comfortable in his faux-fur-padded pet carrier. Another lady, with her own canine in tow, stopped to ask Lady No. 1 how her dog had done.

“Oh, he always does well,” she replied. “We have a house in Boca, and we fly back and forth all the time.” Her husband joined them, his arms full of luggage, and she greeted him by snapping something like, “What took you so long?”

The pet-obsessed: Consistently patient with the four-footed among us.

The more-seasoned moms and dads bring two main things with them: an iPad and a party size bag of something crunchy (Veggie Stix is a popular choice).

7. College Students Returning to School After Break. Like The People Still Wearing Pajamas, College Students Returning to School After Break more often than not also opt for sleepwear rather than “awake-wear.” A noticeable difference, however, between these two groups: The coeds bring books with titles like “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” and “Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere” onboard as their carry-ons.

8. Business Travelers. Business travelers can get a bad rap for being self-absorbed—in their phones, in their 24/7 work, in their airport VIP lounges. What I appreciate about them, though, is that they are used to traveling. Thus, they take up minimal time and space navigating through the security lines. They often come prepared with noise-canceling headphones, which means they don’t glare at your kids when little Emma and Aiden have their inevitable meltdowns. Unlike…

9. School Sports Teams. The letterman jackets, the athletic-striped sweatpants, the selfies featuring team-logoed caps and the starting lineup flashing the “hang ten” sign—school sports teams in airports tend to make themselves comfortable, and make a bit of noise.

10. Grandparents Who Just Visited With Their Grandkids. You overhear these older folks talking about how wonderful it was to see “all the kids.” Their heads almost touch as they lean over together, scrolling through pictures on their phones (and, sometimes, clicking through their actual cameras). They’ve been together a long time—weathered life’s ups and downs—and aren’t bothered by long fast-food lines or Baggage Claim delays. They just saw their family, and they’re HAPPY.

11. Soldiers Returning Home. Every once in a while, I’m privileged to witness a uniformed military man or woman reuniting with their family. The look in their eyes—the gratitude, the joy—the all-encompassing embraces that follow. Even the least sentimental among us, I think, feel a twinge in our hearts when we see such a sight—soldiers returning home.

They just saw their family, and they’re HAPPY.

There you have it, friends: my 11 types of airport travelers. Which ones did I miss?

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.