What Happens Next? When Stories End Too Soon

One afternoon, I was rocking Anna and reading her a story, as I usually do before she falls asleep for her nap. The story was “Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend.” I finished reading the last page; then I closed the book.

Anna tapped her hand on the book. “More,” she said.

“No,” I explained. “The story’s over.” And it’s time for your nap.

Anna shook her head. “More,” she repeated. “Dubla Da!”

“Dubla Da” is how Anna says “Amelia Bedelia.” I understand Anna; I can speak Baby, as Grace says. In that moment, I also understood that my toddler daughter wanted to know what happened next in the story.

She wanted more.

What happens next?

As readers, we love finding a story so compelling that we can’t put it down. We want more. We want to know what happens next.

Eventually, we reach The End. And sometimes, we’re sorry The End has come so soon.

This past summer, I published a short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story” (aptly titled, right?). I loved writing this story. I had fun figuring out the characters (flawed, but redeemable). I made the setting my beloved college town of Richmond, Va., and enjoyed revisiting it in my memory. And through the plot twists and turns, I considered how human beings tell stories, a subject I’ve always been interested in.

I heard from friends, as well as complete strangers, who read and reviewed “This Is Just a Story.” The majority of them said they really enjoyed it. Some felt parts could have been better, or different. All of them wanted to know what happened next.

Eventually, we reach The End. And sometimes, we’re sorry The End has come so soon.

“I wished the story kept going,” my good friend Allison wrote in her Amazon review. Meanwhile, a reviewer I don’t know added, “[I]t left me wondering what comes next.”

More.

What happens next.

As a writer, I love that my readers enjoyed my story and wanted it to continue. That makes me so happy—so happy, in fact, that I’m working on a sequel to “This Is Just a Story.” The title?

Yes, you guessed it: “What Happens Next.”

🙂

Yet.

Sometimes stories do, simply, end before we’re ready for them to. I don’t mean short fiction stories now. Beyond “Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend” and anything I might write…sometimes stories end too soon, in real life.

Sometimes we learn as much as we can about something, or someone. And that’s the end of the path for us and that experience, or that relationship.

Back in Richmond, I had a friend. We started as co-workers and became friends. She was friendly, fun, hard-working. Cared very much about her family members, some of whom had been through difficult times, and helped them whenever she could. I respected her very much.

Then I moved to San Antonio. She later shared with me that she was making a cross-country move too. We kept in touch, for a while. When I told her I had become a mother, she sewed a blanket and mailed it to me for Grace.

I still have that blanket, here in New York now.

What Happens Next

We aren’t close as we once were though, my friend and I. Long distance can do that to friendships. As much as I’d like our story to keep going, I have the sense that it ended. And probably, really, where it ended was in Richmond, before our paths diverged.

If our paths do cross again sometime…I’ll give her the biggest hug. I’ll be so excited to catch up. In the meantime, I wish her all the best and only the best, because that’s what she deserves.

Sometimes we reach the end of a path—or the end of a story—and that’s it. We have to let go. We can’t always know what happens next.

We have a primal need to know, but sometimes we have to let go.

We can, however, keep the journey close to our heart. Appreciate what we did have the chance to discover.

We have a primal need to know, but sometimes we have to let go.

This past weekend, I was chatting with a lovely lady I know. She shared with me that she’s retiring soon. She worked in her role about seven years. In her line of work, seven years is about the right amount of time, she told me, to come in, make a positive difference and then welcome new energy in. Seven years—sounded about right to me.

Sometimes The End comes too soon, and sometimes, we know to expect it.

Letting go can be hard. Coincidentally, I spent seven years in San Antonio. And four years in Richmond before that (unless you count the college years too—then, eight.) I love adventures, and exploring. Today, I love New York.

There are times, though, when I feel a pang for a place from before. In San Antonio, something I miss, of all things, is my local grocery store, and a lady who worked at the deli counter there—Miss Jennifer—I’m sure I’ve mentioned her to you before. I knew her since Grace was a baby…appreciated our weekly chats, which ranged from deli meats to grace (lowercase G grace)…and every now and then, usually on Sundays, wonder how she’s doing.

I hope we catch up again someday. Just like with my friend from Richmond, I’d give Miss Jennifer the biggest hug. And like moms everywhere, I’d show off how much Grace has grown, and Anna too.

What happens next?

Stories are like memories—not so much about what…or where…or when…but who.

Whatever happened to that person I knew so well?

Luckily, paths can cross, diverge and meet again. There’s always the possibility for sequels—in literature, and in life.

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” (Ursula K. Le Guin)

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.

Can You Make Me a Paper Airplane?

At the table adjacent to ours, a trio of high school girls was studying for an anatomy test. I know because they were quizzing each other, loudly, on the finer points of the skeletal system. For the first time in about 20 years, I heard the words “metacarpals” and “tibial tuberosity.”

As I sipped my chai tea latte, only one word flickered through my science-challenged brain: brutal.

“Mom.” I glanced over at Grace. She was holding out a page from the coloring book I’d brought. “Can you make me a paper airplane?”

I smiled. “I’m sorry, honey, but I don’t know how.”

“You don’t know how?”

When we’re little, we think of our parents as superheroes. There’s nothing they don’t know, or can’t do. This perception probably peaks around age 7 and then plummets by 16, when we’re full-fledged, omniscient teenagers. 😉

Grace, and Anna too, stared at me in horror. I shrugged. Paper airplanes are Stanton’s forte, not mine.

“Well, ask someone,” Grace suggested.

I glanced around the back parlor of our coffee shop. I wasn’t going to interrupt the intense anatomy test study session, that was for sure. Two other women were huddled by the oversized window, deep in conversation and their second 16-ounce cups of coffee. A man was nearby, a portfolio of papers splayed in front of him. Another gentleman was chuckling at his phone.

“Not right now, honey,” I said.

“Why?” Grace asked.

“Why?” Anna repeated.

I tilted my head at them. “I’m feeling shy right now.”

Anna tilted her head back at me. “Aww,” she empathized.

I love my coffee shop dates with my daughters. Just sitting together, hanging out…

“Mom! I have a great idea!” Grace’s brown eyes were sparkling. “You can ask your phone!”

Indeed I could. “OK,” I agreed, digging my phone out of the diaper bag.

I Googled “how to make a paper airplane.” Grace slid the coloring page across our table. Anna licked pumpkin chocolate-chip muffin from her fingertips.

Paper Airplane 3-13-17

A few minutes later, I had transformed that coloring page into a paper airplane for my 5-year-old. You would have thought I’d hung the moon, Grace was so happy.

“You did it! You really did it!” Grace said.

“Yay!” Two-year-old Anna clapped.

And from the table adjacent to ours, the high schoolers were now debating true ribs, false ribs and floating ribs.

In all honesty, I really enjoyed my high school anatomy class. I had an excellent teacher, Mr. Smedley, who made the subject interesting and relevant. Anatomy is one of those subjects where you actually can use the information in everyday life when you grow up.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

Paper airplane making was one of my Poppy’s finest skills. He served as an airplane mechanic during World War II and later flew airplanes as a hobby. He loved all things aeronautical.

When I was a freshman in college, Poppy mailed me a letter. I was homesick during those first few weeks away from our Pennsylvania hometown, and I loved hearing from my Poppy. Appreciated that memento of home.

I saved Poppy’s letter for a long time, but don’t have it anymore. It got misplaced, or lost, or recycled when I moved from my freshman-year dorm to my sophomore-year one.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

That’s, possibly, the hardest thing about moving, whether across campus or across the country: You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

Luckily, I do remember. I remember that Poppy had drawn an airplane after his signature on the letter. He loved all things aeronautical, right? Yes. And the letter, and the airplane, meant he loved me.

Human beings are resilient, I’ve been told. And I believe that’s true. Every day, I make a conscious effort to, simply, “choose happy.” To focus on the good. Leave people and places better than I found them. That sort of thing.

But there are times when I’m feeling sad, or stressed, or shy, as I was in the coffee shop that afternoon.

During these times, I give myself a moment to acknowledge these emotions. Sadness, stress, shyness. For example, I wish Poppy could have met Anna; he would have loved her. I acknowledge that sadness, that sense of loss.

After I’ve had my moment, I do my best to move forward. To refocus on the good. Celebrate all the good things.

You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

As we journey along, we face all kinds of assessments, from high school anatomy tests to mortgage applications to annual physicals. Someone tells us if we’ve passed or failed based on theoretically objective standards.

Were we good enough? Or do we not get to pass “Go”?

I don’t know, but I suspect, that as we near the end of our journey, we give ourselves a self-assessment or sorts. We reflect on the path we carved—the choices we made—the affection we gave, or withheld. What we’re leaving behind.

“What’s the difference between true ribs and false ribs?”—our end-of-journey self-assessment almost certainly doesn’t include questions like these.

No, more like… “Did I do good work? Did I choose love over hate? Did I do the best I could for my family? Did I take walks, and watch the sun set, and play Marco Polo in the summer and build snowmen in the winter?”

Did I make paper airplanes?

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.

Being There for Dinner

The boiling water bubbled over the saucepan. Sssssss! The stovetop hissed.

Grace screamed. Anna followed suit.

“Everything’s OK,” I said, grabbing the pot. I drained the just-cooked pasta in the colander in the sink.

The timer on the oven began beeping: the meatballs. The girls crowded into the kitchen.

“Girls, you need to move…”

The front door opened, then closed. “Dad!” The girls rushed out of the kitchen. Someone tripped and fell on the way; crying ensued.

Welcome to the end of the weekday in many families’ homes, right? Mine. Maybe yours too.

For a while, I would finish making dinner around 6 o’clock. Stanton usually would be home by then. I’d set the food on the dining room table, encourage my family to help themselves, and then retreat to the kitchen to begin cleaning up everything that had gone into preparing the meal.

And, I won’t lie: I often would enjoy a few minutes’ peace to eat by myself without one of the girls climbing into my lap or grabbing from my plate.

Then one evening, about a month ago, I glanced at the dining room table. Anna was sitting on Stanton’s lap, snuggling against his chest. Smudging his dress shirt with her sticky fingers, but they looked cozy and happy nevertheless. Grace was talking about her day at preschool, her eyes wide and excited.

I glanced at that dining room table, and…I missed my family. I wanted to join them. Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

Such a little thing, such a Captain Obvious moment—to sit down for dinner with the people you love the most. Probably not even worthy of being written about, right? But I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed doing it. Clearly, I hadn’t done it all that much, because it resonated with me. Sitting face-to-face with my family, instead of standing alone a room away—what a difference.

Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

A couple of weeks later, I was at the library and came across this book title: “The Surprising Power of Family Meals” by Miriam Weinstein. It was calling my name; I checked it out. During the next few days, I read through it. This book has a wealth of insights, but the ones that most struck me were these passages in which the author quotes theologian Bill Huebsch:

“‘Things work out when you cook and wash dishes together. It’s hard to sit down to table with someone you haven’t forgiven…In most of our lives, meals are also memorials. Almost everyone, when they speak of their lives, they speak about meals’” (pages 146-147).

Wow, I thought. And, yes.

Family, food, forgiveness, memory, life—all intertwined.

When my daughters are older, I’m not sure what they’ll remember about their childhood, or our family dinners. Like all parents, I hope they have many happy memories. I do know, though, that I want them to remember that I was there, at the table with them, instead of missing in action in the kitchen.

I’ve been trying to make this happen. Not every evening…but more often than not. Because life can get hectic. You can’t always be the ideal version of yourself.

Yet.

Being There for Dinner

“Don’t Blink” was a hit country song by Kenny Chesney, about 10 years ago. I heard it just the other day, and these lyrics have been replaying in my head ever since:

“…When your hourglass runs out of sand
You can’t flip it over and start again”

The theme of the song, of course, is that time goes by in the blink of an eye.

When I’ve been sitting down with my family now, I’ve been looking at them, really seeing them. There’s something beautiful about making eye contact with someone you love, and holding that gaze, and connecting. Really connecting.

“‘It’s the facing each other that’s important’” in how we eat, according to scholar Witold Rybczynski in “The Surprising Power of Family Meals.” “It’s the fact of sitting face-to-face, inviting interaction, give-and-take, that matters most” (page 87).

Family—food—face-to-face. Pretty simple.

Something I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, is that the simple stuff is the good stuff. This past Sunday, I made Hamburger Helper for Stanton and the girls for lunch—Stanton’s request. “It’s been years since I’ve had Hamburger Helper,” Stanton said.

“Huh, I wonder why,” the foodie in me replied (the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun).

For years now, I’ve been experimenting with gourmet and/or novel recipes for my family—herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, lime chicken tacos, everything I wrote about here. Why would I bother with Hamburger Helper, when I could prepare something amazing from scratch?

…the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun…

I made the Hamburger Helper. Sat down with Stanton and the girls. Anna took a bite: “Mmm!” Stanton was ready for a second helping within, it seemed, seconds. And Grace declared that she liked my Hamburger Helper almost as much as the frozen pizza I “make.”

The simple stuff is the good stuff. Family. Food. Face-to-face. Hamburger Helper or herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, it doesn’t matter.

As long as you’re there.

I want to be there.

What about you, friends?

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.

The Stories We Don’t Tell

I have two concerns with every blog post I write: 1) Is this piece narcissistic? Have I focused too much on myself and my personal experience, or have I done enough to share something of overarching value—something that might make a positive difference in someone else’s life? And conversely, 2) have I shared something I shouldn’t have—something sacred?

Life these days can feel like there’s no such thing as oversharing. We’ve become accustomed to 24/7 news cycles (although we usually tune in to the networks and narratives we already agree with). Our infinite wireless connections give us the capability to share, thumbs-up, angry-face, comment on and caption everything and anything, wherever we are, anytime.

There are lots of stories out there, individual as well as global, and they are constantly being told and talked about.

But what about the stories we don’t hear? And the ones we don’t tell?

We don’t have to tell all, do we, friends? And maybe, sometimes we shouldn’t.

The stories that are sacred to me are the ones I experience on a deep, quiet level with my family. Moments that have a “Please Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the doorknob. Scenes from my life in which I feel joy, or sorrow, or the presence of a higher power—and to narrate that experience would be to besmirch the sacredness of it.

You probably have these experiences too—the ones that make you pause before you click “Post.”

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A few months ago, I wrote a rough draft of a post about moving from Texas to New York. The working title was “10 Signs You’re Not in Texas Anymore,” and included social-culture tidbits like, “Texas is a bit more ‘bling,’ while New York (upstate, at least) loves L.L. Bean.”

I worried that my post might come across as “poking fun at” either place, rather than “just for fun” about both. So I shared the rough draft with family and friends from both regions. Some of the “signs” prompted them to affirm, “Mm-hmm.” Others made them laugh. “Maybe this will go viral,” I said, half-joking.

Then someone noted that it would have to be snarky in order to go viral.

He was right: Snarky rules. It’s right up there with screen names and online personas, soundbite-heavy broadcast journalism, and hashtag-friendly campaigns (from advertising to political…if there’s even much of a difference).

Snarky isn’t my style. So I’ve saved this “10 Signs” story for face-to-face conversations, to limit any potential misunderstandings about two unique places, each amazing and special in their own right.

With all the sharing that does happen, we might turn to overemphasis and emojis galore (or, if we’re writers, clickbait headlines) to attract people to our stories. “Come on, folks—pay attention to me!”

Every now and then, though, it might be helpful to ask ourselves, “Is this a story I should tell the world? Or is it one better saved for face-to-face conversations?”

In the beginning, we told stories to explain the unknown. We didn’t have blog posts or phones or YouTube. All we had were one another, gathered around a fire—together.

If we were gathered together, like that, today—right now—would we speak in extremes? Would we lodge ourselves on opposite sides of the fire, or would we acknowledge the shades of gray that are part of life? Would we talk to one another?

Would we tell our stories, from the heart, about what matters to us? About the experiences that have shaped us? Would we share the moments that we know not to simply lob online?

For many of us, I think the answer would be, “Yes.” Yes, we’d really talk to one another.

We probably would find some common ground, too.

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.

Struggling as Not-a-Morning-Person When You Have Little Kids

It was a weekday, about 7:30 a.m. My husband slung his briefcase over his shoulder and grabbed his keys. “Have a great day, girls,” he said.

“Da!” Anna exclaimed, throwing her little 2-year-old arms around one leg.

“Me too!” yelled Grace, stronghold-ing his other leg.

“I love you guys too,” Stanton said. “Have a great day with Mom.”

Grace pouted. “I wish we could come with you.”

Anna imitated her big sister’s pout. “Da, Da, Da.”

Scenes like these are always an ego boost for me. “Come on, girls,” I said, pouring myself a cup of coffee. “We’re going to have a fun day.”

Stanton escaped out the front door. Our daughters trudged over to me. “So what are we doing today, Mom?” Grace asked, as I sat down.

“Ma, Ma, Ma.” Anna climbed into my lap. She smiled at the bowl of Cheerios I’d poured for myself. “Yum, yum, yum.” Grabbing my spoon, she began shoveling cereal into her mouth.

“Anna…” I sighed. “Can’t Mom eat her breakfast?”

Anna shook her head. I shook my head too, and reached for my coffee.

“What are we doing today, Mom?” Grace repeated.

“Well, you have school…”

“Yay!” Grace said. “I want to pick out my clothes.”

I frowned at her. “Excuse me. Is that how you ask to do something?”

“Please can I pick out my clothes?”

Anna munched on Cheerios.

“We’ll pick them out together,” I told Grace.

Grace exhaled, deeply. “Fine. I want us to do that now…please?”

“I need to drink my coffee first.”

Grace kicked at the floor. “All you do is drink coffee,” she grumbled.

“Excuse me?” Before I could go on, something cold, wet and mushy fell into my lap. I looked down. Anna, meanwhile, looked up. She had tipped over the bowl of Cheerios.

“Anna,” I groaned, getting up.

“Aaahhh,” she said, stepping into the cereal on the floor.

“No!” I said, reaching over to grab her. I deposited her away from the spill. “This happens all…the…time,” I said, wiping at my previously clean pair of pants with a napkin.

“Don’t whine, Mom—solve the problem,” Grace said.

This is something I say to her, but it’s not something I want to hear, uncaffeinated, at 7:35 a.m.

not-a-morning-person-photo

Fact: I am not a morning person.

Another fact: Most mornings, I struggle as not-a-morning-person with my two little kids.

Mainly, I struggle to be patient.

I struggle to be patient when my toddler spills my bowl of cereal on the floor for the third or fourth or 40th morning a row.

I struggle to be patient when my preschooler accuses me of “only drinking coffee,” when I was up until midnight the night before working on a writing project, folding laundry and filling out her application for spring soccer.

I’m working on becoming a more patient mom, especially in the morning.

Mornings when Stanton is out of town for work can be particularly trying. These are usually the mornings that Grace picks to greet me at 5:45 a.m. with urgent questions like, “Mom, where’s my purple glue stick?” and “For our summer vacation, can we go to the moon?”

I answer—“I don’t know;” “No”—only to be asked the same follow-up question multiple times in a row. Yes, you guessed it: the ever-popular, never-ending “Why?”

“Why, Mom?

“Why?

“Why? Why? WHY?”

Oh. My. Goodness.

On one such husband-out-of-town morning, I set the girls up in Grace’s room with plenty of fun activities—sticker books, “pretend and play” doctor kits, blocks—so that I could take a shower. About a minute after I turned the water on, the girls poked their heads inside the shower curtain, pointed at me and began laughing hysterically.

Let me just tell you, friends: I’m in my 30s. Could be in better shape, stretch marks—you know how it goes. To wake up, begin showering and then see the reasons for those stretch marks point at you and laugh hysterically—there are more rewarding feelings than that, I have to say.

Another morning I was brushing my teeth. I reached behind the bathroom door for my towel—at which point the door suddenly slammed my head against the wall. “Aaahhh!” I cried. What had just happened?

Then I saw Anna looking up at me. She smiled. “Ma!”

“We found you!” Grace shouted from behind her.

“Guys. Guys.” I willed myself not to raise my voice. “Did you see what just happened? My head is killing me!”

“Mom,” Grace hissed. “Remember, you don’t like that word.”

I closed my eyes.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, the girls and I do our best to get Grace to preschool on time. The wild card, though: Anna. Some mornings we’ll be ready to go, with everything we need—my diaper bag, Grace’s backpack, water for the girls and coffee for me—when Anna throws a fit when I try to put her jacket on. Or she takes her pants off. Or wants to wear Grace’s tap shoes.

(What to wear. The majority of my conflicts and time sucks with my daughters revolve around what to wear.)

Eventually, we’ll get out the front door. Get in the car and on our way.

A couple of minutes later…

“Spill! Spill!” Anna.

“Mom! Anna had a spill.” Grace.

I glance back. Anna’s sippy cup of water, marketed as leak-proof, is in fact not. Water soaks her pants.

“Off! Off!” Anna.

“Mom! Anna wants to take her pants off.”

Of course she does.

I reach for my coffee. “As soon as we stop, I’ll change Anna’s clothes.”

“Off! Off!” Anna’s voice is becoming increasingly strident.

“Mom! Anna wants to take her pants off now!”

The clock says 8:26 a.m. I gulp down some coffee. “Let me find a song on the radio, girls.”

“Off! Off! OFF!!!”

I turn on the radio. It’s in the middle of a song we all like. “Keep it here!” Grace yells.

“OFF!” Anna keeps yelling. Maybe by the chorus, she’ll have settled down.

I have some more coffee.

Yes, I struggle as not-a-morning-person. But I’m working on it, one daybreak at a time. Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it, right, friends?

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.

Catching Up With My Dad: 5 Moments

This past week, my mom and dad visited with the girls and me for a couple of days. Stanton was out of town for work, and Anna had just turned 2—great timing for a catch-up. They would give me a hand with the girls, and also deliver some belated birthday presents to Anna.

*

When my parents arrived, my dad hauled a cooler into the house. The cooler contained a huge amount of food that my mom had prepared for my family and me: stuffed shells, minestrone soup, coconut chicken, zucchini fritters, and lots and lots of cookies. There’s a custom, I think: When you grow up Italian-American, you bring your loved ones homemade cookies.

And in my family, it’s customary that my mom handles the cooking and baking, while my dad hauls the cooler.

Teamwork.

*

On Wednesday, I encouraged my dad to come along with me to pick up Grace from preschool. “There’s a McDonald’s drive-thru on the way, so we can stop to get coffee,” I added. Ever a fan of Micky D’s, Dad agreed.

When we got to McDonald’s, I pulled into the drive-thru. “You know, it’s faster to order inside,” my dad said.

“All we’re getting is two coffees,” I replied.

“I’m just saying…”

“By the way,” I interrupted, “do you have any small bills? Because I only have a twenty…”

“Sure, honey,” my dad said, reaching for his wallet. You have to love dads.

I ordered our coffees, Dad paid, and then we pulled up to pick up our order. A lady opened the window and said, “I’m so sorry, we just ran out of coffee. But we’re brewing a new pot.

“It’ll be ready in two minutes…maybe three.”

I sighed. We might be late picking Grace up.

“It’s faster to order inside,” Dad repeated.

I looked over at him. “You know you’re aggravating me.”

Dad smiled. “I know you very well, and yes, I know I’m aggravating you.”

*

The next day, Thursday, the Capital Region saw its first real snowstorm of the season: about 11 inches. Dad did a few rounds of shoveling the sidewalk and driveway. Then I bundled Grace up so that she and her “Pop” could play in the snow for a bit.

My mom and I watched them through the windows (Anna was napping). I smiled as Grace and my dad chased each other through the still-falling snowflakes, tossed snowballs at each other, and shook tufts of snow off the pine trees.

After 15 minutes, they hustled back inside. Grace requested hot chocolate. “Me, too!” my dad said.

“Since when do you drink hot chocolate?” I wondered.

“Hot chocolate would hit the spot right now,” Dad said.

Later that day, he told me he only asked for some because Grace was having it. But I think he really did want hot chocolate that day. (Sorry, McDonald’s drive-thru.)

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*

That evening, my parents headed back to their hotel. They always stay in hotels because Dad snores loudly and, thus, can be a noisy houseguest. “Thanks for all your help,” I told them.

Later that night, I noticed that my dad had dragged the trash cart out for pickup in the morning. I do this when Stanton’s traveling for work, and I can do this—but Dad’s small, thoughtful gesture touched my heart.

I called him to tell him so.

“You’re welcome, honey,” he said. “We’ll see you in the morning to say goodbye.”

*

In the morning, my dad and I dropped Grace off at preschool. On the way back, we chatted about driving in winter-weather conditions, something I’m not practiced at after 11 years in Virginia and Texas.

“If you feel your car slipping on ice, don’t brake hard,” Dad said.

“Take your time; go slow,” he added. “Don’t worry about what the car behind you is doing.”

Good advice in general, right?

Thanks, Dad. P.S. Love you.

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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.

9 Easy Weeknight Dinners for Your Family

One of my goals for this New Year is to add some new recipes into my family’s weeknight rotation of meals. My three qualifications for these recipes are 1) quick, 2) easy and 3) healthy. Maybe you have this goal, too, friends.

Here are some quick, easy and healthy recipes that Stanton, the girls and I have been enjoying lately. I hope you and yours also enjoy. Dig in!

1) Tortellini, White Bean and Turnip Greens Soup

Winter is a wonderful time to make soup, isn’t it? I found this recipe while flipping through the current issue of Southern Living. As written, this recipe is vegetarian, but I used prosciutto and cheese tortellini instead of plain cheese.

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I didn’t see turnip greens at my grocery store, but collard greens worked just fine. And instead of chopping a carrot, I used pre-chopped carrot chips to save time. I served this delicious soup with fresh fruit (those red grapes, pictured!). Grace, my picky eater, opted for leftovers from the night before, but Stanton and Anna lapped up this soup. It is really good, friends.

One change for next time: I’ll add another 14.5 oz. of vegetable broth to make it a little “soup-ier.”

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2) Bucatini with Winter Pesto and Sweet Potatoes

Here’s another seasonal, vegetarian recipe for you to enjoy, compliments of the Country Living website. (P.S. Check out this Seasonality Chart, an excellent resource from a sustainable agriculture nonprofit.)

Some changes I’d recommend to this recipe: Use a different, kid-friendly type of pasta (such as penne or cavatappi)—bucatini, spaghetti and the like can get messy with kiddos! (I love this handy Pasta Shapes Dictionary, which details which pasta works best for different sauces, etc.) I also found the kale to be a bit too hardy for my food processor (although yours may work better!); next time, I’ll chop and mix everything myself.

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3) Chicken and Green Bean Stir Fry

Confession: I intended to make a different stir fry recipe—this one, 4) Chicken, Broccoli and Mushroom. But I forgot to buy broccoli at the grocery store. So I Googled for a stir fry recipe with chicken and green beans, which I already had on hand. This one from The Lemon Bowl came up, and it was delicious.

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I very much appreciated The Lemon Bowl’s link for “Stocking Your Pantry for Asian Cooking.” If you have soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce and a few other essentials on hand, you pretty much can combine any protein with veggies and a side of rice for a quick, healthy and satisfying Asian-inspired meal.

5) Black Bean Quesadillas

Let’s move on to Mexican cuisine. Eating Well has this amazing and oh-so-easy recipe for Black Bean Quesadillas (also vegetarian!). I was shocked—truly—that even Grace loved them.

One tweak I recommend to the recipe: Use a full cup of cheese, not just ½. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll appreciate the extra boost of gooey flavor.

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6) Easy Beef Enchiladas

I love any recipe that begins with the word “Easy.” 🙂 Everyone in my family loves this recipe. One recommendation, though: Skip the can of diced green chiles if your kiddos don’t like spicy flavors.

7) Beef Tacos

I love this beef tacos recipe from Blue Apron. I make it all the time now, minus the cucumber-avocado salsa (I buy store-prepared guacamole instead, which saves time). Simply skip to Step 5 of the directions, friends, and you’re all set—all you need is thinly sliced beef and some Mexican seasoning (any brand will do, or you can make your own), plus tortillas and your toppings of choice (guacamole, lettuce, shredded cheese, etc.).

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8) Pasta Bolognese

The Italian-American in me would be remiss not to include an Italian specialty on this list. 😉 I love this recipe for Pasta Bolognese, which I found in the weekly flyer from my local grocery store, Hannaford. It is incredibly easy to make, and incredibly flavorful—the yellow onion, I think, is the key ingredient.

Of course, use your pasta and pasta sauce brands of choice.

Please note, in the following documentation, Anna digging in to a big bite of this delicious Pasta Bolognese—spinach included! You go, girl.

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9) Chicken Tikka Masala

I haven’t had, or made, Indian cuisine in a while and thought it would be fun to give it a whirl again. Chicken Tikka Masala is a delicious yet traditionally time-consuming Indian/British favorite. The time-consuming part is gathering and then working with all the ingredients for the sauce, which usually include yogurt, ginger, tomatoes, garam masala—to name just a few.

Luckily, I stumbled upon this jar of Tikka Masala curry simmer sauce at the grocery store, and used the recipe on the label to make an easy, three-ingredient version of Chicken Tikka Masala: this sauce plus vegetable oil and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. This is taking the easy way out, but…ta-da!

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Stanton and I loved this. (The girls opted for the rice with leftover black bean quesadillas, again—their new favorite weeknight dinner!)

I’ve included nine recipes here, friends, and I hope you’ve found one or two (or maybe even more!) that you and your family can dig in to in this New Year. Here’s to easy weeknight cooking.

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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.