What’s Still Here

I have two good friends whom I’ve known since elementary school. That would be more than 30 years now—a long time.

Both these women are on the “Favorites” list of my phone, along with my husband, parents and siblings. They grew up with me; joined in many a Minetola family game night at my parents’ house; not only came to my wedding, but were in it.

This past weekend, one of my buddies had a shower to celebrate her own upcoming wedding. It was in Pennsylvania, in our hometown. Beforehand, I worried that Pennsylvania might be added to New York’s COVID-19 list of restricted states. Thankfully, the Keystone State remained safe for travel; I was able to be there for my friend on her special day.

Sitting at a table at the outdoor gathering, catching up with my friend, seeing how happy she was—I was so happy to be there, friends. I was so happy to be there.

For many of us, this year of the pandemic has been one of loss. Loss of a routine, a job, health, safety and security, our sense of the world. We’ve lost time with people we love. We’ve lost track of time itself.

So much has been lost…and so much is still here too.

I saw that on Saturday. My good friend. Our thirty years of friendship: still here.

Memories we’ve shared—true, time has blurred the details some, but the things happened. We were there, together, for the things that happened. Thus, memories we’ve shared: also still here.

Still here, too, is another chance. If you’re reading this, that means you woke up. You have a new day, right in front of you. You get to choose how to approach it, what kind of energy to put into it. Choose Your Own Adventure, just like we did with those books back in the ’80s (there I go, showing my age again).

…so much is still here

On Sunday morning, Stanton, the girls and I sat with my mom, dad, brothers and sister around my parents’ breakfast table. My brother Jared made his delicious French toast. The last time he made it for all of us was Christmastime, the last time we were all together. Then, he crushed candy canes on top as the finishing touch—mmmm.

Grace and Anna asked if there would be candy canes. Not this time, Jared replied. But at Christmas—always at Christmas.

Earlier that morning, I had gone for a walk with my dad and sister. Coincidentally, Jared drove by the three of us on his way back to my parents’ house from the grocery store (where he’d gone for the French toast ingredients).

I know it’s a really little thing, but I loved seeing Jared driving back. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it was awesome to spontaneously see him on a Sunday morning. Of course, he made fun of the T-shirt I was wearing for my daybreak exercise (it said “Life Is Good” and had a pink heart—it’s OK, you can make fun of me too), but that’s what brothers (or at least, Jareds) do.

My dad, meanwhile, was wearing a T-shirt he’s had since he coached middle school basketball…which he hasn’t in decades. It’s a white T-shirt that has a picture of a basketball on the left pocket, along with—my favorite part—”Coach Minetola.”

I couldn’t believe he still had this T-shirt, but it made me smile. It was familiar, it was comforting, it was my Dad.

And it was my family, gathered around my parents’ table on Sunday morning. I so appreciated the ability to have a casual, natural, non-Zoom conversation with all of them, for a change.

I’m not knocking Zoom, at all. I appreciate what Zoom does to enable human connection. The person I am, though—maybe the person you are, too—if given the choice, I love the energy of being together: same room, same table, same platter of French toast.

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The girls go back to school soon. The COVID-19 infection rate here is below 1 percent, which is wonderful, especially compared to the spring. Our school district is offering elementary school students the choice between in-person or remote learning.

I struggled with this decision, friends. It would have been an easier decision if the infection rate was more than the state guideline of 5 percent, or if those in leadership roles here weren’t acting conscientiously. I easily could have leaned toward remote learning.

But it seems that New York has the virus spread under control, currently. And based on my understanding, our school district has developed a detailed, thoughtful reopening plan. Last but not least…the girls really want to go back to school, as in a school building. They want that energy of being together.

So that’s the plan. It’s not a perfect plan. The girls will need to wear face masks almost the entire time they’re at school. They’ll need to stay at their own desks, spaced six feet apart from those around them, for much of the day. I understand why all these safety measures need to happen, I completely understand, and at the same time, I hope everyone will be OK, students and teachers alike, in these different (difficult) circumstances.

What families figure out to do this school year is a deeply personal and often unsettling choice. I’m very conscious that everyone is making the decision that feels best for them and their child(ren). I also know that if one or both of my daughters happens to get sick at school, I’m going to feel terrible, and terribly guilty. There are no easy answers here, and certainly no best one.

They want that energy of being together.

To get ready for the school year, I’ve been going through the girls’ clothes. Figuring out what still fits (and gets worn), what of Grace’s to save for Anna, what to donate.

I’ve also been going through the girls’ closets. They each have a big, wide walk-in closet, and each closet is…a…disaster zone. I ran over to Walmart one morning and bought a bunch of see-through storage containers.

Stealthily, I’ve been filling the containers with the majority of the mess of stuff from the closets—various stuffed animals, games we don’t play much, hundreds and hundreds of random, mismatched pieces of Calico Critters, Shopkins, Magna-Tiles, Mr. Potato Head, LEGO’s… I’ve just been stuffing it all in, friends, and then lugging these containers down to the basement to…well, hide indefinitely. Out of sight, out of mind, and I’m hopeful this will help keep the girls’ closets and rooms less disaster-zone-like.

Something the girls don’t need is new clothes. They have plenty of those. Still, the three of us sat down together and picked out new first-day-of-school outfits (online).

The girls’ first few days of school will be virtual, actually. Still, the first day of school is something special. A new milestone, cause to take note of and celebrate. In Anna’s case, it’s her first day of kindergarten. (My baby!) Thus, we picked out official first-day-of-school outfits.

Things may be different this school year, but they still can be wonderful. They still can be celebrated.

Things may be different … but they still can be wonderful.

One of my favorite books is “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. I have it here next to me as I’m typing now, sitting at the kitchen countertop with my second (reheated) cup of coffee of the morning. I imagine this isn’t an especially prestigious title to put on a pedestal, and if any of my former English professors or fellow magazine editors read this, then I imagine, too, they might shake their head.

What about Jane Austen, Homer, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hemingway? Yes, I’ve read the “great” literature, and yes, it’s great. But this little book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”—it moves me. It moves me, friends.

Anna’s starting kindergarten, as you know, and I think about what she’ll learn this year, what will stick with her as she moves through her school years, through her life. I wonder if she’ll have memories of face masks, and desks six feet apart, and social distancing. I hope she’ll learn, as Robert Fulghum writes in his book, some of the “[w]isdom … there in the sandpile”: ” … Play fair … Live a balanced life … LOOK.”

As he wraps up his book, Fulghum notes, “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives … Good people who are always ‘there,’ who can be relied upon … You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

I’ve been lucky to have good people in my life. Friends I’ve known since I was 6 years old; friends since then who are also dear to me; family who have been beside me the whole time. Every one of them has uplifted me in some way, has meant something, and I hope I’ve returned the favor a time or two myself.

You are more important than you think.

LOOK at what’s still here.

Take care and be well. ❤

“Something that is loved is never lost.” —Toni Morrison, “Beloved”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

If I Close My Eyes, I’ll Fall Asleep

One of my favorite things to do with my daughters is read to them.

I love snuggling up with Grace and Anna on the glider bench on the front porch, couch in the family room, or oversized chair in my bedroom, book(s) in hand. Five-year-old Anna still likes to sit in my lap. In between reading sentences, I kiss the top of her head. Grace, age 8, can read herself; sometimes she reads ahead and laughs at a joke on the next page. When I get there, I laugh too.

There is, however, a problem. Reading out loud, especially in the genre of children’s literature, makes me fall asleep. (Please tell me I’m not the only one, friends.)

Earlier this week, the girls and I were on the couch. We were more than midway through a Heidi Heckelbeck book. I had just finished reading a different story about Heidi Heckelbeck (there are 28 multi-chapter books and counting in this bewitchingly fun children’s series). Yawn. My eyelids slowly…slowly…finally drooped shut.

Ahh.

“Mom.” Someone nudged my arm. “Mom.”

Someone else patted my face. “Ding-ding-ding.”

Ding-ding-ding? I opened my eyes. “What?”

“I was your alarm clock,” Anna explained, “because you fell asleep.”

“Anna…” I started laughing. Grace did too.

So did Anna. Then she said, “Come on, Mom, finish the story.”

Then I wanted to cry, just a little.

Reading out loud, especially in the genre of children’s literature, makes me fall asleep.

Our family is wrapping up week five (five?!) of social distancing and stay-at-home measures, including school closures, here in the Capital Region of New York. In some ways, this time has flown by (there are so many lessons from Grace’s learning-from-home schedules she still needs to do). In other ways, this time has been endless…and endlessly tedious, as I vacuum up yet another trail of tiny pieces of paper in the family room.

Side note: The girls are always asking me for scissors. Scissors, and snacks.

I’m conscious that there are so many folks out there with weightier concerns than reading another Heidi Heckelbeck book or nonstop vacuuming. Some dear friends and family members work in healthcare and other essential businesses, and I so very much respect and appreciate the work they’re doing right now. Unlike these heroes, however, I’m not out on the front lines, so all I can offer here is documentation of this time from my home front, as inconsequential as that may be.

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That day I fell asleep reading Heidi Heckelbeck…after Anna woke me up, I asked Grace if she would read a couple of chapters for me.

Grace shook her head. “You can do it, Mom.”

You can do it, Mom.

When we’re young, we have the utmost confidence in our moms. And in many cases, when we’re old too. There’s nothing our moms can’t do, or make better, or make happen.

Something I did—surprising even myself, a little—is make Easter happen for our family this year.

We were supposed to be at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. My mom takes care of all the food, Easter baskets for the girls, everything. All Stanton, the girls and I do is show up. We bring wine, of course. But mostly, we just show up.

This Easter was different. The four of us would be here, at our home.

The week beforehand, I alternated between feeling disheartened and overwhelmed. Mostly overwhelmed, though: I had no idea what to do. I wanted our Easter to be special, but…what would we eat? Would the Easter presents I ordered online for the girls come in time? (Spoiler alert: Nope.)

I shared these concerns with my mom. She listened, and then had my dad email me a copy of a recipe she had cut out of a magazine. Cutting a recipe out of a magazine: a very mom thing to do, right?

The recipe was for an apricot ham glaze, to use with a ham. I had never prepared a ham before, or an apricot glaze. Amazingly, the ham (and glaze) were easy to make and turned out wonderfully, as did the sides of mashed potatoes and oven-roasted asparagus. The girls, notably, said their favorite part of our Easter dinner was the dessert, a store-bought, bunny-shaped ice cream cake. “Yum,” they proclaimed.

If I ever host Easter dinner again, I might simply serve a store-bought, bunny-shaped ice cream cake.

When we’re young, we have the utmost confidence in our moms. And in many cases, when we’re old too.

I’m only driving to the grocery store these days, and just once a week at that, so my gas tank is nearly full. The last time I filled it up was on March 13, and more than a month later, it’s still nearly full. Weird.

Stanton isn’t traveling for work right now, so we’ve seen each other every day for the past five weeks. In 12 years of marriage, I don’t think we’ve ever seen each other every day for five weeks straight. Also weird (but nice too).

But the weirdest thing of all is this. Yesterday, Grace and some of her friends wanted to do a Zoom play date. As the kids were logging in to the meeting, though, technical difficulties galore started happening.

I texted Stanton, who was working in our new home office space. Together, we sent out a new meeting link. Then he went back to work, while I texted an update to the other parents. Eventually, the kids were Zooming.

Grace smiled at me. “Mom…we’re the host. You did it.”

“Grace.” I smiled back, but raised my eyebrows. “You know something is wrong in the world when your mom is the one who figures out the technology for something.”

Melissa Leddy solving a problem related to video conferencing—yes, that’s weird to the nth degree.

It would be nice, neat and sweet if this story ended here, but…a little later, there was another technical difficulty. This happened as I was making dinner, and Stanton was still working, and Anna wanted to watch another episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

“Mom!” Grace called from her room.

I ran upstairs, fixed Zoom (again) and ran back down to the kitchen, to find the marinara sauce bubbling over the saucepan and splattering across the stovetop. At this moment in the story, I said a four-letter word, then turned off the stove.

Stanton popped his head out of his office. “Are you OK?”

Simultaneously, Anna yelled from the family room. “Please, can I watch more ‘SpongeBob’?”

“No,” I said quietly. That very minute, I was not OK.

It would be nice, neat and sweet if this story ended here, but…

So there have been weird things, and sweet things, and things requiring four-letter words. And you know, this is life, coronavirus or not. Weird and sweet, with a little profanity every now and then.

One of the books my book club read for this month was “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” It was part memoir, part spring-cleaning self-help. I was so glad I actually got to see my fellow book club members this week (via Zoom, of course).

Toward the end of this book, a passage resonated with me. “Going through letters is very time-consuming,” the author, Margareta Magnusson, writes on page 105. “That may be nice and bring you happy memories, but it may also move you in other ways, bringing up sad and even depressing feelings…But if you want to see the whole picture of your story and your life, even less funny things have to show up.”

Yes, I thought.

Happy Friday, friends. May we all…stay awake long enough to finish reading a story to our children. Experience only a minimal amount of technical difficulties while video conferencing. Have more sweet moments than weird (or four-letter-word) ones.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

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.

The Rest is a Secret…or Not

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

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

There is also an Elvis room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was happy just to have coffee too.

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

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

To some of us, phones are magic.

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

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

Human beings are not much for secrets, or uncertainty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s life.

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

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

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

 

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.

You’re Not Subtle, and I’m Not an Idiot: On 10 Years of Marriage

Tomorrow, Stanton and I are celebrating our 10-year wedding anniversary. You’ll excuse me, friends, for taking a moment here to reminisce.

We got married in my Pennsylvania hometown, early spring a decade ago. It was a beautiful day, filled with family and friends. Italian pepper cookies (a Minetola family favorite), as well as a rendition of “God Blessed Texas” (a nod to Stanton’s San Antonio roots), were involved.

Afterward, we honeymooned on the Costa del Sol. One morning, we took a ferry from southern Spain to Morocco, to spend the day there. I remember setting out at sunrise, the mint tea when we arrived, the adventure of it all.

2_Wedding Day

What most sticks out in my memory, though, is getting seasick on the ferry ride back.

That’s true love for you, am I right? One minute you’re #livingthedream; the next, you’re asking your partner to find a barf bag, ASAP.

😉

You know, I really do believe that’s true love. Oprah may have said it best: “Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

During 10 years, our limo has broken down a time or two. And it probably will break down a time or two again; we’re only 10 years in. At this point, Stanton and I have seen each other at our worst, at our most vulnerable, in our darkest hour. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been worth the effort and the journey.

What have been helpful to Stanton and me all this time, I think—and what we want to pass along to our children—are gratitude, humility and hard work. Values that our own parents lived out for us. We try to embrace and enjoy every day, and we also recognize real life is not an endless joy ride.

Speaking of which…

One minute you’re #livingthedream; the next, you’re asking your partner to find a barf bag, ASAP.

Stanton and I met at a party, in college in Virginia. Our good mutual friend David introduced us. David has since passed away, sadly, but I still smile at the memory of him, and the memory of that young, innocent time we all had together.

At that party, David was talking with me, plus my other girl friends. Stanton told me later that he saw his friend David across the room and thought, “What’s David doing with all those girls? I’ve got more game than him.” A healthy level of self-confidence (possibly fueled by some Milwaukee’s Best) prompted Stanton to join our group and introduce himself to me.

(We’ll always love you, friend.)

1_After College

College parties, your wedding day, ferry rides across international seas—they’re all more “special occasion” than “real life.” As anyone who has been married for a while knows, marriage is made up of more ordinary moments than special occasions. Real life is working…grocery shopping…taking your car for its state inspection and hoping it passes. If you have kids, then real life also includes less sleep and more worry.

One evening recently, Stanton and I were in the family room (10 years later, we’ve landed in New York’s Capital Region). Grace and Anna were upstairs; they had both just fallen asleep. The TV was on, quietly, tuned in to a “Parks and Rec” rerun. (Maybe one day we’ll watch something new, something we haven’t already seen hundreds of times—maybe.)

Neither of us was watching the show, though. Stanton was replying to a work email, and I was folding the girls’ laundry.

Not. Glamorous. But this is exactly what was happening.

I had music on in the background, and a new-ish country song started playing: “Unforgettable,” Thomas Rhett.

This is one of the things Stanton and I bonded over, when we were getting to know each other: our love of country music.

“And I bet right now you’re thinking/ That it’s crazy I remember every detail, but I do”—these lyrics from that song can get stuck in my head.

Everyone says it, and they say it because it’s true: I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. I can’t believe how much time has passed. It feels like just yesterday.

It feels like just yesterday to me too, friends. College—studying at Boatwright, weekend pizza dates at Mary Angela’s in Carytown. Our first home. The births of our daughters. Saying good-bye to our grandfathers, his Grandaddy and my Poppy. Being there for each other, for a lot of things.

Everything.

In that moment—that ordinary moment when we were together in the family room, doing nothing special—I looked over at Stanton and told him I loved him. I interrupted the relative quiet to say it; it was different from saying, “Love you!” as you’re both leaving the house, going in opposite directions. Stanton knew that; he replied, “I love you too, Mel.”

I feel a lot of gratitude for ordinary moments like that. For our home, for our family, for our history together. For those end-of-day, “Parks and Rec”-rerun moments.

Maybe one day we’ll watch something new, something we haven’t already seen hundreds of times—maybe.

I have just one more story to share. I don’t want to overdo it in the sappiness department. So here’s my last story, friends.

About halfway into our marriage, Stanton and I were on a date. Dinner. The place was an Italian restaurant.

We were talking, eating, drinking some wine. I said something—I don’t remember what—and Stanton narrowed his eyes at me.

“What?” I asked. WP_20160904_019

“I hear you,” Stanton said. “If that’s what you want, then OK, we’ll do it.”

I narrowed my eyes back at me. “I didn’t say that. What are you talking about?”

“Mel.” Stanton sighed. “I know you. I can read between the lines; you’re not subtle. And,” he added, “I’m not an idiot.”

I like to think I communicate well with people—I try to be diplomatic, to listen and empathize. What was revealing for me in that moment with Stanton is that he knows me—he really knows me. My diplomacy doesn’t work on him (anymore).

And that was an encouraging revelation, the revelation that I can be myself with him. I can be totally honest with him, and he’ll still stick around.

Every now and then, it’s also worthwhile to remember that you did not, in fact, marry an idiot.

😉

Happy Anniversary to my hubby. Thank you for loving me, for everything you do for our family, for reading everything I write and providing constant encouragement (and great raw material).

You make me happy—and you drive me crazy—but most of all, you make me happy. ❤

“I sing to you. Not all the time, but definitely on special occasions. We’ve dealt with our share of surprises and made a lot of sacrifices, but we’ve stayed together. You see, you’re a better person than I am. And it made me a better person to be around you.” (The Family Man)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our childhood. Nostalgia. Our comfort food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: HarperCollins Publishers

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

Glitter, Tea and the UPS Guy: This Is Christmas

My desk is covered in specks of greeting-card glitter. Every evening for the past week, I’ve been writing out Christmas cards, a handful at a time, in the cozy corner space where I usually work on my magazine articles, blog posts and short stories. Maybe I’ll have everything mailed before the middle of next week—maybe.

As I scroll though my list of addresses, the names of family members and friends evoke memories of times, places and seasons in my life. Jenna, my sister—Pennsylvania, our childhood; and now New York, our new, shared home turf. Rick and Sara, college friends—Virginia. Steve and Dulce, San Antonio, the first years of our marriage. Every name a memory, and a gratitude I feel for love and friendship that stand the tests of time and space.

This year, I scooped up several boxes of Christmas cards during a buy-one-get-one-free sale at Hallmark. Stanton and I are still patiently waiting for my e-books to top Amazon’s bestseller lists; until then, we won’t say no to a bargain. 😉

Every name a memory, and a gratitude I feel for love and friendship that stand the tests of time and space.

Last week, I lost my voice—a cold going around, friends here guessed. I usually end each day with a cup of tea (accompanied by a piece of dark chocolate). Last week, I drank more tea than usual.

I fell in love with tea three Decembers ago, when Stanton and I escaped for a post-Christmas weekend getaway at a country bed-and-breakfast. The B&B hosted an afternoon tea time featuring Mighty Leaf, a richly flavorful whole-leaf tea. My go-to brands these days are Tazo and Yogi, which are satisfying without being budget-breaking.

That weekend at the B&B was when I felt first a tug in my heart to consider a little sibling for Grace, who was about 2½ at the time. The first year of parenthood had been hard for me, and for Stanton too. We fumbled with questions about how our new roles as “Mom” and “Dad” related to our relationship with each other, and our careers. And we struggled with issues that affect many first-time parents, from sleep to money to depression (OK, that was just me).

Two and a half years later, though, our family life had settled into a good rhythm. We agreed that another family member would be wonderful, if it was meant to be.

It was, and it is. I am so thankful, especially during this time of the year.

glitter

Like other moms I know, I’d rather do almost anything other than shop in a store with my kids. (“Mom, can I have this?” “Mom, I want that!” “Waaaahhh!”)

Thus, I did the majority of my Christmas shopping online this year. Amazon is a perennial favorite, of course. I also found great gifts (and sales!) at the Eddie Bauer, Pottery Barn Kids and Williams-Sonoma websites.

Our local UPS deliveryman is starting to feel like a friend, he’s been bringing packages to our front door so much lately.

The only downside to all my online Christmas shopping: The girls want to open the packages now.

“Not all the presents inside are for you,” I tried to tell them.

“We don’t care,” Grace sweetly replied. “We are so curious.”

“Geor! Geor!” exclaimed Anna. (Curious George, her point of reference.)

Glitter, tea and the UPS guy: This is my Christmas, friends.

Tell me about yours.

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.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

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Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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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.

Local Flavors From New York’s Capital Region: A Newbie’s Perspective

Arguably the most fun thing about moving to a new city is discovering the local culture. Neighborhood hangouts, hidden gems and—my favorite—go-to homegrown eateries. Yes, friends, I love digging into the native food scene (pun intended!). 🙂

Stanton’s new job is based in Albany, N.Y., and we’ve been living in a family-oriented town a bit south of the city for about a month now. I’ve learned that this whole area, located at the northernmost point of the Hudson Valley, is known as “the Capital Region.” And here’s what I’ve learned so far about the local flavors here.

First up, a local coffee shop called Perfect Blend. Because every good story begins in a coffee shop.

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Perfect Blend is located at the picturesque “Four Corners” intersection at Delaware and Kenwood avenues. The quintessential local coffee shop, it serves up a variety of beverages and baked goods in a friendly setting with plenty of seating, both indoors and out.

…every good story begins in a coffee shop.

My standing order: spiced chai tea latte and an oat bran muffin. To my delight, the oat bran muffin features raspberries and blueberries—a sweet surprise in this traditionally hearty product. I last enjoyed my snack break indoors, admiring this stained-glass window panel.

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Across the street (Delaware Avenue) from Perfect Blend are the Delmar Marketplace and McCarroll’s: The Village Butcher, two local businesses that care very much about the high quality of both their products and their customer service.

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On a recent Saturday morning, one of the friendly cashiers recommended the Island Coconut Green Mountain coffee to me from the Delmar Marketplace coffee bar, which paired perfectly with my made-to-order breakfast sandwich from McCarroll’s: The Village Butcher, just steps away. All of this for less than $6—hard to beat.

Stanton was my breakfast date that Saturday morning. We told the gentleman working behind the counter that we had just moved here. He called to his co-workers, “Hey, we got some newbies!” To which they all replied, “Welcome, newbies!” Let me tell you, friends: I love this place.

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Now, across the street from McCarroll’s (Kenwood Avenue—we’re still at the Four Corners) is Swifty’s Restaurant & Pub. As you would expect, they offer extensive wine and beer selections to accompany the hearty pub-style food. I so enjoyed my sangria, as well as the Cubano sandwich that arrived later.

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Just two miles down the road from the Four Corners is Kleinke’s Farm, a local dairy farm that’s been operating since the early 1900s. What’s amazing to me about this part of the country is that you can walk and shop in a bustling community (the Four Corners area), and then drive just two miles and find yourself in beautiful farmland. I’ve only taken advantage of Kleinke’s flowers so far, but I look forward to sampling their fruits and vegetables soon.

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On the subject of beautiful farmland…Indian Ladder Farms in nearby Altamont (about 12 miles west of Kleinke’s) is stunning. We loved apple picking there over Labor Day weekend. As you can see from this picture, Grace did lots of picking, while Anna focused on munching. 🙂

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There’s so much for folks to delight in at Indian Ladder Farms, including a playground for kids. The cozy bakery and café also sells apple cider donuts, which I can assure you from personal experience are a hit with people of all ages.

Back in our town, Stanton and I had a lovely experience at Tool’s Family Restaurant for breakfast one morning. We walked inside during a busy time. An older gentleman sitting in a booth leaned over and said, “You can sit anywhere you like.” So we did. As we waited, we overheard other patrons chatting with one another and greeting the servers by name.

The vibe here is neighborly and down-to-earth. I ordered a broccoli, cheese and bacon omelet (an intuitive combination of flavors, yet one I never experienced in an omelet before!).

An older gentleman sitting in a booth leaned over and said, ‘You can sit anywhere you like.’ So we did.

Close to Tool’s is Shogun Sushi and Sake Bar. It’s similarly down-to-earth, yet more upscale. During late summer, people like to sit outside on the patio.

Stanton and I loved our alfresco dinner, which began with the Appetizer Sampler of pork gyoza (pan-fried dumplings), harumaki (Japanese spring rolls) and spicy rock shrimp. Everything was flesh and flavorful. We’ll be back.

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North of Albany is Colonie, a suburb with bigger developments and stores such as Barnes & Noble, Target and Whole Foods Market. I haven’t spent much time here yet, but one rainy weekend evening, the four of us stumbled upon Grandma’s Pies & Restaurant. What a delight to find a local restaurant amidst all the chain offerings.

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Another delightful find was TwisT Ice Cream Shoppe, which is part of an old-fashioned drive-in movie theatre (Jericho). Stanton, his dad and Anna couldn’t get enough of their cones (and one kid-sized cup!). The laid-back ambiance at TwisT is a breath of fresh air.

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Last but not least, you can’t talk about New York cuisine without talking about pizza. We’ve tried a few pizza places, and our current favorite is Andriano’s (pictured below). Another good one: Golden Grain Gourmet Pizza.

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Pizza is to New York what tacos are to Texas, you could say. Thus, I’m on a mission to find an excellent Mexican restaurant to satisfy the taste buds of my San Antonio-born better half. Mission No. 2: checking out the downtown area’s food and wine scene.

Pizza is to New York what tacos are to Texas.

Any recommendations, New York friends? 🙂

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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.