When a Picture Falls Out of a Book

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

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

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

This picture:

When a Picture Falls Out

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

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

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

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

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

This was before the selfie stick era, you know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope you live to be 90.”

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

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

What did you remember, friends?

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

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

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

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

Our pictures…end up…everywhere.

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

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

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

I agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living Authentically in a Made-for-Instagram World

When I was in my Pennsylvania hometown for Christmas, I stopped by a favorite local restaurant, Canteen 900, for breakfast with my brother and sister. Canteen 900 is located in a refurbished warehouse-style building. Think high ceilings, exposed brick, funky industrial décor—that’s this place.

My whole family and I love Canteen 900. It’s our first-choice, go-to spot whenever we’re “home for the holidays” together. So I was there recently, for the first time in a while.

Upon arriving, I saw a holiday-themed display outside the building. Like the restaurant and its artistic-vibe surroundings, the display was quirky, eye-catching and cool.

It would be helpful here if I had a picture to show you, right, friends?

The thing is—ironically—I had thought about taking a picture. The display was so cool, so picture-worthy, it seemed to be begging folks to snap a shot.

Then I thought… “I wonder,” I said to Jared and Jenna, “if that display was designed so that people would take their picture with it, and then share it on their social media.”

Jenna thought so; Jared was already jogging to the front door, eager to order his beloved French toast and coffee. We didn’t talk much more about the “made-for-social-media-ness” of that display, of that moment.

It’s been on my mind, though, off and on these past few weeks: how we may find ourselves, at times, living in a made-for-Instagram world.

The display was so cool, so picture-worthy, it seemed to be begging folks to snap a shot.

Did you happen to try Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino when it came out last year? I didn’t, but I remember reading about the supercharged-sugar-rush’s suspected main purpose: not as a beverage, but as “Instagram bait.” Even the Washington Post covered the limited-edition drink’s debut.

Making the news more recently (just a few days ago in Smithsonian magazine) is the Museum of Ice Cream, a pop-up art exhibit that’s “taking over your Instagram feed.” A Wired journalist wrote that this museum was “made for Instagram” in an earlier, fall 2017 article. I’ve never been, but from what I’ve read, the interactive, whimsically designed Museum of Ice Cream lends itself to staged photo shoots.

The Museum of Ice Cream, the Unicorn Frappuccino, the holiday-themed display in front of Canteen 900—these are things that sales and marketing professionals have put into our lives, perhaps, so that we can engage with them for their companies’ publicity and profit.

I’ve been wondering, then—how do we know when we’re experiencing something real?

Something we’re encountering purely by chance? And…purely? Not for publicity or profit?

On the flip side of that question… How do we keep our own lives real, when sharing on social media is part of everyday life?

How do we live authentically in our made-for-Instagram world?

…how do we know when we’re experiencing something real?

The other morning, my older daughter called for me. “Mom, come here!” Grace was sitting at the front bay window, looking out.

I joined her, and she pointed outside. “Look,” Grace said.

The sun was rising in the distance. Beyond our neighbor’s house across the street, through the tree branches, we watched the morning sky light up with orange. It…was…beautiful.

And it was a beautiful moment for me, friends. I put my hand on Grace’s back and stood there an extra minute. I was heartened that my 6-year-old daughter recognized something special in that sunrise—in nature. I was heartened that nature moved her, and that she wanted me to experience it too.

For sure, nature is real. We can trust in the earth, and what the earth gives us.

Sunrise 1-16-18

You know, I took a picture of that moment. Of the sunrise, of my daughter there. I wanted to remember it. And you know what else? I almost shared it on Facebook—almost.

I reconsidered, friends. And I changed my mind.

Everyone uses their social media in the way that makes the best sense for them. There’s no “one size fits all”—and I don’t mean to seem “holier than thou.” I do what I do simply because it feels right to me—on my Facebook, which I check in with fairly regularly; and Instagram, which I don’t; and LinkedIn and Twitter, which I update every now and then, mainly for my writing.

(By the way, has anyone ever used Google+? What is Google+?) 😉

The reason I didn’t share that picture? It was too real, friends. It was too real.

My daughter had something she wanted to show me. That moment was just for us. The earth offered it up, and we were lucky enough to be there, to take it in together.

We know we’re experiencing something real when we have to catch our breath. When we are so moved by the emotion of the moment. The joy, the gratitude, the feeling that life is beautiful.

Real life, I mean.

The life that is happening right before your eyes. Your children reaching for you. The wind on your face. Someone you love knowing what to say.

What makes sense for me with living authentically in our made-for-Instagram world is sharing here and there. Others may keep it real through more wholehearted documentation. Still others may choose to stay off the grid completely. (We’ve gotta love the Ron Swansons among us. 😉 ) And of course, what feels right for us may evolve as we move from one season of life to another.

There’s so much to appreciate about social media. I love seeing pictures of college friends’ kiddos, some of whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. I’d be wildly lost and uninformed if not for some local parent groups. And I’m so encouraged when someone reads something I wrote and lets me know it helped them somehow.

Yet…there may be some things to take care with. For example, I’d rather not partake in a for-profit’s stealth marketing (Museum of Ice Cream, are we talking about you?).

But that’s just me, in this season of my life.

How do you do you? How did you figure out what works for you?

Peace, friends.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

To Think You Might Have Missed This

Saturday morning is, arguably, many people’s favorite time of the week. It’s mine, for sure. Maybe yours too.

During the week, Stanton usually travels two or three days for work. In general, every Monday through Friday is a mad dash of school drop-off and pick-up, thrown-together meals and deadline-driven notes to self (“New tires, CR-V!” “Literary magazine submission!” “DENTIST!!!”).

Saturday morning, though…we’re all together. The girls still get up at the same time (they have yet to discover the pure joy of sleeping in), but the pace is relaxed, not mad-dash.

On a recent Saturday morning, Stanton got up with the girls and began getting their breakfast ready. The scent of freshly brewed hazelnut coffee soon lulled me into the kitchen too. Within a few minutes, the four of us were sitting together around the table in the breakfast nook.

Grace finished eating her waffle and asked for another one. I rose and toasted another round of frozen waffles. “More syrup, please!” Anna called.

“And butter, please!” Grace added.

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they? I brought the girls’ requests to the table. Grace opened a board book, then frowned. “Anna must have been looking at this,” she said, wiping her hands on her pajamas.

“Is it sticky?” I guessed.

Grace raised her eyebrows me. “It’s really sticky.”

Stanton and I met each other’s gaze and smiled. Yes, that sounded like Anna.

“My favorite story!” Anna pointed to the book. As she did, she knocked over some of Stanton’s coffee.

“Be careful, honey,” I said. Stanton wiped up the spill.

Anna smiled and shrugged. “It happens, Mom.”

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they?

Grace sighed. I’m a big sister, too, and I could guess what Grace was thinking about her younger sibling: Trouble. I love both my daughters so much; they each make me smile in their own ways.

“To think,” I joked to Stanton, “you might have missed this.” The spill, the stickiness, the general messiness—but a wonderful messiness—of a family’s Saturday morning.

The day before, Stanton had been out of town, a work trip. I had encouraged him to stay the night where he was and drive back, refreshed, in the morning. But he wanted to be here with us in the morning, he said.

“I would have missed it,” Stanton said, finishing wiping up Anna’s spill.

I loved him for saying that—for meaning it.

When you think about the people you love, and why you appreciate them, that’s the reason, often—the clichéd “because they’re there for you.” There for you. They do everything they can not to miss things, from big things to little things (like too much Saturday-morning syrup).

*

There have been some things I’ve missed. Not with my children so much, but with my siblings because of my children. Sometimes child-care logistics have encumbered my “being there” for my two brothers and sister. Luckily, my siblings have (usually) understood. The four of us are stuck with one another for life, so we’ll always, somehow, figure things out.

Later this week, I’m taking a bus into New York City to spend the day with my sister. “Do you want to see a show? Go to a museum?” Jenna asked me, when we began making our plans.

“Do you not know me at all?” I said; my sister laughed. “No, let’s take a walk, eat at cool little cafés and talk about Party of Five.” (Jenna and I have been rediscovering and analyzing the wonderful, underrated ‘90s drama through Netflix reruns.)

“Perfect,” Jenna said.

Little things.

*

I bought a new picture frame, with slots for four 4×6’s. I was scrolling through the photos on my phone, trying to find four good ones for this frame. A lot of the pictures made me smile. And a lot of them brought up happy memories from the past few months. Grace’s soccer games, Anna’s first day of preschool, Halloween.

The four pictures I chose for the frame, though, portrayed ordinary moments. Time with family and friends. Mainly candid shots.

The picture for Slot No. 4 shows Anna jumping into a pile of leaves I’d just raked—her smile big, her hair flipping up behind her. Grace had already jumped into the leaves, and in the picture, she’s smiling at Anna. Despite my amateur photography skills, I took the picture at the exact right moment to capture Anna’s delight, and Grace’s love for her sister.

I captured that memory, not a moment too soon.

Sparkler 11-6-17

In reflecting on that memory—in looking at that picture—I have the same hope that my mom probably had for my brothers, sister and me: I hope they’ll be good to each other. I hope they’ll be in each other’s lives for a long time.

I hope they’ll be friends.

*

The holidays are approaching, quickly. For a lot of us, that means reunions and get-togethers with family and friends. Planning, travel, gifts.

Anything out of our routine can cause some stress. We’re creatures of habit; we excel in the “everyday,” while special occasions can throw us off.

I can feel some stress during this time of the year. Maybe you do too. If you do, maybe this will help; at least, it’s helped me.

I take a deep breath. I remember Thanksgivings and Christmases from the past, all those happy memories. And I remember they’re worth it—the memories, and the moments as they were happening, were worth the effort of being there for them.

I want to be there for them.

*

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” (Dr. Seuss).

It’s really sticky.

I want to be there.

Perfect.

I love you.

Yes.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

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:

i-almost-shared-this-picture-11-18-16

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.

Real Life Can Be Messy

I’ve worked in the writing industry for nearly 10 years now, and along the way, I’ve learned that art goes hand-in-hand with text. Pictures help tell stories, make them come to life. The story can be anything from a press release to a magazine article to a business proposal—it doesn’t matter. More often than not, words need imagery for readers to say, “Aha! Got it.”

This is especially true for blog posts, including those on lifestyle and women’s blogs. (Examples: The Nest Blog and Bizzie Living.) It’s why I’ve been trying to incorporate more (and hopefully better!) pictures into my recent blog posts, particularly when I write about everyday life and family activities.

Then one afternoon earlier this week, I felt compelled to take this picture:

14_Real Life Can Be Messy

Little G was sick that day, with a runny nose and cough. By lunchtime, I was tired from getting up with her several times the night before (and the night before that) to help her blow her nose. Then Little G informed me she didn’t feel like taking a nap, even though she (and I!) really could have used the rest.

You know what I thought. That’s right: “Great.” 🙂

By the end of the afternoon, you might have mistaken our living room for a landfill. And something inside me said, “Take a picture.”

Because sometimes, media ranging from blog posts to alumni newsletters to the Restoration Hardware Baby & Child Source Book can represent life in somewhat of an unreal way. Filtered, Photoshopped, staged. And sometimes we can come across these (mis?)representations on social media, too, where the pictures from family and friends may hit closer to home. (“I wish my New Year’s Eve snaps had turned out as festive as theirs!”)

So along with my recent mood-lighting-enhanced representations of writing thank-you notes in the serene evening hours, and baking Orange Dark Chocolate Blossoms as a cozy mommy-and-me activity with Little G …  moments like the above “my living room/day looks like a landfill” happen in my life, too.

Real life can be messy. And mine is no exception.

It seems that life gets messier as we get older. We have more responsibilities. More people count on us, especially our children. It also seems that we’re most needed in the messiest of moments.

For example, a sick day—never fun. But as a parent, you have to be there for that. You have to show up. And you have to show up for all the other messy moments, too. What do you think, friends?

A short time after my hubby and I got married, I started a new job, associate editor at a magazine. There were some cool perks, such as appearing on local TV shows and attending VIP events around town. Meanwhile, my hubby got a promotion. We had just closed on our first house. A family member told us, “Everything’s coming up roses for you two.”

Yes, for a while. Then Stanton’s Fortune 500 company filed for bankruptcy; he was laid off. And the cool perks at my magazine gig didn’t cover all our living expenses, so we eventually sold our first home together.

I love this quote from Oprah Winfrey: “Lots of people want 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.” It’s probably unromantic of me to share, but this is what I think about when I think about Stanton, a.k.a. my standing Saturday night date for 13 years and counting. If given the choice, yes, we’ll opt for the limo, but we have no problem with public transportation.

Life is a series of ups and downs, of building and rebuilding, of taking the cushions off of your living room couch and putting them back on again.

I think our children can learn a lot, maybe even their most meaningful lessons, from moments of messiness, too. A sick day. Seeing their mom or dad take care of them. Measure their medicine; read them their current favorite story over and over again; cuddle up to watch the same “Sofia the First” episode together. Caring, patience, unconditional love.

Runny noses, buses sometimes, topsy-turvy living rooms.

This is real life.

My Day in 5 Pictures

I got the idea for this blog post from one of these writing prompts. So here you go, friends: a day in my life in five pictures. And the day in question was yesterday, Friday the 19th.

What would your five pictures tell the story of? Here’s my story:

#1

Pic 1 of 5

 

8 a.m.: I drop Little G off at preschool. I need to be back by 9:30 for her class’s Christmas program. Until then, I set myself up at a nearby Corner Bakery Café. While indulging in a chocolate muffin, I read some of the current issue of Writer’s Digest and then actually write.

#2

Pic 2 of 5

 

11:15 a.m.: Back at home after the Christmas program and the class cookie-decorating party afterward. I loved being there for Little G and was so glad that my hubby and his parents were able to come, too. Some of the parents in Little G’s class gave the kiddos gifts, such as a winter-themed Disney princesses cup, personalized red-velvet Bundt cake, and homemade Christmas ornament. I didn’t think to do any of these things. Definitely need to step up my game next year, right, friends? 🙂

#3

Pic 3 of 5

 

12:30 p.m.: Another gift was Play Doh. Little G loves Play Doh and can “pretend cook” with it for hours. Meanwhile, I clean up the kitchen—a disaster when we all left the house around 7:30 earlier that morning. Around 2 p.m., I convince Little G to take a break to read books and snuggle with me. Soon, we both nod off.

#4

Pic 4 of 5

4 p.m.: Nature walk at a nearby playground. Being outside is invigorating.

#5

Pic 5 of 5

6:30 p.m.: Family pizza night at one of our favorite local restaurants. My hubby, Little G, and I love cozy neighborhood hangouts like this one. A warm way to end the day.