To Galway, With Love

as seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

~Author Unknown



It’s no surprise that when Mom died, I was left in a state of limbo. She and I had been as close as a mother and daughter could be. I called her my best friend, and I meant it in every sense of the term. She and I loved one another unconditionally and learned a great deal from each other. She was my “partner-in-crime.” When she wanted to go to Tommy’s for some chili cheeseburgers at 3:00 in the morning, I eagerly joined her. When she sold her self-published Algebra II exercise book at a local math convention, I jumped at the chance to spend the weekend in Palm Springs with her peddling her creation. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was ours, and it was sowed in love.

After she died, I not only lost my best friend, but I was also left with an overwhelming sense of abandonment. One moment, Mom was here, and the next she was gone. Prior to losing her, all I had ever known was my small, tight-knit family and home in Los Angeles. But now, everywhere I turned, it was glaringly obvious that a large portion of that equation was missing and would be forever. The small blessing was that I had stayed home while attending university and got those extra years to connect with Mom. We had done a little traveling around our home state of California for her various business endeavors. I experienced more adult things with her during those years than ever before. We took a girls’ cruise to Mexico, attended my sorority events, worked at the same school together, and gallivanted around Palm Springs several times.

As an Israeli immigrant who arrived in America in the late 1950s, Mom spent the next few years traveling across the country with her family in search of permanent residence. It was this perpetual movement that she had experienced as a child that made Mom avoid traveling very far, and specifically flying. This is why we never made it farther than our cruise down the coast to Ensenada or Gilroy, California, the proud Garlic Capital of the World (coincidentally, also Mom’s favorite food). We took these small trips, bonded over our shared experiences, and made the most of our little adventures. And then, just like that, I was left with her house, her affairs to get in order, bills, a funeral to plan and a cloying feeling of loneliness.
Even so, a few months after her death, things began to settle slightly. With the funeral over and her finances put in order, my immediate responsibilities were dwindling. I noticed that having a to-do list helped divert my attention, even amidst my grief. But what was I supposed to do once I had checked everything off and was left only with my brand-new diploma and a heart so heavy it felt made of lead? I tried to fill my newly empty schedule with familiarity in order to find some semblance of normalcy. I cooked some of Mom’s favorite dishes, but none of them ever tasted the way she made them. I watched our favorite movies, but my solo laughter bounced off the walls of our now much emptier house, and my chuckles often turned into tears. I was stuck in a rut, to say the least.

It was at this low, and on a particularly dreary suburban morning, that I remember realizing I had to make a change. I had been watching some talk show to pass the night hours because sleep had not been coming easily. In this particular moment, I was becoming far too emotionally invested in a woman’s quest to find the paternity of her son when a commercial came on. It was advertising travel within the state of California. I smiled as the camera panned over a familiar backdrop of either Arrowhead or Mammoth, where Mom and I had spent time playing in the snow together. A warm, silly smile spread across my face. But, as quickly as the ad had started, it began to close, and the warmth of my memories rapidly cooled. Then the whiteness of the snow on the screen faded altogether, and a black veil closed around a simple phrase that appeared and read: Go find yourself.

It was in that very moment, in that simple phrase, in those three little words, that I felt a spark. It ignited in me a little glimmer of hope. I found myself repeating the sentence in my head. Go find yourself. In that painful, debilitating time, these words sounded like a message of permission or release. I found myself reflecting, Mom wouldn’t want me to be moping. She wouldn’t want me to keep trying to find her by reliving her life. She would want me to find myself and my own path. So, what does any self-respecting, newly graduated college student do when she feels lost and needs to do some soul searching? She goes to Europe, of course.

Only a few hours later, I had booked a trip to Ireland so I could spend St. Patrick’s Day in the rowdy streets of Dublin. I had stumbled upon an affordable tour for college students offered by a company both Mom and I had formerly worked for. I would be spending two and a half days in Galway and four days in Dublin. This would only be the second flight of my life, and I tried not to be nervous. There was nothing I could or wanted to do about my excitement, though.

A few weeks later, I found myself in the most beautiful place on earth. The rolling, vividly green hills welcomed me warmly from the window of the airplane. The moment I stepped off the massive vehicle, a brisk air hit me. It was cooling and calming and had just the right amount of wind to be exhilarating. I could tell almost instantly that this trip, and any travel I would take here on out, would be defining. I knew I had made the right decision to come.
Over the next several days, we would traipse our way through the countryside, seeing flashes of quaint towns through the windows of our tour bus. We stopped at many, tossing a pint back at quintessential Irish pubs, and shopping for authentic Irish products at the small markets. It was liberating to be wandering around in a new place, and also very eye-opening. I learned a great deal about myself in this foreign environment.

In Ireland, I learned that I had enough gall to do karaoke in a bar full of strangers, even with minimal alcohol in my system. I saw that when I was not being flustered by L.A. traffic, my latent sense of direction could navigate unfamiliar streets quite easily. I witnessed the heights of my own bravery when I got a tattoo the day after St. Patty’s Day in a second-story Dublin tattoo shop. By stepping more than 5,000 miles out of my comfort zone, I discovered an intense passion for travel that I had never acknowledged before. However, it was while I stood on the edge of one of the Cliffs of Moher that I truly saw the big picture. Mother Nature has a way of doing that: putting things in perspective.
Water lapped hungrily at the massive rock formations, and we stood as close to the cliff edge as the high winds would allow. There were tourists all around drinking in the landscape as I was, but I hardly noticed them. I could focus only on the rhythmic waves, powerful winds, gorgeous greenery of the cliffs behind me, and the deep blue of the ocean in front of me. The meditative sounds and stunning scenery captivated me, and then reminded me that there was a much larger system at work than I could ever conceive of.

All we can do is remain open to the adventures that life offers and take leaps of faith in our ability to navigate through them, for it is in those unfamiliar situations that we often learn the most about ourselves.

When I arrived home, it became clear that my adventures had revealed to me a very clear proverbial fork in the road. I had been given two options: 1) stagnate and dwell on the unfairness of life, or 2) use my trials and tribulations as a learning experience. But by propelling myself down the cobblestone streets of Ireland rather than the familiar streets of my neighborhood, I now knew in my heart that my direction, self-image, and life had changed forever.

~A.B. Chesler

This House of Love

Let me introduce myself. I’m Amy Beth Chesler, or A.B. Chesler as the literary world may (or may not) know me. I am a lover of food, laughter, and adventure. I chose to title my blog “This House of Love” because Amy Beth can be loosely translated into that phrase. My mom assembled this name for me with the help of my then three year old brother because she wished for me a future occupied by a warm and loving family life.

I am a victim of domestic violence. I am also a survivor of it. My mother, however, is not. She was an incredibly strong, determined, warm, caring woman. She was a teacher who lived her mission of truth and aide in all arenas of her life. I will love and miss her with each fiber of my being every day until I die.

Thankfully, things are infinitely better now as I fulfill my own role as a wife and mother. I’ve found my niche in life; I was born to be Mommy. I knew this from the beginning.

What I didn’t know is how much poop and snot I’d have to deal with on a regular basis. Similarly, no one told me that some days I would laugh so hard I would cry, and others I would feel swallowed whole by my loneliness. Everyone neglected to tell me how terrifying, thrilling, isolating, eye-opening, and powerful parenthood is. They also didn’t mention just how awesome (in the truest sense of the word) it is to have your heart, a replica of you, walking around outside of your body, living their very own life. How dare they.

I am also a writer, although it’s scary to say so. It’s a profession that requires you to paint pictures with only words, a rich story or thought-provoking poem from just the depths of your mind. If your work isn’t well received, your writing is not the only entity receiving rejection.

But, just like my sentiments about motherhood, I knew I was meant for the writing world. As a child, reading was my escape from the harsh realities that were my life.  I read books and wrote my own stories to enter alternate universes, ones filled with much less pain and isolation. As an adult, writing has allowed me to process my past and work towards arriving at my life’s destination: a house filled with an infinite amount of love. It’s the most heartwarming bonus knowing that my experiences have helped people guide themselves out of their own dark places.

Thank you for joining me on my journey. I encourage you to do so wholeheartedly, and  with abandon. It is in each our own honesties and truths that we find pieces of ourselves and overcome others. Much love always. 💓

The Poop Trail

It was undeniable that my mom had a favorite story from my childhood. She called it, ‘THE POOP TRAIL.’
Of course, she had a few other anecdotes dear to her heart, but as I lost Mom when I was twenty-two, the only tale that left a lasting impression on me was the shocker. Now, as a thirty-something year old mother, I’d love to learn about her pregnancies, birth stories, the challenges of being a single mother, and so much more. But I couldn’t have known I would miss out on the chance. So, Mom’s legacy remains to be: THE POOP TRAIL.
It began like any other day in our new condominium, I presume. On this, let’s say, dreary September morning (Mom was never one for minor details, so pardon me while I embellish a bit), the three of us were sprawled out on our couch. My older brother Jesse and I were early risers, and as we had just begun sharing a bedroom for the first time, we were waking even earlier. After satiating us with some snacks and turning on the tube, Mom expected Jesse and I to settle in for a Saturday morning cartoon session, so she could take a hot shower. 
I imagine she wasn’t gone long because she was a careful woman, and as a parent I now know these two general rules to be universally true: 1) a child can move at either the speed of light or the speed of a snail, dependent entirely upon if you’re asking them to do something or not. And as Mom was in the shower, and no adult was applying any pressure to me whatsoever, I know I was working quickly. Also, rule number 2: parents never get long in the shower, especially when their kids are little. A single, working mother no less? She would have washed only the ‘essentials.’
So, when Mom came out of the shower, safe to assume no more than two and a half minutes later, I was nowhere to be found. Now, I’ve had those moments – those ‘HOLY SHIT WHERE DID MY KID DISAPPEAR TO CPS IS GOING TO FIND ME WHAT HAVE I DONE’ moments – And for me, those ‘moments’ have never lasted more than one minute and twenty-six seconds in total (true story, the panic setting on my alarm can attest to this). But, I have had technology, my husband, and a guardian angel or two on my side. Mom, on the other hand, was a new divorcee with no help and no clothes on. Still wrapped in her towel, dripping with beads of water, her large, maternal breasts threatening to break free from our new, cheap towels, Mom would have started calling my name mildly. 
I know this because when I lost my son for the first time (don’t judge, he’s wily) I first thought, ‘No, he’s not lost.’ Denial is almost always the instant reaction. ‘Adam. Adam? Adam!’ I called out optimistically, as if he would actually come on command. He did not (duh). Mom also had no luck, saw no sign of my tiny feet hiding behind a curtain, heard no telltale giggle from inside a closet. That’s when her fear set in, the same fear I tasted the day I learned my son could open our front door and release himself into the wild. 
At this point, Mom surely grabbed Jesse by the shoulders and shook him.
‘Where did your sister go?!’ she would have growled.
But Johnny Quest was probably on, and if my brother was anything like my zombie children, his head would have flopped back and forth, and his eyes would have stayed glued to the TV. Maaaaaybe an inaudible ‘I dunno,’ or a lackadaisical shrug would escape. Otherwise, Mom was on her own.
‘Amy! Aaaaaamy!’ she would have screamed then. A frantic scan of our small space ensued. Maybe she  tripped over her towel tail; she couldn’t be too nimble in such a state. And as she spun, gaining a full view of our new den and common area, Mom noticed our condo’s front door wide open. She launched herself towards the open portal and yelled her loudest, fiercest battle cry, “Heeeeeeeelll-“ but before she completed her S.O.S., a warmly punctuating squish between her bare toes cut it short. 
She drew her foot up slowly, and on the floor, now entangled with our hideous (but also coincidentally brown 1980’s shag carpet), was a piece of poop. It was misshapen and- well, nevermind, I’ll spare you the details. But, what I will tell you is that, as any mother would know (I understand this now), Mom knew in a heartbeat that poop was *mine*. She grimaced, maybe even gagged, noticing an abandoned diaper a few feet ahead, just outside the threshold of our home. Several other pieces of poop lay before and after it. Mom stopped screaming, wiped her foot on the carpet (I mean, at this point, what did it matter?) and took off down the hallway half naked.
It didn’t take her long to find me. I had left a trail of turds leading two flights and four doors down. Mom followed it to the door of a condo owned by an elderly woman. The woman would later tell Mom that she had opened her door to a soft thumping sound, only to find a diaperless almost-three-year-old rhythmically wiping her butt on the dingy hallway carpet right outside 1A, shit-eating grin plastered to my face. 
Our brand new neighbors, thankfully, were relatively understanding (albeit totally grossed out). The building manager was not that forgiving, however. Mom was forced to pay a pretty price for the building’s sanitation. I’m not sure how related the two incidents were, but our stay there was cut very short, and it wasn’t long before we moved out of our condo and into a small home across the Valley. 
Now, the reason I bring any of this very self-deprecating, disgusting talk up is to consider the most important lesson I ever drew from my mother: Things can only impact you as much as you allow them to. Because I’m not sure I could turn a story about losing my child and wading through poop into one of my favorites to tell. In fact, it sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. Thus, life has to be less about what you go through, and more about the way you look at your experiences. So, the next time you feel like you’re having a truly shitty day of Momming, think of Mom and me, and just know that you are not alone.

Mom’s the Word

“You’re way too into being a mom,” my childless girlfriend said.

“No, I’m not! I really don’t like it sometimes,” I rebuked.

But as soon as the comment fell out of my mouth, I felt stupid for saying it. It may be true that I want to pull out my hair more than half the time, but Im not sure I need to justify my writing, talking, or sharing about motherhood to anyone.

The next time a different person said the same thing to me I simply replied, “No, I’m not.”

Then I continued to listen to him regale me about his childhood & favorite movies for the next two hours.

Neither “You’re way too into movies,”

or

“You’re way into yourself,” came out of my mouth, although perhaps it should have (in a well-meaning way 😬😂).

Yet, this is the message women receive: motherhood is so important we should stop what we’re doing in our own lives to enter it. And how we handle these roles could potentially create the next DaVinci or Dahmer. But, we can’t talk about it too much.

It’s not something we can complain about.

It’s not even something we can even really celebrate.

It’s just what we are supposed to do.

Right?

Wrong. Mum is no longer the word – we will not go quietly. We will complain about bedtime whenever we please. We will celebrate in our potty training and IEP wins. We will make parody videos about how awesome moms are until we are blue in the face.

Because yes, I’m way into being a Mom. But it’s never too much when my kids and future generations are in my hands.

Tomorrow is Another Day

Thirty-seven years ago today my mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three years ago yesterday, I gave birth to my own son.

Every cell in my body wants to have a sit down with her, to trade birth and/or parenting stories. But, as my brother stole her life eleven years ago, I haven’t been able to. I never will.

Yesterday I baked a cake. It wasn’t beautiful. No one in the family could identify what it looked like: a guitar? A banjo? A magnifying glass? I didn’t mind though; all I kept thinking about was the cake my mom made 30 years before, the one she served my brother’s friends at his 7th birthday, that looked almost the same way. I wanted to talk to her about it, laugh at their coincidentally-matching, misshapen figures. Maybe argue over whose was worse. But I couldn’t, so I wrote about it instead. This was was my way of feeling closer to her: writing and baking

Yesterday, my son’s birthday, I spent the day wondering if I’d hear from my brother. Far too much of the day was wasted wondering if he’ll, in a final show of selfishness, steal his own life. Sometimes I hope he does, sometimes I pray he doesn’t. Either way, I am healing from a life of trauma and abuse. And my abuser, despite being behind bars, still has a strange, distant power over me.

Some days are easier than others. 💓

The Best Darn Cheesecake You’ll Ever Have

Mama’s made her 1st Cheesecake (hey, we’ve gotta have our own milestones, too, right?)!

Cooling, all pretty and stuff 🤤

I won’t bore you with a lot of jibber jabber about how this recipe is a family secret and Grandma Mae used to make it every year (I don’t even have a Grandma Mae, and I concocted this recipe from a few different ones on Internet). But I will tell you this is the perfect seasonal dessert to bring to *any* gathering or eat all by yourself in one sitting. Either way, it’s divine.

This whole process is super simple and family-friendly for the kitchen, but it does take about 7-10 hours from start to finish. Just a heads up that this miiiiight be the perfect winter break activity to do with your kids ALL DAY LONG. So, preheat your oven to 350 now, so you don’t forget later 😜

Interior shot of the best darn cheesecake ever

Crust:

1 3/4 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 15 full crackers)

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl mix the graham cracker crumbs, butter, granulated sugar, and salt together evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of 9-inch springform pan (or a thin, pre-made pie pan if that’s what you have – it’s what I worked with!)

Pre-baked apples

Apple Filling:

4 apples (peeled & sliced)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup water or apple juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp sea salt

1/3 cup sugar

Mix it all up, and bake at 350 until desired softness and juices have turned into a thicker syrup like consistency.

Cheesy coconut filing:

16 ounces of Cream Cheese, room temperature (I prefer whipped cream cheese for a lighter, fluffier cake)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup coconut milk, room temperature

1 teaspoons vanilla

1.5 eggs, room temperature

Mix cheese and sugar at a medium speed with a flat mixing spoon or mixer attachment. Then lightly beat in the rest of the ingredients.

Ready to bake!

When the apples are done, bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Set the cooled apples in the bottom of the pie pan, then cover with the cheesecake mixture. Make sure the bottom of the cheesecake pan is tightly sealed, then place it in a larger, deeper pan of hot water (so that the water never actually touches the pie tin, and only surrounds it).

Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until top has become a slight golden color. Take it out and cool it for an hour. After it’s cooled, tightly wrap it and place it in the fridge for anywhere from 6 hours to the whole night to set. Then ENJOY because this is the best cheesecake you’ll ever have 🤤

Hubby’s serving suggestion

Confidence & Other Insecurities

“Do you like it?” I ask, spinning in a full circle to give her a good look.

“It’s beautiful… I wish I could wear something like that,” she replies. “But bright colors are for the confident.”

She ducks away as I digest her words.

Is it true, do I make bold choices because I’m confident?

Surely, no. I grew up with an abusive older brother who gave me daily reminders why I should second guess everything I do. My nose makes me cringe, and the way my stomach rolls when I sit makes most of my pants uncomfortable.

No, I couldn’t be confident. Could I?

******

“But what if they think I’m an idiot?” she worries aloud.

I cannot help but jump in: “Oh, come on, what do you care what people think? No one’s opinion of you has any say over how you feel about yourself, unless you let it.”

“I wish I was as confident as you,” she sighs in response.

There’s that word again.

She’s right: my words are that of a confident person’s. Am I really s-s-secure? No. It can’t be. I’m too short, and not nearly as successful as I’d hope to be by now.

*******

“What kind of kid were you in school?”

“Oh, I had my head in the books and I wore orange camoflauge pants on the regular. I couldn’t care less what people thought; I had more important things on my mind than other people’s opinions of me.”

Holy shit. I can’t be confident, can I?

That would mean I have to love myself as a whole, including all the flaws. Wholeheartedly accepting my moles, embracing the hyperactivity of my mind, loving my generally sweaty state.

Right?

Wrong.

Sort of.

The thing about confidence is that it’s insecure.

It is never quite fixed and has the potential to vacillate and change, just like its owner.

When I’m forced to look at things, I’d say I’m a pretty confident person. I know who I am and the importance of what I stand for; others views don’t sway me easily. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t misjudge or devalue myself at times. There are moments I question my abilities, or pause and give thought to my efficacy.

See, ‘confident people’ are insecure at times. And ‘insecure people’ can feel confident, too.

I’m willing to bet my life even people like Oprah and the Dalai Lama have had to stop the self-sabotaging talk at times.

There is no one on this planet that has gone without inconsistencies or insecurities altogether.

What I’m getting at is, confidence is so much less about the labels we allow ourselves and so much more about the habits we adopt. It is not a measure of our worth, but the volume of our doubt.

So, when you hear that voice telling you aren’t good enough, stop and think:

• Where is it coming from?

• Why do you listen to it?

• What if it’s not telling the truth?

• How can you make its mantra more positive?

Because the only thing truly keeping you from feeling confident is your inner monologue.

Movies are Magical

Films have the ability to take people on journeys without even pulling them from the comfort of their couches. They helped me escape the difficulties of childhood, and now a taxing adulthood.

But the more magical thing about movies is that they remain to be so much to so many people. I was just taken on a lovely trip through Southern California, a film lovers’ highlight reel of the area, courtesy of DVD.com. As a highest-tier member of their ambassador program, I was eligible for this amazing, eye-opening experience.

We started with a visit to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party and lived every Disney lovers’ fantasy by closing out the park stuffed full of free candy and dressed in our favorite paraphernalia.

The next day we woke up bright and early and headed to the nearest DVD Netflix hub. When we arrived we were greeted with warm and friendly employees who walked us through the entire warehouse. Their enthusiasm was contagious, even though it was extremely early. We may not have been accustomed to being awake at that time, but they had been up and hauling DVDs for hours already. That’s how they do it in order to get your movies to your house on time. Thank you, DVD Netflix!

This is what 300k movies looks like
Beautiful machinery

After that we were treated to a writing session with the incredible David Raether. He gave us some pointers on having maximum impact in our pieces, and I left with a lot more writing confidence.

After a lovely lunch at the hotel, we launched ourselves to the next stop, which was the Warner Brothers’ Studios in Burbank. There we went on an absolutely delightful Classics Tour.

And after all was said and done, my biggest takeaway – besides a once-in-a-lifetime experience – was that movies unite people. No matter movies’ genres, themes, top-billed actresses, etc, films bring millions of people together.

On this trip, I was introduced to Linda, a creator with a passion for film so great, she watches them all. Her zest is contagious, and I can’t wait to read through all of her past articles to find my next favorite films. I also met Ann, another DVD Netflix Director in their DVD Nation. She loves films with strong female characters and all of the same favorite actresses as me. Then there was Bean, Illinois-based travel and movie blogger infamous for her exciting travel-centric posts that give me a mean case of wanderlust. I’ve admired her articles from afar, but she’s somehow even better in person. Joules was a hilarious Mama who has a fresh voice and fun taste in films that made me want to watch whatever she is watching. And last but undoubtedly not least, there was Raquel, whose knowledge of film (especially the classics) is quite literally awe-inspiring. No matter our opinions of the movies we discussed, we bonded over our mutual interest and how films make us feel. That’s what movies are about. 

At the WB Studios, I was introduced to the story of four studio executive brothers who believed in themselves and realized a dream. I watched the grips and prop handlers lug the necessities from soundstage to soundstage. There were the carpenters in the lumberyard building pieces of sets. There are actresses and actors on the closed sets who bring a story to life, along with the director that sees a vision and makes it happen. The producers, writers, editors, marketers. They’re all a part of these films. They all do it for that same love. That’s what movies are about.

from Small Soldiers
Props building area
Welcome to the Prophouse

Beetlejuice models from the film

And I would be absolutely remiss if I did not mention Michael and his crew at the Anaheim hub (again). They are the people who are at work at 2:30 in the morning, sorting through the DVDs you’ve sent back in, the men and women who fix the machines that sort the new movies you request to your door. The ones who have made it their job to keep you entertained and work through the wee hours to ensure they do. That’s what DVD Netflix is about.

And finally, there’s you. Getting cozy on the couch, being immersed in a new perspective, someone else’s tale. You’ve now joined in. And perhaps your spouse, who’s fallen asleep halfway through and may even have a different opinion that you, they’ve joined in, too. All of you are a part of that film. Forever. That’s the true magic of film. And this is what movies are all about. Uniting people.

Thank you, DVD Netflix, for reminding me over and over again of why I love movies so damn much, and for letting me play a role in it all.

#DVDNation #ad

I <3 NY

I’m not really sure why I planned a trip to NY with two kiddos, but I did. I’m also not quite sure why we didn’t cancel and reroute ourselves to Mexico, but we didn’t. And hey, we still survived!

No joke, Manhattan is quite an endeavor with little ones, but it’s also a veritable playground. And when done correctly, with a native New Yorker’s finesse, it can be quite a thrilling vacation! So, thank you to those who helped me plan our 2018 family adventure – you know who you are, but I’ll mention a few of you below, anyway. Without you I’m not sure we would have made it through so many subway rides and days away from home 😂 (this So Cal suburbs Mama is jk, but only partially)

Tips

• Take the subway, but only if you’re not using a stroller or have a super collapsible one. Many subway station stops don’t have elevators, and if they have an escalator, it may not be working. You’ll save a lot of money on the subway vs. cabs, but keep it light while traveling around or it becomes a struggle.

• Select a hotel that is central to much of what you want to see; this will cut transit costs and time. If you need a suggestion, I was blown away by the Affinia Garden Suites and will be suggesting it to anyone looking for an intimate yet spacious experience in Manhattan!

• Talk to friends who have lived or still live there before heading to the city. They’ll know the ins and outs of getting around, the best dining gems, and how to get the cheapest tickets. Speaking of…

• Krysten of Krysten’s Kitchen told me about the TKTS Discount Booths that sell theater tickets at 50% and more. All you have to do is hop in line about twenty minutes before the booth opens (2 PM EST), and snag the tickets you want! Hint: if you bring your receipt back the next day to get more tickets, you will be put in a fast pass line. I would say you should def not leave the city without seeing a show, and I always love a discount!

• The food in New York can be hit or miss. With the city’s sheer number of options there are bound to be some mediocre ones. It takes the tongue of a native or a well-traveled lover of New York to really know where to go. Like cousin Brad’s idea to go to The Smith – I’m already planning to go back for brunch to try more grub next time we are in town. I’ll definitely head back to JJ Coopers for live music and another prime rib sandwich. I’ll also return for a marg and mariscos at Hell’s Kitchen. And I’ll be sure to dine at as many places on The Spotted Cloth‘s NY Foodie list as possible, because they know good grub.

• If you’d like to head out of Manhattan and see more of New York, the Staten Island Ferry is a great free option for travel. Hop on next to Battery Park and take it to Staten Island, even snag a fabulous view of the Statue of Liberty via the ferry windows. Just know it’ll take about forty minutes to wait/board/travel on the ferry (one way)

• Another great transit option is a tour bus like those from Top View Sightseeing – you can get on at the stop of your choice and get off whenever you’d like. Just know traffic in NY is very slow moving; carve out a large chunk of time if you’d like to see a lot of the city.

• Don’t hesitate to ask questions before planning for or leaving on your own trip! Feel free to message me, or comment below, if there’s something you’d like info about. And be sure to read below for some of my must-see stops while you’re in the city.

Must-Sees

Central Park – A haven amidst the city’s madness, CP is not to be missed. It’s got acres of greenery and views to die for, plus lots of fun things to do within its boundaries. You can literally spend a whole day here, and you’ll probably want to.

Intrepid Museum – a huge thank you to Scherrie of Thirty Mommy for letting me know about this Midtown gem. We spent hours weaving our way through decommissioned planes, an old submarine, and tons of hands-on airplane-related displays. My kids could not have been happier, and hubby was even more so. Check out Scherrie’s blog (linked above) for more NY activities for kids (and much more).

Museum of the City of New YorkWe stumbled upon this place (which goes to show some times you just have to go and explore without a plan), and got lost inside for hours. It was beautiful and captivating, and the hands-on children’s area was a bit of a saving grace after a long, hot day in Central Park. We will surely return to see the newest installments whenever we come back to the city. It was that special.

Museum of Natural History – This behemoth will suck you in for hours, but a trip is well worth it. I know, we are totally Museum people, but this place truly can be for everyone. It’s amazing, informative, and a total must-see.

Avenue QIf you’re not easily offended, and you’re also a bit of a musical fan (although you really don’t have to be), check out Avenue Q. It’s biting and hilarious, and will keep you on the edge of your seat even if the kiddos have kept you on your feet all day.

And finally, if you’re feeling brave and even want to escape Manhattan (unlike myself), I suggest you hop over to Nellie’s blog, Brooklyn Active Mama. She is always in the know of what’s going on in her neighborhood, and is happy to share the fun on her page. If I had possessed the confidence to roam to her neck of the woods, I probably would have had a whole other blog post to write. Phew. I’m exhausted all over again.

Btw, I really do ❤️ NY.

An Open Letter *From* My Deceased Mother

Not long ago I shared an open letter I wrote to my deceased mother. And as my latest Expressing Motherhood piece mentioned an open letter she wrote me that was read at a graduation-related event, I thought that it would be fitting this year (on her death date) to share it.

‘Dear Amy,

When you arrived on December 24th, 21 years ago, I knew you would be destined for greatness!

The doctor said, “It’s a girl, but she’s only 4 lbs and 16 1/2 inches!”

My mother said, “I cook chickens for dinner that are bigger than that!”

I said, “Her entire head fits in the palm of my hand!”

Yes, Amy, you were small, but as people say, “The best things come in small packages!”

We brought you home ten days later, nameless. I searched high and low for a name that would best suit you, to no avail. Until your brother Jesse came to the rescue and said, “I think we should call her Amy.” And so it was, you were named Amy.

Once you had the first name of Amy, how more befitting would it have been, but for me to call you ‘Amy Beth.’ And so it came to be, your name was once and for all, decided by a joint venture of your brother and me.

Now, being that you came early, a month early, that should have been a sign. Unfortunately, I was not in tune with human nature then, as I am now. But had I been, I would have known some things about you early on. As things go, not only did you mature emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually early, but also physically!

[🙄😑😖]

I remember driving in the car one day, when you were only 5 years old, and you saying to me, “Mom, will I have my period by the time I’m in college?”

Then your brother turned to you and said, “Amy, don’t worry, you’ll get it way, way, way before then.” And he was right.

Yes, you were early at that too. And yes you did get it before you started college. Way, way, way before you started college!

[Thanks, Mom 😑]

But now, as you are nearing the end of college, I must say, the things you have accomplished have definitely been filled with greatness! And I am very proud to be your mom!

Love forever and always,

Mom’

…. So, now you know. I got my blatant honesty and penchant for over-sharing from my Mama. And I’ll probably never stop, because it’s how I keep her spirit alive.

RIP Mom 💓

1/26/1952 – 9/25/2007