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.

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

Love You Forever

“The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated.”

~Washington Irving

As seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven & Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, With Love

No one is ever ready to say goodbye to a parent, and I was no exception. When my mother suddenly passed away at the age of fifty-five, it was devastating. The only way I knew how to cope was to write. When it came time to write her eulogy, I welcomed the chance to honor her.

After reading the eulogy at her funeral, I folded it neatly and tucked it between the pages of her favorite children’s book, Love You Forever. When it was time to pay final homage to her, I felt satisfied as I placed my only copy of the book in her arms and helped to lower her casket.

Shortly thereafter though, I broke down. I could think of nothing but my mother. I missed her with every cell in my body. But most overwhelmingly, I could no longer grasp the concept of where she had gone. I found it impossible to believe that she was watching over me. If she were, I thought, then she would surely make her presence known. I pleaded with the Heavens to show me she was there, that she was still sending her love, and keeping a watchful eye. No such luck.

Weeks went by. I became depressed and broken, unable to fulfill simple tasks and care for myself. I stayed home. People came in and out, checking on me at all hours of the day. Family and friends tried to coax me out of the house, but all I wanted to do was hide. I wanted to hide from my harsh reality: I would never see or hear from my mother again. Finally, those who cared about me had had enough.

One night, my best friend and her partner came over with a plan to get me out of the house. I debated with them for over an hour, pleading for them to leave me alone. Two hours and a million excuses later, we finally compromised and I allowed them to take me on a quick trip to Target.

As we walked through the aisles my feet dragged. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere. Nonetheless, we perused the make-up, electronics, and home goods aisles. They were there to offer me an outlet, and I was only there to placate them. After several more minutes of mindless meandering I was done. I told them I had to go back home, that I needed to get out of there.

“Alright, but first we have to stop by the candy section. A little sugar will give you a pick-me-up,” they reasoned.

I swallowed my pain and continued. I picked out a piece of candy just to avoid my friends’ concerned stares. At the checkout, we dropped our items on the conveyor belt and waited in line. I looked at the merchandise arrayed at the checkout. At the top of a shelf, on top of the candy, hair ties, and hand sanitizer, sat a book, a copy of Love You Forever! I snatched the copy and skimmed the pages, enjoying the pictures of a mother cradling her child. Tears welled in my eyes.

“Ma’am? Ma’am? How would you like to pay for this?” the cashier asked.

I snapped back to reality, but ignored her question. “Why is this book here?” I demanded to know.

“I’m not sure, ma’am. Maybe someone was planning to buy it but chose not to in the end? They were probably just too lazy to put it back… It happens all the time, unfortunately. Thanks for pointing it out.”

I felt compelled to know more, and am still not sure why I asked my next question.

“Where are the rest of the copies of this book?”

“Wow. You sure love that book. The rest are probably in our book section, but I’ll scan it just to make sure. Sometimes when a book is on promotion it is moved.”

She scanned it. The machine made a few loud, shrill beeps.

“Huh. That’s weird. It’s not scanning. Let me see…”

The few moments I waited felt like eternity. A ball of excitement mixed with anxiety formed in my stomach.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. This book isn’t scanning. In fact, I dont even think it’s from our store. I’m not really sure why it was sitting there… If you’d like to buy it ma’am, I apologize because I guess it’s not really available for purchase. But… I mean… I guess you can… Just take it? It’s not really ours to sell.”

My heart fluttered as I gingerly took back the book. I cradled it in my arms and as I did, I felt a sense of security envelop me. I knew this was a message from my mother. It was a message of love, support, and understanding.

It was her way of saying, “I will love you forever, no matter what.” And I’ve never doubted that since.

~A.B. Chesler

To All the Friends I’ve Lost Along the Way

I have lost many friends over the years. A few were stolen by Death (may they rest in peace), but far more of them I have lost to life.

Some of those losses have been easy; a simple cease of communication was enough to loosen our bonds. Other endings have been sloppy & painful, leaving both parties scorned. Some are intentional, others unintentional. But the common thread among all of them is that they have been necessary.

See, I believe everyone comes into your life for a reason, but not everyone stays. Those exits happen for a reason, too. We cannot expect to be able to keep everyone. We are dynamic, as are what we need and what we want. Our relationships must ebb and flow, too.

So, to those friends who I have moved on from, or that have moved on from me, I wish you the best of luck in life. My absence does not mean I am wishing you ill will; on the contrary, I hope you are soaring. I hope whatever may have caused the gash between us to have healed when your wounds were less fresh. For, it’s true: we cannot find a place for everyone in our lives. But, we can always find a place to wish them well.

Kindergarten Bound, Smiles All Around

“How do you feel?”

“Are you sad?”

“Nervous at all?”

I’ve been asked the same question (or variations of it) umpteen times in the last couple weeks.

And my answer, for some reason, is always met with surprise.

“I’m excited!” I reply.

The responses containing the least amount of skepticism generally sound like, “Oh, really?”

“Yep, really.”

My question is, am I supposed to be sad? Surely, it’s OK to be sad; I understand where my friends and loved ones are coming from. I guess I’m just missing something.

Personally, the idea of my child officially embarking on her educational career is thrilling to me. I am the child of generations of school teachers. I love to learn. I see my daughter flourish when she is not stuck to my side and reliant on my help. I see her transform when she rises to life’s challenges.

But most importantly, I am being gifted the chance to be present to watch her struggles and triumphs. I am here for her entrance to school. We have each other as we embark on this transition, and for that I am thankful and excited and blessed.

So, no, we aren’t nervous. There are smiles all around over here (but let’s chat again when it’s time for college 🤐).

Best of luck to everyone going through a similar transition 💓