Chicken Soup for the Soul Round-Up

Over the last decade I have been privileged to contribute to a lot of wonderful publications, but very few are as respected and world-renown as Chicken Soup for the Soul. My five feel-good stories have appeared in seven different anthologies. And since it seems an appropriate time to share some virtual chicken soup with my followers, I thought I’d offer my first round-up post of ‘Soul Stories,’ as I’ll call them now.

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Ten Years of Lessons (in Less Than 500 Words)

It’s been ten years since Mom died.


A little over ten years ago, I sat down to write her eulogy, which (as Mom was a long-time teacher) appropriately discussed all the things she taught me in the twenty-two years I was given with her.

And as this first decade passes, it hits me that I have lived another half of that short portion of time. A brutal realization that, when ruminated upon, has the potential to really do a number on my spirit. But, Mom was never one to ruminate. She liked to think of each experience as a chance to learn. So, in the spirit of her courage, thirst for knowledge, and decade-old eulogy, I share with you the lessons I’ve learned in her absence, albeit not without her influence.

Life rarely ends up resembling the vision we’ve created for ourselves, but what do we really know in the grand scheme of things?

You should never fear being yourself. A bigger fear should always be inauthenticity.

Above all, to achieve your dreams you must be tenacious. Statistically speaking, things are bound to work out if you keep at them.

Although dreams should be pursued, it’s often the things you don’t think you need that end up being the most conducive to growth.

Success in life should not be measured by financial freedom, or other societal parameters. It should be measured by your ability to find value in your journey, especially when it seems inherently lost.


 

The grass often looks greener on the other side, but much of the time that’s just a trick of the light. In reality it’s greenest where it’s tended to best, so take care.

Sometimes the hardest conversations you can have, or the toughest actions you can take, are the only ones that’ll make anything better. 

Live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Our time is simply a long series of moments woven together. If you wait until its finished to admire its intricacies, you’ll miss out on the process and much of the details.

No matter how alone you may feel, the fact is you’re not (you know, statistics and all). Someone out there understands and will appreciate knowing that they’re not alone either.

Life will never be without loss or pain, but that should not keep you from living. In fact, heartache is what allows us to see just how sweet the good times are.


A child’s appreciation and love for their parent knows no boundaries, even after death. And, if we work to keep our loved one’s legacies alive, there’s no way for their absence to be resolute either.

 I love you more today than I ever have before, Mom. Hope you’re taking good care of Mike, and the other newer arrivals. <3

 

 

 

 

Why I Gambled the Car Away (And You Should, Too)

letsmakeadeal

It’s a funny thing, being a winner. Even saying it – the act alone leaves me with a heavy pit in my stomach. I spent such a large portion of my life honoring a very opposing schema, and to promote any other image of myself seems like a big, fat life.

Yet, five years ago (less a few weeks) I experienced one of my all-time favorite life experiences in which I was (momentarily) the ultimate winner. I had the chance to appear on CBS’s “Let’s Make a Deal.” And I won. I won big. Within a few seconds of the show beginning, I had been selected from the audience and – shockingly – presented with a brand, new car to take home with me! So, why is it that when the final showcase began (the segment when the biggest winners are given a chance to gamble away their prizes for potentially bigger prizes) did I eagerly give away the CAR that I had just won? I think that might be one of the most common questions I’ve ever received.

As I alluded before, if someone had asked me if I was a winner during my childhood, I would have likely responded, “Oh no, not at all.” Then my cheeks would have feverishly burned with embarrassment. My brother would have piped up and said, “I’m the winner. I win everything.” And he did. He always won any contest he entered. I often hid myself in his shadow so as not to face my fear of rejection. Now, as an adult, it’s undeniable to me that I am in fact a winner. I mean, who else can say they’ve won a car, concert tickets, writing contests, an in-home sauna, a high-resolution camera, household items, a high-end car seat, tons of baby paraphernalia, etc? Not many. And it makes the small portion of younger Amy that still exists blush even more, admitting that I’ve experienced all this good fortune in my adult life. But the question remains – what is the difference between adult me and child me?

Simple: as a child, I was a loser in the truest sense because I never even allowed myself to enter the race. I psyched myself out long before any attempt at success was made.

So, that day on “Let’s Make a Deal” I had hoped that I would win more – I mean, how often do you find yourself on the receiving end of a brand new car? For FREE? And if life is THAT crazy, why couldn’t I walk away with more? I mean, how often would I find myself in that same position? Probably never. So, I seized the opportunity while I had it. I put myself out there. And that, my friends and readers, is the reason I am a winner now. Walking away with a sauna, despite a massive drop in prize worth, was still amazing to me. I don’t think, “Shit, I could have had a car.” I think, “Wow. What an experience! I won a sauna.”

And life has a funny way of proving this to be true. Call it statistics, call it luck – its simply this: the more you put yourself out there, the higher the chance that you’ll win. “I never win anything.” I’ve heard that a million times. I’ve said it far more times than I can count. But I bet right after you proclaimed those self-defeating words, you decided not to enter the race/raffle/audience/whatever. Thus, the secret to winning, is simply allowing yourself to face the possibility of failure.

Expressing Motherhood

Performed on October 7th, 2016 in Silverlake, CA as part of the live stage show, “Expressing Motherhood”

As Mitch Albom once wrote, “There’s a story behind everything… But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”

Naturally, my story of motherhood begins with my mom’s. My father and mother were married relatively young and only a few years into their union, Dad cheated. He soon left her and abandoned us; I never grew up with a father figure of any type. In my household, Mom epitomized strength, perseverance, and love. She was a strong character who led by example and taught my brother and I the value of family, hard work, diligence, and honesty.

My brother began to exhibit signs of mental illness in his teen years. Mom did everything she could to get him help, but with a full-time job and two children to care for on her own, this task was nearly impossible. Thus, my brother’s condition worsened over the years. So did the consequent abuse Mom and I faced. He became an expert at funneling all his rage into an emotional warfare against Mom and I. She did a great deal to shield me from the pain and hurt of his violence, but Mom never stopped caring about him or doing everything in her power to help.

After a rather trying and tumultuous childhood, I went to college, and even though I lived at home, I was able to distance myself from the abuse. Time went on and as my brother regressed, I flourished. I can clearly remember an intimate moment I shared with Mom when I was around twenty-one. I had climbed into bed with her after a fraternity party. I snuggled into her (I was quite obviously the little spoon) and told her how much I loved her. I told her that she had been the topic of our drunken conversation at the fraternity house; my sorority sister had told me how much she had wished her own mother was like Mom. At that point, Mom started crying and sharing with me how much that meant to her. She allowed herself to be vulnerable for the first time in my life, and bared her soul to me. She expressed how hard our life together had been for her. She told me how excruciatingly difficult it was to believe in herself when she thought of herself as a failure. We talked all night. This would be one of my favorite memories of her ever; a few months later our ability to make anymore would be stolen.

On September 25th, 2007, three weeks after I graduated college, my brother murdered my mother. I came home to find her lying on the kitchen floor. My brother had escaped and then confessed everything to me over the phone. I should have known he had been telling the truth, but part of me was hoping this was just another one of his manipulative lies. Devastatingly, it was not. My life changed forever that night.

After her death, I floated through life. I had no ties to anyone or anything, and lost my value for everything. The person who had loved me more than life itself was absent, and thus I felt terribly unloved. In turn, I found it impossible to allow myself any type of love or happiness. As far as I knew, I deserved nothing of the sort.

Despite this, I met my husband-to-be a few months later. He accepted me and my flaws, even though I was figuratively scarred and beaten. Allowing myself to be loved was difficult, yet we still ended up on the fast track towards marriage. Eventually I became pregnant a couple years after our nuptials. My entrance to motherhood, despite being somewhat joyful, was extremely tainted. I was jealous of all my girlfriends who had their mother to guide them through the process. I felt alone and broken.

Then I had my daughter and life changed forever yet again. With her birth I was initiated into this – mostly – magical world of Motherhood. A world filled with infinite boo-boo kisses and bear hugs, side-splitting laughter, the most painful of tears, the ability to finally be the big spoon, (yay!) and a connection that transcends everything I’ve ever known up until now. Becoming a mother myself has allowed me to understand the unconditional love Mom felt for both Jesse and me. I had never quite understood how my mother put up with all that my brother dished out for us, but I am quickly learning. My hatred and anger has melted and morphed into acceptance. This acceptance has allowed me to find a semblance of peace and balance in my chaotic world.

As of now, Jesse is in maximum security prison, serving a sentence of fifteen years to life.  I’d like to think he’s being rehabilitated, but over his last nine years in a correctional facility he’s added attempted murder to his rap sheet and tacked on a few more years to his time there. I do not speak to him, nor do I have the desire to. But over time that may change, just as everything else has.

Where Does Hatred Come From?

Where does hatred come from?

I originally answered this question on my blog almost two years ago, but in honor of the many lives a shooter stole today, I thought I would repost it. This conversation MUST happen.

*A quick disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have no impressive degree from an Ivy League school. However, I grew up in a household in which one of three of its members was filled with a hatred so compelling it sparked violence. Thus, Id like you to consider my theory on the subject as a result of a twenty-two year case study. So, why did my brother come out the way he did?

I am a firm believer that no one is born with the desire to hurt others. We, as humans, naturally need each other to survive. Some of us may be more genetically inclined to be aggressive, but our relationship with others is purely social. So, why is it that some can ruthlessly murder others while others dedicate their lives to improving society? I believe the difference is simple: attachment.

I have been told Jesse seemed “different” as early as the age of three. This was the age my father left our family. This was the same year I was born. The same year my mother was forced to become a single mother. All of these factors would change someone. I have a child who is now just over three. I feel the incredibly strong attachment we have to each other – if I left her now, I am sure it would effect her infinitely. It would cause a little piece of her to disappear – her confidence, stability, and feeling of security in the world would lessen.

But would it cause her to hate others indefinitely? To lash out and desire to hurt people? I don’t believe so. But, imagine the pain she would feel if she was faced with several other experiences similar to this. Times when other people abandoned her or let her down. The more isolation she feels, the less empathy she would possess.

This was my brother’s case.
He was short, he was teased, he was never really accepted by his classmates. He was ostracized for characteristics that were out of his control. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a young child, his tics making him seem even less “normal” than he already was. His behavior became more deviant as time went on, as his laundry list of diagnoses increased. He began to get into fights at school. He was angry and volatile. His school did nothing; this was not in the sensitive days of late. Back then it was “kids will be kids,” and “Do you think he’s cut out for school? Maybe he should get his CHSPE.”

So, in short, as he entered young adulthood and attempted to find connections, everyone but my mother told him he wasn’t worth the trouble. Mom believed in him infinitely. She knew he was capable of so much more than what people had begun to expect of him. The pressure to meet my mother’s standards despite everyone else’s grew too much for him, and he attempted suicide. Twice. And then within a short amount of time, his violent attempts were re-directed at Mom and me (but mostly Mom).

In middle school, I watched these trials. I watched society tell Mom what was doing wrong. I watched society tell my brother how much less value he held because he was different, and how he ought to behave to fit in. I watched them both fail over and over, and everyone around them show them how they were screaming up instead of offering help. It was nearly unbearable for me to witness; I cannot even begin to conceive how hard it was for both of them to go through.

Their increasingly tenuous relationship forced Jesse to leave home for a bit. Unfortunately, his stint away delivered him into a volatile military career. It only took a few months before it came to a screeching halt and his mental illnesses became apparent; he had chosen to stop concealing them under the duress of boot camp. He somehow exited with honorable discharge, and still, very little mental health benefits. Upon his return home to Mom he felt even angrier and isolated.

And, to make an incredibly long and painful history shorter, after twenty-five years of being told he was different, feeling little connection to those around him, and being attached to nothing but his desire to make people feel as little as he had all his life, Jesse killed my mom.

But, quite often people like Jesse hurt strangers. They pack their cars with guns and their minds with plans, and execute others while they’re at school, sitting in movie theaters, or celebrating their freedom. Because people like Jesse, who have never really attached to anyone soundly, often feel the need to show others just how awful this isolation can feel. That’s where the hatred comes from.

So, what can we do to change this? The solution does not lie in any one person’s control. It is not solely our government’s job to restrict guns more. It is not only about how a parent has failed their deviant child. It’s less about guns and parenting (although stricter laws on both cannot hurt our children more than the guns literally have).

This is about love. No matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist, Greek Orthodox, Agnostic, Democratic, or Republican. No matter your gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic level, our duty as humans is to help others. To open our hearts to others and aide those in pain and in need. Allowing people to feel part of the human race or tribe, rather than an anomaly or a member of a smaller, less important faction, that is what will end the hatred.

As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “Red black or white, This is my fight, Come on courage, Let’s be heard, Turn feelings, Into words.” Let’s start a dialogue that allows the pained to be heard and the isolated to feel accepted. Then, and only then, will we see the hatred begin to melt away. And until we can open our hearts, stay safe, everyone.

This House of Love

Let me introduce myself. I’m Amy Beth Chesler: a storyteller and lover of food, laughter, & 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. 💓

Bus 152: No Longer in Service

as seen as “Prenatal Nocturne” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven


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


After my mother’s death in 2007, I dreamt of her quite frequently. Some evenings I spent hours telling her how life had been treating me, and other nights consisted of dreams in which her death had never taken place. No matter the content, each dream gave me solace. Sadly though, as time went on the dreams were fewer and farther between. Several years after her passing, her visits only came every few months.
Then, in late 2012, my husband and I found out that we were going to be parents the following June. Although I was thrilled, the idea of going through a pregnancy without my mother’s support made me anxious; I began to imagine all the milestones Mom would miss. My husband was supportive and as understanding as he could be, but my anxiety slowly turned back into grief. Still, I took the necessary actions to confirm our pregnancy test results.


The following week, the evening of our first doctor’s appointment, I fell into a deep sleep, filled with the warmth of seeing my baby for the first time. As my dream began to unfold, I found myself waking up in a hospital bed. I was alone in a sterile, dark room. A feeling of panic washed over me. Suddenly, the door opened and my mother entered. Her smile illuminated the tiny space. I couldn’t help but smile back at her. I tried to get up and give her a hug, but realized I was restricted by the IV attached to my arm. Mom motioned to me to stay on the bed, and she came to my side.


“Oh, I am so excited!” she began. She was glowing, but not because of some ethereal warmth. Happiness was simply oozing from her every pore. Mom pulled out a compact mirror, powdered her nose, and adjusted her hair.


“Where am I? What are we doing here?” I inquired.


“Silly, you just gave birth! The nurses have your beautiful baby in the other room, and I just can’t wait to meet my granddaughter,” she cooed.


“D-daughter?” I said, a tear coming to my eye. “But I don’t understand. I was just four weeks this morning.”


“Well, I can’t explain that, but it’s June 15th and you’ve just done a beautiful job delivering my grandchild. Oh honey, I’m so proud of you. Well, I’m off to meet my granddaughter!” With that she kissed my forehead and left the room as quickly and smoothly as she had entered, as if she was floating on a cloud.


My tears continued to flow, and as I woke up, my mother’s warmth seemed to fill every fiber in my body. I felt closer to her that night than I had felt for so long. Still, my sleep was fitful for the remainder of evening as I wondered whether I had been granted a true visit with Mom or not.


The next morning, I pried myself out of bed and got ready for work. My mind replayed the dream over and over again as I began my commute. I was jarred from my thoughts a little over a mile from my house when, a few feet from the freeway entrance, a bus cut in front of me. I slammed on my brakes. At first I cursed the driver, but then I noticed the number and destination on the digital screen above my head. “152,” it read, “No Longer in Service.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Mom was born in January of 1952, I knew in an instant this was yet another message from her. It was also confirmation that her visit the night before had been very real. “No Longer in Service.” I chuckled lightly at the euphemism and felt empowered once more. I knew in my heart my mother was there with me, with my baby, and she was most definitely part of the incredible biological process I was embarking upon.
It wasn’t until my twentieth week of pregnancy that my mother’s visit was validated once more; my husband and I found out that we were having a baby girl, just as my mother had shared with me four months earlier.


~A.B. Chesler

10 Posts That Helped Transform My Grief

I’ve written about grief a lot over the last decade or so. And much of that writing has helped me put in to perspective some of life’s biggest moments and emotions. Ones that could have easily swallowed me whole, and if I’m being honest, almost did.

But with reflection and the right tools, I feel confidently about the direction my life has taken. So, to celebrate my mom’s birthday on January 26th, and all the ones that were stolen because of her murder, here is a list of the pieces that helped me feel less alone while writing, and may help you as well. Especially if you have a hole in your heart where a loved one left it, too. Because I think that’s all life is about: connection, community, and catharsis.

Ten Years of Lessons in Less than 500 Words

An Open Letter From My Deceased Mother

An Open Letter to My Deceased Mother

Love You Forever (Chicken Soup for the Soul Story #1)

Expressing Motherhood (Voice of the Year recipient)

Lessons from Mom (ExMoShow Piece #2)

LIVE: It Takes a Village (ExMoShow #3)

Nine Years Later

Let’s Make a Deal (CSS Story #3)

Trash Bags From Heaven

Grocery Shopping a Go-Go

Raise your hand if you have a strong-willed child 🙋🏻‍♀️

This is mine. Here he is shopping in our fridge.

He’s doing that because his Daddy happened to go on an errand right when the Instacart delivery arrived. He wasn’t able to help me carry the groceries to the fridge because he was distracted by a difficult “Goodbye!”

So, as the tears began to spring and his voice escalated into a shriek I said (without thinking, really), “Why don’t you go shopping in our fridge?”

He sniffled a few times, paused, and said, “Why?”

“Well, you can grab what you want from it, put it in a bag, then you can carry it outside. Next, knock on the door and carry them in. Then you’re the delivery person! If you ask nicely, of course.”

Another sniffle, which is extremely promising. Usually by now the teetering on imbalance would have turned into a full-blown tantrum complete with screaming and maybe even some body-writhing on the floor. All over delivered groceries.

But instead, he says, “Okay. Please?”

Little man then proceeds to stuff a watermelon, a half dozen eggs, a yogurt cup, horseradish sauce, half a head of iceberg lettuce, & four carrots into a dangerously thin plastic bag from our stockpile. The bag is close to breaking but I breathe through the sticky chunks of fractured egg shell I imagine all over the floor after he drops their carton. But without my saying anything he puts them back, seeing the loot he’s grabbed is too heavy.

And when he’s replaced everything except the watermelon and the carrots, he trots to the door with his shoulders held high. Then he looks at me to see if it’s OK to go outside, sees my confirmation, and toddles outside.

And there’s nothing more for me to do than hire this second delivery person and hope he doesn’t require a tip. I close the door, take a deep breath, and think, ‘This is ridiculous. What are we even doing here?’

But then I hear his silly, unbridled joy filter through the door in the form of, “Knock knock! Grocery here!”

I smile. He barges in like he owns the place, carries the food to the kitchen, and unloads it back in to the fridge. Then he gives me a high five and we go on with our day. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Now, I share this because I’m in the same boat as you most of the time, feeling like I’m just barely figuring this parenting thing out as I go. But in this moment I truly felt I figured it out. Or maybe I didn’t, and I just got lucky.

Either way, I stumbled upon a solution to manage his expectations, and at the same time, help him manage his emotions. And if I’m being super real, to manage my own so as to not to meet him at his melting point.

Because in the end, all he wanted to do was be helpful. But when I get wrapped in my own schedule or presuppositions, I often lose sight that my trying to control his feelings isn’t aiding him at all. That it doesn’t teach him how to do it himself. Instead, finding the point somewhere between his meltdown and my instinct to manage, that’s the sweet spot. The exact place learning for all parties happens.

And if I can do that for a moment or a meltdown, I can do it for another, for a day, for a year, for the rest of their sweet, little lives. And so can you. 💓

What in the World Wide Web is a Blogger?

Hi there 👋🏻

Chances are you stumbled upon this post because you have at least one social media account and somehow came to follow a “blogger” like me. You might even have a friend who just made the leap, and now you’ve got a lot of questions.

To be honest, I’ve been blogging for six years, and people still ask me what I it is do all the time.

Content courtesy of @fabeverydayblog for @sheinofficial

So, if you’re still asking yourself, “What is a blog?” here’s a simplified answer: a blog is the shortened term for a “web log.”

Blogs began as an online diary or way for people to document emotions/experiences via the Internet. As the internet’s capabilities grew, bloggers potential for content creation did, too.

Now, bloggers capture just about anything via any social media platform. Blog entries come in all sorts of sizes and modes (micro-entry/image, video, livestream, etc).

And when bloggers’ networks (or “followings,” as they’ve become known as) grow, their natural reach does, too. When they can connect with a large enough range of people, some are able to create a business or career out of their content in a few ways:

1) selling physical space on their site for ads to be placed.

2) contributing to larger websites or profiles, being paid by piece (individual followings matter less in this instance as the larger media outlets use their own to amplify for your work)

Ex. My cache of DVD.com articles

3) linking products on their own network that they have used and/or believe in to receive product or a commission-like paycheck for sales they ‘influence.’ The majority of this occurs in a barter-like system.

Some have even created their own products, like lifeofmomshop.com

4) creating campaigns that highlight products or missions at a cost, independent of commission (generally this requires the largest-sized followings). These are often called paid partnerships.

@BrooklynActiveMama sponsored by AirWick

Hence the reason your favorite blogger may take a break from their humor, homemaking, recipes, videos, or articles to sell a product they love… because otherwise they’re a self-published creator who’s earning nothing simply for the sake of your entertainment.

So, to answer your question in a different way, bloggers are entrepreneurs who have found a burgeoning market: the Internet.

BTW, if you’re looking for some inspiration or fun content to spice up your feeds, try some of these blogs/accounts 👇🏻

My List of Must-Follows (in no particular order)

Life of Mom for all things Motherhood

Fab Everyday for a fabulous lifestyle

Brooklyn Active Mama for all things fitness & NY

Orly C on YouTube for all things beauty & entertainment

Let’s Talk Movies for all things movie-related

Life of Dad for fatherhood

We Sow We Grow for those with a green thumb

Amother Adventure for all things family travel

Grateful Wellness Co by Sinead Quinn for wellness

Megan Baca for hard truths made easy

AmandaMuse for honesty & inspiration

Mom Forum for mom-related inspiration

The New Stepford for all things funny

The Food Artist for all things yummy

From Carpool to Cocktails for the best shopping inspiration & flatlays

Mommy Dearest for honest mommyhood

Moms Meet for all things green parenting

Mom2Summit for all things community

…and be sure to follow my accounts to find more fabulous shares/accounts to watch!

For Those Still Seeking Their Village

I don’t keep it a secret that life can be isolating.

I don’t sugar coat it that people need a healthy support system, and that without it, adulthood (and most especially parenthood) is nearly impossible.

So, if you feel like you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Maybe it means you haven’t found your village yet, the group of people who help pull you up when you’re down, or wipe away your tears when you can’t bite them back.

And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

It is, however, something that can be changed.

Each day is a new one, and with it brings unlimited potential.

I find whenever I leave myself vulnerable to the people and experiences around me, I am given quite a lot of delightful surprises from the universe.

Like the lovely ladies from the photo above, who have quickly become my village because our relationships are sowed in openness.

I found them at Starbucks, no joke.

In both meet-cutes I left my heart and mind open to finding new friends, and even more importantly, spoke what was on my mind. No cares for what was “cool” or “normal,” I made it clear who I was from the getgo and forged connections on honesty and openness. And I scored some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life in the process.

Simply by being raw and open (both with myself and others), I gathered a village that no amount or type of distance can ever weaken.

So, to those who are still searching for their familial friends: remember that life doesn’t just take a village, it also takes openness.

Learn to be yourself with respectful abandon and like will certainly attract like.

Thirteen Movies I Can’t Wait to Share with Our Kids

One of the very best things about having children is sharing with them what brings you joy. It allows you to relive that same experience for the first time, perhaps even in a new way, which can be pretty magical. And if I am being honest, as a lifelong movie lover, I’m probably more excited about sharing my favorite flicks with my kiddos than watching them learn to ride a bike (which just sounds anxiety-inducing to me). In that vein, here are the top thirteen films I can’t wait to share with my kids (when they’re of age, of course).

If anything captures the spirit of childhood and the wonder of belief, it’s The Goonies. I can’t wait for a trip down memory lane through One-Eyed Willy’s caverns, to introduce my kids to Sloth, and relive what it felt like to grab my bike and roam. I think my kids will seriously thank me, and then they’ll do the truffle shuffle. What could be better?

A perfectly cautionary tale about how amazing childhood can be, it’s Big. Tom Hanks plays Josh Baskin, a kid-turned-adult who wishes upon Zoltar to grow up overnight. It’s funny, nostalgic, and thoughtful, the perfect movie to bridge the gap between generations.

Speaking of generations, the Addams Family has been a source of entertainment for several. Personally, I like the newer versions starring Anjelica Huston & Raul Julia, but even the TV series is iconic. No matter who you identify with, there’s a character for everyone (plus there are real Girl Scouts in the Girl Scout cookies).

If your kids don’t shy from the grim and they’re a little older, The Lost Boys is a Corey Feldman & Corey Haim gem. It’s a creepy take on high school ala vampires and finding where you fit in.

Speaking of fitting in and high school, there is (of course) Can’t Hardly Wait. It’s the quintessential 90’s teen tale about all the different cliques and misfits (because, aren’t we all?). Kids need to know they’re not alone in their weirdness, and this film is a great reminder that’s what makes us unique.

On the subject of misfits, Teen Wolf has to make the list. It’s prime Michael J. Fox, and one of the most quintessential 80’s movies EVER. I mean, what says nostalgia and fun more than Styles’s screen print tees and van surfing?

Now, when I want to prepare the kiddos for college there really is only one true film to do that with: Real Genius. Maybe college isn’t all laser beams and hallways full of ice, but it most definitely can be expanding your mind, young love, and finding out who you are.

Two guys that have always stayed true to themselves are Bill & Ted. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure AND Bogus Journey are both heartwarming, creative films that span across time. There’s a lot of history, a little bit of mystery, and some rocking music. Plus, the third B & T (Bill & Ted Face the Music) is set to come out in a few years, which means I have to premiere the first two before the third hits theaters. That way the kiddos can be just as excited as me!

Of course, if we are talking time travel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share Back to the Future I, II, & III with my kiddos. The storylines are all so different, yet each one has a theme of love and family running through it. It seems only right that I introduce the kiddos to the McFlys.

What movies are at the top of your sharing list?? #sponsored #dvdnation #movielover

How Can Love Find a Way?

A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Where Does Hatred Come From?” In it I discuss my mother’s murder and what (I think) compelled my brother to do such a thing. But something else has been on my mind, a question I get quite a lot that usually makes my heart race and my tongue trip up:

“How on Earth did you survive?”

Let me begin by saying that if I’m being totally honest, it still feels some days like I haven’t. Survived, that is. The cycle of abuse is a road that is twisted, long, and arduous. I am still traversing it, and live with the bits of shame that victims often do. On other days, however, I have an answer to the question everyone is really asking – how do two people born from the same parents go in such vastly different directions: one a murderer, the other a motivator?

In more general terms, “How Can Love Find a Way?”

The reality is, it’s almost so simple it’s painful. The answer is that love and hate are both born from attachment.

See, for almost every experience my brother had where he felt alienated and different, I had one where I felt accepted or celebrated. Or maybe even just O.K. with being different.

I came second. By the time I was born, my parents had been separated for a year. They were divorced when I was two, but my dad never lived with me. So, his absence wasn’t an absence to me, it was my norm. Thus, when dad ripped himself from our lives, it was only devastating to one of us.

Then came all our moves. Within my first sixteen years of life I lived in eight homes. I got used to change, and loved switching schools or classes. It gave me the chance to reinvent myself and make new friends. Jesse, however, was a bit of a pariah. Not by choice, of course, but by social design. He was short, chubby, and an easy target. I was short, chubby, and an easy target, but apparently the world thought that was more acceptable in a girl. I got bullied less and made more friends. So, when people didn’t allow either of us in to their lives or picked on us because we looked a little different, it was only really devastating to one of us. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father.

Soon, my brother started attempting suicide. He was institutionalized and given “help.” Here, at these bleak homes for ‘troubled youth,’ he learned to believe he was even more different than he could have imagined. That now, with a triple diagnosis of “mental illness,” he’d never really escape. This was probably the worst time of Jesse’s life. My dad never visited him; Mom and I were the only ones that seemed to care. And so, while I was in middle school, I visited mental institutions and wrote him letters, begging him to stay here with us. He would keep one of those notes in his wallet for years. Through all of this I learned how dark people can feel. But more importantly, I learned how good it felt to give people reprieve from their darkness. These failed suicide attempts were devastating for him, and of course, extremely devastating to me. But I had my studies to throw myself in to and excel at and friendships to seek asylum in. Thus, it was really only life-damaging for one of us. Especially since Jesse had already been rejected by our father and peers.

When my brother left high school after being told he didn’t fit in to the mold they provided, he eventually found exercise and drugs. He grew fit and powerful, more toxic. He had grown sick of being told by society how different he was, and with his newfound strength his previous shame was gone; now his emotions had morphed in to anger. In turn, he became extremely violent towards Mom and me. We were his scapegoats. There were tires slashed, holes punched in the walls, swift kicks to our guts (literal and figurative), obscenities screamed, and so much more. It was Hell.

Mom, left with little other options, called the police on him several times. When he was released, Jesse slept in an old car he bought from Craig’s List, other times at friend’s houses. But he wheedled his way back home each time, as many abusers do. Then Mom would eventually kick him out again. Within this cycle he somehow found his way in to the army twice, despite a juvenile record of domestic violence.

Mom and I reveled in our freedom from him whenever he was out. Without him home we were able to focus on our personal and professional endeavors. I was sailing through college with a 3.9, was an officer in my sorority, and had a great job working for Arnold Schwarzenegger right out of high school. For every hurdle Jesse had collided with, I was jumping over two at a time. And when he was eventually kicked out of the military a second time for erratic behavior, he came home to find me even more successful. Which made him that much angrier. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father, our peers, the school district, mental health professionals, and now the military.

He brandished his isolation like a sword, swinging it at anyone he saw as a threat, which eventually became everyone. Girlfriends, strangers, it didn’t matter. However, he swung most often at home. Jesse reached out to my dad a few times at this point, but Dad was dealing with his own demons. So, while my brother’s identifying parent was slipping deeper in to a depressive, drunken state far from us, seeing us less than he ever had before, Mom and I grew closer. She and I became best friends. We didn’t speak of our heartache much, because I’m not sure we ever had a grasp on what ‘it’ was, but our bond was deep and inexplicable. We knew we needed each other to survive the toxicity in our lives.Which made Jesse hate us even more.

Thus, two weeks after I finished college, Jesse killed Mom. It had been a long time coming; there were aerosol cans sprayed at lighters, knives thrown in to walls, online dating and email accounts hacked and spoiled. And despite my world being rocked, I survived. Because I had been shown in life that bad things happen. A lot. However, they always stop. And there’s always love on the other side. Or on the underside. Or somewhere; it can always be found somewhere. In the encouraging words of a teacher who didn’t know why I was at school as much as possible, but still let me have my safe place. In the stalwart support system of a sorority. In the home of a best friend whose parents may not have known exactly what was going on, yet still had an open door policy. In believing in someone even when they don’t. In my mom’s encouraging words and resiliency. Where there is hope extended, wherever connections are made, love can be found. That’s the answer to what saved me from a life of hatred and bitterness: hope in the form of attachment & love.

So, remember that next time you see someone who may seem different, struggling, isolated, or even angry. A little love can go a very long way, especially for those who haven’t received much. In some cases it could be the difference between a life of love and a life of hatred.

Thank you to everyone who helped me see the love when it may have been difficult to do so on my own.

If you believe you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please read the resources on the National Domestic Violence Hotline and consider reporting the abuse to the authorities.