This House of Love

Confessions of a Good [Enough] Mom


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Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Attending BlogHer16

About five days before BlogHer16, I stumbled onto a post for the convention for the first time. I know, I’m not sure where I was living before that (perhaps under a rock?), but it was going to be on my home turf in just over 120 hours, and I knew in my heart I had to get myself there.

I did the best I could to prepare. I read an article or two, but with the very little time I had all I could do was print a rushed business card at a local office supply store and pray for the best.

Fast forward a year, and considering everything I know now (based on my attendance as well as my prep for BlogHer17), I’ve created a list of:

Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Attending BlogHer16.

1) The package you present yourself in is much less important than the contents inside. Let me explain: those several days I had to “prep” myself (i.e. get my nails done, shop for a cute outfit or two), I spent completely frantic. I thought – gosh, if I don’t seem up on the fashion trends, will I be less desirable to the companies looking for collaborations? Will they be uninterested if they see the roots on my scalp and the milk stains through my shirt?

IMG_8487What I found, was simply this: it’s easy to judge a book by its cover, but most people attending BlogHer are interested in bettering themselves and learning from others. It’s a collaboration of minds, so many of them great! And sure, it’s nice to primp and prep, to style yourself & take care, but your content (pun intended) is so much more important.

2) Sometimes things don’t align perfectly, and that shouldn’t keep you from having the best time possible. Because I was local, and my attendance at BlogHer16 was so last minute, I had no  way of lining up childcare for my little guy (who was 6 months at the time). He had just had his immunizations, but I hadn’t yet taken him to major events. So, I was reticent to hage him tag along, and even reconsidered my attendance because I’d have to drag him with me.

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In the end, I rallied, packed a massive diaper bag, and braved the LA traffic at rush hour to attend. He was perfect. The Expo was a lot of fun for both of us – there were so many interactive booths for children and adults alike – we were in Heaven. I thought he would cramp my style, but I ended up probably making even more connections because of his cute, little face. The only time things got difficult was when I  had to breastfeed during a panel, but still – no more difficult than breastfeeding in public ever is.

I understand the logistics and anxieties that come with travel and attendance. I’ve spent hours of planning this year to attend BlogHer17 in Orlando with my family of four (I know, I’m crazy). It’s hard not to have a great deal of expectations, but the hurdles that present themselves during travel and conventions are just that – meant to be leapt over. 😉

3) Put yourself out there. The only way to get the most from this convention is to be yourself. Show everyone who you are, what you represent, what matters most to you, and people will notice. That’s what all of us bloggers have come here for anyway – to make connections and be inspired by our peers. Be that inspiring you that drives you to blog, and let us see it, too!

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Also, I mean it literally – put yourself out there. There are TONS of raffles, contests, and challenges. Join as many as possible. I think I won two out of four I entered – imagine if I had entered ALL of the ones I wanted to!

Another thing – put yourself out there on social media, if you feel so inclined. Sometimes, businesses are watching. Other times, attendees are. Most of us are because we are just as nervous or excited as you. Let us know so we’re not alone! You’ll never know – you may make a good friend to stroll the halls with!

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Self-Publishing success Panel

…. Have so much fun everyone! And don’t forget to say hello 😉

 

 

 


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Balloon Animal BFFs

Our Florida trip is in t-minus three weeks and the nerves have already set in. This will be our first time flying with the kids, and Charlotte has been saying “I’m scared of heights” on repeat. I’ve tried to sweeten the deal time and time again: “But we’ll be landing and going to DisneyWorld!” “You won’t even notice you’re in the air!” or “C’mon, you’ll be able to watch movies the WHOLE time.” I’ve even offered her cool flight swag (a captain’s hat, an iPad, etc) to assuage her fears. Nothing has worked.

Until, that is, we watched Home and Family on Hallmark Channel – our new mother and daughter ritual – and saw Orly Shani‘s super fun balloon animal pillow project. She made the cutest snowmen, unicorn, and puppy dog! Charlotte’s eyes lit up and she shouted, “That’s it, Mommy! That’ll be my nap time pillow for the plane. I can cuddle it if I get scared! Can we make twoooo?” How could I refuse a family craft time that’s simple and super cheap?!

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To watch the full video from Home & Family click the link here, or keep reading for step-by-step instructions!

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Photo courtesy of littleinspiration.com

All you’ll need to make these super duper cuties is*:

– A pair of opaque tights or stockings

Pillow stuffing (as white and fluffy as possible!)

– *Optional supplies: needle and thread matching the tights you choose, as well as extra decoration if desired (see the video above or extra project ideas below for inspo on how to use them)!

        Directions:

       Simply slit the tights in two at the crotch (see video above).   Then start stuffing! When you want to create a bend in the material, simply tie a knot. Or, to maximize neatness and eliminate floppiness, you can even sew a tight twist in place with thread that matches the hue of tights you’ve chosen to work with. Then continue stuffing! For easier manipulation, you may follow the instructions for creating a “dog” below. I’m always  confused watching the balloon artists anyway!

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Simple step-by-step instructions to folding a dog balloon to model your pillow

Do not stuff the pillow until you manipulate each step of folding. If you fold after stuffing, you may not have enough room to manipulate the tights into the shape you prefer.

After creating your base animal, it’s time to get creative! To add the extra details, simply purchase things like these awesome unicorn horns or “hair” tassels!

I can’t wait to post photos of how our own pillow pets turn out – make sure you’re following my Instagram to see! Also, follow my blog for more DIY inspo and family fun!


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An Ode to Trader Joe’s Watermelon-Cucumber Juice

I’m a foodie to the nth degree, and when I find a new product I fall in love with – especially from super affordable Trader Joe’s – I want to shout it from the rooftops!

Instead, to avoid my neighbors trying to commit me, I hit up a Facebook group made for uber loyal TJ’s Moms like me. I posted about the juice that I had found and spontaneously mixed with some rosé on a hard day of Momming. The response was tremendous! People from all over the country chimed in about their favorite ways to use this insanely delicious nectar.

So, I drew some inspiration from my fellow TJ fanatics. I am dedicating a post to the three most delicious Watermelon Cucumber juice recipes I could come up with based on the group members’ awesome ideas. We’ve got a delicious drink, a fresh appetizer (yes, an app!), and a perfect summer-time dessert. Thanks again for the inspiration, ladies, and be sure to follow along for more!

 

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Super Summer Spritzer  – The perfect drink to serve at a summer BBQ!

  • 2 cups chardonnay of your choice
  • 2 cups of rose of your choice
  • 2 cups TJ’s Watermelon Cucumber Juice*
  • 1 cup lime flavored sparkling water
  • juice yielded from half a lime
  • chopped watermelon
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries

Mix non-carbonated liquid ingredients well then stir in sparkling water. Layer fruit and ice in glasses prepared to serve, then pour in liquid. Do not muddle. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*If you prefer a sweeter drink, add more juice! Also, if you prefer different wines, a prosecco would work lovely. Moscato (or those that are inherently sweeter) may make the drink too sweet… unless you don’t believe in such a thing!

 

 

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Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Summer Gazpacho – The perfect sweet, savory, and spicy kickstart to any meal!

Topped with a delicious basil oil:

  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Blend ingredients and set aside – don’t forget! This stuff makes the dish!

Gazpacho Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds coarsely chopped cored tomatoes
  • 1 pound coarsely chopped seedless watermelon
  • 3 cups large-dice crustless day-old sourdough
  • 1 1/2 cup TJ’s Watermelon & Cucumber juice
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon TJ’s Chili Lime Seasoning

Mix ingredients and allow them to sit for about fifteen minutes. Then, toss them in a blender incrementally until desired consistency. Top with basil oil. Serve cold!*

*Recommended serving: rim bowl with Trader Joe’s chili lime seasoning to ensure everyone will be licking their bowls clean!

 

 

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Homemade Watermelon Jell-O – Incredibly simple, yet very elegant*

  • 1 3/4 cups Watermelon Cucumber Juice, divided into two containers (1/4 cup and 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup boiled water
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • Chunks of diced watermelon (optional)

*Serving suggestion includes basil leaves and whipped cream

(“Blooming” directions taken from Detoxinista.com)

To begin, you’ll want to “bloom” the gelatin in a bit of cool or room-temperature fruit juice, to ensure a smooth and even end result. In a medium mixing bowl, sprinkle the tablespoon of gelatin over 1/4 cup of the fruit juice and whisk well until the mixture starts to thicken.

Once the mixture is nice and thick, pour the 1/4 cup of hot (just boiled) water over it, and whisk well to dissolve evenly. When the mixture is smooth, add in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of fruit juice, and mix well to combine.

Pour the mixture into small, single serving containers and place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours. Top with two basil leaves and whipped cream, serve to the most delighted eaters ever!


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Go with the Flow

I am an extremely anxious person by nature. I always have been. When I became a wife my anxiety doubled, and the day I became a Mom I think it must have quintupled. That first glimpse I took of my infant daughter I instantly fell in love, and then only moments later I began to worry – would she sleep? Would she latch? Would we have a secure attachment? I read article upon article that told me what my child may be like and how I could work with each scenario. But as it turned out, she did latch and she also slept, and we were madly in love with each other from the getgo (with some occasional setbacks here and there on all accounts).

Then came teething – would we both survive the pain and infinite outbursts? My friends warned me that it would be Hell on Earth. But, here we are – still living to tell about it. Oh, and let’s not forget sleep training. It was a shit show not because of anything pertaining to my daughter or her schedule, but rather because I couldn’t sleep in the days approaching this first attempt at the modified CIO method her pediatrician had supplied me with.  My anxiety was so high; I had been scared out of my mind each time one of my parent friends shared their own horrific experiences. And the millions of articles about how CIO is basically neglect didn’t help either. But soon enough, Charlotte was “trained” (after only two nights) and my worry was all for naught.

Then came time to wean. I was completely beaten down by all the bad experiences I had been warned of over time – the stories of mastitis and women still breastfeeding their children at the age of four because weaning had never been too successful. And then one day, when Charlotte was eleven and a half months old, she just stopped breastfeeding. She wasn’t interested any longer, so she quit cold turkey, and my months of anxiety had once again been a total waste.

And so it went with her waves of picky eating, welcoming her brother home from the hospital, starting school, getting a big girl bed, etc. With each passing milestone, I slowly learned that my rituals of anxiety surrounding them were the absolute worst thing about  them all. Each time I had to guide Charlotte through one of these huge accomplishments, I noticed that if I simply allowed things to happen naturally with little intervention on my part, things went a hell of a lot smoother. I’m not saying that it was all perfect, or even enjoyable. What I’m saying is – I’ve learned to trust my own maternal instinct and the fact that I just know my kid. Screw everyone else’s experiences. They aren’t parenting my daughter.

So when C turned two and people started asking me about potty training, I had no answer. I’d know when she told me she was ready. Months went by, if I asked her if she wanted to use the potty, the answer was always a resounding, “No!” And so, I assumed I’d get her out of diapers when the little guy entered the world, and I stopped worrying. Soon enough baby brother arrived, diaper box stacks seemed to be reaching new heights in both children’s bedroom, and I canceled my Amazon size 6 diaper subscription preemptively. I thought, “hey! little guy is in a diaper, big sis won’t want to be in one, too.” I was wrong. But, I didn’t worry.

Then she started school. I figured she’d watch her friends use the potty and want to do the same. Nope. I had to renew my Amazon subscription, and she kept refusing the potty she had received for the holidays four months prior. The school year finished (C had only started attending in late April), and summer session started. I ordered pull-ups instead of diapers this time. Maybe she’d want to be potty trained? My husband was asking non-stop when we’d try to train her. Friends were asking. Family was asking. The pressure was on. But, still – I stood fast and waited until I could sense Charlotte’s readiness.

The day after summer session ended, knowing we had two weeks off before school commenced again, I told her she was going to learn how to pee and poop on the potty.  And she said, “OK!” And that was that. I was met with least resistance because she was apparently ready. It wasn’t at three years and three months, this magical deadline people told me she’d hit. And it wasn’t at two and a half, the age people had informed me was “average.”

So, as I started to prep for potty training, I naturally educated myself on some suggested techniques. In the literature I found, I was warned not to use food as a reward if and when she pooped and peed on the potty. I was told to use stickers. I told C she would get a sticker if she used her toilet. She told me, “I don’t like stickers. They rip too easily. I want M ‘n’ M’s.” Ok, fuck stickers then, I said (I mean, not out loud, of course – I wouldn’t want her saying the F*** word… again). M ‘n’ M’s it is.

I also read that I should supply her with her own cute, little toilet. In the end, she was almost fearful of pooping on Minnie’s face (I don’t blame her). After that, we chose a kid’s seat that attached to ours, so she could feel like she was actually learning to use the restroom, and not vegging out in front of the TV and pooping Idiocracy style.

Amidst all the rest of the inane advice, I read I was to strip my daughter naked for three days and make her earn her underwear. I was informed I should not leave the house at all in those three days. I was told to never ask if she had to go, but rather make her attempt to use the toilet every two hours. I was told to reward her on each marked two hour attempt, but never in between (unless she actually goes potty). I was told it would be messy, hard, and likely months would go by until she defecated on the potty.

Amidst training, her only accident occurred on Day #1. But, she also peed in the proper place an infinite amount of times. She was SO proud of herself. We went out to dinner the night of Day #2. I didn’t put her in a pull-up, and she used the restaurant restroom. I stopped rewarding her with M ‘n’ M’s on Day #3, and she stopped reminding me she deserved them. The thrill of being potty trained was enough for her. I listened to her and she listened to me. We collaborated on a very hard lesson.

Fast forward about a year and in retrospect, potty training wasn’t all that messy (a slightly urine-soaked couch never hurt anyone), nor was it painful. All because I said “fuck it” to the warnings, the cautionary tale-tellers, and the rules that have been designed to serve the “average” kid. We waited until we both felt it was the right time, and I trusted my instinct based on my child.

In the end it took her two and a half days to be fully potty trained, and only two weeks later we swapped her out of diapers at night. Since that final ditching of diapers, she has had three accidents total (when she’s just having too much fun to stop and pee ::side eye::). So, what’s my potty training advice/hack? Just listen to your child and go with the flow (pun intended)*.

*Results may vary because kids do, duh. 🙂


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Mermaid Merriment

My eldest will be celebrating her fourth birthday soon, and accordingly, she has been planning her party for a couple months (she’s so my daughter). We’ve been throwing around theme ideas for a while, but can never get farther than her current obsession: mermaids!

Thus, I’ve been spying adorable projects for Charlotte’s party like a hawk, leaving no blog unread and no DIY tutorial unwatched. And when I noticed Maria Provenzano‘s adorable Sand Castle Cake on Home and Family, I knew I had found the perfect centerpiece for my little mermaid princess’s shell-ebration! Not only is it gorgeous, but it’s full of delicious chocolate and coconut, too. Yum! Below are the instructions (as provided by Maria Provenzano), as well as a tutorial video as seen on Home and Family.

By the way, beyond the chocolate-y deliciousness of this cake, I now have a bigger budget for other party stuff – like this amazing Mermaid Tail or this gorgeous stand-in Photo Booth backdrop! We are in beach heaven over here!

SandCastle

Ingredients
  • Chocolate Cake; I used 2 8 inch rounds for this specific cake
  • 5 icecream cones with flat bottoms
  • Buttercream Icing:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter; room temperature
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 2-5- tablespoons whole milk; room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sand
  • 2 cups ground graham crackers
  • 2 cups coconut, toasted and finely ground
  • White Candy Coating Chocolate
  • Candy Seashell mold
Instructions
  1. Buttercream Icing:
  2. Beat the butter until it becomes light
  3. Add in the powdered sugar and slowly begin to mix together
  4. Add in the vanilla extract
  5. With the mixer running (stand mixer or hand mixer works) add in a couple tablespoons of room temperature milk; add more if the frosting is too thick; you are looking for it to be spreadable and smooth
  6. For the “sand”
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degree
  8. Place the coconut onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and spread it out so it is in an even layer
  9. Place in the oven for 5-10 minutes or until lightly toasted, and the color of sand you are looking for
  10. Allow to cool
  11. Place the graham crackers and the cooled toasted coconut into a food processor and process until it looks like sand!
  12. White Chocolate Seashells:
  13. Place the white candy coating chocolate in a bowl over a pot with simmering water, being sure the water isn’t touching the bowl
  14. Stir frequently until the chocolate has melted
  15. Pour the chocolate into the clean candy molds
  16. Tap on the counter to help the chocolate spread throughout the mold
  17. Place in the fridge to harden
  18. Once hardened, the chocolate can be removed from the mold
  19. For the Cake
  20. Place the cake on a cake stand
  21. Apply the “crumb coat” which is a single layer of icing to hold down any crumbs
  22. Place in the fridge for 15-30 minutes
  23. Take the cake out, and immediately apply another clean layer of icing, smoothing it out with an off-set spatula to make it look clean
  24. Use your hands to apply the “sand” around the sides of the cake
  25. Cover the ice-cream cones with frosting, and coat them with sand
  26. Place the ice-cream cones around the top of the cake
  27. Cover the top of the cake that is still showing frosting with the “sand”
  28. Place the white chocolate seashells around the cake as desired

Check out the video for full instructions and a step-by-step tutorial!

 


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The Best Gift to Give this Summer (I promise).

It’s the end of the school year and the summer holidays are approaching. You  know what that means, right? All the amazing Pinterest-y Moms will be at it full force. They’ve designed insane end-of-the-school-year presents like hand crafted paperweights made from real unicorn hairs. And that’s just so not me.

Im the one who loves to get creative, but really… I don’t have much time. So, this year – because my daughter’s teachers worked themselves into the ground with what sounded like a thousand three year olds all day every day, and put up with my neurotic antics all year long, I decided to encourage them to “‘Taco’ Load Off.” Yep, that’s right. As a way to celebrate the end of the school year, I am gifting my daughter’s preschool teacher a Taco Tuesday, complete with margaritas (alcohol optional).

The whole process took me one trip to Target and a few EBay purchases (because free shipping and buying in larger bulk, so I can make MANY of these awesome gifts over the summer!). Each gift cost me about $30 and did I mention it includes homemade taco seasoning?? Read below for the full list of items included (seasoning recipe, too), as well as links to score them!!

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Taco Tuesday in a Tin Basket

wire basket (or container of your choosing)

1 gift card ($15-20 towards a store that would have fresh items such as meat, lettuce, taco shells)

1 seasoning shaker – taco seasoning recipe/shopping list below

2 plastic margarita glasses

1 cilantro growing kit

2 ready made mini-bottles of margarita (includes tequila)

1 50 mL bottle of tequila (optional)

 

Taco Seasoning (Auntie Sam Style)

4 tablespoons cumin

4teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

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Wrapping this beauty up doesn’t have to be fancy – the important thing is that you’re giving someone tequila and tacos – how could you go wrong? I’d say a simple cellophane wrapper and a cute gift tag is all you need! A cute play on words like “Taco Load Off” or a phrase like “Taco Break!” will help tie everything together. Happy gifting(and summer)! Be sure to follow along for more summer fun, travel tips, recipes, and more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Fresh is Best

I recently found myself amidst a very stale routine. After spending the day doing various errands or going to classes with my son, I would pick up my daughter from school and allow her to plop onto the couch the second we got home. She would remain there for quite some time while I tended to her brother, cooked dinner, and waited for Daddy to get home. Of course, she’d take bathroom breaks and occasional toy breaks, but television had become her main source of entertainment.

Then, at the beginning of May, I ran through my daughter’s school papers and noticed that the monthly lessons would be devoted to learning about and growing plants. After her first day of garden-centric lessons, I watched her large eyes glow while she regaled me with what she had learned at school that day. She was physically within the confines of her car seat, but in her mind she was tending to a beautiful garden with her newly green thumb.

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So, instead of heading home to our big, old couch, we went straight to a local hardware store to buy some seeds and plants.  Charlotte picked out pots and apparatus galore – she was thinking big. I soon realized I’d have to hit up the internet for more kid-friendly gardening solutions than our tiny, local hardware store. On to Amazon and E-bay! Before I knew it, my pre-school aged daughter was planning dinners she’d make with the foods she wanted to grow. We went a little crazy, and decided we’d have to upgrade some of our plans. I ended up buying her (and I) early birthday presents: matching kitchen knives (okay, so NOT matching, but in her almost four year old mind, she’s got legit knives now: Mommy’s Knives // Kids’ Knives ). For anyone who has a little one that’s interested in cooking, these ^ kids’ knives are a MUST. #mommyisinheaven

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Since then, our new daily post-school routine has been to go outside and water. Then we harvest the freshest ingredients right off of the vine, and bring them inside to include them in our dinner. For now, we’re only working with homegrown herbs. But, soon enough, Charlotte will see the fruits of her labor (or mostly veggies, rather), and have tons of healthy, fresh foods to choose from every afternoon. Quite obviously, a much healthier habit than gluing her tush to the couch and her eyes to the TV.

With that said, the first recipe we’re sharing from our garden is a delicious, light take on Eggplant Parmesan. The tomatoes and basil were harvested from our backyard, but the organic eggplant and mozzarella were both sourced locally.

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Ingredients (serves 2)

1 eggplant (sliced into steaks around 1/4″ thick)

1 1/2 cups of grape tomatoes, sliced in quarters

1/2 white onion, thinly sliced

1 ball of high moisture mozzarella, thinly sliced

1/4 cup white wine

4 cloves of garlic, minced

White wine vinegar

Olive oil

1 sprig of lemon basil

Italian seasonings (either prepared mix, or dry oregano/thyme/basil/sage mixture)

Salt & Pepper

Directions

Mince garlic. Slice eggplant into steaks, toss in olive oil & white wine vinegar to coat. Add as much salt and pepper as you prefer, as well as half the garlic. Chop tomatoes and onions, toss in a bag with olive oil, white wine, dry oregano, second half of garlic, and salt/pepper. Allow both mixtures to marinade in the refrigerator (quickest meal prep ever)!

When you’re ready to bake, lay eggplant steaks in single layer on a roasting pan. Bake them in the oven at 450 for 25 minutes, then take them out and top them with the tomato/onion mixture and (one to) two slices of mozzarella cheese. Lower the oven temperature to 425 and make for twenty more minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly. To serve, place one steak on top of the other, top with basil leaves, and enjoy!

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Get in my Belly

I hate meal prep, and rarely do it, but last night found me an abundance of unused, sliced veggies. Thus, the most amazing, easiest, accidental meal prep ever:

 

1 organic zucchini (sliced into coins)

2 tbsps of bacon bits (or a couple strips cut up)

A handful of baby spinach (whole leaves)

 

Toss with olive oil, white whine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Finally, sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese and throw it in the oven for about 40 minutes (or less for less char) at 425. The whole plate has about 200 calories, and it’s as easy and painless as the recipe makes it seem. Not to mention I threw what I couldn’t finish into some TJ’s pizsa sauce so my veggie-phobic children wouldn’t know they were – gasp – eating something healthy. Enjoy!

 


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These Are the Days of our Lives (Spring Break Edition)

 

It’s Day #2 of Spring Break and we’re already a little stir crazy.

Charlotte found the afikomen at the seder yesterday (considering she was the only one of age to look) and had her winnings burning a hole in her pocket. This morning she begs me to drive sixty miles (to Carpinteria) so we could buy some bouncy balls. Gotta love four year-old logic. Instead, I offer her a trip to Toys ‘r’ Us. She blows through her money at the quarter machines. When all is said and done, I look at my clock, and it reads only 10:30 AM. At least two more hours until nap time. What now?

We arrive home right when the mailperson walks up with today’s haul. A few bills, and two large, rigid envelopes from PJ Library (a free service that offers monthly books to Jewish children) – one for Charlotte, one for Adam. I allow them to tear them open with no regard for their packaging. I want their love for literature to be as wild and unbridled as mine.

The moment the paper is off, I can see this book is one we will connect with. It is a funny, informative book about a Sesame Street vacation in Israel. I am not particularly religious, but I am connected to the culture that has enriched my family for generations. My mom was born in Israel, and came to the U.S. as a child. However, her twenties found her back and experiencing young adulthood there. I also visited it right after high school and fell in love with the tiny powerhouse of a country.

I am thrilled to share the book with Charlotte, educating her on the beautiful culture that is so different than America’s. But, I also enjoy linking it to our family customs and holidays (which are often different than the majority of America’s, too). But, as we read the pages, and she gasps and says, “Mommy! I want to float in the Dead Sea and wipe mud on me! I want to climb the Masada!” In this moment I feel even closer to her, and also my mother, who passed away nine and a half years ago.

I grab my photo album from my Birthright trip, one of only a handful of times that I’ve left my own little spot on the map. My daughter and I relive the cartoon moments from Grover’s travels, but this time it is in real life. I am in the photos, and she can picture herself there, too.

She then grabs her globe, and we point out the tiny spot on it that represents the rich country we just discussed. Yes, Charlotte – it has deserts, seas, mountains, and cities, all within a few miles. And yes, there are other countries to visit, too. And even states here in our own country that will expose us to new and different experiences. “Oh, Mommy, I want to go to ALL the countries!” Me too, Charlotte, me too.

We may not have actually traveled very far today, but our hearts have now seen and felt things that we never have before. We were reconnected with family members passed, and took an adventure halfway across the world. All because of a book.

I’ve always said a book is the cheapest vacation.

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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.