This House of Love

To Galway, With Love

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“To Galway, with Love”as seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

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

~Author Unknown


It’s no surprise that when Mom died, I was left in a state of limbo. She and I had been as close as a mother and daughter could be. I called her my best friend, and I meant it in every sense of the term. She and I loved one another unconditionally and learned a great deal from each other. She was my “partner-in-crime.” When she wanted to go to Tommy’s for some chili cheeseburgers at 3:00 in the morning, I eagerly joined her. When she sold her self-published Algebra II exercise book at a local math convention, I jumped at the chance to spend the weekend in Palm Springs with her peddling her creation. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was ours, and it was sowed in love.
After she died, I not only lost my best friend, but I was also left with an overwhelming sense of abandonment. One moment, Mom was here, and the next she was gone. Prior to losing her, all I had ever known was my small, tight-knit family and home in Los Angeles. But now, everywhere I turned, it was glaringly obvious that a large portion of that equation was missing and would be forever. The small blessing was that I had stayed home while attending university and got those extra years to connect with Mom. We had done a little traveling around our home state of California for her various business endeavors. I experienced more adult things with her during those years than ever before. We took a girls’ cruise to Mexico, attended my sorority events, worked at the same school together, and gallivanted around Palm Springs several times.
As an Israeli immigrant who arrived in America in the late 1950s, Mom spent the next few years traveling across the country with her family in search of permanent residence. It was this perpetual movement that she had experienced as a child that made Mom avoid traveling very far, and specifically flying. This is why we never made it farther than our cruise down the coast to Ensenada or Gilroy, California, the proud Garlic Capital of the World (coincidentally, also Mom’s favorite food). We took these small trips, bonded over our shared experiences, and made the most of our little adventures. And then, just like that, I was left with her house, her affairs to get in order, bills, a funeral to plan and a cloying feeling of loneliness.
Even so, a few months after her death, things began to settle slightly. With the funeral over and her finances put in order, my immediate responsibilities were dwindling. I noticed that having a to-do list helped divert my attention, even amidst my grief. But what was I supposed to do once I had checked everything off and was left only with my brand-new diploma and a heart so heavy it felt made of lead? I tried to fill my newly empty schedule with familiarity in order to find some semblance of normalcy. I cooked some of Mom’s favorite dishes, but none of them ever tasted the way she made them. I watched our favorite movies, but my solo laughter bounced off the walls of our now much emptier house, and my chuckles often turned into tears. I was stuck in a rut, to say the least.
It was at this low, and on a particularly dreary suburban morning, that I remember realizing I had to make a change. I had been watching some talk show to pass the night hours because sleep had not been coming easily. In this particular moment, I was becoming far too emotionally invested in a woman’s quest to find the paternity of her son when a commercial came on. It was advertising travel within the state of California. I smiled as the camera panned over a familiar backdrop of either Arrowhead or Mammoth, where Mom and I had spent time playing in the snow together. A warm, silly smile spread across my face. But, as quickly as the ad had started, it began to close, and the warmth of my memories rapidly cooled. Then the whiteness of the snow on the screen faded altogether, and a black veil closed around a simple phrase that appeared and read: Go find yourself.
It was in that very moment, in that simple phrase, in those three little words, that I felt a spark. It ignited in me a little glimmer of hope. I found myself repeating the sentence in my head. Go find yourself. In that painful, debilitating time, these words sounded like a message of permission or release. I found myself reflecting, Mom wouldn’t want me to be moping. She wouldn’t want me to keep trying to find her by reliving her life. She would want me to find myself and my own path. So, what does any self-respecting, newly graduated college student do when she feels lost and needs to do some soul searching? She goes to Europe, of course.
Only a few hours later, I had booked a trip to Ireland so I could spend St. Patrick’s Day in the rowdy streets of Dublin. I had stumbled upon an affordable tour for college students offered by a company both Mom and I had formerly worked for. I would be spending two and a half days in Galway and four days in Dublin. This would only be the second flight of my life, and I tried not to be nervous. There was nothing I could or wanted to do about my excitement, though.
A few weeks later, I found myself in the most beautiful place on earth. The rolling, vividly green hills welcomed me warmly from the window of the airplane. The moment I stepped off the massive vehicle, a brisk air hit me. It was cooling and calming and had just the right amount of wind to be exhilarating. I could tell almost instantly that this trip, and any travel I would take here on out, would be defining. I knew I had made the right decision to come.
Over the next several days, we would traipse our way through the countryside, seeing flashes of quaint towns through the windows of our tour bus. We stopped at many, tossing a pint back at quintessential Irish pubs, and shopping for authentic Irish products at the small markets. It was liberating to be wandering around in a new place, and also very eye-opening. I learned a great deal about myself in this foreign environment.

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

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


~A.B. Chesler

The Bend and Snap

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Every one has a modus operandi, a way they conduct themselves.

The more adulting I’m forced to do, the more I realize I tend to employ what I (or Elle from Legally Blonde 2 may call) ‘The Bend and Snap.’ And the more I think about it, I recognize many of my friends who do the same thing.

Imagine a bow and arrow. The more resistance you apply to the string, the more tension it will absorb. And, finally, when it can no longer harness anymore potential energy, it lets one of its arrows rip. Which can be dangerous, especially if you’ve been aided and abetted by your hormones, wine, or a girlfriend.

I do this a lot. I’ll allow the issues to pile on to my shoulders, or I’ll take on more than I can handle, until I break under the pressure. If we’re being completely honest, this is modern adulthood, plain and simple. Going and going, until you just can’t go anymore. 

I have no magic solution for this overexertion, except knowing your limit. And if you feel your bow being pulled too tautly, give yourself some slack. 

One thing that helps me control the cycle of give and “break” are trips to the gym. The workout helps me clear my mind and focus on replenishing my energy. But everyone is different; the important thing is knowing what refills *your* soul. Whether your “me time” consists of reading a book, going to the spa, or just vegging on the couch with a beer and a movie, make some time for yourself. We all need a little reminder to be kind, especially to ourselves. 

Freckles & Perspective

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She hunches over, furiously scribbling on the paper taped to the floor. It is there to catch excess paint from the ceiling, but the men have packed up for the day, and I see no harm in decorating the barely marred surface. 

“Why not draw on the floor?” I had proposed when her tiny body got antsy after dinner and before bath.

I’m not sure any idea has ever sounded better. “I’m going to draw Daddy!” She proclaimed proudly. “He’s one hundred handsome,” Her voice tapers as she doodles and day dreams about the first man to steal her heart. 

Moments pass, and I peer over her shoulder to see her work. Daddy’s rectangular body isn’t accurate, but it sure is adorable. 

“Wow, great job,” I encourage her. 

She smiles, “Thanks. Oh! I almost forgot.” The cap of the pink marker raps against her lips as she ponders aloud, “Does Daddy have freckles?”

“A couple, sure, but not too many,” I reply.

Chock full of gumption, she retorts, “Well, this is my drawing and I like making freckles. So, he’s gonna have a lot.”

Her arm works quickly as her marker dots the paper, and I cannot help but promote her artistic spirit, “There’s no arguing with that logic.”

“Don’t worry,” she adds, “I won’t give him as many freckles as you. You’ve got one million freckles.”

“True,” I once again agree.

“But, Savta Dasi (the Hebrew word for grandmother combined with my mom’s nickname) had INFINITY freckles. More freckles than anyone on the planet!” I watch her tiny face brighten as her reflections revive my mother’s memory. A silly grin spreads across my face. 

In the midst of my grief, I have found my greatest sadness over memories Mom and I never got to make. I suppose that’s the biggest pain in all grief: time lost.
But, then life has this beautiful way of reminding you (even in conversations about freckles) that your ultimate merit is not found in how long you live, but how long your memory persists. For Mom will be gone eleven years this September, and my daughter will be five in June. 

It is moments like these that surely define life.

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A Simplistic Holiday Survival Guide

I have one rule, and one rule only: know your financial, scheduling, emotional and mental limits, and try your very best not to push past them. That’s it. 

May you have the happiest (and most rejuvenating) of holidays, Blog Family! 🤷🏻‍♀️🥂💓

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 life, 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






Fiction Friday: Interview with J.M. Ames from A Haunting of Words

As much as writing has been a large portion of my life since as early as I can remember, the non-fiction genre is a realm I only entered in my mid-twenties. Fiction has always possessed a large portion of my heart. So, today I begin what will be an irregular series I’m (fittingly) calling, Fiction Friday.
“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” – Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
I’m starting by interviewing J.M. Ames, a fellow Southern California based author who was featured in the thrilling anthology, A Haunting of Words. AHOW (as the collection is endearingly called by the related contributing writers’ group, Fiction Writing) contains thirty stories that have varied genres, with one thing in common: epic haunting. AHOW is the third installment in the Of Words series, and the second that J.M. Ames‘s work has appeared in.

Portrait of J.M. Ames by jEROME aNIMATIONS

Amy: Hi, J.M. Thanks for taking the time to talk with my readers and me. Let’s just dive right in. Tell us about your story that appears in AHOW, and what drove you to write it.

J.M.: “Only the Dead Go Free” is about Wendy Sigler and her teenage daughter Fiona, fleeing Wendy’s abusive boyfriend Earl into an abandoned, family-owned cabin in the woods. What she discovers residing there ends up being far worse than what they are fleeing.

I’ve had an idea for a ghost story rolling around in my head for a while now. Somewhat different than this one, but similar elements such as the cabin in the woods, 1970s era, the MC named Wendy and many of her traits, and more I won’t get into (spoilers). Brian Paone and I often talk about music, and discuss his genre of choice – Rock Fiction – which is stories based on a particular song or album. I had played around with that a bit, but hadn’t made a serious effort. I knew Brian sang for numerous bands, and that one of them – Transpose– was more my style of music. I searched through their catalog, and found “Only the Dead Go Free”. After listening to it several times, and reading the lyrics, the story just formed in my head. While the setting and theme are pulled from my other story, many of the scenes are based on the lyrics of the song. The lyrics also tie in heavily with the theme I already had in mind. It was a perfect fit. I just hope the story lived up to the onlydeadsong.

Amy: What do you hope readers will gain from “Only the Dead Go Free?”

J.M.: Aside from feeling gutted by the story, there is an underlying theme – one I do not beat the readers over head with. Regret. Wendy made a lot of mistakes in her life, and in the end those mistakes caused serious damage to her only daughter. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes can have dire consequences not only to ourselves, but to those we love. If Wendy had put more thought into her actions and not been so motivated by her id, things would have likely not been so tragic for her.

Amy: What other stories did you enjoy the most in AHOW, and why?

J.M.: I have to be honest, I’ve only read the first nine stories to completion, and am partly through the tenth. “Anesthetize” by Brian Paone was good, left me with a sickening feeling in my gut, and I actually needed to go for a walk after. “Rowdy” by Dr. Wendy Vogel hit home in a couple of ways – the subject matter is the same as my A Journey of Words story, “The Last Ride”, and we have very recently experienced it again in our home. Left a lump in my throat. “If It’s Not Okay, It’s Not the End” by Travis West is a wild adventure across the country, features a musical hero of mine, and was a poignant love story at it’s heart that left me both sad and happy. D.L. Smith-Lee‘s “Knock, Knock” has a very much old-school, Rod Serling era Twilight Zone feel to it, and I love those shows. “Gunpowder & Wool” really pulled me into the scenes. Kari Holloway‘s wording created strong imagery in my mind so that it played out like a movie. So far, I am really liking Laurie Gardiner‘s “Thief,” but I’ve not finished it yet.AHOW

Amy: I am so looking forward to finishing the stories myself, although at the moment a clear favorite of mine would be the very compelling “Widower’s Choice” by Virginia Carraway Stark.  On a related note, I notice that, although you write across all genres, the bulk of your work remains to be in short story format. Can you share about any full-length, solo projects you may be working on?

I originally starting writing to get an epic adventure I’ve been researching and designing in my head for almost 20 years out. The plan was to do a few shorts to sharpen my skills before diving in. I’ve learned that I have quite a bit yet to learn, so the shorts have kind of taken over. That being said, I am not writing any new stories now, just getting out the ones I already have planned, starting with shorts and working my way up. Of the non-flash, non-shorts I have in queue, in order of length:

Novellette/Novella sized:

Phil: This one is an oddball, a challenge given to me by a childhood friend – also the very first piece I tried to write seriously. Melissa Brown runs a struggling beauty salon in Cambria, California. A chance encounter with a strange man and his gift of what appears to be an ordinary houseplant will change the fate of Melissa, and all those who work with her. Letters: A man in the 1980’s purchases an antique file cabinet at an estate sale of a recently deceased, elderly German man. The World War II era letters he finds inside detail a twisted tale of love and war, betrayal and refuge. Novel: Ursa Major. Takes place in Southern California, from the early 1980s through 2020s. While coping with the recent mysterious deaths of multiple childhood friends, a middle-aged man begins exploring his past, only to uncover it may be much darker and unearthly than he ever imagined. Most scenes in Huntington Beach, Big Bear, and Los Angeles.

5 Novel Series: Destiny Reborn: Set in a sparsely-populated, Earth-like world, one with some stark differences. A group of friends uncover something that appears to challenge all that is known about their world, and set off on a quest to uncover the true meaning of it. They get that answer after traversing the entire continent at the end of Book One, only to discover another major piece of the puzzle, which sends them to another continent. This goes on through five continents, until all five of the pieces are revealed, and the planet’s true past is as well. Each part of the puzzle resides on a different continent and in a different book.

Fill in the blank (with as much as you’d like): when I’m not writing, I’m: most likely working my day job, something which usually takes up over 80 hours a week of my time. What little time I have left outside of that I try to spend with my kids. I don’t get to do that nearly enough. Even if it is something simple like a board game, a walk around the block with the dogs, a hike in any of the nearby nature reserves, a day at the beach, or a day at one of the local theme parks.

Amy: In your interview with Brian Paone, you said to be a great writer one should read. When you actually find time to read, what author’s works or specific books do you find having the most impact on your own writing style?

J.M.:  In terms of voice, probably Stephen King. His stories tend to have a personal feel, as if someone were there with you, telling you verbally. While I don’t consciously try to imitate that, I can definitely see it when revising my work. It makes sense since he is probably the author I’ve read the most of. King tends to not have a lot of plot twists, or inter-connected details though, and that is something I try to do. Hard to tell where I pull that from, exactly, but I have read a lot of GRR Martin and Michael Crichton, so perhaps from them. I generally like to surprise the reader, as well as convey a strong emotion and/or message. I’ve read most of Shakespeare’s and Poe’s works, am a huge fan of Jean Auel, JRR Tolkien and H.G. Wells. I think it’s safe to say I have many influences.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Amy: And what about the books from your childhood? Name a single favorite book from that originally fortified your desire to write.

J.M.: Wow, just one book, eh? The first epic tale I read at the age of 8 – “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien. That carried me away, and my like for reading grew into a passion with it. It is then I realized the power words have to create new worlds, and I knew this was something I wanted to do. I have to give an Honorable Mention to the relatively unknown “Beautiful Joe’s Paradise” by Marshall Saunders, also read around the same age and inspired me almost as much.

Amy: Thank you! Before we end, what would you like readers and followers to look out for in the near future from J.M. Ames?

J.M.: There are four more stories I am hoping to publish this year:

The Snow Bride – Ajir stops by the desolate Tsas Ber Tavern after a long mining contract to satisfy his appetites for food, wine, and women, and ends up giving back more than he took.

Blind – After losing the love of your life and therefore yourself, can you ever be found again?

Not Yet Dark – When you believe your entire culture is being destroyed by another, what would you do to fight back?

Fourteen Years – Nonfiction Biography, co-authored with my best friend since we were 4. After a long night of celebrating, a single car accident leaves one man dead and his friend maimed for life – physically, mentally, emotionally, legally, and socially. This is about his fourteen-year recover, and all the challenges that came with it.

Amy: Thanks again for your time, J.M., and best of luck! We look forward to reading more from you!

J. M. Ames is a multi-genre author native to Southern California. He has multiple publications dating back to 2016. When not working his day job or enjoying his fatherly adventures, he writes short stories and novels, including an upcoming series. Feel free to contact him at or visit for more information and links.


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#BlogHer17 – More Than Just a Recap

As the thick layer of jet lag dissipates, I’ve finally set out to create a BlogHer17 recap. But as I prep my entry, I begin reflecting on my experience. What do I write about?

I think about which panels were most useful, meals the tastiest, events the most ‘worth it.’ I skim through photos and favorite the best or most intriguing. I mentally critique the product giveaways. And just as I began to write, I stop.

I realize in that moment, everything I had considered was meaningless. I saw that those trivial details, like what goodies we came home with, or what companies we met, were so very secondary to all the invaluable takeaways offered.

Like, my amazing group of new friends. The absolute best thing about BlogHer17 was the attendees. Im inclined to believe I was in the company of the world’s coolest SuperWomen all weekend long. I was blessed to create and reinforce friendships that I really believe will last a lifetime. To top it off, each friend I spent time with was so unique. This served as a beautiful reminder of the individuality that hides behind each blog URL or social media account.

Or the unrivaled family memories we made. In terms of my childhood, family vacations were something I heard about from my friends once school resumed in the Fall. So, planning this cross-country trip for four was well outside of my comfort zone. But in the end, we tackled nearly every theme park and mastered the lazy river – over and over again. And what began as a trip to BlogHer17 slowly became a test of familial patience, love, and togetherness. And I think, on a whole, we really learned to love and accept a great deal about each other in the process. It was family bonding done right.

I also arrive home with a newfound vigor and purpose. I’ve always hoped that by sharing my trials, I will help someone get through their own challenges. But, writing is scary because when hitting ‘Publish,’ our thoughts shoot out into the world at breakneck speed, and are instantly subjected to criticism. This makes it hard to not waver.


But BlogHer17 offered all of its attendees something infinitely special. No matter our backgrounds, genders, ages, or ethnicities, we were all given a cohesive, open arena in which we were accepted and supported.

And as I stood on the VOTY stage, surrounded by the other Honorees, I witnessed unimaginable beauty. I watched our categorical details melt away and became inconsequential. The content of our pieces did, too. What became most important in each attendee was the bravery and motivation they possessed. Their willingness to share intimate details of their lives in hopes of helping, of spreading the word, of catalyzing change. It was rejuvenating and inspiring.

Isn’t that always the case? The things we can’t see or assign a value to, those are what matter most. 


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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?!


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


Photo courtesy of

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)!


       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!

balloon animaldirections

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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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!!


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


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!









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.


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


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.


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


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!