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! 🤷🏻♀️🥂💓
It’s been ten years since Mom died.
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.
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
“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” – Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
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 song.
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.
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:
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,
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 JMAmesAuthor@gmail.com or visit jm-ames.com for more information and links.
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
1 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 ready made mini-bottles of margarita (includes tequila)
1 50 mL bottle of tequila (optional)
Taco Seasoning (Auntie Sam Style)
4 tablespoons cumin
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!
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
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!
When I was pregnant with Charlotte someone in the Starbucks line imparted a piece of wisdom to me. This is a frequent occurrence during pregnancy – advice, words of wisdom, warnings, congratulations – strangers offer them all. Few are gems, but for some reason this woman’s words still echo through my mind to this day, four years later. Perhaps it was the fact that she was toting two little ones, her hair was askew, and her smile was both defeated and effervescent at the same time. It’s possible that I recognized a future soul sister in her. It could be that I was hungry for guidance and support. Whatever the reason, I listened. And even though I often forget what I’m saying mid-sentence, or even more frequently return from the grocery store with half the things I need and double the things I want, this phrase embedded itself in my brain. Presumably forever.
“The days are long, but the years are short,” she had said kindly yet frankly. I committed the line to memory as we continued to banter light-heartedly. As I mentioned, I will have had hundreds of run-ins with people by the end of both of my pregnancies. But, this one. This one clearly felt different.
Eventually, as those first months of sleep deprivation and hormonal rollercoaster rides melted away, and I dug myself out of the trench that is the transition from pregnancy to postpartum, life went on. At both a snail’s pace and break neck speed. My days often felt undeniably (and oddly) long AND short; I spent them mourning the loss of the family I grew up with, no matter how dysfunctional it may have been, while trying to balance the creation of a new one. I was happy and sad. And then I was pregnant again. Charlotte soon turned two. Adam arrived. My daughter started school. She was quickly out of diapers, and he was sitting up. The next thing I know my kids are three and a half and eight months, and my heart has octupled in size.
And within the proverbial blink of an eye, the tragic calendar count I have been conducting amidst all of life’s curveballs gets much closer to a decade than to any other convenient measure of time. Nine years to be exact. Nine years since Mom was killed. If you had asked me to write about my life that day in Starbucks four years ago, my reflection would have been much different. I was so fractured then. Despite having found love, buying a home, working steadily, and being pregnant, I was slogged down by sadness. I was in the deepest pit of grief still, attempting to crawl my way out. My stance was that the woman who had given me life, only to have hers selfishly taken away, was missing out on all these events that she had begun dreaming of the moment I was born. It felt so wrong to rejoice without her. So, as my life continued on an uptrend, as did the difficulty of moving on.
But now, as we approach this ninth “anniversary” of Mom’s death, it is clear to me that this extra time passed has helped to heal a good deal of my wounds, and that my frame of mind is evolving. It is true that some days I still spend a little sadder than others. I catch myself standing at the edge of the gaping hole that grief always leaves behind in its wake, teetering between the me that is present in all my current love and slipping back into the me that is rooted in my painful past. But what also remains true, and what I often remind myself of, is that I have lived nine whole years since Mom died. Within those nine years I met the love of my life. A stubborn, handsome, funny, incredibly loving, supportive, relentless, nutty man whom Mom would have loved. We moved a bunch of times, sold a home, bought one. We planned our dream wedding. We honeymooned. We made babies that we adore more than life itself. We live our lives every day, not loving every moment, but valuing each one. We have done all these things, and despite the sadness I felt amidst many of them, I often look back with so much fondness. These are the highlights of my life. They would have been the highlights of my mother’s as well. She would never want my happiest recollections to be so tainted.
Thus, if my grief, heartbreak and *parenthood* have taught me anything, it’s that every moment matters. So, as I begin this tenth year without my mom, I choose to reflect on that wise saying a nice lady in Starbucks once shared with me. “The days are long, but the years are short.” Why should I waste these precious minutes scarred and jaded, when they will so rapidly weave together to create the fabric of my whole lifetime? This annual commemoration (also conveniently always “celebrated” around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), I vow to try my best to be content in every beautiful, poop, tear, and laughter-filled moment I’m gifted with. Because before I know it, the days of my live will morph into years. And I’m planning on filling mine with more than enough happiness for both Mom and me.
I am so happy for all of my friends who are readying their little ones to go back to school full-time. Yay! Summer is over, and they’re off the hook (at least during the hours of 8 AM and 3 PM)… Aren’t they lucky?! Alas, not all of us have that luxury. I’ve got two more years until Charlotte enters kindergarten and until then, Momma School is back in session every other day (C goes to a local preschool every MWF).
With that said, I figured I would compile a list of the activities that we attempted this summer that we all fell in love with as a family. I’ll be sure to revisit some of these on those days that C will be hanging at home. Because we can’t watch movies all the time.
Each description includes instructions, supplies needed, cost, and time spent prepping vs. time spent playing. As a former teacher, I pride myself on being able to incorporate “disguised learning” in all of our fun. Thus, I also made sure to include in each description what skills are being honed by participants. Enjoy, and please let me know what you think!
I hope you enjoy these ideas! Please feel free to share your projects on Instagram and either use the hashtag “houseoflove” or tag me in the photo to let me know what you thought! Also, be sure to follow along for more activity ideas and much, much more!
When I first entered the blogging world, my goal was to simply create an online diary. I had felt so isolated during those first few months of motherhood; the majority of my days were spent with no social interaction beyond my infant daughter and a few groups on Facebook. But I had so much to share, so many feelings and thoughts about this new, amazing, terrifying adventure. So I started a blog. I had no plan for it. I just wanted a place to vent.
As time went on and I wrote more, my emotional load became much lighter. I realized that when I share my feelings, the thoughts that normally just circulate endlessly through my head are given a different place to be: online. Which is scary. Scary as shit, if you ask me. Putting your unabashed thoughts and feelings into the hands, hearts, and minds of others is terrifying. But, the beauty (and danger) of making your feelings public is the ability to receive feedback. And I will admit not everyone always understands what I do.
But then there are those people who reach out to me to say that knowing my struggle is helping them with their own. That knowing that they’re not alone changes everything. And that’s why I blog. To share my stories (whether serious or light-hearted, silly or sad) and hope they help someone. To read other people’s stories and know that I have a community. To learn and share, to love and understand. To be inspired…
So, with that said I’m taking my thirst for inspiration to the road (well, just a couple freeways actually) and am joining a slew of other wonderful BlogHers at #BlogHer16 ! I’ll be sharing the process on my Instagram (@house_of_love24), Twitter (@chesler_amy), and Snapchat (@thishouseoflove – wtf?! sooo many apps to keep up with!). In fact, you can even find me on the BlogHer16 app. I want to be inspired by all of you and look forward to the fun and knowledge I will leave with! Join me, won’t you?
Your wake-up call is before the crack of dawn,
Because your life is controlled by your cranky spawn.
You feed them, you dress them,
You just can’t impress them.
They aren’t very thankful, yet you love them the same,
Even if they always ask “Why?” and often complain.
You’re housekeeper and driver, tutor and cook,
You keep them in line with one smoldering look.
Tailor, Accountant, Doctor and Baker,
Even do-it-yourself Christmas wreath-maker.
Parenthood is a difficult, never-ending career,
Filling you halfway with love and another part fear.
But despite these complaints and your lack of rest,
Parenthood really is the best of the best.
No feeling can top watching your little tike grow,
Standing by his side while he learns to throw,
Or helping her up when she’s had a big fall,
Teaching them to be kind, proud, and stand tall.
Although Parenthood is a hearty sacrifice,
The payback truly is more than twice as nice.
Seeing the world from a child’s view is priceless,
Even if you’re constantly in diaper crisis.
So when Parenthood has you feeling overdrawn,
Wear a happy face and “keep on keepin’ on,”
Because today’s hurdle may be tomorrow’s success,
And the more love you have, the more you are blessed
Although I have several faithful people to rely on, I still prefer to do things on my own. I’ve always been this way, even if I am anxious and worrisome as a result. My mother was a strong, independent woman and I always admired her for these reasons. I try to exemplify these positive attributes of hers even if it stresses me out, and it earned me the nickname of “worry wart.” Thus, I am the woman who left the hospital two days after my c-section. I am also the one who decided it was a good idea to take my toddler and newborn to brunch just three weeks into being a parent of two. As I packed them to go the words of my girlfriend who had become a mommy twice over not long before ran thru my head incessantly, “I didn’t take them out by myself for at least a couple months.” Was it really that bad? I would soon find out; the three minute drive was over and I couldn’t turn back. As we piled out of the car, I started to sweat.