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! 🤷🏻♀️🥂💓
So often we begin each new year with a laundry list of resolutions: lose weight, gain funds, eat less, exercise more, etc. And it’s a widespread joke that by February these steadfast decisions become nothing but empty promises and proof of failure.
Ironically enough though, resolution actually means “a firm decision to do or not do something.” It can also mean “the action of solving a problem.” In other words, we start each new trip around the sun ruminating on the previous year’s failures and binding ourselves to start fixing them as of the very first day of the year. No wonder why we all screw up. It’s too much pressure. If it was all that easy to fix our shortcomings don’t you think we’d change without resolving to do so?
So, here’s my proposal: forget resolutions. Instead, let us reflect. What can we learn from 2017? Think back on the past year, revel in its joys and garner strength from their positivity. Then consider the downfalls, because there are even more lessons to be drawn from those. Let us reflect, learn from our past, and then move on, because it is our responsibility to live in the moment as much as possible. The present is the surest thing we have, and it is painfully fleeting.
I’ve always dreamt of being a writer. As a child, I devoured book after book, traveling to far off lands and through life-threatening mysteries (from the safety of my bed), while the rest of the late eighties kids played outside from sun up to sun down. I think I was subconsciously studying for my dream career: creating tales that would allow people a taste of escapism, in the form of two hundred-something pages.
However, I always maintained a diary. Sure, most of the entries I scrawled in puffy, pubescent handwriting were laments about one crush or another, but I became used to expressing myself. I found words for my feelings and wrote them down, because I’ve always been a little extra, and so have my thoughts.
Now, fast forward to adulthood, and more specifically my experience with Motherhood. It has been rich with love and fear and light and dark. My head swims daily with thoughts: Am I good enough? Am I alone? Is everyone else as crazy with anxiety about their children as me? Am I fucking up my kids? And conversely, are they fucking me up?
And in these moments, I am so thankful for blogging. I originally kept at it with two intentions: expression and catharsis. But as time went on, I realized that as I exposed my experiences, I found others with similar sentiments. This community of authenticity is liberating. It allows readers to draw strength in a positive, supportive way. And at a time when our country feels so broken, I am even more thankful.
But, it’s hard. And it’s scary. And when people ask me, “What does it take to be a blogger? How can I become one?” I say, “you just have to do it. You have to write.” But more specifically, you have to be OK with pouring your heart and soul into a piece. You have to embrace being yourself. You have to know the value of being authentic and raw. You have to know that by doing it, you’re allowing others that same liberty.
Blogging isn’t about selling a product or an idea. It’s about expressing yourself and finding common ground. In this day and age, that is becoming increasingly important. Bloggers and truth tellers alike are at the forefront of important social movements. If you feel that impulse, that need to express yourself, or an itching to express feelings you have trouble verbalizing, nothing should hold you back. Don’t fear failure. Fear absorbing your feelings and not expressing them. Write, and post, even if it’s kept private.
Five years in and I’m still getting used to the idea that I’m creating a writing career in a drastically different arena than I first imagined. And each day I write, I’m allowing pieces of myself out into the world, not some fictional tale I made up. But, it’s become clear that I didn’t choose the blog life. The blog life chose me.
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
Where does hatred come from?
I originally answered this question on my blog almost two years ago, but in honor of the seventeen lives Nikolas Cruz stole yesterday, I thought I would repost it. This conversation MUST happen.
*A quick disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have no impressive degree from an Ivy League school. However, I grew up in a household in which one of three of its members was filled with a hatred so compelling it sparked violence. Thus, Id like you to consider my theory on the subject as a result of a twenty-two year case study. So, why did my brother come out the way he did?
I am a firm believer that no one is born with the desire to hurt others. We, as humans, naturally need each other to survive. Some of us may be more genetically inclined to be aggressive, but our relationship with others is purely social. So, why is it that some can ruthlessly murder others while others dedicate their lives to improving society? I believe the difference is simple: attachment.
I have been told Jesse seemed “different” as early as the age of three. This was the age my father left our family. This was the same year I was born. The same year my mother was forced to become a single mother. All of these factors would change someone. I have a child who is now just over three. I feel the incredibly strong attachment we have to each other – if I left her now, I am sure it would effect her infinitely. It would cause a little piece of her to disappear – her confidence, stability, and feeling of security in the world would lessen.
But would it cause her to hate others indefinitely? To lash out and desire to hurt people? I don’t believe so. But, imagine the pain she would feel if she was faced with several other experiences similar to this. Times when other people abandoned her or let her down. The more isolation she feels, the less empathy she would possess. This was my brother’s case.
He was short, he was teased, he was never really accepted by his classmates. He was ostracized for characteristics that were out of his control. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a young child, his tics making him seem even less “normal” than he already was. His behavior became more deviant as time went on, as his laundry list of diagnoses increased. He began to get into fights at school. He was angry and volatile. His school did nothing; this was not in the sensitive days of late. Back then it was “kids will be kids,” and “Do you think he’s cut out for school? Maybe he should get his CHSPE.”
So, in short, as he entered young adulthood and attempted to find connections, everyone but my mother told him he wasn’t worth the trouble. Mom believed in him infinitely. She knew he was capable of so much more than what people had begun to expect of him. The pressure to meet my mother’s standards despite everyone else’s grew too much for him, and he attempted suicide. Twice. As a middle schooler, I watched the trials that both my mom and brother were going through. I watched society tell her what she was doing wrong. I watched society tell him how much less value he held because he was different, and how he ought to behave to fit in. It was nearly unbearable for me to witness; I cannot even begin to conceive how hard it was for both of them.
And after twenty-five years of being told he was different, feeling little connection to those around him, and being attached to nothing but his desire to make people feel as little as he had all his life, Jesse killed my mom. But, quite often people like Jesse hurt strangers. They pack their cars with guns and their minds with plans, and execute others while they’re at school, sitting in movie theaters, or celebrating their freedom. Because people like Jesse, who have never really attached to anyone soundly, often feel the need to show others just how awful this isolation can feel. That’s where the hatred comes from.
So, what can we do to change this? The solution does not lie in any one person’s control. It is not solely our government’s job to outlaw guns. It is not only about how a parent has failed their deviant child. It’s less about guns and parenting (although stricter laws on both cannot hurt our children more than the guns literally have).
This is about love. No matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist, Greek Orthodox, Agnostic, Democratic, or Republican. No matter your gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic level, our duty as humans is to help others. To open our hearts to others and aide those in pain and in need. Allowing people to feel part of the human race or tribe, rather than an anomaly or a member of a smaller, less important faction, that is what will end the hatred.
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “Red black or white, This is my fight, Come on courage, Let’s be heard, Turn feelings, Into words.” Let’s start a dialogue that allows the pained to be heard and the isolated to feel accepted. Then, and only then, will we see the hatred begin to melt away. And until we can open our hearts, stay safe, everyone.
*As seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America*
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith
be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”
The sound of the helicopters reverberated against the mountains, filling the
canyon with a deafening noise. It was almost one in the morning, but the normally quiet
streets were bustling. I was standing outside my house, tears streaming down my face. I had been crying for hours, but it felt like a minute; I had no concept of time. Earlier that night, I had returned home from work to find my mother lifeless. She had been killed during a heated argument with a family member and her killer had fled, leaving me to find the grisly scene.
In those excruciating hours, friends and family arrived and filled our suburban
street. I cannot recall everyone who showed up; their faces meld together in my mind like
a collage of love. All I know is that I eventually made my way to a neighbor’s home; the
owners were longtime friends of my mother’s, and they had graciously opened their
doors to the circus outside.
I sat on their couch, being comforted and awkwardly hugged by people coming in
and out. They said all the right things, but their words sounded empty and my heart ached
too much to believe them. Eventually, a man I had never seen before entered the room
and sat down with the crowd that had gathered.
“Hi Amy. My name is Detective Michael Valento,” he began. “I’m here to bring
you and your mother justice.”
Justice. It sounded like such a familiar concept, one I had been brought up to
believe was around every corner in America. Our country was built on justice and
fairness… but nothing about that night seemed just or fair to me. Despite fully knowing
its meaning, in that moment I couldn’t fathom ever feeling that justice had been served.
My mother could not be brought back to life.
“Th-thank you,” I replied. I didn’t know what else to say.
A few months later, Detective Valento was a regular part of my life. Our phone
calls became an almost weekly occurrence. Each time we spoke Mike vowed that he
would do everything in his power to ensure my mother’s killer would be sent to prison as
expeditiously and as permanently as possible. I believed him at the time, but as the
months wore on, and the number of hearings grew, I lost hope.
Despite my emotional struggle, I grew to know and care for Mike. He was a kind,
gentle man with a heart of gold. His intentions were of the purest, and he symbolized the
hope I once had. He was a wonderful advocate. He continued to call me often, checking
in to see if I was okay, asking how my wedding plans were going, updating me on
everything that was happening.
Alas, the months turned into years, and very little happened. Justice and the
American way were not prevailing. My hope morphed into anger. I was angry my
mother’s killer hadn’t been accorded his punishment. I was angry my mother was gone. I
was angry that a system I had been reared to respect was so clearly failing. My mother’s
murderer was playing the system, and he was getting away with it. Or so I thought.
One particularly hard day, nearly four years after my mother’s death, I came close
to losing it. I had been in court all day and I was mentally, as well as physically, drained.
Mike had been in court with my fiancé and me, sitting by our sides the entire time. I
turned to him and pleaded, “When will this end? Why is he being protected? Why hasn’t
he been convicted? Life needs to go on.”
Mike thought carefully for a moment. He looked at me kindly and said, “I know it
doesn’t seem like it, but this is all for you and for your mother. You have to understand
that our legal system, although at times seemingly imperfect, is protecting you. If we
didn’t cover all of our bases right now he could appeal and possibly be free one day. So,
for now, we must be patient. I know it’s hard, but in America good things come to those
who wait.” Again, my heart was so heavy I couldn’t quite grasp his words, but this time I
accepted the situation. I waited patiently for another year.
Five years and two days after my mother’s murder, a judgment was delivered. My
brother was given a sentence of fifteen years to life. I was as relieved as I could be.
Justice had finally been served and I could begin to repair my own life, which had been
shattered that horrific night. I remember as we fled the courtroom for one final time,
Mike had leaned in for an embrace.
After our hug he pulled back and said, “See. I told you all would be right in the
At that moment my heart filled with warmth that it had not felt for a while,
warmth ignited by someone who had been a complete stranger a few years ago. This
man, despite knowing nothing of the content of my character, dedicated a large portion of
his life to fight so I could regain control of mine. Mike’s actions showed me the
camaraderie and strength America instills in its citizens. His upstanding dedication to his
country and position of service helped change my life for the better.
Detective Mike Valento of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
exemplifies everything that is right in our country and with our police force. And
although there is no reason left to carry on a relationship with him, my adoration, respect,
and gratitude for him will never diminish. For, it’s men and women like Mike who gave
me my strength, hope, and life back, and I can never be thankful enough.