This House of Love


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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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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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Nine Years Later

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.

 

 


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(Cheap) Family Fun to Enjoy With Little Ones

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!

  1. Water Gun PaintingSupplies needed: water guns with simple spray mechanisms, water-based paint; Cost: ~ $10; Prep Time: 10-20 minutes; Play time: (depending on age of player) 20-75 minutes. Fill guns with paint, hang butcher paper on clothesline (or tape to wall outside), and let your kids have at it! They will be working on spatial perception, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, color recognition (for little ones), and also just getting their creative juices flowing! This can get pretty messy, so beware and enjoy!
  2. Bake a Cake! – I know this sounds super simple, but baking is one of the best ways to work in an interdisciplinary manner. Supplies needed: ready made cake mix, or a recipe, as well as all other supplies you may need 🙂 ; Cost: ~ $5-10; Prep time: Less than 5 minutes; Play time: between 20-40 minutes*. Follow directions in the recipe, and watch as your child has fun counting, sorting, and following directions (amazing)! Skills honed will include counting, fine motor skills (pouring, measuring, etc), color recognition, inductive reasoning, and the experimental approach! Plus, it’s super yummy, too. *The best thing about this activity is there is “Eat Time” too!
  3. Pirate Treasure Map – This had to be my daughters favorite! Supplies needed: 1 large piece of butcher paper, 1 sharpie, 1 prize (stickers, candy, a book, whatever), matches (optional) and a huge imagination! Cost: Under $5; Prep time: ~ 10-15 minutes; Play time: Over 1 hour (if done right)! You can choose to make an imaginary map, a map of your home, or a map of your neighborhood. I chose to design a map of our neighborhood, utilizing the landmarks Charlotte knows well. The map identified things like her favorite tree, a house of distinct color, etc. It led us from our home to Starbucks (about a quarter of a mile away). I slyly handed a “treasure” (a new book) to the baristas, who eventually helped her “find” it. Skills honed include communication, critical thinking, inductive reasoning, reading/literacy, color recognition, number recognition, and goal setting. Plus, it’s soooo much fun!
  4. Edible Cars – Supplies needed: toothpicks, peanut butter, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, zucchini, grapes, and any other fresh snacks you prefer*. Cost: Virtually free (as I support the “Use whats in your fridge” approach); Prep time: ~ 10 minutes; Play time: ~ 1 hour. Slice and dice them in ways that you think are conducive to building a car (think cucumber slices for tires, grapes sliced in half for headlights, carrots sliced so they can make a grill, etc). You will have to use your imagination and help along the way. Cutting some toothpicks in half may help. *for younger children, cutting the veggies and fruit in cubes (or as cubic as possible) can be good for stacking or just playing. I mean, how often do they get to just play with their food?! Skills honed include fine motor, healthy eating, object recognition, planning, problem-solving, and communication.
  5. Make a Band! Supplies needed: dependent upon instrument (see link provided). Cost: ~ $10 for whole band! Prep time: ~ 30-60 minutes (depending upon how many/which ones you make); Play time: Infinite! These are the toys that keep on giving. Children love that they can create a functioning instrument, and they also love to work together to make some rhythm and tunes! Follow the link, Easy to Make Musical Instruments– there are instructions on how to make over twenty different kinds of instruments! Skills honed include spatial, fine motor, planning, organization, cause and effect, verbal and non-verbal communication, coordination, etc! C’s personal favorites to make were the coffee can drums, ocean drums, and recycled maracas!
  6. Alphabet Scavenger Hunt Supplies needed: None! (isnt that great!?); Cost: FREE!; Prep time: None; Play time: ~ 60 minutes; Directions: For those children that are school-aged and working on literacy/their alphabet, this is a great one! It requires a lot of patience, but it also keeps them moving and interacting with their environment so it’s perfect for your movers and shakers. Beginning with the letter A, make the sound that each letter makes, and then request your child to find an object from somewhere in the house that begins with that letter. You will have to say the letter over and over again, guide them in the process of figuring out what begins with what (does that banana start with the letter A? Noooo! How about that apple?). Make a collection, which will help your child visualize just how many letters they learned and mastered. They’ll love the tactile approach to learning their ABC’s and all about words. Skills honed inlcude memorization, phonetic understanding, literacy, organization, goal-setting, communication, interpersonal, intrapersonal, classification skills, etc.

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!


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A Salute to Parenthood

 

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


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Where Does Hatred Come From?

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 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 hyper-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, and more about love. Whether you’re Christian or Jewish, Muslim or Islamic, Atheist or Greek Orthodox, 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.

 


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This House of Love

Let me [re]introduce myself. I’m Amy Beth Chesler, or A.B. Chesler as the literary world may (or may not) know me. I am a lover of food, laughter, and adventure, although I hate to get dirty. I chose to title my blog “This House of Love” because Amy Beth can be translated, loosely and in a couple different languages, into that phrase. My mom assembled this name for me, with the help of my then three year old brother, because she wished for me a future occupied by a warm and loving family life.

I am a victim of domestic violence. I am also a survivor of it. My mother, however, is not. She was an incredibly strong, determined, warm, caring woman. I will love and miss her with every fiber of my being every day until I die. Thankfully, things are infinitely better now as I fulfill my own role as a wife and mother. I’ve found my niche in life; I was born to be Mommy. I knew this from the beginning.

What I didn’t know is how much poop and snot I’d have to deal with on a regular basis. Similarly, no one told me that some days I would laugh so hard I would cry, and others I would feel swallowed whole by my loneliness. Everyone neglected to tell me how terrifying, thrilling, isolating, eye-opening, and powerful parenthood is. They also didn’t mention just how awesome (in the truest sense of the word) it is to have your heart, a true piece of you, walking around outside of your body, living their very own life. How dare they.

I am also a writer, although it’s scary to say so. It’s a profession that requires you to make something from nothing, a grand story or thought-provoking poem, from just the depths of your mind. If your tales aren’t well received, your writing is not the only entity receiving rejection. But, just like my sentiments about motherhood, I knew I was meant for the writing world. As a child, reading was my escape from the harsh realities that were my life.  I wrote my own stories to enter an alternate universe, one filled with much less pain and isolation. As an adult, writing is allowing me to process my past and consequently and eventually arrive at my life’s destination: a house filled with an infinite amount of love.

Feel free to join me on this crazy journey by following my blog via the link to the left. And remember, “Let love win.”


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8 Signs You’ve Entered into Parenthood

I’ve caught myself having an “Oh shit, I totally made you,” moment while staring at my little one quite often in the last eight months. But, as if the tiny person that clings to us and requires help 24-7 wasn’t enough, here are eight more signs that we’ve entered the unending, life-changing condition that we call “Parenthood.”

1. We’re somewhat alarmingly infatuated with another person’s bodily functions. Never in our lives has someone else’s constipation or consequent bowel movements had the ability to excite, shock, and worry us all at the same time.

2. We create a theme song for everything. For example, our household’s personal favorite – “The Poop Song,” which goes something like this (ahem): “P-O-O-P, Gotta push it out of the tushie!” Or even “The Food Song:” “Open up your mouth real wide, and let me put the food inside.” It’s ridiculous and almost scary how quickly we can come up with a verse about the most trivial of topics.

3. We catch ourselves checking out other people’s strollers more than their cars.

4. Our clothing is a magnet for stains. Said stains either result from our baby’s bodily functions, or our own inability to get food into our mouths. Either way, we never seem to notice until someone else points it out. Lovely.

5. One of the very best side effects of being a parent is that it becomes incredibly easy to laugh. For example, when my child giggles uncontrollably at the ball she just threw, I can’t help but join in. I used to pride myself on having a rather intellectually advanced sense of humor. Well, not anymore. Nothing is funnier than anything our baby finds funny.

6. Movies take hours to watch. And I’m not talking about the regular 1.5 – 2 hours. I’m talking 5+ hours. There is absolutely no way to control the amount of times the pause button is hit.

7. We have somehow developed what I call “parent-like reflexes.” Once our little one reaches the phase where everything in his or her grasp is fair game, our reaction time whittles itself down to virtually nothing. Out of the corner of our eye we may spot our child tipping a water glass over several feet from us, but somehow we make it there in time to keep the cup full and our baby dry. I still can’t figure out how this happened, but I am uber thankful that it has.

8. Finally, we often consider taking Dramamine on a regular basis because the world NEVER. STOPS. SWAYING. Oh wait… that’s us. Yes, even when our precious baby is not cradled in our arms, our body is still rocking. I’ve even caught myself standing around, moving from side to side when our daughter is home with a babysitter. Hello, motion sickness.