Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming…

By: Aimee Tafreshi

FullSizeRender (1)“How will the suffering end?” inquired the earnest man standing at my doorstep.  I chuckled, surprised by the question, and replied, “Well, I might be the right person to ask.” He looked down at my bandaged foot, assessing my knee scooter, and good-naturedly nodded his head. Five minutes earlier, I was parked on the couch, my recovering foot propped up on the ottoman, when I heard a knock on my front door. It must be the neighbors across the street stopping to say goodbye, as I had noticed their moving van earlier. Let’s hope it’s not the unscrupulous tree trimmers “terrorizing” our neighborhood, charging too high prices for shoddy work. Ahh, the perils of suburban life.

This better be good, I thought, as I hoisted myself onto the wheeled apparatus and propelled myself to the front door, accompanied by my protector, Faith the German Shepherd. I peered outside and saw a nice-looking family pushing a baby in a stroller. I hesitantly cracked open the door, Faith making her presence known in case of any mischief, and a man with kind eyes began to speak. After polite hellos, the man launched into his pitch. “How will the suffering end?” he began. Is this a rhetorical question? I wondered. I was beginning to formulate a well-thought out answer, and then stopped myself. “Now what are you selling here?” I asked. He responded that he wasn’t selling anything, so I proceeded to answer the stranger’s question as the smiling baby looked at me. “Faith, hope, determination, patience, resilience, a positive attitude.” He nodded his head with approval, and then chimed in, “Suffering will end through God’s Kingdom,” handing me a brochure for the local Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I smiled at the man and wished them a good afternoon, as his wife complemented me on our potted plants before leaving. In the past, I would have met a solicitor at my door with an eye roll or had simply ignored the knocks, but I found the visit well-timed and perhaps a sign to keep pressing on. Now, I was not about to go join the local Jehovah’s Witness chapter, although I have to admire them for going door to door these days to spread their word, as they are most often greeted with disdain or indifference. But I liked that this encounter forced me to verbalize how I would make it through this chapter of my life.

Earlier that week, I underwent surgery on my right foot to remove a broken bone that had essentially “died” as well. I had been temporarily disabled since early December, when the stressed bone finally fractured. Before the big surgery day, I went into “nesting” mode and took on the mammoth task of decluttering and organizing my daughter’s bedroom. She is a Stage 1 hoarder (like her mother), so this project took about two solid afternoons of focused work. My oldest son was pretty distraught that I didn’t purge his room of old toys before I was rendered useless.

The weekend before the procedure, we celebrated my daughter’s eighth birthday with an outdoor pool party. I clomped around the pool deck on my lame foot in my bulky black boot, disregarding the pain. The following Monday I chaperoned my daughter’s second grade class on a boat excursion to study the local saltwater specimens. We marveled at the multiple dolphin pods we encountered, taking in the majestic creatures feeding, playing and rolling upside down on the water’s surface. I noticed how the sea breeze felt gently grazing my face. I was happy to embrace these moments before the coming weeks of immobility when my usually active life would be on freeze frame.

Post-surgery, I am non-weight bearing for at least four weeks and cannot yet drive a car.  I have fears that when I do put my foot down to take that first step, I will feel immense pain or will not be able to stride normally. My right foot feels weird, like I am missing something. My present finds me lying in bed or sitting on my new perch, the sofa, streaming endless hours of whatever happens to be on TV. I know a lot of us moms dream of being couch potatoes—I have fantasized about watching marathons of HGTV episodes or Dateline while doing nothing else. Well, the dream has turned to reality, and let me tell you, eternal couch-potatoeing is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The first day or so post-surgery, I felt like a newborn baby, alternating between alertness for a few hours followed by sleep, repeated again and again. As the pain lessened and I transitioned off the strong meds to good old Advil, I resolved to remain awake during daytime hours. Five days post-surgery, I have evolved to wearing contacts, getting dressed and maintaining a clean face. I still can’t get the incision wet, so showers are out of the question, but I successfully took a bath a few nights ago, while propping my foot out of the water. I have also become quite adept at knee-scooting on my wheeled device or utilizing the crutches in tight spaces, like the bathroom.

I know I am not the only mother who has faced a health challenge like this. Many parents face more serious health battles, like cancer. I am fortunate because my foot is expected to heal, so daydreams of biking to the beach on a new shiny beach cruiser with a quaint woven basket and walking my dogs around the neighborhood keep me going. Some parents have no guarantee of their return to normal activities, and some fight the illness of their lives. There are many role models to look to when one gets down in the dumps about their current state of health. I think about amputees who returned from war-torn countries, patients undergoing grueling chemotherapy and elite college athletes facing career-ending injuries. If people facing those obstacles can keep their chin up and cling onto hope, then I can feel grateful and optimistic that this temporary hiccup will eventually heal.

There isn’t much I can do without use of my foot, along with strict doctor’s orders to lay low these first few weeks post-surgery. Sometimes sitting in a cool, dark house gets a tad depressing, and House Hunters becomes a little mundane. Yesterday I decided I needed to hobble outside and relax on a lounge chair to feel the warmth of the sun and enjoy our re-mulched garden and blooming spring flowers. My husband and I sat on the deck for nearly an hour as our son seesawed and rode his tricycle. I noticed the little things, like the yellow butterfly that constantly flits around our garden, the cloudless and perfect blue sky, and the paths of the small airplanes dotting the ether. My life might be on pause, but I still need to find and appreciate meaning and beauty in each day we are given here. And also remember to hold onto faith, hope, determination, patience, resilience and a positive attitude.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com.

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Reward Charts—From Candy to Corvettes

TafreshiFamily-Sept2015_045By: Aimee Tafreshi

I hazily remember lying in the hospital bed holding my third child, while my 21-month-old son and four-year-old daughter waited at home. The nurse gave me some sage advice about paying attention to the eldest children while caring for a newborn. “Do a responsibility chart for the four-year-old,” she advised. She explained that children that age did well with a sticker chart as positive reinforcement. Knowing I would need maximum resources in my arsenal with three small children, I took the wise nurse’s advice to heart.

Soon after, I ordered a personalized, fancy responsibility chart for my daughter with cutely illustrated tasks or goals on Velcro labels. Examples of such positively reinforced behaviors included “Eat My Veggies,” “Try Not To Whine” (nearly impossible!), and “Say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.’” For parents facing other issues, the kit included blank labels for any other problem areas. We immediately wrote “Listen!” on a blank form. It’s shocking this behavior did not come standard on the chart. We labeled another one “Wildcard” to address any random behaviors that popped up.

At the end of the day, my husband or I would go through the five responsibilities of the week with our daughter, rewarding a gold star for achieving one, or withholding the coveted star if her behavior fell short. Every Sunday, we set a goal for a certain number of stars required to earn the weekly reward. At the beginning of each new week, we jointly decided on a reasonable reward with our daughter’s input. Examples of incentives that came standard with the kit included “Go to a movie or rent a DVD” (easy enough), “Go out for a treat” (another favorite), “A new book” (double bonus, encouraging reading), or “A new pet” (Are you *$%#@*% kidding me?!). Needless to say, we didn’t utilize the new pet option.

Not surprisingly, listening, whining and using good manners were the most difficult stars to earn. We would set the amount of stars needed to earn a reward high enough to require consistently good behavior but reasonable enough to allow occasional slip-ups and off days. Though not perfect, the chart seemed to encourage greater awareness of desired behaviors and nudge our daughter toward picking up her toys or finishing her portion of veggies.

Eventually, our middle child reached the ripe old age of four, and we decided a star chart might be just the ticket to get him in line. His goals overlapped somewhat with our daughter’s but he had some unique objectives as well, like “Don’t use bad language,” a necessity for his potty mouth. A write-in option included “Wipe yourself.” I’m not sure why the star chart makers didn’t include that personal hygiene milestone.

Like our daughter, whining tripped him up often, and he frequently stumbled on “showing respect.” However, he beamed with pride at the end of each week when he usually managed to achieve his goal, and the chart did encourage him to pick up his toys and even the messes made by his little brother.

Creating and maintaining a star chart week-to-week does take a commitment on the part of the parents, and sometimes life gets busy, and the chart falls by the wayside. Toward the end of last year, when my husband became insanely busy at work, the charts entered into a state of neglect. He eventually began traveling for his job, and I didn’t have the time or energy to focus on this extra responsibility. I felt like I deserved a gold star for keeping everyone clothed, fed, alive and relatively clean.

With my husband’s absence, the natives became unruly, knowing they could take advantage of their “good cop” mom. If I was going to survive solo parenting three wild children, I needed to bring in the big guns. I was going to create the mother of all responsibility charts. There was nothing fancy about it—no monogrammed names—all I required was a piece of plain white paper, a Sharpie (different colors if I was feeling creative), a piece of tape, a plastic bucket and a bunch of cheap crap from China. With that in mind, I promptly headed to the local dollar store to buy up their gadgets, trinkets and other goodies to stuff into the bucket (also acquired for a dollar).

Any non-crafty mom can put together this reward chart. Simply write the days of the week across the top row (abbreviate if you are feeling especially lazy), and write in your children’s names or initials along the left-hand side. Create a column for each day and a row for each child, and you are set. This is not a complex chart. I give a single sticker out at the end of each day per child based on the totality of the day’s behaviors. There is no assessing different elements or types of conduct. Bottom-line: was Junior a helper or a huge butthead? Just go with your gut on these determinations.

For a good day, the child will get a sticker of my choosing. Have fun with it—I used St. Patrick’s Day stickers in March. When I run out of stickers, I take my trusty Sharpie and draw on a lopsided looking smiley face. For the child who fails to earn a sticker? He is either left with a blank square for the day, or if I’m having fun, a big diagonal line through the day, or a dramatic sad face.

The chart also ingeniously plays on the children’s natural competiveness with each other. The child with the most stickers will get to draw out of the coveted prize bucket first. Since no reward is alike, there is an incentive to earn the most stickers and choose the first prize. For children tying in their number of smiley faces, we follow a system similar to how college football conferences decide who goes to their championship game. It’s super straightforward and easy to apply our rules. Basically, if you drew first last week, your sibling will draw first this week. Easy peasy!

The appeal of my prize bucket is its immediacy and tangible nature—the children see the potential rewards of their hard work dangling in their faces everyday. So the reward is not some abstract, to-be-determined prize in the stratosphere.

Recently, my daughter wrote down some suggestions for prizes I might purchase for the prize bucket. Her handwritten list went something like this: “makeup to[o],” “I like white tictacs,” “Siance books” (I hope she means “science” and not “séance”), “bath toys,” “stuffed animals” (you can’t ever have enough stuffed animals), and “peppermint ‘gumb’ that says long lasting ‘gumb.’” I appreciated her specific instructions. Mom needs all the help she can get!

Looking down the road, my daughter helpfully brainstormed a list of rewards for the future, things that might entice my children to behave when they are teenagers. The list read as follows, like a ransom note: “$200,” “Birds from Petco,” “our own phone,” “our own car,” and finally, a “trampoline.”

I’m now thinking these reward charts may have an expiration date. Otherwise the responsibilities might need to include a well-paying full-time job.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com.

Make a Spring Break For It

By: Aimee Tafreshi

IMG_0128Punxsatawney Phil did not see his shadow last month, so Groundhog Day left us with a prediction of an early spring. For some, the end of winter means putting up the snow blower, downgrading from a down jacket to a fleece and not worrying about the next blizzard. For others, it simply means we can put our cardigans back in the bottom drawer, and stop wearing socks with our flip-flops.

Spring is a time of rebirth, reawakening and … vacation! March is here, and in a few weeks, students will start the time-honored tradition of Spring Break, their week of freedom from school. Spring Break can be a source of excitement for children, or utter dread for parents. Many parents do not have the luxury to take a week off from work and other commitments to plan a get-away for their brood. For those lucky enough to have the time and resources to get away, here are some ideas for places to maximize your family fun.

Stay Cozy with a Luxe Staycation

For many, the thought of air travel, with its bag restrictions, weather delays and scaled back services, is not an appealing option. Throw in a couple of impatient, pint-size travelers, and a one-stop flight can turn into a never-ending nightmare. Gas prices are super low, but some parents cringe at the idea of road-tripping it with babies or toddlers. Hazards of road travel include frequent chants of “Are we there yet?”, bathroom stops every twenty minutes, and occasional projectile vomiting from carsickness. (If you go down this road, I strongly recommend Dramimine for Kids, which conveniently induces sleep while preventing nausea).

A staycation is the ideal solution for parents who don’t want to mess with the headaches of traveling. Yes, you will still have to pack your bags, but if you forget something, you can just run back home. Do you live in a city with a kid-friendly hotel, or one that offers roomy suites and a nice pool, or proximity to local attractions? I reside in a touristy town, so we are fortunate to be down the road from two acclaimed beachfront resorts, but you don’t have to live near the coast for a cool hotel stay.

For those in Austin, three resorts jumped out at me as the ultimate family destination: the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, and Lakeway Resort and Spa. Each of these resorts offers amenities such as kids’ camps, kid-dedicated pool areas and recreation schedules for the whole family to enjoy. Not to mention, the “Spa” part—relax with a massage while your mini-me is hiking through the beautiful hill country with her new friends. Just remember the sunscreen and bug spray!

For those closer to San Antonio, the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa boasts a lazy river, five-acre water park and pools, poolside cabanas for protection from the sun, and a zero-entry wading pool for the littlest water babies. From this sprawling property, you can easily eat and drink your way around the San Antonio River Walk, remember the Alamo, shop at El Mercado, go spelunking at Natural Bridge Caverns, explore the historic Spanish colonial missions or seek cultural enrichment at the Witte Museum, in addition to the city’s various theme parks. I grew up in San Antonio and remember field trips to many of these attractions, which I took for granted at the time. One day I hope to take my kids to this city filled with Texas history and rich culture.

Even if you don’t live close to a resort with all the amenities, look for a hotel that offers options like family-friendly suites, free breakfast and an inviting pool. Kids are easily entertained and don’t need an 18-hole golf course. Poolside food and drink service is a plus!

The “I’m on a Budget” Staycation

Many of us don’t have the funds set aside to stay at a fancy resort. You don’t have to check in to a hotel to live up your (kids’) Spring Break to the fullest. Get together with your offspring, and make a list of activities in your area you would like to do together. Seek input from the smallest to the eldest children. You can designate each day, or morning, for a particular outing. Many museums offer a free day of admission each week to the public; you may want to use that day to check it out for free, or if fewer crowds are important, go during an off-peak time. Google searches now allow you to view the “popular times” of particular venues to determine crowd levels.

Some ideas for daily excursions include: a picnic at the neighborhood park, trips to the zoo or aquarium, an easy hike at a nature preserve with trails, a visit to a children’s museum, an art museum with a kid-friendly section, a museum of natural history, a low-profile sporting event (ex: high school baseball game, local soccer match), volunteering at a lake or beach cleanup or soup kitchen, going to a scenic location in your city with sketch pads, and colored pencils or water colors, and drawing or painting what you see. Many of these activities obviously depend on your children’s ages.

I have discovered that the older my children get, the more complex the activities can be. With a baby or toddler, you need to respect their feeding and sleeping schedules, and work around those times with easy, no fuss outings. A walk around the block with a months-old baby can be considered a successful outing when the new mother has been cooped up in the house for days.

The All-You-Can-Everything Option

Many days I dream of an all-inclusive vacation near a sandy beach and turquoise waters where my children are whisked away to an enriching kids’ club. The hubby and I will lounge by the pool, drink piña coladas and snorkel. I have spent countless hours researching this dream trip, and the destination that checks all the boxes is Beaches Turks & Caicos. The price tag is enormous, especially for a suite, as my husband and I require separation from our children in the evening hours. I put this resort on my bucket list, and until then, I will dream of basking in the glowing sun with bottomless drinks.

Another promising destination is the Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica. This property caught my eye on TripAdvisor one day when I read glowing reviews of its nanny service(!). Each family is paired with a nanny to care for the children during the day so the parents can enjoy their time together. These nannies come with the all-inclusive package and also act as your personal assistant and refrigerator stocker. I’m all for quality family time, but I’m sure the kiddos would have a blast with their nanny playing on the beach in the Caribbean. I wouldn’t feel an ounce of guilt.

Disney World & Theme Parks

We live in Florida, so naturally every week someone’s Facebook post includes pictures from their latest trip to Disney World. We have braved Disney World twice, once staying at the budget-friendly and fun themed Disney property, the Art of Animation Resort, and the other time staying “off-property” (some Disney fans shudder at this word.) Disney World is a lot like childbirth. I forget how painful it is, and then I decide to give it another shot. A glutton for punishment, I have considered visiting the land of Mickey Mouse this spring.

If I do take the plunge, I have my eye on Disney’s Old Key West Resort. The suites are large, the property is older and less hectic than the other resorts, and you can take a boat ride to Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney).

Besides Disney World, Orlando has a ton of appealing attractions such as Universal Studios, Discovery Cove, Legoland and Gatorland. I personally would not visit Disney World during Spring Break but would instead opt to pull the kids out of school in late April, as waiting in lines for hours with thousands of people is not my idea of a fun vacation.

Take a Cruise

If you live near a departure port, like Galveston or Miami, a cruise could be an excellent option for a family vacation. There are many different price points, types of cruises and destinations offered. I have heard from many experienced cruisers that Disney Cruise Line is top notch. Carnival has caught my eye in the past because they offer a kids’ club to ages three and up, which would suit my family’s needs, and appear budget-friendly, though the extras can quickly add up.

If you don’t mind sticking to a ship’s schedule, or worry about a sickness outbreak or rough seas (can you tell I am afraid to go on a cruise?), then hitting the high seas might be an ideal way to explore different vacation spots and literally be entertained from dusk until dawn. (Don’t forget the stretchy yoga pants because I hear the food options are out of this world!)

The Great Outdoors

This is the option that I know the least about, because we have yet to take our children camping. We live near a beautiful state park, where you can rent a spot and plop down your camper or tent. Personally the camping that calls to me includes cabins and running water, or its modern spin-off, “glamping.” There is something appealing about hearing the crickets at night, roasting s’mores over a blazing campfire and bonding in the simple pleasures of nature.

For those in need of nearby civilization and fake characters, I have heard rave reviews about Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, a campground property within the Magic Kingdom (with posh cabins or basic campsite set-ups), as well as Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. These options cater to families with outdoor amenities and cuddly characters like Chip ‘n’ Dale hanging around the campfire. We plan to go camping in the future with our three young children, and I will report back with my observations.

Send Your Kids Away

And the final option, which is appealing in its own right, is a Spring Break camp for kids. It’s a safe bet that your city contains multiple options for your children, whether through their after-school programs, the YMCA, the local kid-friendly museums or sports, to name a few. If you can’t take time off or swing a family vacation, or would rather enjoy your quiet time at home spring cleaning or watching HGTV, sign your kids up for a camp. They will come home worn out each day, and you can rest easy knowing that they are making happy memories during their time off without breaking the bank or your sanity.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She has no affiliation with any of the hotel properties mentioned in this blog, other than being in desperate need of a vacation. For how not to do Disney, check out her recounting of a disastrous trip here.

I Resolve To Be A Couch Potato (And Other Resolutions)

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In case you hadn’t seen all the ads on TV for cheap gym memberships and weight loss plans, January is here! Society commands us to start fresh and emerge from our holiday cocoon as new and improved human beings. All of a sudden, we need to morph into fit and healthy goddesses with shiny hair and a fat wallet. It’s time to become perfect, people.

This is the time of year that I least enjoy the gym because all of the machines are taken like coveted parking spots, and the group exercise classes only have room against the back wall. I know that by March, much of the New Year’s crowd will have dissipated.

Even though I fashion myself as a writer, I don’t usually jot down any New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I keep a mental list in my head of things I would like to accomplish or improve upon. (This is smart because there is no accountability.) This year’s aspirations are a little different than past years, but I think these goals might have tangible benefits.

For starters, I resolve to not work out. This is a difficult resolution for a Zumba instructor and Les Mills devotee. I have not hit the gym since I broke my foot last month, and it is nearly torture. On the advice of my doctor, I tried swimming laps with my bum foot and ended up needing a hospital visit as a result. So while images of celebrity “beach bodies” and “biggest losers” taunt me off the pages of my beloved gossip magazines, I must feel content to accept my slightly tighter jeans and softening abs.

My “no exercise” plan goes hand-in-hand with my next resolution: eat real food. I’m not going to start counting calories, go on a liquid diet or pop pill supplements, but I am going to eat less processed foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I am not a “veggie person,” but I figure if I start treating food like the fuel that is necessary to power my body, then perhaps these nutrients can expedite the healing of my foot. Revolutionary, right?!

Plus, with healthier meals, I am less likely to gain extra weight with my new sedentary lifestyle. (I am usually a follower of the “work out hard, eat a ton of food” school of thought. Your body can function on this approach if you are burning a lot of calories. Take out the key ingredient of exercise, however, and you are simply stuffing your face.)

I also resolve to eat more mindfully. I will listen to my body. I will eat when my stomach cues me that I am hungry, and I will attempt to stop munching when I feel satisfied, before the point of beyond full (even when inhaling chips and queso). I will also enjoy dessert, but I won’t eat it every night, because it is a treat, not a habit. I will make sure to savor each bite and pick out only sweets that I am craving. (If you want chocolate, eat chocolate, better yet, make it dark!)

I will also savor a glass of my favorite red wine in the evening, but I will try to stop with glass number one. I will allow the calming effects of a glass of vino to set in before reaching for glass number two and incurring a headache. Antioxidants are healthy; overindulging is not.

And speaking of chilling out, I will resolve to relax. Before my foot injury, other than my writing time, I could barely sit down. When the kids were home from school, I would stay standing because sitting down was an invitation for them to ask for something else. I stood at the ready, anticipating each need before they even verbalized it. Four days a week, we raced around to extracurricular activities. I was always hustling them like a football coach, “Come on, hurry! The play clock is running out!”

My bum foot has taught me, rather forced me, to slow down. I currently move at the pace of a geriatric turtle. Needless to say we have trimmed our list of obligations, and now we are driving to activities merely twice a week, a marked improvement. We have culled down the list of “must do’s” to the endeavors our children truly enjoy. This reduction in obligations is part of my resolution to simplify, streamline and purge unnecessary items, distractions and “enrichment” activities.

We also have a garage full of overflowing bins of baby clothes and various things collected over the last few decades. I plan to slowly chip away at getting rid of every extraneous item that we don’t need or use, with the plan to consign or donate these obsolete possessions.

Related to slowing down, I resolve to sit on the couch and watch TV. You would think a stay-at-home mother watches a ton of television, but I rarely do. Sometimes you just gotta kick your feet up for thirty minutes, put on your favorite home improvement show or true crime story and veg out. I vow to take more advantage of my kid-free, down time because goodness knows there is no relaxing once the three little ones are at home.

Speaking of kid-freedom, I vow to kick “mommy guilt” to the curb. I think most of us moms feel guilty about something from time to time, if not everyday, with respect to our children and our choices. My sons recently transitioned to a full-time schedule at their preschool to permit me more time to sit and heal, since my husband is seldom home due to work.

Do I ever feel guilty that they are at day care, and I am not heading to an office to help pay for this added expense? Yes. Do I feel guilty that they are now at school from morning until evening without seeing their Mommy? Yes, I do. But I also realize that the quicker my foot heals, the sooner I will be able to go on walks and bike rides with them and kick the soccer ball on the field. I resolve to trade short-term guilt for long-term rewards.

And when the children are at home in my care, I resolve to set the phone down, turn the laptop off and focus on those little human beings. I resolve to take in their faces, their voices, their silly comments and even their bickering. Social media and online distractions will always be there, but my children won’t. One day they will stare at their phones tuning me out. I better pay attention to them now while they are still talking to me.

I resolve to have more patience with others and myself. The house will not look super organized while I am using crutches, and if papers stack up, the world will not end. I will feel more in tune with others in need and ask myself if the elderly person in the grocery store needs help reaching an item but is too proud to ask. Because once you’ve had some of your physical independence removed, it makes you think about others who are even less mobile and able.

On the professional front, I resolve to finish writing a legal thriller that has been outlined and sitting in a drawer since 2004. Whatever your goal is, you have to carve out the time and make yourself do it. I have a silly saying that I tell myself: Stop, drop and write. It means stop doing anything else, stop making excuses, and drop into your desk chair and write. It’s simple but the mantra works. Whatever your goal is in 2016, in the words of Nike, JUST DO IT.

Okay, I said I wouldn’t exercise but I lied. I’m going to try to find a new way to exercise that doesn’t put weight on my foot. I’m going to follow in the footsteps of warriors who take a hit but get up and keep on fighting. If I can’t use my foot, then I will use an exercise band and small weights to keep in shape. But if I get tired or if the movement hurts, I will stop and rest. We all need to listen to our bodies and common sense.

I will seek out an adventure that I can do, like kayaking on a weekend. We humans have things that limit us in our lives, whether physical, temporal, monetary or something else. But we can seek to work with what we do have and open up an undiscovered world of possibilities. Here’s to challenging yourself in 2016.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. If you would like to help Aimee get her legal thriller published, please vote for it here.

Chess Pie in My Face, a Big Disgrace

By: Aimee Tafreshi

Have you ever tried to make the perfect dessert, followed the recipe to the letter and failed miserably? My name is Aimee, and I am a baking failure survivor. Here is my story…

Let’s start with the legend of chess pie in my family. Growing up, my mother whipped up three types of pies on special occasions: chess, pecan and pumpkin pie. Now, some of you may not have heard of chess pie. Let me fill you in: it is a Southern pie, and depending on where you are from, you may have never experienced this wholesome, sugary goodness. When I was a child, my mother’s best friend, a New Yorker, was convinced that I had made up the name “chess pie” until she confirmed with my mother that this heavenly treat did exist.

A few months ago, my daughter’s second grade teacher suddenly texted us, informing the parents that the class would have a “pie day” at school and requesting that we send in our favorite pie for the students to sample. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to master the art of making chess pie. I eagerly wrote back, telling the teacher I would bring in this family gem. She immediately responded, “Uh, did you mean cherry?” Poor soul, she had no idea that chess pie even existed! I proceeded to give a little background and provide the recipe so she could see it wouldn’t taste like garbage. I could tell she was skeptical, and I was ready to deliver the baked goods.

I decided I would make two pies, one for Adair’s classroom and one for our family. Preparations included studying the recipe at length, followed by an hour-long phone call with my mother for piecrust instructions (this is our shortcut – we buy already prepared piecrust) and some insider tips. She warned me that chess pie is finicky – even factors such as humidity could affect the outcome. I took in all of the information like I was preparing to wage battle in the kitchen. She also advised me to mix the ingredients for each pie separately and to cook them one at a time. Ready with my written and mental notes, I began the sacred baking process.

Forty-five minutes later, I pulled out a golden confection smelling of notes of sugar and vanilla. The delicious scent wafted through the kitchen, and without even a bite sampled, I knew I had created the perfect chess pie. About an hour later, I pulled out another flaxen beauty. I had done it! I had concocted a flawless chess pie, twice! I couldn’t believe the simplicity of the ingredients and preparation. What was the big deal? Chess pie would now be my go to baked good for all special occasions.

A few hours later, I carefully drove the scrumptious pastry to school and personally delivered it to the classroom. While in the car pickup line, I suddenly received a flurry of texts from the teacher with multiple explanation points. “The pie was amazing!!!!” She went on, “It reminds me of flan!!!! (She is from Miami.) I smiled like the Cheshire Cat, confident in my pie-making abilities and plan to carry on this family tradition. Move over, Mom, there is a new pie maker in town.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve… We decided to pick up a holiday feast “to go,” so I planned to make my world-class chess pie as my contribution to our family’s low-key affair. I was a little distracted by my daughter’s frequent banter in the kitchen, and I somewhat eyeballed the buttermilk amount, plus I really enjoyed mixing the batter (did it look too thin?). No worries, I am an expert. The first pie came out looking golden, but I didn’t know then that a soupy mixture of half-cooked mush lay in wait under the promising top layer.

I had timed the baking to coincide right up to the minute with our departure for a Christmas Eve service, so I was flabbergasted when I pulled out the second pie from the oven, displaying a putrid yellow color. “Oh my gosh,” I realized, “I turned the oven off after I baked the first pie!” We were now the proud owners of two undercooked chess pies. Out of options, we headed out and decided we would try to bake them again upon our return home. Our later efforts failed, as the pies never congealed enough, so with great reluctance I threw both wasted attempts into the trash can. Hmm, maybe there’s more to these chess pies than I thought… Perhaps the humidity is high? Yes, it must be the humid Florida weather.

The next day we enjoyed our delicious “someone else cooked it for us” Christmas feast. The meal came with a delectable pecan pie, topped off artfully with whipped cream. I muttered a little too loudly, “The kids aren’t going to like this…” My husband quickly shushed me, knowing that the kids would adopt any stance that I verbalized. I studied their faces closely as they took their first bites of the imposter. Disgust quickly took over their expressions. “This isn’t chess pie!” “I don’t like nuts!” and “What is this?” the dissatisfied chorus rang out. Don’t worry, I reassured them, I will make more chess pie tomorrow, and all will be right with the world!

On December 26, I headed out to the reopened grocery store and collected my ingredients. This time I would precisely measure out the buttermilk like a chemistry student and triple-check the ingredients, not wanting to take any chances. I would also not attempt to cook a chess pie in a cold oven this time. I began the preparations, and with time on my hands, I really got into using the electric mixer. “Woo hoo,” I thought, “I’m a real chef now!” A tiny voice in my head also wondered, Is it possible to mix something for too long? Never mind that, I have pies to make!

An hour later, I was the proud owner of another runny pie. But I would not give up. Bad things happen in threes, after all. As I leaned over to carefully place the second pie in the oven, a delicate task as the crust was covered in loose strips of foil, the pie slipped out of my hands. Batter landed all over the insides of the oven as I screamed. The kids looked over in shock, and one got into the fetal position. I felt like I was in an episode of I Love Lucy or Modern Family, cast as the hapless disaster in the kitchen. My husband rushed in from outdoors, and I immediately regretted not letting him put the pie in the oven for me. As silly as it sounds, I have an irrational fear of getting burned, so he is often the one interfacing with the oven. If only I had ceded some control to him, there wouldn’t be pie innards oozing from my appliance.

My husband, Alex, took some pleasure in the debacle, though he mostly was dismayed, because with my broken foot, he knew the task of cleaning up this mess fell squarely on his shoulders. After razzing me a little, he began assessing the damage and waiting for the oven to cool to begin cleanup operations.

Later, as we prepared the kids for bedtime, Alex decided to try to cook my first botched attempt for a little longer with the dubious plan that the pie might solidify. He came upstairs a few minutes later, looking sheepish. “What is it?” I asked. “I dropped the other pie,” he told me, his head hung down in shame. What?!?! I began laughing so hard that tears ran down my cheeks. We now had two dropped pies in our oven, and no pies to eat for dessert. The universe must really not want us to eat pie, I though, grappling for a reason.

I headed downstairs to view the carnage. The oven looked like a pastry crime scene, pie batter and parts of crust covering every surface of the oven. Even the drawer underneath and its contents were not spared from pie goo. We immediately began Googling methods for cleaning an oven. One approach called for the use of ammonia and boiling water. “But ammonia heated up can be toxic,” my husband objected. Okay, nix the ammonia option. He also rejected the baking soda and vinegar remedy as too time-consuming and labor intensive. That left us with the self-cleaning oven function, something we had never tried before (nor had my mother).

We opened up the windows in preparation for the inevitable smoke and began the self-cleaning cycle. Ten minutes into it, my husband utilized his work training and yelled out, “Fire, Fire!” I screamed and immediately forgot where all the fire extinguishers were located. Luckily he already had one in his hand with the pin pulled and ready to go. In the meantime, I hobbled upstairs to begin evacuating the kids from the second floor, in case the fire moved beyond the oven. I accidentally banged my five-year-old son in the face with his bedroom door in the process.

Downstairs, Alex turned off the oven’s power, and the fire died out on its own. We had now wasted a total of one dozen eggs, experienced a kitchen fire and may require a new oven. I then texted my mom and pleaded for her Troy Aikman Chocolate Cake recipe. I need a break from chess pie.

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Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.