The Daily Six: November 8th

I am a mom who wants it all. I want my house to be beautifully decorated (so that my kids can destroy it- ha!). I want to feel good in the clothes that I wear and I want to feel good about what my kids wear to school everyday, too. I want nice makeup, though I rarely have time to put it on, and I want all of the best baby gear so that my baby will thrive.

The caveat of course is that I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg purchasing all of these things, so I love to find a good deal. I spend more time than I should hunting for sales and my inbox is overflowing with promo emails from almost every retailer you can imagine. So why not share my passion for a good deal with fellow mamas? Below you will find my top picks for today! This post contains affiliate links.

Kids Clothes

25% Off Nike at JCPenney

My boys LIVE in Nike and Under Armour… These pants sets are perfect for fall and winter!

nike pant set   

Shop all Nike boy here.

Mama’s Wardrobe

40% Off with Promo Code WORKIT at Loft

I am loving these Mixed Media Shirttail Tees & Sweaters for my postpartum bod. They are flattering, forgiving, and oh so cute!

    

Shop all Mixed Media Shirttail Tees & Sweaters here.

Baby Gear

DOCKATOT DELUXE+ DOCK for $138.75 (normally $185)

Meet the game changer in infant & toddler comfort!

For the Home

25% Off Entire Store at Kirkland’s with code VETSDAY

A unique twist on the traditional holiday wreath

  

Toys

Krate and Kids Ikat Playhouse- Sale $89.40 reg. $149.00

This sturdy white playhouse will provide the perfect foundation for any kid’s imaginary adventures.

 

Wildcard

Kohl’s- 40% Off Matching Family PJS

Happy holidays! Share laughter and love with your matching family in these Jammies For Your Families matching pajamas.

Shop all matching pajama sets here.

Happy Shopping!!

 

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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.

Christmas 2015: A Postmortem

By: Aimee Tafreshi

IMG_9768As the kids happily threw (virtual) turtles at each other on their new Nintendo 2DSes, my husband and I congratulated each other on surviving another Christmas with our family. The road to the holidays was not an easy one. Unlike some who gleefully put up twinkling lights and start their holiday shopping on November 27, we both slightly groan as December approaches in its no-holds-barred fashion.

If Christmas had a theme song, for me it would go, “Ready or not, here I come….” Ever since I left the nest and Santa ceased to exist, the holiday season usually fills me with trepidation and immense stress. I recall one year when my last law school final fell on December 22, I proceeded to drink heavily and celebrate on December 23, and Christmas Eve found me racing around the mall hungover buying whatever gifts remained before it closed at 6 p.m.

After law school graduation, I remember sitting in the office on December 24 mass-producing motions to compel in a Grinch-like fashion while most of my more senior colleagues baked or relaxed at home. We strategically set many trials for January, hoping this maneuver would pressure litigants to settle, not wanting to spend their holidays working. We, in turn, worked our booties off filing motions and papering them with hundreds of documents to turn up the heat. I was forced to be the attorney who stole Christmas. And somehow I needed to fit in shopping, wrapping and showing good will toward all.

From my perspective, the holidays take the usual chores of daily life and heap a whole new host of obligations on top of them. For instance, our salaries do not increase for the month of December, but they really should. I now need to buy gifts for the children’s teachers, bus driver, the housekeeper, the garbage men (ours are really nice), not to mention my family, my husband’s family, aunts, cousins and uncles, and two large slobbery dogs. I love buying gifts for loved ones. I keep hoping to find that extra thousand dollars in change in my couch cushions to cover the presents, but that discovery hasn’t happened yet.

This year, we decided to stay home for the holidays. We are going on year three of living in our home, and this was our first Noel spent here. With my broken foot (happened in December, of course) and my husband’s insane work schedule, it was a relief that we decided to stay put and not brave the roads or airline travel with three little ones.

As a result, it was my first time mailing packages all over the country, with shipping destinations ranging from Alaska to Oregon to Texas (translation: insanely expensive). After dropping the kids off at school and stuffing photos into albums like a cranked up assembly line, I headed for our quaint downtown post office. I hobbled in with my gimpy foot and two bulging bags of presents. I spread all the loot out on the only table in the middle of the room, setting up my own Santa’s workshop.

Forty-five minutes later, gifts were sorted, hastily packaged with holiday-themed tissue paper and appearing like a spastic preschooler had gotten ahold of the tape spool. My taping skills were so poor that elderly people jumped in to assist me with holding the boxes so I could more adequately seal them up. Next time I will pick up the free Priority boxes ahead of time, so that I may haphazardly tape them in private.

To our small town’s credit, recently described by a resident as “like Mayberry but with great restaurants,” the post office is a pleasant experience with one man dismissing a woman’s apology with the remark that he had no where else to be but dead. When you live in a town of retirees, no one is in a hurry, and the post office is simply another place to gather and chat about the weather and local gossip.

After pleasant conversation with other patrons and spending about one hundred dollars on shipping, I drove away, realizing that I forgot to put a small t-shirt into the Alaska package, thus necessitating another trip to the post office, another shipping fee and this time three impatient children would be in tow. Sigh.

The pressure was on to ship out everything early, because my parents would be arriving in town the next day to celebrate an early Christmas with us. Unbeknownst to them, our schedule was so jam-packed that there would be no downtime for activities such as visiting the post office or errands. As December marched on, no less than four baskets of overflowing laundry sat on our bedroom floor, and packages, bows and wrapping paper cluttered the room, our new gift-staging area. I gave up on folding clothes and simply would dump out a basket on the comforter each day to pick through for the desired item.

Even though we couldn’t spend Christmas Day with our extended families, we loved having my parents visit the weekend before Christmas. We enjoyed great quality, one-on-one time with them, and my mom wasn’t burdened with all of the cooking and baking that is usually on her to-do list for the holidays. We also fit in a preschool Nativity play showcasing our two sons and their classmates, as well as two dance recitals, and several memorable lunches and dinners. We relished an outdoor brunch and opening presents with Mimi and Papa on our faux Christmas Day.

I am grateful my parents were able to travel to us this year, and now I will have a lot of memorable photos to start stuffing into their annual album for next year. Sadly, while they were here, one of their dog’s health took a quick turn for the worse, and the vet allowed us to FaceTime with “Rowdy” before she ultimately passed away that evening. I know my parents would have preferred one of them to have stayed behind to be by the sweet senior lab’s side during her final hours, and there were some tears shed over Rowdy’s plight. Mixed with our yuletide joy was some sorrow; such is life. I haven’t told the kids yet because I didn’t want to take away from their holiday cheer. January is a better month for reality.

During the children’s Christmas play, the pastor of the church told all of us school families about a family-friendly Christmas Eve service in the late afternoon. My husband and I unsuccessfully tried to make a midnight Christmas Eve service in Austin last year, but we were so tired from traveling and taking care of the children’s demands in a different home that we didn’t make it.

We are not regular church attenders, but I felt like we needed to peel back the layers of the modern day hyper-commercialized Christmas and rediscover its core. Other than my youngest son trying to punch the childcare ladies in the church nursery, our outing was a success. They graciously allowed my two older children to participate in the Christmas procession, and the flutist and pianist made for dulcet accompaniment to classic holiday melodies, beautiful to the ears of most, regardless of beliefs.

I took in the stained glass windows, vibrant poinsettias placed in honor of loved ones and beaming, dressed-up children on the small church stage, and I felt grateful to be sitting there in peace, free from any outside news or conflict, and simply able to breathe in the beauty of the season. We will make attending a Christmas Eve service part of our new family tradition; it’s a wonderful break from the shopping, shipping and insanity that the holidays can become.

After church, we headed to our favorite downtown Mexican joint and enjoyed a nice adult beverage with our early dinner. Church followed by a jumbo margarita … seems logical to me! (We weren’t the only churchgoers there either.) After dinner, we drove around the local neighborhood and took in an entire street covered in Christmas lights aglow and ornate décor. Some neighbors lingered over their fire pits, and one kind woman came up to our car to give us some candy canes. Christmas Eve was perfect … until I pulled my chess pies out of the oven.

To be continued.

 

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.