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.


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

All Roads Lead to the Holidays

By: Aimee Tafreshi


It’s that magical time of year again … time for sweetly decorated sugar cookies, brightly twinkling lights and Nat King Cole singing on the radio … and time to decide how, when and where you will spend your holidays. If you have children and there are grandparents in the picture, chances are your holiday schedule may look more complex than a shared custody arrangement. Distribute family members throughout the country, and you may have no choice but to alternate years or holidays at different homes. Or better yet, make them all travel to you à la Christmas Vacation. We all know how well that turned out…

Last year, my husband’s work schedule offered the opportunity to take vacation, so we stuffed our SUV to the gills and hit the road for Texas, just over 1,000 miles halfway across the country. Our road trip required a hotel stop to break up the drive, and even then we were putting the pedal to the medal to make good time and arrive as quickly as possible. We were lucky because my family lives in Austin, while hubby’s family was down the road in Houston, so we could share nearly a week with each of them. We spent time at my parents’ house, his uncle’s house and a rented beach house in a game of musical homes.

We have generous family members who bestowed many gifts on our children, so my husband and father-in-law spent the final two days of our trip locating the last rooftop cargo carrier in the greater Houston area and securing the behemoth case to our car. As we pulled away from the quaint beach house, we expressed gratitude at getting to see all of our family members in one fell swoop and felt relief that we did our duty. We then immediately agreed that next time they could come to us!

This year is different. My spouse’s work schedule is grueling, and we are getting older and more tired. We didn’t entertain the thought of driving to the Lone Star State for Thanksgiving, as the road trip alone would have consumed four days. We looked up airfare for a family of five to see a price tag in the couple of thousands, and when we checked airfare to see his parents in Alaska, the price tag was double.

Where do you go when you live in a beach town and have no relatives living east of the Mississippi? You head to the mountains! The eighty-degree Florida weather in November was beginning to wear on my nerves, and my husband was a polar bear in a past life, with his ability to wear shorts in forty-degree temps. I recalled visiting a cool, happening town called Asheville in 2001 when clerking at a South Carolina law firm. I remembered that there were smaller mountains (compared to the Rockies), a thriving food and beer scene and the Biltmore Estate. I was sold just imagining how the cool weather would feel on my face and arms, as opposed to dried sweat and humidity.

We decide we would spend three full days in Asheville, with two days dedicated to driving. As the trip approached, I began researching restaurants online and reviewing my North Carolina travel guide. I became so excited that I decided we should head out a day earlier, giving us one extra day to enjoy all that Asheville has to offer. Unfortunately, I came to this realization on the very morning that I wanted to head to the mountains with nary a suitcase packed.

We hurriedly gathered enough cold weather gear for a move to Switzerland and headed out just shy of 3 p.m. This was not the wisest decision, as darkness would fall around 5:30, and we would arrive well past the kids’ bedtimes. Two-thirds of the way there, our weary bodies and bleary eyes begged us to stop at a hotel for the night, but we stubbornly pressed onward.

Armed with only sea bands, my older son began feeling a little woozy driving through the mountains, which suddenly towered over the dark horizon when we crossed into North Carolina. We didn’t think too much of his whimpers until he puked all over himself. It’s not a real road trip experience until a child has thrown up all over his person and his car seat. (On a previous excursion my husband cleaned up the sick child while lightning struck the ground around us and I cowered in my seat.) We lost about 30 minutes at a sketchy gas station cleaning him up as best we could and arrived at our hotel looking (and smelling) a little worse for the wear.

After settling the kids into their beds, their father of the year had to make a midnight run to the local drugstore for cleaning supplies. You’d think we’d know to bring disinfectant wipes by now. On the plus side, the room set-up was perfect. We had a suite, which is a must-have with children. We woke up the next day and headed down to the free breakfast buffet. After feeding our picky eaters, we headed back up to the room to plan our day. Our son proceeded to regurgitate the contents of his breakfast, all over himself, so we then prepared to do our second load of hotel laundry. (Conveniently the laundry facilities were located on our floor.)

Once every one was dressed in non-soiled clothes, I checked the weather to see sub-freezing temperatures for the morning. We bundled up in our arctic gear and headed out to the Western North Carolina Nature Center. In a stroke of luck, our local zoo membership got us a fifty percent discount off admission. Now most of us parents have seen our fair share of zoos and critters, but this one ranks toward the top for me. Other than freezing and suddenly longing for the Florida shorts and flip flop weather, the scenery was tree-filled and postcard perfect. My favorite exhibits included the gray wolves, some of which eerily resembled my longer-haired German Shepherd, and the highly endangered red wolves. There was supposed to be a black bear, but he was smarter than us humans and staying warm in his den.

After unwisely choosing a breakfast of simple carbs and walking around in the frigid air, I was as ravenous as one of those rangy wolves. We wrapped up our visit at the wildlife park and headed downtown to a famous restaurant called Tupelo Honey. I remembered what it was like to live in a bigger city when we had to park in a cramped garage and walk to the restaurant. My older son complained the whole walk about the bitter cold, and secretly I wanted to cry, too.

We showed up to the restaurant way beyond the typical lunch hour, and the joint was packed wall-to-wall with hungry locals and tourists. After enduring a 20-minute wait (that felt like an eternity with crazed hellions), we were seated. In our famished state, we ordered two appetizers (pimento cheese dip and a goat cheese plate), which were then followed by the best homemade biscuits and blueberry jam I have ever tasted in my life. I could have just eaten biscuits and jam for lunch, and I am not even a bread person.

When my entrée arrived – their signature shrimp and grits, jazzed up with some goat cheese (what else?), red peppers and mouth-watering chorizo – I could barely put a dent in my meal. I shoved spoonfuls of southern deliciousness in my mouth until my stomach begged me to stop. Transformed from weak and cold to as stuffed as a turkey on Thanksgiving, we waddled back to the car. I complimented my husband’s great sense of direction in finding the parking garage and commented, “If it was just me, I’d be lost already walking around downtown Charlotte.” Oh wait, we’re in Asheville… I can’t even keep my cities straight, let alone my city blocks.

After our initial vacation hiccups, the trip smoothed out and we began to enter into that relaxation mode that is so elusive when you have small children accompanying you. Our youngest son’s favorite activity was the indoor pool, which brought back memories of my younger sister and I swimming at the Embassy Suites on various family vacations. We were prepared and brought the kiddie inner tubes so we could be somewhat “hands free” in the pool. We splashed and played in the water every evening, teaching the kids “Marco Polo” and stealing some time in the hot tub to warm up our chilled bodies.

The most memorable time for me was the day we visited the sprawling Biltmore Estate. I had toured the grand home in my twenties but could only remember the indoor pool and bowling alley. I had reserved audio guides for us adults, but our two oldest children commandeered them. They would listen and repeat various facts about the home to me. Next time I will splurge for two of the children’s narrated headphones, as the audio guides proved invaluable in keeping them engaged (i.e., not bored, pummeling each other, or destroying priceless Vanderbilt heirlooms) as we toured the 250-room mansion.

We marveled at one of the country’s first bowling alleys and large but barren natatorium and laughed at the wooden old-fashioned dog gate to keep the help’s large dogs out of the kitchen in the early 1900s. After our tour of the chateau, we chose to eat lunch on the estate in a horse stable turned causal restaurant, a fitting venue for our wild bunch. We were impressed to learn that our meat was sourced from the Biltmore property, where they raise cattle and other livestock.

Following a post-lunch walk around the expansive gardens, we headed to a different part of the sprawling grounds, which now houses a village and winery, as well as two hotels. Alex and I relished our first winery experience together while the kids savored some grape juice. My youngest son shotgunned his drink and raced up to the bar with berry-stained vampire lips begging for another glass. We bought a couple of bottles of the local vino, great for Christmas gifts, and capped off the day at the ice cream shop. It’s safe to say that we ate our way through Asheville!

A favorite memory of our trip was the unique Asheville Pinball Museum in downtown. We knew this was a hot ticket when we arrived to a waitlist with a thirty-minute wait. In the interim, we headed down the street to view the Basilica of St. Lawrence, a Catholic church designed by the same design team behind the Biltmore House, and considered an “architectural treasure” of the town. We walked inside to see the luminous stained glass walls, and luckily the kids were quiet and respectful toward the few worshipers inside.

The Pinball Museum was an experience that could be enjoyed across generations. The gallery housed working pinball machines dating back to the 1960s through the decades. We rotated around the large arcade, trying out different machines, and even my youngest son was able to pull the knob with enough force to put each ball into play. The hidden gems of the museum were tucked away in a back room, where old Atari and classic video games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong beckoned. We ended our outing with the original Mario Brothers, a classic for our generation, and I passed through some of the levels before getting killed off, even recalling some tricks. Now the kids want Nintendos for Christmas…

Altogether, our trip to Asheville was one of our most successful family vacations. I think its laidback nature, with a mix of planning and spontaneity, contributed to the satisfaction level. The hotel played a big part too, with its free hot breakfasts (a bonus for large families) and complimentary dinner (with free booze!) served during most nights.

And I hadn’t even mentioned the best part – the majestic scenery. A feeling of peace descended upon us as we took in the mountainous views. After stuffing our faces at the historic Grove Park Inn on Thanksgiving, we leisurely drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway and simply took in its natural beauty and peaks of the cityscape between the vibrant fall foliage and the lush rolling hills.

We will definitely return to Asheville. As the kids get older, we will seek out adventure activities like zip lining or white-water rafting. And there’s about 600 restaurants left to sample…

What I took away from this family vacation is that sometimes a non-traditional celebration or destination can exceed your expectations and create new customs and treasured memories. As we enter the holidays, we will be spending our first Christmas at our own home, having traveled out-of-state for the last two seasons. We are excited to stroll through our own downtown among the glimmering lights, decorate our first non-artificial tree, eat at our favorite Mexican food restaurant on the big day and not worry about overstuffed luggage or airport layovers. Wherever your holidays take you this year, here’s to celebrating old traditions, embracing new ones and creating your own.

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

The Clark Griswold Approach to Halloween

By: Aimee Tafreshi

Halloween pic 2014

Ever since I was a little girl, Halloween takes the pumpkin as my favorite holiday. I inherited my love of this spooky night from my dad. He traveled a lot while we were kids, but I have distinct memories of him being present for All Hallows’ Eve. One year he dressed up as Dracula and sat on the porch with a stoic expression on his face. With his jet-black hair and athletic physique, he made for an imposing and convincing Count. Some of the neighborhood kids wouldn’t even walk up to the porch because they were too terrified of my father in character.

He always insisted that Halloween was for scary costumes, so I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a princess gown. I recall wearing an unflattering pumpkin suit or roaming around as a sleek black cat. (My little sister got to be a cute Texas cheerleader.) My best friend and I unabashedly trick-or-treated throughout high school and one year wore panty hose over our faces. I’m not sure what our intended costumes were other than ironic and juvenile delinquents.

College brought with it Halloween-themed parties and venues for displaying our creative ensembles (or cleavage) at downtown venues. I remember those younger years, driving over to the vintage costume boutique on South Congress in Austin, where the racks overflowed with velvety garments and glittering costume jewelry. The possibilities were endless. As an added bonus, you could rent or buy your outfit, so you weren’t stuck with a costly Bride of Frankenstein gown hanging in your closet. One year I purchased a beautiful white flapper gown that would still work for today (I was the sucker that bought my costume).

Another time in college, my friends and I decided to go as The Brady Bunch. I remember combing through vintage stores, as well as the clearance section at department stores, putting together my perfect Marcia Brady creation. Many hours were spent envisioning the concept for this look, as well as hunting down the retro attire and accessories.

Flash forward to three kids later, and Halloween took a tumble off the broomstick in terms of priority. Four years ago, with a preschooler and a baby, we did manage to pull together a respectable Peter Pan family theme complete with Captain Hook, Wendy, Tinker Bell and Tick-Tock the Crocodile. (Family themes are like the Holy Grail of Halloween – they are difficult to achieve and rarely seen.) I don’t even remember the Halloween after my third child was born. At some point as a mom of young children, you feel successful if you can snag the last XL Halloween themed shirt at Target to cover up your postpartum belly and look festive. I still have that Snoopy shirt in my drawer.

This year is different, though. We still have three kids, ages 3, 5 and 7, but everyone feeds him- or herself, uses the toilet and walks upright. This is a major game changer. This Halloween would bring back the glory days of past ones.

I felt a surge of giddiness last Friday when I picked the kids up from school and proclaimed, “We are all going to Super Walmart to pick out your very own Halloween costume!” You would have thought I said we were going to Disney World. The kids were beyond excited to 1) go shopping, and 2) have complete control over their clothing choices. In the past I would have ordered it all online and presented their outfits to them – here, this is what you are wearing tonight.

While driving, I encourage the little ones to brainstorm which characters they want to embody. My daughter isn’t sure, my oldest son is set on being a spider and my youngest son declares “Batman.” He previously had stuck to “Anna or Elsa” for the last two months, so I feel a little relieved with the superhero choice.

Ten years ago you couldn’t have dragged me into a Super Walmart, let alone for Halloween costumes. I would have scoffed at their cheaply made and generic garment choices. Today, however, I live on an island, so the choices are small island Walmart or off island Super Walmart. Now I get excited to drive over that big bridge to see all of the Made in China packaged threads that the big box store has to offer. There are no boutique costume stores around, or even a Party City in proximity. And I sure as hell am not dragging three kids to resale shops to cobble together the perfect Halloween duds. So Walmart it is!

We walk into the brightly lit retail behemoth, and I visualize where I saw the huge section of inviting costumes last week. Oh *&#!, that was Target! Oh well, this will do. We make a beeline for the ample selection of costumes, and I let the kids have free range, looking at all the options and choosing their favorites. This is how it goes down:

My youngest son, who made the switch from Anna/Elsa to Batman, sees a beautiful Cinderella toddler gown and declares that he will be Cinderella. I sigh, hand him the admittedly beautiful dress, and he clutches it for dear life. I see a cute ladies’ Wonder Woman ensemble (not too skanky, not too matronly, just right…) and snatch it from the shelf. My daughter promptly grabs the same type of costume in her size. My middle child looks and complains loudly that there are no spiders to wear. And no, he does not want to be Spiderman again. We collect our loot and leave with the usual tomfoolery in the checkout line (a given with three children, or at least my three misbehaving ones).

Throughout the whole production, my middle child – let’s call him B1 – is complaining loudly and incessantly about the lack of a spider option. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I usually see spider garb on babies. I promise him that when we get home, I will order him a spindly costume online, if that will get him to shut up.

Later that day we browse arachnid apparel on my laptop, and none of them are “scary” enough to meet B1’s requirements. Most of them feature a chubby armed baby with a round head and kind spider eyes. He finally spots a movie quality alien-looking spider head on Amazon that would send chills down your spine – it runs about eight hundred dollars. I decide to switch gears and check out Party City’s offerings – they have a black Spiderman suit with an imposing spider image on the front. I guess the blackness of the costume jives with his dark soul because he is sold.

“But Mommy,” B1 chides, “I need black gloves with my Spiderman.” But of course you do, son! (Deep down I understand his OCD desire for the “perfect” Halloween look.) Having previously clicked “Order” on the Party City page, knowing that its minions are already busy packaging up our purchase in their Halloween sweatshop of horrors, I begin another search for “Spiderman gloves.” I find some online at Walmart (where else?) and score, they are black.

The next day, I finally take my fiery dress out of its bag and am excited to morph into Wonder Woman. I squeeze into the dress and remember the cardinal shopping rule that costumes run small, and I should have ordered the size up. The dress looks flattering enough but I can’t really sit down in it, and I might need to buy some bloomers on account of the thigh slit. Hmm, can I really wear this getup trick-or-treating downtown with my children on a Friday morning, or will I look like a woman of the night?

I immediately make mental plans to return to Walmart, sans children, to scour the racks for a roomier Wonder Woman dress. It’s still a week before Halloween; surely there is one in stock? I head back to the retail beast and am on a mission. I put hands on every single costume. Unless I want to be a scantily clad cowgirl or a promiscuous purple fairy, I am completely out of luck. I decide to make the most of my time there and buy my youngest son a blue headband and clear sandals to go with his Cinderella gown. My husband may mock me, but if you’re going to go drag, you can’t go halfway. No one can rock sneakers with a ball gown, unless you’re a supermodel.

Driving back to my little island, a light bulb goes off in my head, and I think maybe, just maybe, our sweet little island Walmart will have a Wonder Woman number in their sure to be meager selection of Halloween items. I saunter in and head to the small rack of jumbled fabrics. A man with a backwoods accent begins engaging me in conversation about the year he dressed up as Gene Simmons from Kiss and befriended a woman styled as Dolly Parton at a costume party. I put on my Dateline goggles and assess him – is he a psychopath trying to abduct me from Walmart, or just a kind countryman with a yarn to spin about a past Halloween shindig? I decide I am not in immediate danger, chuckle at his story and continue my hunt. And what to my glowing eyes should appear, but a Wonder Woman costume, in my size… SCORE!!!

I greedily grab the package, self-check out and race home. I can’t believe my good luck – I have snagged the last Wonder Woman costume in the whole county! I excitedly pull out the gem, double-check its size and my heart sinks. Some jokester has put a size small in the bag, the same as my previous purchase. Now I am the owner of two, too tight super hero dresses. On the bright side, the belt in the bag is a medium and fits my non-existent waist perfectly, allowing me to inhale and exhale. Perhaps I can get this minidress to work after all.

In a last ditch effort, I look online at, where I should have shopped this year instead of visiting a store in person (who does that anymore?). I hold my breath as my Wonder Woman costume pops up and shows the price reduced by half(!). Who’s the joke on now? I select a medium, thinking I’m going to get my fabulous frock after all. The screen then displays a mocking message informing me that the dress is sold out, unavailable in stores, online or basically anywhere in the world. A last-ditch search of a few nearby stores’ online inventory confirms this message.

The next day or so I spend way too much time thinking about my Halloween costume. I return the mislabeled one back to island Walmart, but sneakily put in the small belt instead of the medium one. I then surf the web, finding a few potential options for different superhero dresses at Target and Walmart. I decide to sleep on it, and the next day when I log back on, they are all sold out. Apparently every woman in America this year will be Wonder Woman or Supergirl.

There is one Supergirl (who the hell is she, anyway?) tutu left at Target, so I buy it, typing like a madwoman, as I must be racing some other poor hapless housewife in a desperate hunt for the last red tutu. Now I just need a top to pair with this frivolous tutu… I get on the godfather of all sites, Amazon, and begin pouring over reviews of various junior sized fitted tees. Sizing is tricky – will a junior’s XL fit like a ladies’ medium or a baggy nightgown? I narrow down my choices to a cute and mom-appropriate feminine Superman tee with detachable cape, and I hope it doesn’t fit like Saran Wrap. Then I realize my costume looks a lot like my daughter’s, tutu and all. Like a mom trying to recapture her superhero days…

Whew, now I can think about something else! Like Syrian refugees, Donald Trump, Benghazi, anything other than Halloween costumes. Oh right, but then there is all the other fun stuff that comes along with Halloween. Like decorating the house. My husband dutifully put all of our autumn themed decorations on display the other weekend, and my son (you guessed it, B1) complained that we needed more flair. Apparently the neighbors down the street have more fake dead people. He didn’t understand that I don’t have an extra hundred dollars lying around for another fake dead body. Really, it’s much better to buy them when they go on sale after Halloween.

Then there are the class parties, trick-or-treating downtown on Friday morning, trick-or-treating around the neighborhood Saturday night, and don’t forget all of the fall-themed activities that you have to go do because they will close down in mid- November – corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin patch pictures, steam train excursions, et cetera. And how am I supposed to keep up with all of my college football games and do laundry while all of this fun is going on? Someone pass me the candy corn; I need a gallon of sugar coursing through my veins to get through this Halloween season.

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