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.

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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.

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 Walmart.com, 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 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.

Breaking the Routine – Summer Ideas for Your Little Explorers

By Kim Patterson

Through the seemingly endless winter months parents of small children envision all the fun they’ll have with their kids once summer rolls around. No longer confined by four walls, the kids will be free to frolic and enjoy all that warm weather has to offer. That’s the dream anyways. Many parents of little ones find that once summer is upon them they can’t seem to break out of their regular routines. If you’re eagerly anticipating outdoor escapades with your littles, but haven’t a clue where to start, here are some ideas for summer fun and exploration.

Babies

Babies love to touch, feel and taste. While you might think that the tasting part of their exploration excludes babies from arts and crafts, there is still an opportunity for infants to have their Picasso moment. There are a number of edible finger paints on the market made especially for creative babies. They are colored with fruits and vegetables and are completely safe (probably even tasty). There are even several online edible finger paint recipes for the DIY parents out there. If your baby is old enough to stand while holding onto something, a store bought or homemade water table can provide hours of entertainment and an opportunity to cool down.

Toddlers

As any play dough wielding parent knows, tactile play is best left outside. The toddler set love it, but have you ever tried to get ground in, dried up modeling clay out of your carpet? Summer is the perfect opportunity to move these kinds of activities to a more dough-friendly environment. There are some fun sensory dough recipes to be found online. One that suits the hot weather very well is ice cream dough, which you can readily find recipes for on Pinterest. Whip up a batch or two in different colors and give your toddler a dollar store ice cream scoop and he’ll be serving up your new favorite treats in no time. Sidewalk chalk is another fun option, but why go mainstream? Instead, mix up some spray on sidewalk chalk (do a quick search for chalk spray) and prepare to be amazed by your little one’s creations.

Preschool

Kids this age love to help make things. Don’t worry if you’re not super handy. There are plenty of things you can create together – play to your strengths. For instance, kids (and adults) love to eat ice pops in the summer. Pick up some fill-able tube zip pouches and get mixing with your preschooler. She’ll love coming up with special flavors and you’ll be happy knowing that you’re making healthier frozen treats. If food isn’t your thing then why not experiment with bubbles? Mix up a batch of homemade bubble solution with your preschooler and then play around with different household objects that double as bubble blowers. You can also try your hand at building a giant bubble maker (check Pinterest for instructions).

Of course, water play is always fun for all ages. Invest in a small blow-up pool, turn on the sprinkler or take your little squirt to a local wading pool (hint: it’s always a good idea to find out what time of day the pool gets drained and re-filled and go right after that). Visiting local zoos and going fruit picking are also popular choices. Remember, summer play doesn’t have to be complicated, just break out and have fun!

Sources:

https://weecantooart.com/

http://www.playcreateexplore.org/2013/01/ice-cream-dough-new-play-recipe.html

http://zipzicles.com/

http://www.cometogetherkids.com/2011/04/really-big-bubble-maker.html

http://www.crafts-for-all-seasons.com/giant-bubble-maker.html