I think we’re ready for the next step in our family’s food evolution

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

I’m currently co-teaching a class based on Shane Claibourne and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution at my church. It’s a great book about taking the things Jesus actually said seriously, and I’m enjoying our group discussions every week. On Sunday, one of the chapters I taught was about environmentalism, and how important it is for followers of Jesus not just to take caring for creation seriously, but to become partners and co-workers in God’s restoration of all of creation, a project that ultimately ends in the Revelations-vision of a garden-city in the New Jerusalem when heaven and earth finally become one. The book also makes a great connection between the fact that the price of environmental degradation is almost always paid heaviest by the poorest among us, and notes that creation care is inextricably tied to ideas of justice for the poor.

One way the book suggests we can minimize our environmental impact is through our diets, and this reminded me of the journey my family has been on food-wise since 2009. In 2009, I read an article in National Geographic magazine that started me thinking that my diet was incompatible with some of my deepest concerns for the poor and the environment. As I wrote then, “According to Bourne, 35% of the world’s grain is used to feed livestock instead of people.  Think about that.  I’ve read that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and more and more, that bothers me.  It gets to me to see photographs of starving babies and know that the tasty meat I eat is contributing to the food scarcity that is killing children all over the world.”

Of course, at the time, I was very much a beginning cook, and I didn’t really know how to cook a meal that wasn’t based around a chicken breast, which I bought frozen in giant bags. Knowing that a little change was better than nothing at all, at the time, we committed to one meat-free meal per week. That may seem small (or, depending on how much meat you usually eat, huge), but it actually makes a difference– I had read that if every American committed to one meat-free meal per week, it would be like taking 5 million cars off the road, and if every American committed to one meat-free *day* per week, it would be like taking 8 million cars off the road.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Since that first commitment in 2009, we’ve slowly changed our diet from Meatless Monday to Mostly Meat-Free. In fact, after revisiting that 2009 blog post, I suggested to my husband that we might be ready to commit to eat meat ONLY one day per week. He agreed wholeheartedly. After slowly inching in that direction over all this time, it doesn’t feel like a huge leap. We’ve gotten used to eating “mostly plants” as Michael Pollan says, while still rounding out our diets with eggs, dairy, and seafood. (If you want to see some of the meatless meals we love, I’ve got a pinboard for that.)

I’ll say now like I said then: I don’t envision an entirely vegetarian life for us. We like meat, even if we can largely do without it. Once in a while, we like to split a ribeye at Maddie’s Place or roast a chicken for dinner, and I think we will always want to have the freedom to indulge in something we like once in a while, especially when traveling and getting to know other food cultures. I don’t come at this from the angle that eating animals is wrong, though I respect friends’ choices if that’s what they believe.

I guess I’m writing this now to say: little steps make a difference. You don’t have to try to change the world or even your diet all at once. If you currently eat meat at most meals, you might be where we were in 2009. If you want to try just starting with Meatless Mondays (or any other day that works for you), it will make a big difference in the impact you have on the environment and the global food economy, I really believe it.

And if you’re ever interested in what we’re eating around here, I like to Instagram our dinners with the hashtag #bigdinnerlittledinner

I took my dad on a date to the Clinton Center and we both loved it

This is a sponsored post written in conjunction with my role as a Social Ambassador for the Clinton Center.

If you’re from Arkansas and you travel at all, when people find out where you’re from, they will always ask you what you think of the Clintons. I happen to be a fan politically, but I’m also a huge fan of the Clinton Center, which not only houses the Clinton Presidential Library, but also temporary historical, educational, and cultural exhibits that change frequently. I’ve been there to see Legos, de la Renta gowns, Chihuly glass, and had to make several trips so Etta and Claire could check out the dinosaur exhibit that closed last fall. Having frequently paid to see the exhibits with my family, I was thrilled to be asked to be a Clinton Center Social Ambassador this year. This means my family gets a membership to the Center, and I am compensated to attend events and help spread the word about this amazing place that I love.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

My first event as an ambassador was on Saturday, in conjunction with their Coca-Cola: An American Original exhibit which is open until February 15. When I realized it was a Coca-Cola exhibit, I knew I had to bring my dad. He’s a Coca-Cola man the way you might have said Don Draper liked drinking whiskey– his fridge is always stocked with Cokes, which I swipe on my way out the door to enjoy on the hour drive home, a little treat I associate with him. He also collects a particular type of Coke bottle, and I knew he would enjoy the exhibit, which focuses on the 100th anniversary of the iconic Coke bottle, and the event, which involved an Antiques Roadshow-style appraisal of locals’ Coke collectibles with Ted Ryan, the director of Heritage Communications for Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

It wasn’t until we were on our way to the Clinton Center that I realized I can’t remember the last time my dad and I got to hang out, just the two of us. I loved getting to tour the exhibit with him, and he loved peppering Ted with questions about the history of Coca-Cola’s advertising art, represented by several Norman Rockwell originals on display. Dad wanted to know if Coke invented Santa Claus, and the answer was yes and no– they didn’t come up with the idea of Santa, but the American image of a rosy-cheeked, chubby, bearded old man in red and white was created by Coke artist Haddon Sundblom. If the Coca-Cola brand is one of the major things Coke sells– at one point, Ted said “All we make is syrup and advertising,” Santa’s brand also owes a lot to them.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

The first iteration of the Coca-Cola polar bears, the iconic Barefoot Boy by Norman Rockwell, and Santa as portrayed by Sundblom.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

I loved these WWII-era servicewomen with their Cokes.

We both thoroughly enjoyed the Collectors Convention, especially seeing the vast knowledge Ted carries in his head about the brand, its advertising, and Coca-Cola items. No matter what people brought up to show him, he was never stumped. We saw a pretzel bowl valued at $800, a metal spinner ad that used to sit atop a gas pump valued between $600-1,000, a 1961 Westinghouse Coke machine valued at $1,500, and a stamp holder from the early teens valued at $500, among many other things. My dad, sadly, learned the vintage bottles he collects aren’t worth very much, because literally billions were made.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

After the convention, we headed upstairs to check out the rest of the exhibit, which tells the story of how the Coke bottle became what it is today. We learned that the original design was to look like the pods of the coca plant, but it was slimmed down to fit into the mechanized bottling equipment. We also learned from Ted that the phrase “soda pop” came from early bottles for carbonated beverages– the cork was inside the bottle, and the carbonation pushed up on it to maintain the seal. In order to drink the beverage, you had to pop the cork down into the bottle. I particularly loved the vintage photographs of celebrities and presidents drinking from Coke bottles, and a series of pieces Andy Warhol did, inspired by the famous brand. I’d like to think Warhol would enjoy the fact that I busted out my selfie stick and subjected Dad to his first selfie in front of the Warhols.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

Dad’s first selfie! He even almost smiled!

After we had finished checking everything out, my mom, sister, and daughters met up with us for lunch in the Clinton Center’s restaurant, Forty-Two (because President Clinton was the 42nd President). I don’t think many folks know what a lovely, family-friendly dining option Forty-Two is, but they have an excellent kids menu and high chairs, and we have dined there with our girls many times. Saturday was unseasonably warm and we got to sit out on their fabulous patio and watch cyclists and walkers pass up above us on the River Trail. As we ate, Claire asked my dad, “How was your date with my mommy?” “I’m still enjoying it,” he said. I’m so glad I got to take my dad to this exhibit, and might have to convince him to come along to the next one too, which I am told will be Olympics-themed to tie in with this summer’s Games.

Coca-Cola: An American Original closes February 15. Be sure to check it out before then! A great opportunity to do so would be Saturday, February 13, as they are hosting free Valentine’s Day family activities from 10am-2pm.

 

don’t talk about my kid that way

“Raging Sociopath.” “Little Criminal.” “Corrupt.” “Depraved.” “Demon Child.”

If someone said those things about either of my children, they’d be facing a very angry mama bear. Imagine my surprise to find them littered throughout an ostensibly Christian parenting book (Parenting by the Book, by John Rosemond) my Sunday School class has started studying! I had so many issues with the first lesson of the study that my head almost exploded, but this is one of my biggest issues with the author’s entire view on parenting, because the way he speaks about children, I think, has a lot to do with the harsh manner in which he advocates treating them.

Can you imagine the Jesus who said “Let the little children come to me,” and who encouraged all of us to have faith like a child speaking of his beloved little children in those terms? It’s hard to imagine a Bible that says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” (Ephesians 4:29) seeing such terms as “building up” or “beneficial” to children.

I gather that in order to understand “sinful nature,” some people must force themselves to believe that children are basically depraved sinners. I just don’t think that in order to accept that all humans have a capacity to sin I must see my children in only those terms. While my children have their periods of selfishness (which it seems to me is pretty much the root of all evil, even in my own heart), nearly four years with them has taught me that kids have great capacities for love and empathy. They genuinely want to please the adults in their lives. They genuinely want to show love to the people around them. One of the highest compliments I can pay my girls is to tell them what loving hearts they have, and how happy my heart is to see them being kind to others. When I do, I can see them radiating joy. They have a capacity for selfishness, too, but the answer is not to tell myself or them that they are basically monsters. The answer is to encourage and nurture their naturally loving little hearts, and to learn from them.

I am often quoting author Thomas King, “The truth about stories is, they’re all that we are.” I’ve also read that our voices will one day become the voices in our children’s heads. The words that we use to think about and talk about our children shape the way we treat them and the way we speak to them. They will do their best to live up to the selves they see reflected in our eyes. I want them to know that I see their best selves, that I feel privileged to know them and to be their mom. Imagine my surprise to find a Christian parenting expert speaking of children in terms I'd sock a stranger for using about my kids!

can it be? a light at the end of the long dark tunnel that is THREE?

EttatudeUsually, I am not one to cotton to other parents who tell those with littler kids “just you wait, it gets worse.” Because each stage in this journey has its own set of hard and its own type of beauty, and there’s no use worrying about the next stage when you are already knee-deep in the current one. But one of the best things anyone did for me was to tell me that the “terrible twos” are a myth and three is where shit really gets real. Because OMG. The last year of three squared has nearly killed us. Thank God I didn’t go through two thinking we were in the worst of the toddler years, only to get walloped by three. Three. GOOD LORD. THREE.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

Three has been emotional. Three has been obstinate. Three has been irrational. Three has been straight-up exhausting. It has brought us to the edge of our patience, ability to form rational thoughts, and self-control. Three has made me want to run away screaming more than a few times. Yes, three has had some magic in it, as imagination has continued to explode and the twin bond has gotten tighter and they’ve been oh-so-eager to be big helpers, but mostly three has been the hardest year of our lives.

Claire tude.

But lately. Lately we see glimpses of the promised land: FOUR. It’s three months away, and we’re getting close enough to see some landmarks. Four seems less ruled by emotions. Four seems silly, always looking to make us laugh. Four is playful and imaginative. Four is independent and actually becoming capable. Four can make a sandwich! Four can put on her own coat! Four is getting better about putting on her own shoes! Four is really affectionate, and comes up with new ways to “show love” every day. Four is obsessed with “ballet music,” and will listen to Beethoven in a ballgown while playing with LEGO. Four loves snuggles with mommy and park time with daddy.

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I’m sure a lot of the time four will also drive us right up the freakin’ wall, but it finally feels like we’re reaping some rewards from all the hard work three has required. And if four is actually a nightmare, please don’t tell me. I can’t handle the news. I’m still recovering from three.

Ever South

Indigo Girls at South on Main in Little Rock, AR

Last night Jon and I went to a concert that celebrated Georgia music with the Indigo Girls and Patterson Hood. The music was amazing, and though we bought the tickets mostly to see the Indigo Girls, I can now count myself a belated fan of Patterson Hood and will likely spend today listening to him and his band, the Drive By Truckers. He especially won me over with “Daddy Needs a Drink,” and I really loved a song he played called “Ever South,” that he said he wrote just a few days ago about moving from the South to Oregon. The line “Everywhere we go, they hear the drawl that leaves our mouth, so no matter where we go, we’re ever South” reminded me of how many of my fellow native Southerners don’t think I have much of an accent, but when I visit my husband’s family in Colorado, they all seem to think I do! I also really loved the song “World of Hurt” about the crazy mix of beauty and pain that is life and love, and another song, where he sang “I can dance on my own grave, thank you,” which is exactly how I feel about my near-death experience.

Patterson Hood at South on Main in Little Rock, AR

At one point in the night, we were discussing Southern identity with a friend who’s from California. I said I think Colorado-born Jon has been naturalized as a Southerner at this point, after over a decade in the South and two Arkansas-born daughters. Jon said, “Well, I have a daughter named Etta Jane, what more do I need?” True. Poor guy didn’t want our kid to have a double name, because he thought it sounded too Southern, and then the little peach went and insisted on having one anyway. “NAME ETTA JANE,” she’s been insisting for at least a year now. Just Etta is apparently not enough to cover it.

It was interesting to think about, though, because I don’t think people from other regions obsess quite so much with the idea of regional identity. Are Midwesterners tortured or haunted the way so many Southerners are (or at least those of us who really love Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor)? Do people from other regions have the same experience of wrestling with their regional identity and deciding how much it influences them and what parts of it they will keep and what parts they will reject–not so much a coming out as a coming into a type of identity? I suspect not. We’re a weird sort, ever South.

one perfect night

Any parent of small children can tell you: stuff usually does not go according to plan. You either learn to live with this, become flexible, and go with the flow, or you spend a lot of time frustrated that life never just GOES RIGHT. Someone will always poop their pants on the day you forgot to pack a spare outfit, but never on the days that you did, you know?

But in the same vein of my “it gets better” post, I think it’s important to notice when things actually do go really really right. It may not happen often, but I promise, it does happen just often enough that if you take time to notice, outweighs so much of the “STUFF NEVER GOES RIGHT” frustration.

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Last night we had one such perfect night, and after we got the kids to bed and fixed our ritual fancy drink, my husband and I clinked our glasses and remarked on what a great night we’d had. It started when both kids actually took good naps, so we were primed and happy as we set out. We met up with some friends with a son our girls’ age at a local pizza place, and everyone sat in their chairs and happily ate their food, which was served promptly, and no one spilled any drinks or threw any fits. The kids entertained each other with silly antics and enjoyed sprinkling their own cheese on their own pizza, and we got to chat with some actual grownups, too.

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Then we walked up the street a couple of blocks to the fanciest hotel in town, The Capital Hotel, for their annual Christmas tree lighting. The Capital does it up right– there was even a man literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire right outside the front door. The girls were given jingle bells on red ribbons as we walked in. We each had a tiny glass of egg nog. There were Nutcracker ballerinas wandering around, and my two little ballet dancers stared at them in awe. “Ballerinas LIKE ME!” Etta exclaimed. Claire got one look at the giant tree in the center of the lobby and declared: “It’s ENORMOUS!” Each girl got one perfectly iced sugar cookie, and Etta chose “a star LIKE ME!” while Claire went for a red and white candy cane.

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The girls led us up the grand staircase to the upper balcony, which turned out to be a perfect spot from which to watch the tree light up, and left us perfectly positioned to be third in line to see a wonderful, real-bearded Santa when he assumed his perch on a reserved velvet sofa nearby. Third in line is ideal, it turns out, because the kids can see other kids greeting Santa and surviving, and you have just enough time to rehearse what you’re going to tell him you want. (Claire, a jack in the box; Etta, an umbrella, a typewriter, a music box, and a vacuum cleaner. I have no idea where my kids got such retro wishes, either.) A friend happened to be nearby just in time, so we even got a lovely picture of all four of us with the Jolly Old Elf, who gave each kid a jumbo candy cane, and then we headed toward the door.

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We arrived home and they gave up their largely unfinished candy canes without a fight (shocker), got into jammies with Etta only vetoing two pairs before settling on one, and did our nightly Jesse Tree reading before stories and bedtime, which also went smoothly. By the time I was mixing us up some cranberry rosemary Moscow mules (recipe soon, I promise), I was basically high on visions of sugar plums. I know how rare a night like that is at this stage of parenting. I’ve been through enough of the opposite to know I should be thankful. If this one perfect evening with family and friends is the closest thing we get to a Christmas miracle this season, I will count myself lucky.

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I’m looking forward to this season with our girls. They are full of wonder and hope and joy and innocence, and it turns out they are capable of some pretty magical moments. And when they’re not, and things don’t go according to plan? At least I know I’ve got my cranberry rosemary mule recipe perfected…

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not so incompetent: it does get better

When my twins were babies, a woman told me "It doesn't get any better." I'm here to say it does.

“Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

That’s what she said to me as I wheeled my two baby girls into daycare this morning. “I’m sure they keep you busy. Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

Well, I guess there’s no “It gets better” project for twin moms.

Which sucks, because for the last few days I just feel like life is hard. I feel incompetent. Like, not only can’t I do it all, but I can’t even do the little bit that I want to do. The little bit that I thought was achievable.

I wrote those words three years ago today, when I had tiny twins in daycare, a husband finishing up his Pediatric ER fellowship, was adjusting to life with a heart defect after “catastrophic” heart failure, and I was trying to finish grad school and feeling like a straight-up failure.

Now I’m the one whose twins are three, and I want to punch that other mom in the face. Because you know what? It does get better. It gets better and better all the time.

When my twins were babies, a woman told me it wouldn't get any better. I'm here three years later to say it does.

For one thing, everyone in my house now sleeps through the night. It took a long time to get there, but sleep is no longer a thing I agonize about, struggle for, or don’t get. Being tired all the time is just really really hard, and it makes you into a frazzled, emotional wreck. Not being tired all the time? It’s kind of the best.

For another, I can actually leave the room and get some stuff done while my kids PLAY TOGETHER HAPPILY. They can have tea parties in princess dresses, jam out on their instruments, cook up a masterpiece in their play kitchen, color in their coloring books, work on puzzles, build with Legos, and look at books, all without much involvement from me. Not for like, hours at a time, but often enough time to take a shower or get dinner together. That makes a big difference in my ability to feel “competent” at more than just the zoo keeping of keeping two tiny lumps alive.

Also? I realized I didn’t actually want to keep doing the grad school thing, and now that I have let that go, and also let go of defining myself by academic achievements or lack thereof, I’m much happier. I don’t have to “be” anything other than who I am right now, because it turns out I’m in a pretty good place. And maybe when my kids start school next year, I’ll get more serious about pitching and working to actually make this writing thing I love so much work for me. But I think the work I’m doing raising these kids is valuable and important, too, even without an M.A. after my name.

I remember being so scared three years ago to admit that I was feeling so low. I remember how desperate and overwhelmed I felt. I also still remember the sweet comment my friend Patrick, who is a little further down the parenting road left for me:

She’s wrong. It does get easier. We didn’t have twins, but 3 in five years. I can’t do the advanced math it takes to work that out, but I’m pretty sure I changed diapers for 14 consecutive years – and the oldest is only 13 now. Anyhow… It does get better. I promise.

There are a lot of great days ahead. The day you change your last diaper is a great day. The day the Bufflo Girls can buckle themselves in their car seats by themselves is a great day. The day they learn to ride a two-wheeler is a great day. The Saturday morning you wake up and discover they have gotten up, made their own breakfast and entertained themselves while you slept in is a great day. Your life is loaded with great days ahead.

I have found that my antidote to feeling like life has ganged up on me is to use gratitude as a tool. Not the kind of false gratitude your man Daniel is talking about up there, where gratitude is measured against others having it worse, or a guilty gratitude where we berate ourselves for having it so good, but the kind of gratitude that realizes that this feeling will pass and that today, I have everything I need, even if today does kind of suck, and tomorrow is another day filled with wonder and struggle and love and work and surprise and sorrow and joy.

The truth is, some days just plain suck and that’s ok. It will pass. Every single day of our lives aren’t meant to be filled with rainbows and unicorns and hobbits. When I can manage to use gratitude to find something genuine to feel grateful about without comparing myself to others, I can usually turn my day around. And some days, the only way I can find my gratitude tool is to tell others that I’m having a shitty day, and give them an opportunity to help me find it. And that’s a pretty joyful thing.

We’ve already had a few of those great days. And part of the reason I can celebrate them now is that I’ve been through the sucky days, too. I have struggled and grown and received so much grace in this process, a reason to be grateful for even the really hard days, too. Because I know that what I have and who I am? They’re enough. They’re not perfect, but they are GOOD. Even on the hard days. And especially on the good days.

So, now, when I see a mama struggling with little ones, I remember NOT to be the Debbie Downer with the three year old twins. I want to be the one who says: “I see you. I know it’s hard. I know it’s overwhelming. I know it’s beautiful and huge and heart-exploding, too. You’re doing enough. You are enough. And it will just keep getting better and better.”