I’m already obsessing about Advent

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.comI’m the first to gripe about “Christmas Creep” and how people keep trying to make Christmas happen before its time, which, in my opinion, should absolutely never be before the day after Thanksgiving. (Mostly because Thanksgiving is one of my favorites.) However, I spent the last week obsessively working on finishing the Advent calendar I started making for the girls in 2013. It was a bit more than I could achieve when the girls were one, but now that they’re three, not only do I have more time to craft, I really think they’ll enjoy incorporating this tradition and get something out of it. And I’m writing about it now because if you start soon, you’ve got time to make one before Advent starts, too. But not if you have two one-year-olds — take it from me and take it easy on yourself.

Celebrating Advent has always been part of my family and faith tradition, a way to focus on the “reason for the season” as my dad loves to say. Growing up we had an Advent wreath and candles, and I remember doing family devotionals sent home by our church. Through friends, I heard about the Jesse Tree tradition, which uses the whole “out of the stump of Jesse” prophecy from Isaiah to tell the story of Jesus’s family tree through ornaments and a tree. Each ornament corresponds to a Bible Story about one of the members of Jesus’ family tree, so each day leading up to Christmas, you take out an ornament and read the corresponding scripture. One friend even hosted a Jesse Tree ornament party a few years back, where everybody was assigned one ornament and made enough for everyone, so each guest left with a complete set but only had to make one type of ornament — fun and efficient!

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Lots of people put the ornaments on their actual Christmas tree or on a smaller table-top tree that they use just for the Jesse Tree. I had seen many beautiful felt and fabric Advent calendars, so that’s what I had in mind. I love the idea of making a normal Advent calendar slightly more scriptural, so I started looking for Jesse Tree Advent calendars. I wanted to make something that my family could use for years to come and remember fondly, so I bought a kit from an Etsy seller that included patterns, instructions, and all the supplies. My kit was $60, but it looks like my seller is no longer selling the kits, just fully handmade calendars for $390. While I love my kit, I can’t imagine having paid nearly 400 bucks for a completed calendar, though I know that it’s worth that with all the painstaking work that goes into it. So painstaking, in fact, that I modified my calendar– I used puffy paint on the felt to make the ornaments instead of hand-sewing tiny layers and appliques, and I machine-sewed the body of the calendar. I have come to accept that I am just not a fan of embroidering. It’s beautiful, but tedious and frustrating.

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com


Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Still, I didn’t want to write about finishing this beautiful thing for my family and then be like, sorry, folks, good luck to ya. I found a few felt Advent calendar patterns that I think you could fairly easily adapt into Jesse Trees by swapping out the ornaments, either by making these felt ornaments, by trying one of these other kits, or by buying a set of alreadymade Jesse Tree ornaments. There are also lots of free tutorials for making felt Jesse Tree ornaments online.

Is a Jesse tree part of your holiday tradition? Do you celebrate Advent in other ways?

Why we #embracethebif

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month | erniebufflo.com

It’s October, which means it’s time for perhaps the most poorly-timed awareness month of all, at least from my point of view. Sandwiched between all the pinkwashing of Breast Cancer Awareness, the purple of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the yellow and blue of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, you might see a little yellow, because it’s Spina Bifida Awareness Month, too. Last year, some friends and I got a little annoyed with the way some of our bigger advocacy orgs handle Spina Bifida Awareness Month, often focusing on prevention (something you may or may not really be able to totally achieve, because despite what folks tell you about folic acid, Spina Bifida is not 100% preventable) than on the beautiful, vibrant, varied people with Spina Bifida who are ALREADY HERE. So we started a little hashtag, #embracethebif. We just wanted to show people that life with Spina Bifida isn’t all sadness, pain, and difficulty. In fact, like any other life, life with SB is often beautiful, funny, interesting, and full. In short, it’s just LIFE.

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month | erniebufflo.com

Almost daily, someone just starting out on their SB journey finds their way to my blog or twitter or Instagram, and lets me know that even though they are in the dark place of a new diagnosis, kind of freaked out by medical jargon and grim prognoses, just seeing pictures of and reading stories about our ordinary life has given them hope. I remember doing the same when our diagnosis was new. I looked for blogs and images of kids with SB just being kids. And their faces turned out to be a lot more comforting to me than uncertain futures and things like surgeries, shunts, catheters, bowel programs, therapies, delays, braces, wheelchairs, walkers, and all the other things that seemed so huge and freaky when we were staring down a lifetime of them like some sort of loaded gun.

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month | erniebufflo.com

Yes, our life does sometimes involve all of those “scary” things, and some seasons are more full of pain, worry, and medical interventions than others. But mostly? Mostly those things are a sidebar to the life we live and love. So, this year, I want to again fill up my corner of the internet with positive, regular-life images of life with SB, because that’s what I think people who don’t know anything about SB need to see. Life with SB is just another way of being a person in the world. In my house, it looks like blonde curls, a deep belly laugh, a stubborn spirit, a love of dancing, a friend to babies, a snuggler extraordinaire– our Claire Bear.

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month | erniebufflo.com

Please consider sharing images of what SB looks like to you– use the #embracethebif hashtag, and let’s show the world that life with SB isn’t something to fear, but worthy of embracing with open arms. If you’d like, you can also submit images to me via my Facebook Page, and I’ll share them throughout the month!



um, YEAH!

I remember reading some articles when the girls were smaller about how not only should we not tell our daughters that they are pretty, but we shouldn’t tell them they are smart either. I think I made some crack about how in the dystopian future, in which we are all required to have perfectly neutral conversations with our kids, we’ll be saying things like “It’s morning, small human. You are neither acceptable nor unacceptable, just another human like everyone else. Have a day.” Here’s the thing: I tell my children they are beautiful because they ARE. They are just BURSTING with beauty. It radiates out of their every pore. I look at them and it’s like the first time I straight up blurted to my husband that I loved him, a full three months before he ever felt ready to say it back, because I literally couldn’t hold it in anymore.


I also think they’re smart. When they solve a problem, when they complete a puzzle, when they make a connection or comparison that surprises me, I notice how smart they are. I know that I’m supposed to focus on the efforts they’ve made, rather than the outcome, and I do try to do that, but I also tell them that they’re smart, sometimes. Because they are. The sky is blue, and these girls are smart.


Another thing they are is HILARIOUS. Claire in particular is a natural comedian, actually testing out material on us and asking “is that funny, mom?” before sharing those jokes or bits with others. I have every confidence that my small white-blond child is the next Amy Poeheler. They crack us up all the time, and when they ask, the answer to “is that funny?” is almost always yes, unless they’re just being wildly inappropriate, though I also appreciate the person who is wildly inappropriate on occasion, especially for the sake of a good laugh.


To me, the key is to make sure they know that I’m not defining or valuing them by any one thing, but because of their amazing, miraculous wholes. They are beautiful, smart, hilarious, determined, and most of all, kind, and I want them to know all of those things.

But I’ve noticed something crazy: they actually came into the world basically knowing all of that already. Their default assumption is that they are valuable and loveable, and it seems like that must be the way we start out, and then that gets chipped at by the world as we grow, and before we know it, we’re needing to hear it from others before we believe it. And so more than telling my girls what they are, I am realizing that it’s my job to protect the knowledge they already have about who they are, how fabulous, worthy, and wonderful they are.


We must be doing something right, because as Claire walked her sassy little walk through a waiting room today– her innate confidence combined with her slightly altered gait thanks to spina bifida means she sort of stomp-struts through life, curls bouncing–an older, mustachioed man looked at her and said, “You sure are pretty!” And she didn’t miss a beat, that girl, she just looked up at him and said, “um, YEAH!” “Good answer!” I said. And she kept on walking. She doesn’t need that man or anyone to tell her who she is. And she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she’s more than just her looks– she knows it. It’s my job to help make sure it stays that way.

i took a walk

My girls have fallen in love with “the puppets,” by which they mean The Muppets lately. No, this isn’t some sort of tie-in with their new show that apparently premiered this week, because I haven’t seen it, and I’m not on the Muppet payroll. (Although, Kermit, call me!) We have a few Muppet movies on DVD, and they’ve been watching those, particularly the newer one with Jason Segel that came out when I was pregnant with them, which Jon and I saw in the theater, which I totally SOBBED through because I was hopped up on double twin hormones and feeling very nostalgic. Anyway, one funny thing that the girls have picked up on from the movie is a song Amy Adams’ character sings while eating alone about “having a me party.” When we were out to lunch the other day, they saw a woman dining alone, and asked me if she was having a “me party.” And I’ve heard them say to each other when they feel like they need a little space or alone time, “could you please leave me alone? I need to have a me party.” I kind of love it. Both the phrase and the fact that these tiny people are self-aware enough to know that they need some alone time once in a while. And I love that it’s phrased positively, like a party, instead of negatively, like loneliness.

As a mom of three-year-old-twins, I don’t get a lot of me time. You know how society is always making us think we need to “do it all” and asks us how we “do it all” and creates a lot of insecurity around “all” and even though we know it’s a giant, soul-killing lie, we just keep buying into it, anyway? We all know this, and yet we keep on tap dancing, juggling flaming swords, just praying that we don’t get maimed too bad when it all falls down.

I’m tempted to say something like “Can I be real?” and make a candid admission, but here’s what I’m really going to say: you don’t need to ask permission to be real. You don’t need to sneakily confess that you’re not doing it all. Because deep down you know no one is, and you know that’s just life, and there shouldn’t be guilt there. I can’t even figure out how to do MOST OF IT, let alone all of it, in one day. I can be a few but not all of the following in a given day: a good mom, a good wife, a good friend, a good cook, a person who exercises, a person who writes, a person who took a shower today, a person with a clean house, a person who makes time for her spiritual wellbeing, a person who gets enough sleep. Which is why I just love love loved this post, “Limiting All” by a woman whose voice I have really come to love lately, Amanda Magee. In it, she writes, “Unclench your hand, let everything fall down, if for no other reason than to give your arm a rest and to regather the things so they fit better in your hand. We are all sitting precariously on towers of our own making. They don’t have to reach the sky or carry the world, they just need to hold us and that starts with us accepting that ‘all’ is not something we even want.”


So, a great gift my husband has given me the last three days is he’s given me some “me party” time. I know that we both want each other to take time to nurture ourselves, but work schedules and actually taking advantage of the time we do have doesn’t always work out. But this week, it has. Namely, for the last 3 days, I’ve gotten out for 45 minutes to an hour to just take a walk in the lovely finally starting to cool off weather, basking in the sunshine, earbuds and a podcast in my ears. Because while I love doing Zumba in my den, it’s just SO FREAKING NICE after basically being cooped up in air conditioned spaces for the last three months, to get some fresh air in my lungs and just be by myself and listen to stuff that feeds my mind.

The view halfway through my walk.

The view halfway through my walk.

Taking care of my mind/body is something that often ends up on the back burner, because I am taking care of small people, trying to nurture relationships, and also trying to squeeze out time to do the thing I love the most: write. But the thing is, a lot of the time, I feel like all my creative energy gets used up in the course of just trying to create my best self with which to interact and parent my children every single day. I mean, I’m literally writing the character I inhabit all day every day, trying to put affirming, patient, peaceful words and thoughts in my mind and my mouth, trying desperately to construct the reality I want them to live in. And since I’m a person who writes about my life, sometimes being actively in it makes it hard to also observe it and package great insights wrapped in words. I know it’s hip to talk about living your life as if you’re writing a story these days, but man, that’s how I see my world. I’m writing a story with my life all day, and sometimes that leaves very little headspace or energy for actual writing. Which then creates guilt because my writing is this big key piece of my personality and sanity and wellbeing.

So, anyway, these last three days, I’ve walked a total of 8 miles or so, and I’ve been listening to interesting things along the way, and today as I was trucking along, I was straight up moved to tears listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talking to Rob Bell on his Rob Cast (episode 36). You should really listen to the whole thing, because it’s super special, but the part that made me cry as I walked was when a mom of a young child asked Elizabeth about finding the time to write in the midst of motherhood and all the fatigue and busyness that comes with it. And she basically told the woman that she needed to give herself permission to not be writing right now, and to take care of her “animal body” as much as she could, by getting enough rest and being kind to herself. And at that moment, the piece of me that feels guilty that I don’t get to do more writing, guilty that I so often open this page up with empty hands and nothing to offer, guilty that I can’t even do MOST OF THE THINGS in one day, that hard little piece of me broke open a little bit, and some light and some air got into my soul, the same stuff I’ve been basking in on my walks.


Intellectually I know I can’t do most of the things in the same day. And I need to let that be OK in the season I am in right now. I will write when the planets align, and when I have something I need to say, I will fight to make the time to do it. And when I need to take care of my animal body with a long walk in the sunshine and something inspiring in my ears, I will accept with pleasure the gift of time to do it. Today, because I have accepted that gift, my legs are a little sore, and my heart toward myself is a little softer, and I found the time to write way too many words about it, and there’s banana bread cooling on the counter. That’s not ALL, by any means, but it’s enough. And I’m so much more interested in enough.

newsflash: instagram is filtered

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Instagram is probably my favorite corner of the internet. Facebook is often lovely, but just as often feels like a room full of people shouting about their opinions, arguing with friends of friends about hot button issues, and a never-ending string of memes and click-bait stories from aggregation sites. Twitter is like carrying all of my funniest, wittiest friends around in my pocket all day long, but it often contains a disconcerting number of people who like to run up to me at random and yell at me that that thing I said three days ago was VERY WRONG, and also, what’s my problem with Rand Paul anyway?

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Instagram, however, is a happy place. I follow a lot of lovely folks there, and for the most part, they share interesting little pieces of beauty that they see as they go about their daily lives. Just scrolling through my feed, I see breathtaking landscapes from National Geographic, smiling babies, delicious and beautiful food, cute pets, yummy cocktails, friends loving their lovely #selfies, cute shoes, fun outfits, lovely interiors, and exciting travels. It’s impossible to thumb through without smiling and giving out a smattering of hearts. What’s not to like?

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo


Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Apparently, people have decided they don’t like that it’s “fake.” That we’re not photographing our shitty moments, the ones where we’ve burned dinner, or it rained on our picnic, or the pile of clutter just outside the frame. We’re rarely shooting selfies of our bad-hair-days, or showing that in fact yoga pants are most frequently our #ootd (outfit of the day). Somehow our beaches are always empty and serene, our dinners expertly plated, and obviously our children are going to eat all of that and wear that outfit, and not get their knees muddy or their hair mussed or haul off and slug their best friend. I even saw a piece today about an account dedicated to showing the “Truth Behind Instagram Photos” that reveals all that’s not shown inside each little square of loveliness.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

This irks me. Isn’t the beauty in the frame just as true as the mess that may be lurking outside it? Isn’t beauty ALWAYS found in the midst of clutter, chaos, and just plain life? To me, being able to notice it, to focus on it, to at least momentarily crop out the other stuff is in a way a mindfulness practice. A way of reminding myself of a bigger truth: that there’s a lot of beauty and love in the midst of my messy, imperfect life, and the more I notice it, the more I find waiting to be noticed. Does it make us feel better or worse to point out the rings on the coffee table just outside the perfectly cropped picture of a mason jar full of pickles? Is the beauty of a post-bedtime cocktail less important than the pile of mail I moved to the side to take a picture of the glasses on the kitchen table?

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Everyone knows that the things they see on Instagram are literally filtered by photo tweaks inside the program, by the way it crops things into neat little squares, and by the way we curate what we choose to share. Isn’t there something refreshing and radical about a space that invites us to notice and share the things that we find beautiful, the things we love, the things that delight us? There are plenty of places for us to share OTHER aspects of our reality, but I think we, or at least I, need the reminder that the beauty is there and very real, too, especially when the mess, chaos, and ugliness seem oh-so-overwhelming.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo


fall and falling apart

I feel like it’s been ages since I really blogged. The truth is, summer drew to a close, we took a big trip to Colorado to visit family, then my grandmother unexpectedly passed away and we rushed home for her funeral. Since then, I have felt out of sorts.

fall arrives and I fall apart

A big reason for these feelings is obviously just dealing with an unexpected loss. Sure, everyone knows they will eventually lose their grandparents, and I feel blessed that the girls have gotten to know three of their great grandparents for at least 3 years now. But I also think I just expected my stubborn, sassy Memaw, LeaEtta, my Etta’s namesake, to always be there. For most of my childhood, Memaw and Pops (who died the summer Jon and I got married) lived next door to us, in a house my dad built for them. And for the last several years, Memaw lived with my parents. She was a big presence in our lives, and even as she lost her hearing and got a little more confused, she was always watching Etta and Claire play with a great big smile on her face, especially when they were giving my dad or me a hard time. “My mama and daddy would get such a kick out of them!” she’d say. I can bet that she’s currently telling her mama, daddy, and my Pops all about them as I type. I’m glad my last memory of her is sitting on my parents’ porch, her cracking up because my dad was pestering Claire and making her squeal, and Claire was sticking her tongue out at her Poppi. She loved us all so much. I inherited her love of lipstick, her shopping habit, her stubborn streak, and her tendency to tell it like it is. And I’m so glad one of my baby girls inherited her name. Here’s a relationship tip from Memaw: If you buy new shoes, bring them home and put them in your closet. Then wear them a few weeks later. If your husband asks you about them, just say, “Oh, I’ve had these awhile.” Note: I have a feeling my Pops never really cared about her shoe shopping habits, but I do think she enjoyed feeling like she was pulling one over on him.

fall and falling apart | the adventures of ernie bufflo

It’s not just loss that had me reeling a bit, though. New seasons bring new rhythms, and it’s taken me a few weeks to feel like I’m finding a fall groove. Summer was full of hanging out with mama friends and their kiddos, but back to school and new therapy routines and back to dance class mean less of that this season. On top of that, Jon was working pretty much nonstop since we got back– that’s what happens when shift workers take vacations, all the shifts they missed have to go somewhere, and this meant he worked all of Labor Day Weekend, too. That weekend, I admit, I got rather mopey about how everyone else seemed to be having family fun, and the girls and I were stuck at home, rather tired of and utterly bored with each other. I felt snappish and sad.

But then a miraculous thing happened. A cool front moved in. Fall arrived, and with it, highs in the 70s and 80s, instead of the high 90s. We opened up the windows, we spent some time outside, we got a Zoo Day with friends, we picnicked in the park, and suddenly I feel like I can breathe again. I’ve been going through closets and pulling fall clothes to the fore, pulling out things that no longer fit my growing-like-weeds girls, feeling productive instead of pouty. We will find our fall groove. All is not lost, no matter how I might feel after too many days home alone with three-year-old twins. I may not be giddy about pumpkin spice lattes, and I may be attempting to resist the urge to jump into the cozy clothes I’ll be oh-so-tired-of by February, but I’m happy about getting to spend some time in the sunshine with my golden gals. I’m ready for this change after all.

fall and falling apart | the adventures of ernie bufflo

fall and falling apart | the adventures of ernie bufflo

travel tips with three-year-old twins

Travel Like a Pro with Twins in Tow | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

If you’ve noticed I’ve been absent on the blog over the last little bit, it’s largely because we’ve been traveling. First we went to Colorado to visit my husband’s family, and then we made a sad and unexpected trip to my parents’ house when my grandma suddenly passed away. All of this time with family was wonderful, but I also have to admit that traveling with two small kids is often also extremely stressful. I find myself gritting my teeth and wondering why my shoulders are so tight in the days before flying with our kids. I was especially anxious this time, because the last time we flew, last October, Etta screamed bloody murder through an entire 2 hour flight, completely inconsolable, refusing movies, snacks, and screaming “DON’T TOUCH ME, MOMMY!” every time I even tried to help her. Then, of course, she perked up right in time to land, and cheerfully bid farewell to every single passenger as they deplaned, while they gave her looks that said “see you never, demon child.” To everyone on that flight: I am soooooooo sorry.

Since I haven’t written about traveling with twins since the girls were babies, and since this trip actually went darn smoothly, I thought it might be time for an update on some of the things that work for us when traveling with the toddler and preschool set. (If you’re traveling to Disney in particular, check out this post on doing Disney with two toddlers and only one small backpack.)  Continue reading