the bufflogals’ holiday gift guide

Thanksgiving is upon us and the holiday season is officially underway. I thought I’d share what Etta and Claire are getting/wishing for/into this holiday season to help out any of you who might be shopping for toddlers/preschoolers this time of year. Last year their toys mostly focused on kitchen and food play, baby dolls, and bath toys, and you can check out that gift guide if you’re shopping for younger toddlers in the one to two year old range. Much of it is stuff they still love, and would make excellent gifts for any toddlers in your life. This guide is probably most suitable for ages 2 and up.

One category of play they are really starting to be into is dress-up and pretend play. We have bought and stashed some clearance Halloween costumes, and they have received some wings and hand me down hats, and capes and tutus remain very popular. Their big gift this year will likely be a small wardrobe to hold all the dress up items for easy kid access.

Dress Up Play

 

Etta remains really into wooden puzzles and blocks, and both girls seem to enjoy tool benches when we go to the Wonder Place or homes that have them. I’m considering a tool bench as another big gift option. Toys that encourage fine motor skills, like lacing, latching, zipping, and buckling are all really fun for this age group, as are color matching and shape sorting. These gifts fit that bill:

Learning Toys

 

We go to a weekly music and movement class that basically consists of playing kids’ CDs while introducing various props. It’s an experience that’s pretty easy to recreate at home, and our girls love to play with their various musical instruments. I’m thinking of attempting to DIY some ribbon sticks or wristbands, as they are always a favorite part of the class, and I think some juggling silks would also be pretty fun:

Music and Movement toys

 

Other categories of toys to consider when shopping for toddlers: books, bath toys, and art/craft supplies. A pack of washable crayons and a jumbo coloring book will definitely appear in both girls’ Christmas stockings, and I’m thinking maybe some bath tub paints or something will be fun too and solve my problem of hating to paint with them because it’s such a giant mess.

Note: this post is not sponsored and these are not affiliate links. Everything in this post is something I either have bought or am considering buying for my kids.

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How I learned to cook

Before I get into how I learned to cook, I thought I’d point out that if you’re reading this somewhere other than on my site, like a reader, you might be missing out on seeing our lovely new family photo in the header. We recently did a mini photo shoot with the talented and lovely Whitney Loibner, and I’m thrilled with how the pictures turned out. I highly recommend a mini shoot if you have toddlers– 15 minutes was about all my kids could handle, and we were outta there and off to get pancakes as a treat in no time. And if you have a talented photographer like Whitney,  you’ll still get plenty of great shots in a short amount of time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog programming:

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I’ve kind of become notorious among my friends for Instagramming my food. One friend joked that whatever we have on Friday night, they have on Saturday. Others have joked about their dinners being “one-upped by the Orsborns.” Another Instagrammed her dinner last night and said I inspired her to do so. For all the hating posting food pics can get, most of my real-life feedback has been that my friends like my dinner posts and don’t want me to stop. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t planning to! (There’s a reason I joke that my Instagram brand is “all the things you hate:” kids, food, drinks, selfies, pets.)

Another question friends have asked is when I’m going to teach them how to cook. While I would like to occasionally host some kind of cooking party where everyone walks away with a couple freezeable dinners, that’s not really in my plans anytime soon, either. But what I can tell you is how I learned to cook.

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my ‘mommy problem’ problem

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You probably saw it in one of your social media feeds in the last week– a New York Times opinion piece by Heather Havrilesky called Our ‘Mommy’ Problem. Most of the piece was stuff I head-bobbingly agree with. One of the things I most feared prior to motherhood, and one of the things that most annoys me about it now that I actually have children, is the way women with children are reduced to “mommies” and mommies alone, not allowed or not able to have an identity outside of their relationship to their children.

I also kind of always hated the word “mommy” in general. It sounded infantilizing to me. I was determined that my children would always call me “mama” or “mom,” never “mommy.” But the entire world refers to me to and in front of my children as “mommy,” and so they have started calling me “mommy,” too. Sometimes I’m “mama.” Sometimes I’m “mommy.” Sometimes lately, I’m “Sawah,” as they’ve noticed that their dad and I call each other names other than “mama” and “daddy” and they’re trying to figure out how we can be people with names and also their parents. (One day, when they’re grown ups, they’ll realize we’re people, full stop.) And in my children’s sweet, small voices, just about anything they call me sounds sweet and lovely, at least the first 5 times in a row that they say it. This, I loved:

Why does this word irritate me when the wrong person says it? When my kids call me “Mommy,” I feel a surge of pride and happiness. “Mommy” is also my mother’s name, thanks to the fact that my older sister shamed me when I tried to switch to “Mom” in my teens. But the “Mommy” I say to my mother or hear from my children is a private word, a word that defines the relationship between me and my mother, or me and my kids. It’s like the word “sweetheart” or “lover,” but arguably even more intimate.

But the essay lost me when it started blaming social media, our filtered window into each other’s home lives, for making mothers into something they don’t want to be:

We are besieged by Facebook images of sun-kissed children canning homegrown peaches and building tiny replicas of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks and being home-schooled on organic dairy farms in Wisconsin. We know far too much about other people’s lives these days, and the more we know, the clearer it becomes that we are doomed to lag behind the pack in this increasingly high-stakes game.

I know I’ve been one to defend the filtered world of Instagram, but I immediately thought of a quote widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Image via Etsy, click to go buy this seller’s lovely print.

I mean, what do the homeschooling dairy farmers really have to do with you, you know?

I have lofty aspirations of being a Crafty Mom. But I have 2.5 year olds, two of them, actually, and I have realized that doing crafts with them is just not worth it, to me, at this time, most of the time. Because it takes me an hour of internet surfing to get the idea, and then I have to gather supplies, and then the actual project requires me to first get them occupied with something else for 20 minutes while I set it up, and then they spend 5 minutes on it and make a massive mess, and then I have to bathe them and then occupy them so I can clean up the mess, and then I need a nap. Maybe we’ll do crafts one day when it’s easier. Maybe I’ll just get over my urge to be That Kind of Mom. But in the meantime, it’s not like the moms out there with toddlers, crafting, are actively crafting to make me, way over here in Arkansas, feel bad. They’re just dancing to the beat of their own drummer. (And I mean, maybe they are trying to make me feel inferior, in which case, they’re assholes, and who cares what assholes think about anything?)

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I get that Slacker Mom is a really popular internet genre. There are like, two kinds of moms online and they are either the ones writing super detailed Pinterest tutorials or the ones writing hilarious f-bomb laden tell-offs to the Pinterest moms:

My sister-in-law told me about a mom at her kid’s elementary school who took the basic school T-shirt that everyone got and painstakingly created a beaded fringe at the bottom, replete with cinched waist and perfectly cuffed sleeves. All of the other little girls gathered around, screeching variations of “I want the same thing!” Incredibly enough, instead of laughing in their unrealistic faces the way our parents might have, all the adults started mumbling, “Yes, O.K., we can do that, sure, I’ll learn a challenging new craft, no problem. Tonight, of course. We’ll do it tonight.” This made my sister-in-law, who was already late for work, want to teach a few people the artisanal craft of rearranging someone’s face using only your bare hands. We are outclassed at every turn. We are outspent and out-helicoptered and outnumbered. It used to be good enough just to keep your house from being coated in a thin layer of dog hair and human feces. No longer.

I mean, for sure, no one can make you bedazzle a tee shirt without your consent. You seriously, really, for real do not have to do it. Sure, on some vulnerable day, you may see some lovely Anthropologie-model of a mom post a picture of her doing some insanely enriching and hippie-tastic nature-related gross-motor-skill-developing spiritually-affirming whatever in her backyard, all with perfect hair and kids who have on like, matching clothes, and you may like, actively hate her for all the ways she’s making you feel. And on those days, maybe close Instagram and walk away and have a cookie and hug your kid and watch some cartoons and tell both of you that things are all gonna be OK.

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Just being my best impersonation of one of those Anthropologie moms being all educational-nature-tastic while also basking in the ray of sunshine that follows me wherever I go. You can’t see my kids, but they are impeccably dressed, wherever they are, off camera, I assure you.

But on a good day? On a good day there is just no reason for you to take that shit personally. Because she’s not backyard Montessori fine motor skill meditating TO YOU. She’s just doing her thing. You see your dance space? It’s over there, and it’s got nothing to do with hers, so just go on with your bad self over to your dance space and you do you. And maybe unfollow people who bring you down. And maybe talk nicely to yourself and let yourself know that you are the mother your children need, and they don’t need you to be anyone else but you.

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And then maybe if we can stop constantly seeing other mothers as the problem, we’ll all have some energy left over to pursue our own self-care and interests and hobbies and careers and righteously tell off the strangers in public who insist on calling us “Mommy” instead of…oh…anything else.

the verdict is in: meatballs are changing my life

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

I wrote back in September about the Friday Night Meatballs movement– it all started with a piece on Serious Eats that promised to change my life with pasta. The idea was to create a standing casual dinner party that would create community and serve as a social outlet, a sort of secular sabbath. I of course loved the idea immediately and was eager to give it a shot. I didn’t even allow myself to be deterred by the fact that I had never made meatballs before. That first FNM was such a hit that we decided to keep it going, and now, as I type, my house smells like garlic and tomatoes because I have my red sauce simmering on the stove for our FOURTH Friday Night Meatballs. (Some bloggers write posts ahead of time. I just sit down during nap time and write what I can.)

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

I knew from the start that although a weekly FNM sounds nice, it wouldn’t work for us, because Jon isn’t always off on Friday evenings– and I really think doing it on Friday is key, because it’s not a “school night” and most folks are off the next day, so the FNM can be relaxed, a nice way to ease from work week to weekend, and no one is in too much of a hurry to leave. Last time, we had four toddlers playing so happily together that we let bedtimes be damned and allowed them to play until almost 9 while the grownups chatted. So, for us, FNM has become more of a monthly than a weekly gathering, and that’s fine too.

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I don’t actually talk to my kids about healthy eating

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Geez, mom, how will I ever learn about eating healthy foods if we don’t talk about it?

Healthy eating is really important to me. I have written a lot about food, I have thought a lot about how a less-meatarian, largely-local diet is best for me and the planet, and I love to cook. I think a lot about what my kids eat too. But, I realized when asked about it recently, I don’t actually talk to my kids about healthy eating, and I rarely label food as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” either. When we talk about food, we mostly talk about how it tastes, or that it’s crunchy, or that it’s yummy, or what color it is, or how many pieces of it there are, since we’re learning words and colors and numbers and stuff right now.

Instead, right now, I’m mostly counting on the message sent by our family eating habits to teach my kids that a healthy diet, one based largely around veggies and whole grains, with little processed food and not a lot of sugar, is a normal one.

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because it must be said, apparently: I’m pro-choice

It has come to my attention via my blog stats that an anti-abortion website is using my name, words, and image of me and my kids to suggest I support their cause. This is quite upsetting and feels rather violating, as you might imagine if someone suddenly started using your face (or your child’s) to support a cause you don’t.

I’m quite surprised they’d want my name associated with their cause at all, because I’ve made no secret of my support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion, both in writing and by testifying before my state legislature and even on the local news. While I am a loud and proud mom to a child with a disability, I prefer to take a disability-positive stance rather than opposing legal abortion. Furthermore, I have a very serious heart defect, very nearly died as a result of my pregnancy and birth experience, and have been told in no uncertain terms by my doctors that any future pregnancies would be life threatening. I have an IUD that will hopefully keep it from coming down to it, but I would not think twice to save my own life and stay here to continue caring for my two existing children who need me.

I know I’m within my legal rights to request my image be removed, for sure, but I’m not sure I can do much about my words being quoted and used in this manner.

In the meantime, I want it to be very very clear: I am Sarah Orsborn, I have beautiful twins, one of my daughters has Spina Bifida, and I have a heart defect. I support safe and legal abortion access. I am pro-child, pro-family, pro-disability-rights, and unabashedly pro-choice.

If you came here via LifeNews expecting something else, I’m setting the record straight.

a moment of truth: how I cook all those dinners

A friend asked me a good question the other day. She’s just had her second baby, and she wanted to know, with two toddlers, how in the heck I’m managing to make all those dinners I’m Instagramming all the time.

Here’s the truth: my husband works unusual hours in the ER, so he’s usually home between the hours of 3 and 7. If he works the morning shift, he’s off by 2:30, and if he works in the evening or at night, he goes in at 10 or 7. Of several possible shifts, only one keeps him out of the house at dinner time. It’s one reason I *love* his specialty. So: if he’s home, and he usually is, my hour of dinner-making (and usually, while things cook, kitchen cleanup) is mine all mine because he’s playing with/caring for the kids. He even often takes them to a nearby playground at that time. It works out great for both of us, because I get to actually enjoy my dinner making time since I’m not trying to multitask with toddlers and can just exercise my culinary creativity, and he brings home two very happy kids and we all sit down to a lovely dinner.

If he’s not home? We eat leftovers or I choose a quick recipe that can be put together in the time it takes the girls to watch a Daniel Tiger episode in the den, behind a baby gate, where they can’t be underfoot.

So, there ya have it. I figured I should come clean, lest anyone think I think an hour-long dinner prep time works for most people. I know we have a weird lifestyle made possible by my staying home with the kids and my husband’s unusual work hours.

All that said, I thought I might share a few recipes that we’ve enjoyed lately. All three are from the Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman, which I use more than any other cookbook, and which I highly recommend, but, for you, I found each of the recipes online, so you can make them too!

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This Pasta with Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Bacon was delicious. I used one fewer sweet potato than the recipe called for and still had enough for the dish. I also think this recipe would work great with roasted winter squash like butternut instead.

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This Red Bean Paella is a dish I’ve made several times. I usually use canned tomatoes instead of fresh because it makes it a true pantry staple dish. We ate it with an arugula salad and brie on toast.

 

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This Arroz con Pollo is another I make frequently. I like that it’s a one-pot meal. The recipe in my cookbook called for chicken thighs, but I used legs because that’s what I had, and because Etta loves eating chicken legs. I also only used one package of chicken legs, added pinto beans and tomatoes and served it with avocado on the side.