saving my sanity with a box full of healthy snack options

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Little kids don’t have many opportunities to make their own choices. In my house, I usually decide what’s served for meals, what they wear, where we go, who we see, when they nap, and on and on all day long. I’m also always having to tell them no, stop that, don’t do that, slow down, be quiet, etc. So, when I have the ability to offer them a choice without it being a lot of skin off my nose, I try to do it.

Now that my kids are 3, I’ve been trying to cut down on constant snacking. They get breakfast, rarely a small mid-morning snack, lunch, post-nap-snack, and dinner. The days of constantly feeding them bites of stuff all day long are over, because I can reasonably expect them to eat most of a meal. Recently, however, post-nap-snack had turned into a sore point in my day. Claire especially had gotten pretty demanding, wanting more to eat than I wanted to give her, usually leading to her not eating very well at dinner. She also would want the same not-so-healthy snack foods that I would buy for occasional consumption every single day. I’d offer one thing, and she’d pitch a fit demanding a different thing

Then I remembered seeing different things on Pinterest about creating a box of acceptable options and offering kids a limited choice of snacks. One naptime when my husband was home, I took a blissful kid-free trip to the store and rounded up a bunch of healthy snack foods to create two snack boxes, one that lives in our pantry, and one that lives in our fridge. Now, when my kids wake up from nap and feel a rumbly in their tumblies, I just pull out one of the boxes, and they can have one of anything inside. We’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been working fabulously, for the most part. They seem to enjoy exercising their little wills over something, and since I’ve already narrowed their choices to things that won’t ruin their dinner, I don’t have to stress about whether or not they’ll still want to eat at mealtime. I usually set the box in front of them and they know they can only choose from the box, which prevents them from demanding something else they spy in the pantry.

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Currently, the pantry box holds bags of almonds, small containers of trail mix, apple sauce pouches, yogurt raisin boxes, seaweed snacks, and pretzels with peanut butter. The fridge box has white and yellow cheese sticks, carrots and hummus, yogurt, and apples. Other ideas include: salsa and chips, cottage cheese, dried fruit, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, fruit leather, and granola.

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

I’ve noticed an added benefit to the snack boxes: now when *I* feel like I need a snack, I’m more likely to choose one of the readily available healthy options too. It’s also handy for pulling together packed lunches when we need to be able to eat on the go.

Have you instituted anything similar?

when one twin can potty train and the other can’t

potty training twins when one has spina bifida

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing and trying to decide if I should or not. A major reason I want to write about our lives with spina bifida is so that others can be encouraged, and also so people without SB or other disabilities can see that this life we’re living isn’t “special,” but just life. But the truth is, sometimes SB is a big bump in our paths, and I need to be able to write about that, too.

I’ve also hesitated to write about potty training because I want to respect my kids’ privacy. I don’t want them to ever feel bad about or be teased about things I’ve written about our lives. I would never post a picture online of them on a potty or something. But I feel like I need to write about this because it’s been such an unusual problem. I also feel that potty training woes are pretty universal and any kid who dares to tease one of my girls about using the potty should probably ask their parents about their own potty misadventures.

The girls are now past 3, and though Etta has made strides in the potty learning department, I can’t say that either of my kids are potty trained. And the intersection of their personalities and this milestone and the speed bump of spina bifida has made the whole situation oh so complicated.

Claire, ever wanting to be a big girl, always asking me if she’s old enough to drive the car and when her boobs are going to grow in and when she’s going to be tall like me, would love to be able to be a big kid in just about every respect, including the potty. However, like most people with SB, Claire has disability in her urinary and GI tracts. She, like many people with SB, uses a catheter to empty her bladder and takes medicine to keep her dry in between caths. In the future, this is how she will manage her bladder, slipping into a bathroom to discreetly use a cath, and no one but her will have to know. For now, though, she can’t catheterize herself, so we do it for her every four hours. Most people with SB also get on some kind of “bowel” management plan that can involve nightly enemas to keep them dry during the day, medications, and even surgeries. We have an appointment with GI in August to start figuring out what Claire’s bowel management program will be, but it is our hope and belief that she’ll be able to be diaper free and will be “potty trained” to the degree that she will be able to cath and do whatever bowel protocols she needs to do to stay clean and dry during the day. But none of this progress is as fast as she’d like.

Etta, usually my independent little spirit, has decided she is just not ready yet to take the potty leap. If you ask her, she will say, “maybe tomorrow.” This has been her approach to many milestones. She didn’t walk until 14 months, when she was good and ready, skipping the toddling-and-falling stage of many early walkers and graduating straight from cruising to walking. Her speech development also seemed a little delayed for a while, and our pediatrician was even talking to us about referring her to a speech therapist, but her verbal skills have taken off recently, and we have no concerns. I’m a little frustrated that she hasn’t shown more interest in the potty, something I’ve been trying to get her to do since she was 18 months old, but I have confidence that my girl does things at her own pace in her own time.

Faced with a reluctant potty user, many parents try to motivate their kid. This can be something simple like telling them it’s time to be a “big kid” and buying “big kid” undies and doing other “big kid” things. Except I can’t do that, because I’d be simultaneously telling Claire that she is not a “big kid” since she can’t do these things. Some parents do boot camps or sticker charts, rewarding kids for potty progress, but then Claire would wonder why she can’t have treats and rewards, too. She actually cried at Bible School when all the other kids in our group had potty breaks and she didn’t get to use the potty.

I do what I can to affirm to Claire that she’s a big girl of whom I am very proud even though she doesn’t use the potty. I want her to know that what I’m proud of in her is her loving heart, her inquisitive mind, her infectious laugh, her affectionate nature, her nurturing spirit, her tenacious soul, and all the other things that make her who she is. I don’t want her to ever feel that she is anything less than a whole person, regardless of tools like AFOs or catheters or enemas that help her take care of her body in the ways she needs. At the same time, I’m at a loss of how to motivate her reluctant potty training sister without making Claire feel less-than.

I’m sure one day this will seem less fraught. Claire will have a potty system that works for her. Etta will eventually be a potty user. But in the meantime, this feels tricky.


stop the presses: there’s a workout I don’t hate

I found a workout I don't hate: a roundup of YouTube dance fitness videos.

So, a funny thing happened over the last month: I became a person who doesn’t just occasionally climb mountains, but one who *gasp* actually works out regularly. Yeah, I don’t know who I am, either.

Somewhere between my kids becoming 3 year olds who don’t wear me out quite as much, becoming a heart health ambassador, and just wanting my pants to fit a little looser, I decided I had the time, energy, and desire to do something fitness-wise. I’ve always been a healthy eater, but my main source of exercise has been chasing, lifting, and caring for my kids. It turns out when you turn 30, that’s not enough to keep your weight steady, if you’re me. I love my mombod, but knew both my heart and my waistline needed a change. The problem was, I generally hate exercise. I like hiking, but that’s not very fun in an Arkansas summer. I like yoga, but that’s not generally cardio. I will never never never be a runner, because I straight up hate it and have flunked out of the Couch to 5k program twice. But then I remembered I don’t hate dancing, so maybe I could give that a try. Dancing has the added bonus of being something I can do in my air conditioned living room while my kids sleep, or even with my kids, and it’s good cardio.

I found a workout I don't hate: a roundup of YouTube dance fitness videos.

My workout partners.

I ordered a set of Zumba DVDs from Zulily but the shipping was going to take a while, so I started looking for workouts on YouTube to try in the meantime. I’ve managed to find a decent mix, and shockingly, have managed to work out for about 20 minutes almost every weekday for the last month. I don’t actually hate this! In fact, I am feeling more energetic, drinking slightly less coffee (slightly), and am actually starting to feel like my clothes fit a little bit better. It’s not some dramatic story about jumping around in my living room and suddenly dropping 3 sizes, but that’s not what I wanted, anyway. I just want to take better care of myself, my heart, and my body.

I feel I should note that I feel like the world’s flailingest white girl while pelvic thrusting and shimmying in the privacy of my own home. I would DIE if even my husband saw me doing it, though I’m fine with the bufflogals joining in from time to time. But it doesn’t matter that I probably look ridiculous– I can be Beyonce in my mind. If I need inspiration to go ahead and “jiggle it,” this video is ample motivation:

I thought I’d share some of my favorite YouTube dance workouts in case any of you would like to flail around your living rooms in the name of fitness, too. Here’s to having at least a little fun in the name of getting healthier.

Do any of you do at-home workouts via YouTube? Got any faves to share?

frozen mojito recipe

frozen mojito recipe: a perfect summer drink! | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo
There’s a hip new local restaurant that has been taunting me for weeks with their signature drink, a frozen mojito. We haven’t made it to try the new restaurant yet, because it’s still super busy and super popular, and my toddlers don’t do great with long wait times. Eventually we will get there. But my thirst for a frozen mojito couldn’t wait that long, so I decided to try it at home. Maybe they were extra delicious because I made them on a day when my kids refused to nap, rendering Jon and I extra…thirsty, but they were basically amazing. And now I shall share this amazingness with you.

frozen mojito recipe: a perfect summer drink! | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo
A key to the drink is making mint syrup.  Making flavored syrup might sound intimidating, but it’s super easy, and it prevents you from having to blend actual mint into your drink, which can probably be done but would look like a green smoothie. I swear it’s as easy as heating sugar and water together until dissolved and then pouring over mint leaves until cooled. You’ll make more syrup than one blender of mojitos needs, but I bet you’ll be making another pitcher in a hurry, anyway.

They’re not red, white, and blue, but I bet these would go great with anything you’re making this holiday weekend.

Frozen Mojito Recipe


For the mint syrup (makes about a pint)

1.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
Handful of fresh mint leaves

For the mojitos (serves 4):

3/4 cups white rum
3/4 cups lime juice
1/2 cup mint syrup
5 cups ice
Fresh mint for garnish


For the mint syrup: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water, stirring until dissolved. Place mint in heatproof bowl. Pour hot syrup over mint, and allow to cool. Remove mint and pour syrup into a jar. Will keep in the fridge for about a month.

For the mojitos: combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Divide among glasses. Add straws and garnish with fresh mint.


frozen mojito recipe: a perfect summer drink! | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

ernie meets bufflos

ernie meets bufflos

When I found out I would get to go with my husband to a conference in Jackson Hole, I quickly made a list of goals for the trip. They were: see some buffalo, ride a horse, and enjoy kid-free time. By the end of day 2, I had achieved all of these goals, and given the sheer number of buffalo we saw, started to wonder if I should have set the bar a little higher. It was like setting a goal to see a pigeon in NYC.

ernie meets bufflos

For those not familiar with where this blog got its weird name, as a toddler, around the age Etta and Claire are now, I informed my parents that my name was no longer Sarah, but Ernie Bufflo. Best we can tell, it was a mashup of Ernie from Sesame Street and a love of buffalo that may have resulted from a PBS nature documentary. When I started blogging, my old alias seemed a natural nom de plume.

ernie meets bufflos

Getting super close to wild buffalo made me a little giddy. They’re beautiful in their own big shaggy way, and they seem super chill, just munching their grass, rarely looking up at the weirdos gawking at them with cameras. But that chill feels a little ominous, because you know they could trample you at the drop of a hat.

ernie meets bufflos

On our trip, my sweet sweet husband was musing as to why the bufflos and I are soul mates: “you think everything is calm, everything is fine, and then in an instant, they can just FLIP OUT.” Thanks, love.

ernie meets bufflos

I can’t disagree with him, really, if I’m being honest. Sometimes my strong reactions are a mystery to me too. The good news is, though, this little bufflo is always back to chill soon enough.

I got high in Yellowstone

Sometimes I can’t resist a cheeky post title. The truth is, I climbed a mountain in Yellowstone, and I never would have thought I could. Not three years ago, when I almost died, but really not even before that, when my heart was weak and had a congenital defect I didn’t even know about, in all the years before I almost died, when I thought I was just a wimp with no endurance.

But when I found out I’d get to go with my husband to a medical conference in the Tetons, I knew I wanted to try to push my limits. I’ve been in “normal cardiac function” range for the last two years, and I’ve been feeling stronger than my old wimpy self. How could I go to some of the most majestic wilderness in the world and not hike? And then, when I started researching hikes and saw that National Geographic had named a 7.2 mile “moderate” hike to the top of Mount Washburn as THE most legendary day hike in Yellowstone, I got a little crazy and decided we had to try it. I mean, they said it was “a day hike that carries the hiker directly into the park’s essence, where its iconic beauty and mystery are on vivid display,” and “this classic hike, a must-do that many do over and over as a virtual pilgrimage, is really about the views.” Who could resist that pitch, even with a bum heart?

I have to be honest, I really didn’t think I would make it up to the top. I figured I would try really hard, but thought I’d get really tired at some point and have to turn back. I warned my husband ahead of time that I wasn’t sure I could reach the top, and he said he was more than willing to just give it a shot.

The hike started out STEEP. It helped that it was through a beautiful meadow, so I had something pretty to look at. My refrain was basically “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” I found a doable pace and stuck with it.

About 1/3 into the hike, I felt a twinge of pain in my hand and looked down to see my hands were getting REALLY swollen. Swelling is something I am supposed to watch for, so it concerned me a little. Lucky for me, my ER doctor husband is experienced in getting stuck rings off of people, so he helped me get my wedding rings off. He thought maybe the swelling was more to do with the way I was swinging my hands as I walked, plus the altitude, so I started wearing our daypack so I could hold onto the straps and keep my hands elevated. Soon the swelling was getting better.

I got high in Yellowstone: climbing a mountain with a congenital heart defect

We got closer and closer to the top, and I was getting shocked by how GOOD I felt. I mean, I felt like I was on the world’s most beautiful stairmaster with ankle weights on, but I wasn’t struggling to breathe, and my heart rate was a reasonable 110ish. Was I really going to do this? Climb the tallest mountain I’d ever attempted on the longest hike I’d ever done?

I got high in Yellowstone: climbing a mountain with a congenital heart defect

Yes, yes I was. We got to the top where it was windy and chilly. 10,243 feet isn’t something to sneeze at. I sat down in the fire tower at the top feeling shaky, slightly spent, and utterly thrilled. It wasn’t Everest, but to me, it was something like it– something I hadn’t thought I could do, but tried anyway and TOTALLY DID. I’m so glad I got to do this hike with Jon, because he has been on this journey with me all along, and he was just as proud as I was. He signed our names in the guest book and added “congenital heart defect and all!”

Things got slightly more interesting when we got SUPER close to a herd of mountain goats on our climb back down. We quickly realized we were between some adults and some babies and backed off and gave them space. Eventually they got off our path, but later, when we recounted the story to someone back at our lodge, he said he had heard of someone who was gored by a mountain goat and DIED. The idea that it would gore us hadn’t even crossed our minds. We thought at worst they’d head-butt us off the trail!

I got high in Yellowstone: climbing a mountain with a congenital heart defect

It was interesting to compare this hike with one we did together when we were dating, before I knew I had a heart defect. I struggled to hike to Hanging Lake, which was half as long as this climb. It’s strange to believe that I’m stronger now, having experienced serious heart failure, than I was before, when I didn’t know I had a heart defect, but it’s true. The medicines I’ve been on for the last three years have allowed my heart to get better, and at my last cardiology appointment, my doctor said, “your heart is STRONG.”

According to Wikipedia, author Elbert Hubbard who climbed Mount Washburn in 1914, wrote, “From the tip top of Mount Washburn you can see the world in much of its glory. It is an entrancing view. You are in love with living. You want to do more of if. You plan to do big things when you get down into the work again.” He’s right. I was in love with living, and so grateful that I get to do more of it. And now I have a new goal, a plan to do big things: I want to climb a “fourteener” some day.

I got high in Yellowstone: climbing a mountain with a congenital heart defect
I got high in Yellowstone: climbing a mountain with a congenital heart defect


on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Back when we were first entering the twos, people started warning me: “Don’t believe the Terrible Twos thing. Twos are fine. Threes are terrible.” For the most part, I didn’t mind the twos. Yeah, they developed attitudes and the ability to say NO! But I was mostly too enchanted with their growing verbal skills and emerging personalities and ability to walk and fetch things to be too bothered.

Now that I’m a few months into three, I think people were right. THREE, MAN. THREE SQUARED, ACTUALLY. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. When they are good they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. Two-year-olds can be defiant, but three-year-olds are committed and they won’t shut up about it. They’ll give you a monologue manifesto about why you wanting them to put on their shoes/eat that thing they asked for and then decided they hate/use the potty/hold a hand/stop stealing toys from their sister/stop WHININGOMG is the most ridiculous thing in the world. And then they’ll put a hand on their hip, give you the stink-eye, and go HUMPH! for emphasis.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Claire in particular seems to embody another three-year-old stereotype. She’s a “threenager.” Three going on fourteen, I kid you not. She’s moody and sassy, yes, but she also desperately wants to be older. Here are three things that keep happening again and again.

I must, I must, I must increase my bust…

That was a line from Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, a book I loved at 13 and which seems to speak to Claire’s soul already at 3. She’s amazed by boobs. She admires them, she asks me about them, and she compliments me when I’m wearing particularly cute boobs, by which she means a sports bra, particularly my neon pink one. And she asks me daily if her boobs are coming in yet. Nope. Probably not for another 10 years, kid, and then, considering your genetics, probably not by much, anyway.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Steal my kisses

Claire has also recently developed an affinity for “wip-stick.” Her mama happens to love a bold lip color, and she is always complimenting me on my color choices. And then she demands a kiss, on the lips. How sweet, you might think. But it’s not about showing affection. She’s hoping some of my lipstick will wear off on her lips, so she can wear it too.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Learner’s permit

It’s normal for little kids to be interested in cars. We have a lot of toy cars, but to Claire they’re about as satisfying as when she said she wanted a “baby” for Christmas and she had to keep correcting people, “not a doll, a real one.” Claire wants to DRIVE. Every day when we get in the car, she asks me if she is “tall enough” to drive yet. Nope. And you’re not nearly old enough, either, kid. She has to settle for the race car carts at the grocery store. Which she drives like a crazy New Yorker, hollering “BEEP BEEP! OUTTA MY WAY!” to the folks just trying to shop. I blame the book “I Stink!” about a grouchy big city garbage truck for that one.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

My little threenager isn’t all sass and shenanigans, though. She’s also full of sweetness. She appears to be a natural-born nurturer and has been dubbed the junior babysitter of our playgroup. She’ll gently and expertly hold all the baby siblings, fetch their pacis and diapers for their mamas, and happily hand them toys and blankies to play with. Mostly, she’d rather play with the babies and chat with the mamas than play with her same-aged peers. She also takes excellent care of her own mama. She’s always asking me how I’m feeling, stroking me gently, giving me giant bear hugs, and picking random moments to whisper “I wuv you, Mom,” and totally melt my heart. She pushes me to my limits, confuses the heck out of me, and totally has my heart.