bet you miss your friends

It finally caught up with me. I’ve been so busy setting up house, getting the girls into school, volunteering for the Clinton campaign, and hanging out with family that I haven’t actually had a chance to realize I’m really effing lonely.

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Until Saturday. There was a cool kid event going on, so I took the girls. It was a “pop-up free-range playground” event where tons of boxes, tape, tubes, fabric, wheels, ropes, and other recycled materials were out on a playground and no parents were allowed in while kids played and obeyed the only rules “have as much fun as you can and try not to hurt yourself or others.” Volunteers supervised and helped with scissors, but NO PARENTS ALLOWED. There was free coffee nearby in the area for parents to hang out.

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If I were still in Little Rock, I would have rounded up my parent-friends and we would have been drinking coffee and chatting while our kids played. In fact, that’s what all the other parents there seemed to have done. They were chatting in groups, rocking younger siblings on hips. I got myself a coffee, sat down, and tried to figure out how to make friends. The longer I sat there, the more I felt like the odd kid out at a middle school dance. I wanted to burst into tears.

I miss my friends. I am so lonely.

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When I got home and finally did let the tears flow, Jon reminded me of my freshman year self, bounding up and down the halls of my dorm, basically insisting people be my friend. I don’t know where that girl went, but I am not her anymore. I certainly wish I had her energy. I know I’m good enough, smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me, but I just don’t have it in me to walk up to a group of people already engrossed in conversation and attempt to say hi. Hi. I am so very new here. Hi. I am desperate to make some friends. Hi. Can you please talk to me? Hi. Can you see me over here just wishing you would break the ice and let me into your circle? You seem really cool with your rad glasses and your star-embroidered Ergo. You said you’re from Birmingham and I’m eavesdropping but I’m a displaced Southerner too. Oh, wow, you have twin boys and I have twin girls, and OMG your new baby is so cute and please let’s be friends.

I know eventually, we will have friends. It’s going to happen somehow. But it really sucks in the meantime.

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Update: after I wrote this mopey post, we visited a church, and I really liked it. I also found out they have a moms group that meets on Fridays, and the one this coming Friday is about tapping into your creativity. So I’m going to go and try to be brave and try to make some friends.

we tried hello fresh and blue apron. the winner is?

I mentioned a while back that we were considering trying some meal delivery services so Jon could cook dinner once a week or so. He’s a good cook, but busy ER docs don’t have a ton of time to research recipes, grocery shop, and prep. Services that send all the ingredients and recipe all ready to go sounded really ideal. I got a Hello Fresh coupon included in a box of stuff I ordered from Zulily, and a friend sent me a code for a free box of Blue Apron, so we decided to give them each a shot and see which one we preferred. I should note that this is not a sponsored post– Zulily frequently includes coupons and samples when they ship orders, and both services let users send friends discounts and free meals to try the services.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh was up first. One thing I didn’t like right off the bat was there was no plan that fit our diet preferences perfectly. We’re mostly vegetarian, but not entirely– we eat meat about once a week, and also enjoy eating seafood. Hello Fresh offers a Classic Box, a Veggie Box, and a Family Box. My ideal box would have a pescatarian option to get vegetarian and seafood recipes, but that’s not an option. So we did one week with a Family Box and one week with a Veggie Box. With a Veggie Box, you HAVE to get 3 meals per week, but the Family Box lets you choose 2 or 3 meals a week.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

Things we liked about Hello Fresh:

  • The recipes were delicious, easy to execute, and full of variety. Out of six meals, there was only one dish I didn’t care for, a portobello and orechiette primavera that kind of had a muddy flavor to this not-exactly-a-mushroom lover (I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them either).
  • The organization of the boxes. Each meal’s ingredients, minus meat or seafood, comes in its own individual box within the shipping box. It’s super easy to just stash the meal boxes in the fridge, and pull one out at mealtime. This prevents having to hunt for the various ingredients and gather them together. You just pull out the box and get cooking.
  • Jamie Oliver contributes some of the recipes. One of his recipes, a Brazillian black bean and rice bowl, was one of my favorites out of the six meals we tried.
  • All of the meals were balanced, healthy, fresh, and about 550-800 calories per plate. Every meal was enough for our family of 4, plus leftovers.
  • They sent us locally-raised meat!

Things we didn’t like about Hello Fresh:

  • Lack of a great option for our family’s diet, which is somewhere in between Veggie Box and Family Box. The Family Box was too meat-heavy for us, and we’d like to get vegetarian and seafood recipes.
  • Lack of a 2-meals-per-week option on the Veggie Box. I am a proficient cook, read a lot of food blogs and cookbooks, and enjoy cooking. I would prefer to just get 2 meals per week, one for Jon to cook, and one for me to cook, and leave me to my own devices the rest of the week.
  • Most of the recipes seemed to dirty a lot more dishes than our average meals. Multiple pans and bowls were often required, which makes cleanup a bummer.
  • Most meals take longer to cook than the estimated time.

Overall, our experience with Hello Fresh was super positive, and we enjoyed the meals we got from them.

Blue Apron

Next we tried Blue Apron. Blue Apron offers 2 basic plans, the Two Person Plan and the Family Plan. With each plan, you can choose 2 or 4 meals per week. Pricing is the same as Hello Fresh. Hello Fresh’s Family Box meals are $8.75 per serving, Blue Apron’s are $8.74. Also: we had leftovers with both services, lowering the actual price per serving further. One major perk to both of Blue Apron’s plans is the ability to choose your actual meals from a set of options. Another perk is the ability to input dietary preferences. I was able to select no beef, pork, or lamb, so our default options are vegetarian, seafood, or poultry, and I am able to further choose from among a few of those options for the 2 we are delivered. This way, we’ve managed to get entirely vegetarian or seafood meals, with no poultry.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

If I were basing my opinion solely on the first meal we cooked from Blue Apron, it would have been a total failure. We were sent a Teriyaki-Glazed Salmon with Brown Rice, Bell Pepper, and Cucumber. How was it? I don’t know, because we ended up getting fast food after a failure. To start with, a small bottle of sesame oil had leaked all over our box, and I was missing the bell pepper somehow. Then, they expected me to somehow cook brown rice on the stovetop in 30 minutes. After that allotted time, the rice was still crunchy and I was wishing I had thrown it into my Instant Pot instead of dutifully following the recipe. Finally, I was cooking the salmon in a skillet at medium-high heat as directed, added the teriyaki sauce as directed, and immediately the sauce smoked up to the point that my smoke alarm went off. And that’s when we decided to give up on that meal. I emailed customer service about the leaky sesame oil and missing pepper, and they gave me $10 off my next box to make up for it.

All of the other 5 meals we tried, however, went off without a hitch, so I’m ready to call our first meal-fail a fluke.

Things we liked about Blue Apron:

  • Customization of the plans to suit our family’s diet, as well as to choose recipes from among several choices each week.
  • The option of 2 meals per week on every plan.
  • The meals were all delicious, and with one exception, easy to execute.
  • The meals were all balanced and healthy, mostly in the 500-600 calories per serving range, with one pizza night in the 800 calories per serving range.
  • Every meal was enough food for all four of us with some leftovers.
  • Jon and I enjoyed cooking some of the meals together, which was really fun.
  • All of the seafood they send is certified sustainable by Seafood Watch.
  • Responsive customer service when we had an issue.

Things we didn’t like about Blue Apron:

  • One meal was a total failure, though I’m willing to call it a fluke.
  • The packaging is slightly less convenient than Hello Fresh’s system– you have to hunt for all the ingredients that you’ve put away and gather them together to cook instead of just pulling one box out of the fridge.
  • Most of the time the meals take slightly longer to cook than estimated.

You may be able to guess that Blue Apron was the winner for our family, and we are continuing with their service. It just suits our individual needs the best. However, if you don’t have specific dietary needs, I don’t think you could go wrong with Hello Fresh, either.

Have you tried a meal delivery service, or are you interested in trying one? Is there another one you love that you think I might like better?

do one thing every day that scares you

Or in my case, do it twice a week.

If I call my family or best friends on the phone, they usually answer with a panicky “IS EVERYTHING OK?” This is because I do not like talking on the phone. I hate it. Once, my voicemail was borked for like 6 months, and I didn’t realize it. I was just delighted that everyone had finally realized that texting is my love language and stopped calling me.

But, my kids recently started preschool, and I signed up to volunteer for the Hillary Clinton campaign in my newfound free time. And you know what they needed me to do? Phone bank. Yep. I go in, and they hand me a flip phone and a list of names to call. Thank God they’re at least people who have supported Democrats in the past, because getting yelled at by Trump supporters on the phone isn’t something I want to deal with– seeing them pop up in my Twitter mentions is bad enough.

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This is me, awkwardly making calls on a flip phone.

So yeah, twice a week, I go do a thing I utterly hate. I actively dread it before I go. But I push through the awkwardness and anxiety because I think winning this election (and electing Democrats to the House and Senate) is SO IMPORTANT. I want to be able to tell my kids one day that I did everything I could to stop Donald Trump and elect our first woman president. The idea of a Trump presidency gives me actual nightmares. Knowing that I’m helping stop it helps me sleep at night.

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Channeling RBG helps me be brave.

Do you have any free time at all? Does the idea of a Trump presidency scare you? Then push through the awkwardness with me and sign up to volunteer. Go to hillaryclinton.com, click ACT up top, and sign up. An organizer will contact you (mine’s an awesome guy named Cortrell) and get you signed up to do whatever you can in whatever time you have. You might end up phone banking. You might register voters. You might canvass your neighbors. You might do data entry. But you’ll be helping America avoid a Trump presidency, and that is a BIG FREAKING DEAL. It’s worth doing, even if the idea of calling strangers on the phone makes you break out into a cold sweat. We can do this. After all, we’re #StrongerTogether.

i hate april fool’s

I hate April Fool’s Day on the internet. Some pranks can be funny, but mostly they just make me feel frustrated and annoyed. Plus, I always feel kind of Debbie Downer-ish on April 1st. Four years ago, on a bright, shiny, April 1st morning, I almost died.

On Easter morning, my pastor mentioned in his sermon that he had never had a near death experience. That he had never felt outside his own body while teams of healthcare professionals worked to save him. He went on to talk about how he had felt life-less, though, had experienced darkness, despair, depression, and how this life-less-ness is something we all can relate to, a reason we all need to experience the Life Abundant that Jesus offers. I appreciated that message.

But as I sat there, I must admit that I missed a lot of the sermon, because I have had that near-death experience. I have felt suddenly all too aware of my body’s own frailty. As my heart failed and my lungs filled with fluid, my body became a prison. As respiratory therapists, nurses, and doctors fought to save me, I felt helpless and panicked and irrational. I pushed masks meant to help me breathe away because they felt suffocating. I fought the people trying to save me as I fought for my life. And in the middle of it all, I remember thinking, they’re going to have to sedate me, or this is never going to work. Flashes of lucidity in the middle of sheer panic and terror. I remembered all of that on Sunday morning, and so I distracted myself grinning at a small boy in front of me wearing a seersucker suit instead of going there in my mind.

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This is actually a picture taken during the girls’ delivery, not of me when I was intubated.

It’s a weird thing to be a person in the world after something like that. Around the first year anniversary mark, I was having panic attacks and intense anxiety, because I’d been so busy keeping twins alive, I never really got a chance to process what happened to me until a year later. Now, four years later, I mostly forget about that time I almost died. I can tell the story in such a way that it makes people laugh, even. Or I can shock even healthcare professionals as I tell it in as vivid a way as possible. Somehow the process of turning an experience into an anecdote has placed some distance between me and the intensity of the feelings I have about that trauma.

Also, though I take pills every day to keep my heart from every doing THAT again, I mostly don’t think about it too much. But sometimes I’m reminded unexpectedly, or something brings it up– someone asks if I’m going to have any more kids, for example–and then I remember that time I almost died. I’m usually sorry I have to mention it, like I need to spare the other person from the news of my trauma. I worry about becoming That Girl Who Won’t Stop Bringing Up That Time She Almost Died. Do people want to avoid me in case it comes up? I can’t imagine it’s really what anyone wants to hear about over cocktails. I’m even wary of writing too much about it for fear this blog becomes That Downer from that Girl Who Almost Died Once and Can’t Seem to Get Over It.

But I can’t avoid this day. It’s a marker of time for me. I was a different person before April 1, 2012, and I’ve been a different person ever since. Sometimes I think my experience made me fearless, because nothing short of death itself can ever be as scary as that day was. Other times I think it made me feel more fragile, a little too aware that it could all be over in a blink, more than a little afraid that it will be. On this anniversary, I’m not much of a person who can take a joke. I feel a little bit raw and a little bit fragile, though I am also pretty sure each year will lessen those feelings as I put more distance between myself and the trauma of that day. I hope so.

 

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!

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.

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?