be the seatmate you want to see in the world

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Last week, I got to go to Las Vegas with a girlfriend who was there for a conference. She attended the conference all day while I read by the pool/wandered around the strip, and then we hung out and saw shows and ate amazing things every night.

To get there, I had to fly Southwest. I know, most people adore Southwest for their reasonable fares and funny staff members and for letting you check a bag for free and for not nickel-and-diming their customers at every opportunity. I have a grudge against them because they don’t assign you a seat, but instead, you get assigned a boarding number based on when you check in, and then it’s like a free-for-all to find a seat. I am so scatterbrained, I never remember to check in on time and thus end up in the crappy, you’re gonna have a middle seat, good luck finding space in the overhead bins group. True story, I once cried on a Southwest flight because I was PREGNANT WITH TWINS and didn’t get to sit next to my husband because we hadn’t remembered to check in on time. I JUST WANT AN ASSIGNED SEAT, DAMMIT.

Anyway, I actually managed to get in the B boarding group for my flight to Vegas, miracle of miracles. I always feel blissfully unencumbered when flying without my kids. It’s like, long security lines? No problem, at least I’m not trying to keep a couple of five year olds happy and in line. You need me to take off my shoes, show you my liquids, maybe even pat me down? Great. At least I’m not also taking off two other people’s shoes and hustling them through the lines. Basically, my good mood when flying without my children cannot be stopped.

As I waited to board, I heard a baby losing his mind. My first thought was “I hope I’m not next to that baby! I’m flying without kids, finally! I *deserve* a quiet, relaxing flight.”

But then I got on the plane to look for a seat, and saw the mom of that baby, flying alone with him and his preschool-aged brother. The aisle seat next to them was open. I didn’t really want to take it, but then a thought popped into my head: “Be the seatmate you want to see in the world.” I think it was inspired by my own airplane angel from a long-ago flight with my kids.

I sat down next to the mom. “Hi! I’ll sit next to you– I have twins, myself.” She smiled, “I didn’t think ANYONE would want to sit with us. Thank you so much!”

The kids did as great as a preschooler and a lap baby can do on a flight, which was also not particularly long, thankfully. The preschooler watched movies on his tablet and occasionally demanded snacks. The baby was wiggly and in need of constant distraction, occasionally emitting a squawk before his mom and I distracted him with something else, but no prolonged crying or anything. Big win? Let the baby play with ice cubes on the tray table. That entertained him the longest.

The mom and I chatted, and I was glad I sat next to them. It felt like sisterhood. Moms need to look out for each other.

We arrived in Vegas, and I left the little family at the end of the jetway, mom competently putting the stroller together and getting her kids settled. She had it handled, so I kept moving, eager to get to my hotel and grab some dinner.

As I reached the end of the jetway, I heard a man scream, “GET THAT FUCKING SCREAMING BABY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” I turned to see a big guy fully decked out in Broncos gear literally yelling at a woman alone with two kids. I stared, mouth agape, as he walked toward and past me.

I wish I had said something like, “Babies can’t help it if they act like a-holes, but what’s your excuse?”

Instead all I could do was stare. Would he have screamed at her if her husband had been with her? Did anyone who witnessed the event say anything to him? Why didn’t the flight attendant who was standing right there say something? Can that guy get like, banned from future flights?

I can only imagine how rattled the mom was, and I wish I had caught up with her to check in. “You OK, sis?” There is no one more stressed and uncomfortable on a flight with small kids than those kids’ parent(s). Here, she had just survived the flight, oh sweet relief, and her kids had actually done as great as you can expect any kids their ages to do, and then she gets screamed at by an intimidating stranger?

I’m still furious with that man.

But in spite of his hatred, I’d like to share the main lesson I learned on that flight: be the seatmate you want to see in the world. Remember the hard times you’ve had, and let them give you compassion towards people dealing with stressful situations, like traveling with small children. Don’t huff. Don’t roll your eyes. Help. At the very least, offer a kind glance and a smile. Pack your earplugs and your noise-cancelling headphones if you must, but remember, while babies don’t have self-control, you do. Exercise it.

Image above via Flickr user fred C under a Creative Commons license.

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Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Last week, my husband flew to Denver to interview for what I can only say would be his dream job. The interview went really well, but the gears of medical academia grind slowly, and we won’t be hearing about a hiring decision until at least November and maybe January, and then if he gets the job, possibly not moving until next summer. This means we’ll be living with a little uncertainty for a while. Rather than focus on the unknown, we’ve decided to live what may be our last year in my home state to the fullest. I want to make an Arkansas Bucket List and focus on enjoying what this place has to offer for as long as we’re here. If we end up not moving, at least we’ll have had a really fun year!

Some of the things I want to do are:

  • Take the girls canoeing on the Buffalo River
  • Road trip for a weekend to Memphis and Oxford MS (I have yet to make a Faulknerian pilgrimage and must do so while we’re so close)
  • Take the girls tent camping for the first time
  • Spend a weekend in a cabin
  • Visit Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Dyess
  • Take the girls to an Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball game
  • Visit the 3 Arkansas BBQ restaurants that made Garden & Gun’s BBQ Bucket List: Craig’s in DeValls Bluff, Jones in Marianna, and McClard’s in my hometown of Hot Springs
  • Take the girls to the State Fair
  • See the fall color in the Ozarks
  • Attend our alma mater, Lyon College’s Scottish Fest
  • Rock out at the Americana concert series at South on Main (tickets to this series were our anniversary gift to ourselves, and I’m super stoked about seeing The Indigo Girls with Patterson Hood in December)
  • Spend a night at The Capital Hotel (maybe for my birthday in December?)
  • See a show at White Water Tavern (We used to live right by it, and I hung out there a lot before kids. Haven’t made it back to my favorite dive in a long while.)
Making an Arkansas Bucket List

The Warhol’s Nature exhibit at Crystal Bridges.

There are a few things that would be on the list, except we’ve already done them recently

  • Visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (the current Warhol exhibit is pretty awesome!)
  • Go boating on Lake Hamilton (my parents live on this lake, so we can go anytime!)
  • Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens
Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Etta’s first Arkansas Travelers game. It’s way past time for us to get back out to a ballgame.

Obviously, there is much more that we could add to this list, and this is where you come in! Got suggestions for things we can’t miss in case we move? Bonus points if they are convenient to Little Rock or little kid friendly!

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

I took a buffalo selfie in Yellowstone, managed not to be gored. Ask me how I did it.

ernie meets bufflos

Having recently visited Yellowstone and met my animal alter-ego, the buffalo, face to face, seeing news of a woman attacked by a bison while taking a selfie hit a little close to home. OMG, I thought, I totally took a buffalo selfie. Am I lucky to be alive?

ernie meets bufflos

It turns out I’m just lucky I read and obeyed the park’s bazillions of warnings about giving wildlife the appropriate amount of space. When you enter the park, you’re given a handout on the park’s wildlife that tells you to stay 25 yards away from bison and 100 yards away from bears. There are also signs reiterating the same all over the park.

Any of our photos of bison that appear to have been taken closer than that were achieved via zoom lens or from inside our vehicle. I was actually fairly terrified that we would encounter a bear on our hikes, and we talked and made noise the whole time to help keep the bears away. No photo is worth risking your life. You can still get amazing photos through the power of zoom.

ernie meets bufflos

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

Toddler Island: all about our Dauphin Island beach vacation

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation

When I decided in the bleak midwinter that we needed a beach vacation, I had a clear idea of what I wanted: LAID BACK. Traveling with two three-year-olds, I knew what I did not want: high rise resorts, crowded beaches, or any tacky tourist stuff. I wanted a house on the beach for minimal schlepping. I wanted to do nothing more but play in the water, hang out on the sand, maybe take a few walks, enjoy drinks on a porch overlooking the water, and cook up a bunch of local seafood at home rather than going out to eat all the time. These criteria led me to choose to rent a house on Dauphin Island, Alabama, and I couldn’t be happier with our choice.

I had never been to Dauphin Island before, but it fit my criteria perfectly. There was one resort, and the rest of the island was dotted with houses on little streets that dead-end at the beach, essentially giving each grouping of 6 or so houses their own private beach, with no parking or public beach access near the houses. There is exactly one grocery store on the island (Ship & Shore), and it’s predictably pricey, but there’s a really good little grocery store (Greer’s) and farm stand a 15 minute drive inland. There are a few restaurants, but no chains. We had one excellent dinner out, slightly inland at Baudean’s– I had grouper topped with soft shell crab and a delicious butter pecan sauce. There is an excellent seafood market on the island, Skinners, where we picked up fresh shrimp and fish for dinner most nights. Bike and kayak rentals were readily available, including seats and trailers for kids, and the entire island was very bike-friendly.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

There is an excellent little aquarium called the Estuarium on the island where you can touch rays, crabs, and other sea life and get up close with all the things that usually freak me out when they bump up against my legs in the water. Our girls LOVED it. There is also an Audubon Bird Sanctuary and a historic fort, Fort Gaines, which is where the quote “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” was first said. We didn’t check out either of those because we spent as much time beach bumming as possible. I wasn’t kidding when I said my entire plans for the week were to sit on the beach and hang out at the house while drinking as many mojitos as possible.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

Fun at the Estuarium.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

There is a golf course on the island, and the boys in our group played 9 holes. They report that the course had been badly damaged by a recent hurricane, but is under new management and is being improved. They had a good time, and in return, the moms got some kid-free time at the beach.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

Speaking of the beach! I used VRBO.com to find a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house for us to share with two other families– a total of 6 adults and 4 toddlers. Ours was the fourth house down from the beach, and my husband said next time he’d prefer to be the house on the end, though the rest of our friends said they didn’t find the little walk to the water to be that bad at all. Honestly, it wasn’t any longer than you’d schlep to get from an upper story at a resort down to the water at most places, I think. The beach itself was sandy and quiet, and the water was perfect– a little windy and choppy on our first couple of days, and lake-smooth and calm on our latter few days. The ONLY drawback to this fabulous little island is you can see about 16 offshore oil rigs from the beach. I would kind of squint and pretend they were boats out on the horizon. I have a feeling the slightly-less-scenic view is what makes prices at Dauphin so much cheaper than places like Destin.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

One of the highlights of the week was the day we swam about 40 feet from a playful pod of dolphins. They were jumping and diving, and we could hear them calling to each other underwater. The definite low point was when Claire, Jon, and I all got stung by jellyfish on our last dip in the ocean at the end of the week. In between the high and the low, we watched the girls transition from clingy and anxious about the waves in the first days to floating free “by myself” in their puddle jumpers by the end of the trip. It definitely helps that the surf calmed down, but they also just grew to love the water.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

Here you can see both the offshore rigs, and, if you squint, a dolphin fin!

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

We had a blast sharing the house with some of our best friends, and I’m pretty sure going with other families is the only way to do the beach with young kids. It was no big deal if one of our girls wanted to stay on shore, because some of the others were bound to be there to hang with them. It was no big deal to take turns hanging out in the house with napping kids while some of the other grown ups grabbed some solo time reading next to the water, which isn’t something you can do while trying to make sure small people don’t drown. It also didn’t make us feel trapped by toddlers’ early bedtimes, because we could make pitchers of drinks and play games and hang out on the porch after we got all the kids down. One night we all drank pina coladas and watched the sun set from our house’s rooftop deck while our friend Ken played guitar.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

Overall, I’d highly recommend Dauphin Island if you’re looking for a quiet, chill beach vacation experience. We had a great time and I can absolutely see us going back as long as we live such a reasonable 7 hour drive away.

All about our Dauphin Island, Alabama beach vacation.

 

vacation, all i’ve ever wanted

I think it was back in February, when winter still seemed interminable, that the girls had a particularly terrible day and Jon and I looked at each other and decided we needed a vacation to look forward to. Within days I had booked a week at a beach house on the Gulf coast. We invited two other families and began excitedly looking forward to taking our kids to the beach for the first time. I got through many a hard day by reminding myself “in May, you get to go TO THE BEACH.” And now that week is upon us. This is how I feel:

This is 7 years, two babies, and several pounds ago, but you get the idea of how I feel about the beach.

This is 7 years, two babies, and several pounds ago, but you get the idea of how I feel about the beach.

I am looking forward to a very low-key time of hanging out, splashing around, and drinking icy beverages within sight of the ocean.

I’m also doing something crazy: attempting to take an actual vacation from the internet. Not like, ZERO internetting, because I know myself and yes, the house has wifi, but I’m going to like, temporarily delete Twitter from my phone and try not to be so internet addicted for a week. I’ll still be Instagramming, though, because it really is my favorite slice of the interwebz.

Got any last minute beach-trip-with-little-kids tips I should know about? Are you looking forward to any travels this summer?