Raising My Twins

It's what's on my mind.

The Graham Cracker Chronicles

I’m not the first to attempt this. Google “homemade graham crackers” and you will get many versions, some claiming that you need to look no further…so-and-so has got it all figured out. Well, in my humble opinion…they have not. Shockingly, every version I saw online starts with butter, and a lot of it! (*Buzzer noise*) No way. Graham crackers would never have butter. Sorry, gourmands…peddle your moist, rich cookies elsewhere. Graham crackers’ signature feature is their dry crispness.

Round One. Aren’t these gorgeous? Yep…far too good to be considered graham crackers.

Having just enough baking theory under my belt to be dangerous (but probably woefully inept), I did something I’ve dreamed of doing: I consulted the box of Organic Erewhon graham crackers and wrote down the ingredients as a starting point to my own concoction. They were: wheat flour (which means white ’cause it’s not “whole”), whole wheat graham flour, dried cane syrup, vegetable oils (safflower or sunflower), honey, molasses, leavening (baking soda, ammonium bicarbonate), sea salt, cream of tartar. These differ only slightly from the box of Honey Grahams everyone has in their cupboard.

I compiled dry and wet ingredients separately, using all whole wheat flour—half regular whole wheat, and half whole wheat pastry flour. They are made from different types of wheat. The regular whole wheat flour is as close to graham flour (more coarsely milled) as I could get with organic ingredients, and it turns out to be just fine. I chose coconut oil and guessing high at 1/2 cup (for 2 cups of flour). I used regular sugar and only a tiny bit of molasses due to an earlier experiment which told me too much molasses can change the personality of a cookie quickly.

Knowing that I wanted these to aerate as much as possible to get crispy, and noting that the boxed crackers used ammonium bicarbonate, a.k.a. hartshorn, I investigated getting some of that, but thought that the irritating ammonia gases produced during baking might not be something I’d want in the house with the girls. I haven’t totally ruled it out though for future experimenting. I could bake with it while they are napping, perhaps. Hartshorn is apparently still the leavening of choice for certain crispy European and Scandinavian cookies, but is harder to find here in the U.S.

I ended up adding a significant amount of water to the dough to mix it well. The dough was greasy (I knew I had too much oil to begin with!) but rolled out nicely and produced delicious cookies with a graham-crackery flavor, but of course way too moist and cookie-like!

Round Two. Not as photogenic but they are far closer to real graham crackers in flavor and texture.

Second round I subbed in brown sugar for the white sugar + molasses, as the original molasses amount (1/2 teaspoon) was so scant anyway, it’s actually hard to measure less. I changed the leavenings, reduced the oil to 3 tablespoons and increased water to 1/2 cup. I rolled them thinner, reduced the oven temp and the results were much closer: even more authentic graham cracker flavor, but still too moist and/or chewy, depending on oven time.

Still working on it! As of July 2016, this post was a draft laying around for years now. Thought I’d throw it up there, but sorry…don’t have the final recipe yet.


Beneath the cuteness lies a serious thinker

stars-519627_1280We’ve decided that The Otter, with her sunshiny disposition and perfect manners, has a dark side.

While  driving up I-5 toward home recently, she looked out her window at the night and said, “These trees will lead us to our darkest fears.” I honestly think a chill went down Dad’s spine. I burst into laughter, loving her spookiness.

Later in the drive, she looked over at her soundly sleeping sister whose mouth and eyes (yes) were partly open and said plainly, “I think Rachel is dead.”

Days later she was drawing a tall building with many windows. She showed it to me after she’d added bodies jumping or perhaps falling from the top. I looked at the falling bodies and several lying on the ground beside the building and said “Wow!” just as she ran off with the picture saying, “Ooh! I need a red crayon to draw the blood!”.

And just the other day came the most profound of all the Otterisms. We were talking about someone’s injury—maybe the cat or a character in a book—and Audrey said to Rachel, “Everyone hurts, and everyone dies.”

She’s not wrong. Do we have a philosopher on our hands? Or just a realist?



Potty Training Twins, Part Who Cares? I Mean Really, When Will It End?

Audrey swears this guy is wearing a diaper. See? I'm not the only one obsessed.

Audrey swears this guy is wearing a diaper. See? I’m not the only one obsessed.

I know. Listen, nobody is more sick of my singular potty focus than me, trust me. But I must regale you with more torturous accounts of my pain. Because I’ve got little else. Singular. Focus.

For most of December we had  far fewer issues, and life got a less hectic. Then Audrey developed some kind of fear of pooping on the potty.  After being my potty champion—even using the loud and scary public restrooms on the road (with seat covers and our own sanitized chair insert of course)—suddenly back at home she stopped pooping in the potty. Those were weird and terrible times. I had to hug her while she pooped a few times. Once, I turned my attention away from Audrey on the big potty to read a few pages of a book to Rachel on the little potty. Audrey hopped off and came over for a hug, which she often does before going back up onto the big potty. This time instead she um…evacuated on my leg. Yep. I started to figure out she was using me as some kind of security blanket (among other things.) I coached her most every night to get over the fear of pooping on the potty and/or alone. Then, we had to travel again. (Cue ominous music.)

Actually, Christmas was problem-free at the Great Grandparents’, which was really a good thing. But this gave me a false sense of security. Again. When will I learn?

When the holidays were over and we were back home, the girls started having accidents. Pee accidents, which was strange. We started cueing them again every couple of hours and the accidents stopped after a couple of days. Since then it’s been mostly great except: they almost never poop in the potty. They are withholding it again. Every day. So the pees are fine…Audrey especially is a champ with pees, telling me right away and hiking it to the bathroom to go. And Rachel will go when asked. But poop? They only go in the training pants they wear to sleep, or when they can no longer hold out, and then they put up a real fight.

The last couple of days, Rachel has had numerous poop accidents. She tells me she has to go but then refuses to sit on a potty. She ends up pooping in her pants. One time Audrey cut in front of her at the potty (happens a lot) but Rachel was too late anyway. She was standing in front of it bent in half. More poop in the pants. The washer is constantly running.

But today she really surprised me. She had to go, but I tried to let her take charge because, well…she won’t go if I try to persuade her. She would go into the bathroom, then back into her room to play with her sister. Eventually I heard the dreaded cries, “poo poo!” She had crawled into her travel/sleep tent and let it go in there! Ugh.

Darling Rachel is going back to pants-free living here at home for awhile, so she can hopefully get a grasp of the basics over again. And I am eliminating training pants for both girls at nap time too. When I did this before the girls often stayed dry, but I slid back into using them daily and the girls have started actually using them too much.

It’s amazing how much energy this has taken. I know that I missed our magic window, and along with other reasons, that’s why it’s been such a challenge. But I never thought I’d be halfway into our third month and having this many problems. Hopefully we’re about to turn a corner. Anyway, it’s still better to be here than before the beginning, you know?


Darling Rachel Receives Special Award

More for the Potty Training Trials file: Rachel has earned the weirdest place to have an accident award.

Last night, I heard her yelling about poo poo, which makes me move fast. I walked into the girls’ bedroom to see Rachel on hands and knees on her dresser, in a puddle of chunky vileness.

She was smart enough to avoid trying to climb down, as she probably would have slipped and gotten hurt.

Surprisingly I don’t run for the camera in these moments, but I did create this nifty illustration to give you the gist of the situation. Yes, she was wearing shorts.

I omitted the chunks in my illustration.


Potty Training Twins, Part 4 of ?

The girls had a great time visiting family. Here they cuddle up with “Uncle”.

Our annual Thanksgiving trip came in the middle of our potty training. It was supposed to be mostly in the bag (!) by then, but it’s taking my girls a little longer than average, as the previous posts describe.

We were in decent shape with the training before we left for our 500 mile drive to Southern California, even with the um…runny problems. In fact, they had to go so often in the days previous to our trip that they got some really good practice, and seemed to pretty much have the hang of taking themselves to the potty.

But then we had to pack them up in the minivan (with piles of cleaning supplies and baggies and whatnot). We left them pantsless, sheepskins and cloth diapers laid underneath them in the car seats. Apparently this felt too snuggly for them—maybe like a diaper—because there were at least a thousand accidents on the way down, and really gory ones at that. I was cleaning poop and rotating sheepskins nonstop. We put pants on them for our lunch stop and they both stayed clean and dry for the meal (whew!). All told, we only coaxed a couple of successes out of them during the trip…but one was an enormous poop from Rachel! But we showed up in San Diego with a huge bag of revolting laundry (did I mention that Rachel inexplicably threw up her breakfast about 5 miles from home?)

During the week-long visit with family, the girls learned a little bit more about wearing undies and pushing them down to potty. But as expected with this change in the program, they had many accidents. We had one totally accident-free day after Thanksgiving, though. On that day, we successfully reminded/coerced them every hour or so to stop playing and go potty.

The ride home was terrible though. Early in the day, I coaxed each of them to poop on their potties, and was hoping they were done with poops for the day. But for some unknown reason, they had diarrhea again and there were tons of accidents and so much obvious discomfort. Rachel had an especially bad bout and her butt got rashy right away. I ended up putting pull-ups on them for the second half of the 10-hour ride, although I changed them promptly when they pooped in ’em, and once Rachel asked to be put on the potty to go, which was really cool, as it must’ve been hard for her to time right. The pull-ups were handy for this, although in general I’m not planning to use them much.

So we made it home with more gory laundry and an exhausted mama. Today I am trying to get them on track while wearing pants. Audrey’s had four accidents (two in her pants—ew!) but a couple of pees in the potty. Rachel was holding everything until I made her try to poop before nap and she got a little done. I can’t believe they are sick again! I’ve emailed the doc to see if the diarrhea is something they need to be seen for, or if it’s just some strange side effect of potty training.

I’m pretty tired of cleaning poop, I’ll tell ya.


Potty Training Twins, Part 2 of ?

Potty training with the girls. Rachel (r) is on the potty here and Audrey gives her a kiss.

How did the girls get this old (almost 2.5), given how I feel about potty training, you wonder? For one thing, everybody knows (and logic dictates) you need more than one person for at least a few days to start potty training twins, but I’d never managed to hook that up in spite of trying. So I’ve gritted my teeth and made several ernest attempts to train them on my own, knowing it would be really hard. And I’d end up so frustrated I thought I’d blow a fuse.

Almost every single time, I’d get an opportunity to teach one girl only to be thwarted by the other. Example: I see that Audrey’s peeing…I move her quickly to the potty and start to tell her that she’s doing great, etc., but suddenly Rachel is pushing Audrey off the potty. Mama wrestles Rachel aside and tells her she needs 2 minutes with Audrey. Now Rachel is climbing on my head. Really. All the time it was like that. It made my head want to explode.

One summer morning we were playing in the backyard when I spotted Rachel starting to poop. I raced over there to catch most of it in a potty and sit her down to encourage her. Dad walked out just in time to see Audrey dunking my abandoned iPhone in my coffee. Less than 10 seconds had passed.

But NOW how are we doing? Well, Thanksgiving is approaching fast and I’m trying not to be discouraged. One day we will be done with this, but oh man! it’s hard to contemplate the holidays at various relatives’ homes if our progress continues to be this slow! Although I know Grandma will be happy and excited to help, which makes me feel better.

First off, here is the best advice I’ve found on potty training: This eBook is $15: oh crap. potty training by Jamie Glowacki. It’s no-nonsense, dispel-the-myths advice, and it’s lengthy (for those of us that are potty-obsessed) covering every scenario the author can think of after training hundreds of kids. This book was brought to my attention by a blogger friend at eliminationcommunication.wordpress.com.

I loved the eBook, and read the whole thing. Jamie’s philosophy matches mine very well. She helped me to see that I caused a casual attitude about the potty in my girls, because of my lack of consistency. Sure it makes sense now!

So aaaanyway, as much as I love the book, I have some pretty big stubbornness with which to contend here. After a week or so, I started what I call “lock-ins”. To get them to stop using the potties as reading chairs and know that I mean for them to GET THIS, I have been locking them in the bathroom with me—sometimes together and sometimes alone—and while I remain supportive and positive, I try to maintain an attitude of sort of bored distraction to give them a feeling of psuedo-privacy to help them relax.

When they are together in the bathroom, they play a lot, so it’s pretty hard. I actually stop them from playing with the paper roll and the toilet seat, and I’ve moved most everything else out of their reach. I remind them that they can go back to playing or watching Elmo after they sit and pee, but otherwise I talk little. They really resist, and I’m not surprised anymore, given the fact that in the past I’ve “caved” and put diapers back on them after a few days or weeks (oh yeah). But not this time! I’ve been really consistent, and pretty stubborn myself (is that where Ray got it?) I’ve sat in the bathroom with one of them for as long as an hour and a half (guess who?) and was prepared to stay even longer if needed!

I know they have to go when I put them in there. In that way, I set us up for success whenever I do a lock-in. Usually one or both have been dancing around, or in Rachel’s case even leaking before I attempt a lock-in. Amazing how they can still hold out for so long! Also I only do about 2 of those a day also, so that I’m not pushing them way over the edge of rebellion. I’m still waiting for them to self-initiate.

Today’s lock in was with both girls, and I told them I’d love to watch Mickey Mouse with them, but I’d have to make sure they peed first. Audrey actually didn’t complain today, just played a little bit, then hopped up on the big potty and peed. Only took about 15 minutes! I parked her on the couch with Mickey and went back to Rachel.

Rachel’s always been more stubborn, but she’s also more verbal. She whined and cried, hugging me endlessly, but eventually climbed up on the big potty and peed. She took about 30 minutes, which is less than half her usual. I feel cautiously optimistic.

Late update: About an hour and a half after the lock-in, Audrey went in to the bathroom and was playing with the big toilet. I checked on her a couple times. She had closed the lid to the big toilet, so couldn’t access the little insert seat. Eventually I heard tinkling on the floor. I sped in there and moved her to the little potty, where she finished, then I had her help clean up the mess. I actually think that this was her trying to self-initiate, and I’m pretty excited. I think she wanted to use the big potty but had already closed the lid, and it locks shut. At least she was in the bathroom! Wish me luck.


Potty Training Twins, Part 1 of ?

Beautiful two-year-olds.

The girls are two years and 5 months. Already. I started this twin journey with intentions to potty train (PT) on the early side. In fact, I had been interested in EC’ing until I found out I was having twins, and then I decided I’d go it more traditionally, but I swore I’d tackle it sooner than most of my contemporaries, out of respect for the kids and a strong belief in instilling confidence. I had high hopes that the girls would be PT’d by age 2, which I thought would be ideal, as I believed they’d be more “helpful” and less oppositional before that age. (See this previous post for my early thoughts on the current trends in potty training and EC.)

I’m still in the middle of it, but I believe now that my intuition was right on all counts, but things got hectic, and I actually let go of some of that intuition in favor of some of the modern wives tales, because I wanted them to be true. Examples: “If it’s not going well, take a break for awhile.” “They’ll do it when they’re ready.” (I have no one to blame but myself for adopting this BS. *FLOG* See my own previous blog post! I knew better! *FLOG*)

And now, the excuses. One problem is that I’m a huge over-acheiver as a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom). I used to happily work for myself—which means of course that I was salesperson, designer, production artist, bookkeeper, planner, time and task manager, etc., all at the same time. And I loved the enforced organization it required. I love getting way more done, and done well, than expected. So that’s the type of mama I am too: I keep myself very busy, fitting in the craziest things between childcare and housekeeping. I was sanding and painting the exterior of my home (many times over…don’t ask!) during nap time for half of their entire infanthood and past their second birthday, which was no small intrusion into my plans to potty train! But I did feel it had to be done. (Our house looked haunted when we bought it, and two sides of it are still in less-than-ideal shape. Don’t get me started.)

I have learned over these two years to cook most anything I’ve ever wanted to—Indian favorites, graham crackers, every style of bread—as a sort of homemaker hobby, but mostly because I highly value being able to identify every ingredient and procedure in my family’s food. This of course is quite time consuming.

And then there are the two blogs (this one is for my sanity and enjoyment), the journals I keep for the girls, the research into schooling options and other things kid-related, and some hours each month pitching in with my husband’s business.

As far as packing my schedule, I got to feel very accomplished, but I shot myself in the foot. I kept myself way too busy. Even at times working late into the night and robbing myself of the already-hard-to-grab sleep of a new mama. But somehow—and this is just hubris—I really thought I could still manage the big stuff like potty training at the same time. Even though I was approaching it as a part time gig. Hmm.

Complicating matters—and this is a big one—I have a friend who has one of those magical toddlers (and take my word for it—this is by all accounts extremely rare) who decided to train herself, pretty much. Then her twin sister seemed to go along for the ride because of the stellar example set for her. Easy peasy, right? Yeah, it really is awesome. For that mama. Over here, I was in awe. And witnessing this genius child, I allowed myself to believe in magic (fueled by some bogus current thought trends): “Maybe my kids will just do it themselves when they are ready too. I mean they’ve gotten lots of exposure. It’s gonna click soon!” I had a sneaking suspicion I was fooling myself, but “Oh!  How convenient it would be…and I’ve got so much to DO before their birthday!” You can hardly blame me.

Meanwhile, I was making regular “attempts” at training (or “learning”—whatever floats your boat) but I didn’t realize I was making things worse by approaching it casually and intermittently. The girls would be bare-bottomed at home (with me trying to catch every pee or poo) but when we’d go out for groceries or play dates, I’d slap their diapers on. So now they take the whole thing very casually too, as in, “It must not be super important, because when it is important, mama puts a diaper on us. So if we wait or protest enough, she’ll give up and give us our comfy diaper.”  (Yep. I did.)

The worst thing is that I wasted tons of my own effort. I was putting a huge amount of energy in when I’d have them “training” here, but I really wasn’t doing it consistently enough to get good results. ‘Cuz I kinda thought it would just click for them one day and they’d take over. Silly mama!

I was ignorant of a couple of key points, which now seem like no-brainers.

Here’s one: Don’t put the potty out for them to “get used to” unless you are going to be actively training. My kids think their potties are reading chairs. I started teaching them about the chairs, very gently, when they were 16 months (picture on that previous post). It was cute and they were sweetly compliant with sitting on it. I brought the girls to the bathroom with me and they showed interest, even making the psst psst sound I’d vocalized to act as a cue for them whenever I’d go. Rachel would run to the door and make that noise—she was clearly into learning more. The thought fills me with woe. If only I’d known that my instincts about their nature at that phase were right and that the compliant desire-to-please attitude they exhibited indicated it was a perfect PERFECT time to spend a week or two being firm and consistent with it, I may have nailed it then.

Another: Don’t buy in to the freaky thought (another currently touted theory) that you can’t be negative in any way when dealing with potty training. The new “experts” advise that you’ll turn your kids off to the whole issue if you display any negativity. This is crap. It makes no sense. Now I’m back to being myself—showing my obvious disappointment when they don’t do what I expect, whether it’s with potty training (peeing on the floor) or anything else (throwing blocks, spitting milk). See? Why would you walk on eggshells with just one issue? What are the kids supposed to think about that? Likely your timidity will make them think you’re scared and confused. I was! Why didn’t I go ahead and overthink this stuff too, like I do everything else? Oh, right! I was too dang busy! *FLOG* Silly mama. 🙂

Clearly, I had the right idea in the beginning, I just believed, erroneously, that it would be more effortless. Effortless! What was I thinking? Why would it require no effort from me? That’s just weird. That is, if you disregard all my great excuses.

Much more to come, including ridiculous stories that make it clear why it sucks to train two at once.


Buying American and “Eating Local”

Here’s a great list of reasons to buy American. Most of us have our own pet reasons. Mine are supporting our economy (especially local businesses when I can) and reducing the impact on our environment. I mean, do we really need to eat blueberries in the winter when they come from Chile? Why not eat local citrus instead?  I live in California, so admittedly I have an easier situation than somebody in the Midwest, say.

Hokkaido squash and Padron peppers

This spring and summer I’ve made most of my produce purchases from the farmer’s market, and this has actually spurred me to try fun new vegetables, like this Hokkaido squash and these Padron peppers. I learned Padrons are a popular tapas dish, the best way to prepare them being to blister them in a pan of shimmering hot olive oil and sprinkle them with sea salt. And man, are they delicious. I have bought them every week for a month! I’ve put them in chili and deep-dish pizza with delicious results too.

The Hokkaido (aka “potimarron”) is a nutty-flavored sweet squash that the market vendor tells me sells out quickly each year. I have yet to prepare mine, but I will either make soup for the babies or perhaps I’ll try this potimarron gnocchi recipe, if I have some time.

Toys are another area of interest to me as a parent of young children. I’ve started trying to buy more American made toys, and interestingly, there aren’t that many brands sold through large outlets. When I combine “Made in the USA” with “eco-friendly”, both features by which Yoyo.com allows you to search, I only get products from a wonderful company called Green Toys, which makes all their BPA- and phthalate-free toys from recycled milk jugs. And they are really cute toys.

A search for “made in usa eco-friendly toys” helped me to find Down To Earth Toys that make some adorable bug blocks and other wooden and fabric toys. Magic Cabin has a section called “Made in America” which includes fun beeswax crafts and very attractive child-height wooden planter boxes.

This search also found a very cool looking company called Zoe B Organic. The search specifically found these biodegradable beach toys, but what looks exciting is that they have biodegradable plates, cups and bowls made in the USA too. Great idea!

I recently searched for a US-made tea pot and ended up finding out that there aren’t any (there’s one with German glass but made here—ask if you’re interested and I’ll find it again). This is a sad situation. We should at least have a couple of options in every product category that are made here, don’t you think?

For my part, I’m making this part of my buying decisions, although I’m sure won’t be 100% compliant. The thing is, I really believe that by buying products made here and made responsibly, I am in a sense voting for these factors. Companies make what we buy. If we didn’t just put the lowest price as our top priority, they’d eventually be persuaded to make things the way we want them, such as with quality parts or ingredients and low-toxin processes, made here in the United States.

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The Best Homemade Deodorant

(EDITED 10/3/12—see note at end of entry) I’ve always had a hard time with deodorants and antiperspirants. I used to sweat a fair amount when I was younger and I used antiperspirant exclusively then. All through my twenties I had the experience of using an antiperspirant for a while successfully, only to have it stop working after a couple of months. I was left sweaty and a little stinky and unhappy about it.

In my mid-thirties, I decided that I didn’t want to use pore-clogging formulations to block the sweat, so tried to move to deodorants. I’ve tried over a dozen natural and big-brand deodorants and they were all ineffective at preventing odor and nearly all were too sticky-feeling as well. Ick.

A few years ago I started trying to make my own. I landed on a formulation that worked pretty well for a while. Baking soda and cornstarch, with a little lavender essential oil, applied with a brush. It was good for a few weeks and hubby even used it too, but then we felt it wasn’t working as well and we didn’t like powdering the carpet at each morning’s application.

About four months ago I read a post at Progressive Pioneer which, when you follow another link to get to the recipe, shows the baking soda-cornstarch mixture with one change: the addition of coconut oil. I had my doubts, but tried it anyway. If nothing else, the application would be less messy.

Four months later and I can say definitively that this deodorant works, and it works very well. I had made that first batch in a little ramekin and kept it on my dresser with a spoon in it. (When the weather gets warm it liquifies, so I stir it up.) I am just now getting to the end of that batch and looking back on its performance these past months, I couldn’t be happier.

I no longer have to think about my pits! And that’s what deodorant is supposed to do. I never stink, and it’s even a bit of an antiperspirant because of the drying properties of the cornstarch, I think. Holds up through my regular cardio workouts too. It works for about 24 hours, I’d say. Maybe a bit less.

It’s really nothing short of amazing. And it’s cheap too.

So I’m due for another batch. This time I poured it into two old 2.4 oz deodorant containers (didn’t know it made that much!) and I will store it in the fridge. Here’s the recipe:

  • 4 T. baking soda
  • 4 T. cornstarch or arrowroot powder (I’ve only tried the cornstarch)
  • 6 T. coconut oil

Thank you to Our Daily Legacy, for the original recipe, and to Progressive Pioneer for passing it along.

EDIT (October 3, 2012): I want to report that using a stick-style container for application is not recommended. It deposits WAY more than you need, and as the commenter anticipated, it can leave grease marks. I only spotted marks once, but that is too much oil. There should be no residue.

I am back to using this recipe out of a ramekin that sits on my dresser. I apply a tiny fingertip dab to each armpit—rubbing it in quickly—and the effectiveness is spectacular. We are in a heat wave this week and I am truly not wanting for better protection.

But skip the stick-deodorant container method.


“They Look Just Like the Olsen Twins”—What Do You Think?

We get comments pretty frequently about our girls resembling “The Olsen Twins”. This is a twinset (of fraternals interestingly, just like ours) that look so much alike that they were cast as one child on a cheap-looking but popular TV show in the 90s, called Full House

Here they are, as toddlers:

And here are our girls: