June 2014


We have recently become aware of baby food pouches. Were these around as recently as when Everett was born? If so we didn’t know about them, but they are quickly becoming a big part of the US baby food market. For a while both of our babies ate them, but Gwen now insists on feeding herself most of the time and will only eat from pouches occasionally. In contrast, pouch purées are one of the few things that Teddy will eat, and he can suck one down in a couple minutes. We usually give him a pouch or two at each meal and then some non-non-fat yogurt. Only in the last couple weeks has he eaten tiny amounts of solid food like Cheerios.

We have mixed feelings about the pouches. If children are eating from pouches, are they still going to learn table manners and how to use utensils? Will pouches make food so quick and convenient for families that children don’t learn the habits and social aspects of eating at mealtimes? Is this the latest phase of an American effort to make everything as efficient as possible, including meals (and childrearing)? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we have often had the thought that the pouches are definitely a big help for parents of twins. For example, using them one of us can feed two babies at the same time while holding them in our arms. And even if you are only feeding one baby, the pouches make it much easier when a high-chair isn’t available, for example on an airplane.

On the subject of eating, Melissa and Everett recently observed that Chris is incapable of feeding the babies without opening his own mouth. Everett and Melissa often watch Chris at dinnertime when he is feeding a baby. Chris thinks he is keeping his mouth closed; Melissa and Everett think it’s hilarious that he can’t.

Lastly, somewhat related to the subject of this blog entry, we found the remains of a rabbit in our front yard. It was eaten by something, perhaps a fox or a coyote, that left behind the head some intestines. Everett wrote a letter to it, below (the circles are teardrops). Readers may note, as we did, that this includes some pretty creative spelling. One thing we learned about Montessori is that in 5k they don’t really try to correct spelling, and encourage students to spell words phonetically. So if some words don’t make sense then try sounding them out, or find a 5 or 6-year old to help you.


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All of the children are now playing new games. Everett has started playing “yellow car” when we are traveling in the car together. As the name suggests, the object is to find the most yellow cars before anyone else. Everett makes the rules, decides when the game starts and stops, and adjudicates when points will be assigned and to whom. Obviously this works in his favor. In the midst of playing this game Chris told Everett about a friend from college who would yell “punch buggy!” and punch him in the arm every time she saw a Volkswagen Beetle. Everett thought this was hilarious and decided that yellow punch buggies are worth double points. So far, Everett is winning at yellow car by about 1000 to 50, where the latter is the cumulative score for both Chris and Melissa.

The babies have become much more engaged with us and each other, and have also started to develop their own forms of play. Gwen still plays peek-a-boo with us by holding something over her face and then uncovering it quickly while she looks right in your eyes to see if you notice. Teddy plays a game where he crawls forward and then suddenly screams as he rears up on his legs and puts his arms straight up in the air, kind of like a miniature Godzilla. Sometimes he also shakes his head quickly from side to side. The babies have also developed the ability to take things from each other, often against the other one’s will. Surprisingly, at times they will give it back. They have started to follow each other around the house and consistently play in the same area. And of course they are learning to roughhouse. This started with Chris during diaper changes where he would give them a zerbert or pretend to nibble their bellies. They quickly learned to recognize when this was coming and put up their arms and legs to resist, laughing the whole time. More recently they have started pouncing Everett by climbing on top of him when he lays on the ground.

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Dark Socks & Sandals

Several years ago we wondered whether Chris would start wearing dark socks and sandals after becoming a Dad. In fact, the opposite has happened. Since that time he has since started referring to socks as “foot prisons”, and he hasn’t considered the idea of wearing them with sandals, which is one reason why we were dismayed to read a recent article on fashion trends in New York supporting this fashion choice. Apparently several celebrities and runway models have recently dressed this way from the ankle down after the long, hard winter of 2013-2014. However, “some stylists are warning fashionistas to beware…personal shopper Valerie Halfonsaid she won’t advise her clients to try the tricky look.” And “Stylist Laura Solin-Valdina…cautioned that an entire outfit needs to be planned around the socks and sandals of choice. It is not one of those accessories that you throw on and it works with everything” Indeed, this may be one of those rare moments when engineers get to brag about their fashion decisions.

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On Saturday afternoon we drove to Grandpa and Grandma’s house to visit for a couple days.We arrived about 5:30pm on Saturday, chatted for a while and then had delicious grilled tandoori chicken with rice for dinner. Everett liked it so much he had seconds! That night all three children slept in the same room: the babies were in their pack and plays and Everett was in bed. Chris rolled up bathmats and put them under the sheet on each side to keep him from rolling out. Having them all in the same room might have been a tactical error because they were all awake about 6am the next morning. Granted it was the shortest night of the year, and the sun is bright in that room in the morning, but it was still a rough way to start the day. As a result of getting up so early the babies were down for their nap before 9am. During their nap Everett and Grandpa made brownies.
Once the babies got up and were fed we all packed up and drove the Mall to visit a museum or two. We meant to go to the National Museum of American History but instead ended up at the Natural History Museum.
Afterward we walked through the National Gallery of Art sculpture garden, and then took some obligatory tourist photos.

The babies slept on the way home, but after a while Everett started poking Teddy and woke him up. Once Melissa realized what had happened she told Everett that Teddy hadn’t slept enough, and as a result he was probably going to be tired the rest of the day and the next day as well, and summed it up by saying “You set off a chain reaction of crabbiness!” Chris heard this and couldn’t stop laughing, which took the edge off the seriousness of the offense. it also made Chris recall the time from childhood when he was bored in the morning and wanted someone to play with, so he taught Sean how to climb over the gate that was meant to keep him in bed. Not a popular move with the parents!

As soon as we returned home Everett had a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream. You know we are staying at a grandparent’s house when brownies are served in the morning and ice cream in the afternoon :-). Then Chris and Everett found Tripoley in the camper and Chris taught Everett how to play. It’s a lot to learn at once because a round of Tripoley is actually three games: hearts, poker and rummy. Everett quickly began to learn the different games and the art of betting. He relied on Grandpa to help figure out his best poker hands. We played about 5 rounds and then took the babies outside for some play time.

That night we fed the babies first and then had grown up dinner with Everett, followed by three more rounds of Tripoley. Everett won a lot of chips. Unfortunately, all of his lost sleep finally caught up with him and he really started coming unglued so we wrapped up the game and got him to bed around 8:30pm.

On Monday we drove to the NSA Headquarters to see the National Cryptologic Museum.
Chris has been there once before; neither Melissa nor Everett had never been but both were very interested. There was no sign of Perry the Platypus at the museum (Perry is a secret agent, FYI), but there was lots of other interesting code-breaking history. Everett cracked a few codes (all substitution ciphers),
wrote messages using invisible ink, and got an NSA portfolio notebook at the gift shop. Afterward we went back home for lunch and an early nap for the babies. We left around 2:30pm for the flight home.

It took 40 minutes to check in for our Southwest flight (we think this is a record for Southwest), and another half hour to get to the gate. The babies were maniacs for the first hour in the plane (which was spent on the ground). There was really nothing we could do, so in desperation we switched babies. This seemed to help considerably. Teddy settled down in Chris’ lap. Gwen was still moving nonstop but at least she stopped screaming. About halfway to Milwaukee one of the flight attendants walked up to Melissa and said “Are you the Mom with twins? A woman in front of the plane sent this drink coupon so you could have a glass of wine.” All we can say is thank you T Harmann, wherever and whoever you are – that was very thoughtful. We can’t pay you back, but we will certainly pay it forward one day when our children are older and we see another couple struggling with infants on the plane. We note that Dad wasn’t offered a drink coupon, but that’s ok because in fact Mom is the babies’ primary caregiver, and Chris has amassed his own collection of Southwest drink coupons. At one time during grad school he had about 160 of them, which was more than enough to buy a round of drinks for the entire plane.

During the flight home we knew we could occupy the babies for a while with dinner. We fed them each two pouches. Then Gwen chomped on Melissa’s chicken sandwich using her newly grown incisors while Chris fed Teddy little balls of brownies that Everett and Grandpa made the day before. This is one of the first times Teddy has actually eaten a few bites of solid good without scrunching his face and spitting it out.

We picked up a pizza on the way home and were able to relax a bit before bedtime. This was a great visit with Grandpa and Grandma Linda! We hope that next time we can make it to the pool and plan some more visits to museums and monuments, especially now that Everett has reached an age where he is beginning to appreciate them.

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Rehoboth Beach 2014

We arrived at BWI around 7pm Saturday night, got the rental car and started driving east. Along the way Everett announced “My tooth came out!” This was the first baby tooth that he lost. It has been loose and wiggly for a while, and his adult tooth was coming in right behind it so there wasn’t even too much of a gap.
We arrived in Rehoboth around 10:30pm. Fortunately everyone was still awake. The adults visited for a while while the kids spent some time together and then we got everyone settled down.

Sunday (Father’s Day) was a bit rough, starting with an implausible occurrence: Sean and Kathy were ready for the beach before Chris and Melissa. Later that day there were an implausible number of injuries at our house: both Noni and Everett both fell off the porch; Dillon tripped on the doormat and hit his knee on the door threshold; during a moment of parental inattention, Teddy climbed into the bathtub, landing on his face and cutting the inside of his mouth. While Chris and Melissa were tending to him, Gwen dumped the diaper pail in the bedroom; later she accidentally got whacked in the head with a stethoscope that Aidan was playing with. The only lasting injuries from the day were Noni’s: she twisted her ankle and scraped her arm on the ground. Like we said, rough.

Monday: We got up and went to the beach. Connor got sick a couple times in the morning, so it took a while for Sean and Kathy to join us. We had Thrasher’s for lunch. Later we ate steak and tortellini for dinner. Afterward we went to Kohr’s Custard, which Teddy and Gwen tried for the first time. Not surprisingly they both like it!
Everett got sunburn on his feet and lower legs, most likely due to the fact that Dad didn’t reapply sunscreen early enough. The next couple nights we covered his legs with aloe vera and lidocaine spray and he seemed fine.

Tuesday: Funland is not fun for adults. We went there in the afternoon. Kathy felt sick from going on the Merry-Go-Round backwards. Chris experienced some vestibular problems from the circular car ride that goes forwards then backward. Melissa and Sean experienced similar problems from Paratrooper. All of the parents are feeling old.

Tuesday night: birthday parties for Dillon and Everett, along with cake and gifts from Noni. Both boys got magic sets from Melissa & Doug.
After we got the kids to bed and the boys settled down the adults played a few rounds of Boggle.

Wednesday: We got a lot of help with our sandcastle. Many other children came over to help us dig, and at the end of the day a woman came over and transformed it into a dragon.
Wednesday night was date night for Sean and Kathy. In previous years we would figure out where they were having dinner, track them down and take pictures of them. This year we were too tired to consider the idea.

Thursday: we got to the beach around 9am. High tide was around 1pm, so we had plenty of time to build a sand fort before it arrived. As waves crashed around behind it Connor exclaimed “This is the best day of my life!” That night was date night for Chris and Melissa. They went to Jake’s for happy hour with the babies, then went home and put them to bed, and then went to Fin’s for dinner. We had a dozen oysters between us, first a sampler of six different varieties and then a half dozen Delaware oysters. Then for dinner Chris had Barramundi and Melissa had crab cakes.

Friday: We had some visitors. Eileen Cerne drove down from Massachusetts to spend a couple days with us. Also, Tina and Dennis and Zach made a day trip to see us from Virginia. Zach just graduated from high school – congratulations Zach! He is headed to Texas Christian University this fall. He is much bigger than the last time we saw him, so much so that Chris asked him for a piggyback ride to the beach.

Some observations from the week:
-Many years ago the City of Rehoboth decided to limit the hours that bicycles could be on the boardwalk to between 7 and 10am. This makes sense during high season when there are so many pedestrians, strollers and wheelchairs. This year we were surprised to find that smoking is now prohibited on the beach or the boardwalk, an idea that would have been unfathomable 10 or 15 years ago.
After almost three full days we saw three smokers in the entire town. What a momentous change in the span of one generation.

-For many people, us included, vacation is a time that is synonymous with fun and relaxation. However, the number of children in the beach house has now doubled, and the three older boys are somewhat independent but still require a fair amount of supervision. As a result we would definitely say that our time at the beach has been fun, but hesitate to say it has been relaxing. Back in the old days we would stay up late in the evening, playing games or chatting or watching movies. We often went to dinner as a group. Now we are exhausted by the time the kids go to bed. We struggle to stay awake for a while but soon give up and go to bed so we can start over the next morning. No one has even mentioned the idea of going to a restaurant.

-The babies love the beach! Teddy is like a baby turtle who is following his instincts and trying to make it as quickly as possible to the ocean. He often crawls straight toward the water, and as far as we can tell he will not stop.
Gwen is more circumspect. She doesn’t like to sit in the surf, but she does think the waves are pretty funny as long as she is off the ground, standing or sitting on Dad’s leg. Both of them will sit for extended periods of time in the sand with a buck of water and a shovel.

-The water is about 68 degrees, which feels great on hot days. Later in the summer it does warm up a few degrees, but with the warmer water comes jellyfish.

-Eating: We now have enough experience with children to realize that it’s difficult to ever get into a routine for more than a couple weeks. However, we have managed to get to the beach early each day and have Thrasher’s french fries for lunch. It turns out that Gwen likes them! Not a surprise really, but brings back memories of Everett when we were at the beach with him at almost exactly the same age.

-2014 is the first year we attempted to make a plan before arriving at the beach. It wasn’t much of a plan by Barber standards, but it was pretty elaborate by Butson standards, so perhaps this is a happy medium. The plan included: a grocery list; a meal plan for each night, including a date night for each set of parents. It worked so well we are already talking about improving it for next year.

-On Thursday Chris and Melissa went to the grocery store. At one point a man walked up to Chris and said “So you like bananas, eh? Here’s a trick: peel it from the bottom. That way almost all the strings come off.” Thanks for the tip!

-One morning Chris took the three older boys to the beach, and after spending some time listening to them argue about how they were infringing on each other’s digging area he said “Boys, this beach isn’t big enough for the two of us.” They all looked quizzically at Chris and said “What are you talking about? This beach is big enough for a bazillion people!” Clearly they still do not grasp the concept of irony.

-One morning at the beach Chris caught some dolphins on camera. This is a rare occurrence – Chris has been going to the eastern shore beaches his whole life and this is one of a handful of times he has seen dolphins, much less caught them on camera.
-Both Everett and Dillon lost their first tooth during this trip. Fortunately the Tooth Fairy was closely monitoring the situation.

The complete gallery of photos from the trip is here.


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Today Everett turned six. When he went to bed last night he said “This is your last chance for some 5 year-old sugar!”. And during the day today he jumped on Chris and said “There’s your first six-year old pounce!”

His birthday celebration started yesterday (Friday) at school. Chris and Melissa stopped by his school around 10:15 in the morning to observe the school tradition: everyone sits in a circle while the birthday child holds a globe and walks around a sun in the center, one lap for each year. The children sing “The earth goes round the sun tra la la, the earth goes round the sun…”. Then the birthday boy walks around the circle and shows everyone one picture from each year of his life.
Finally they sing happy birthday. That is usually the end of it, but Everett also asked if he could put his brother and sister in the show-and-tell basket. Ms. Tierra nixed that idea, but she didn’t object when Everett asked us to get Teddy and Gwen out of their car seats. We did, and the babies were a huge hit!
They both scooted over to the table in the middle of the circle and started to play with the globe. The kids thought they were hilarious, and Everett was so proud to be their big brother. He is indeed a great big brother – he is very loving and playful toward them, and they often start giggling as soon as they see him. Melissa and I have often commented that Everett gets more responsibilities simply by virtue of how responsible he is. He cares for the babies a lot, and this could come in especially handy over the next 6 days when Chris is out of town and Mom is flying solo. More on this later.

On Saturday Everett got up around his normal time. Chris was at work in the morning, finishing up some things before his trip. Around midday we were frantically getting ready for Everett’s party and for a house showing. Molly came at 1pm and took the babies during the house showing until 3pm. Then we went to Wild Card Gymnastics to get setup. We were thankful that Everett still felt up to having a gymnastics party because he hurt his knee at a birthday party about a week earlier – he was running and collided with a concrete pole. He has been limping and complaining about it ever since then, but it doesn’t really prevent him from doing anything so we haven’t looked into it further.

There were 20 kids at Everett’s birthday party including a special guest: Margaret brought Mary from Indiana just for the party! The first hour was gymnastics and the second hour we were in the party room.
The theme this year was Perry the Platypus and Frozen, two of Everett’s favorite shows/movies. We had two cakes: the Perry cake was a complete disaster (see below); the Frozen cake was, appropriately, an ice cream cake on top of which Chris and Everett built the North Mountain out of Rice Krispies and then built an ice castle out of rock candy.
It was beginning to melt when we got into the party room so we sang Happy Birthday right away and served cake and juice. Then we opened presents, and finally we played pin the tail on Perry. Success!

In the afternoon Mary came over to our house with her Mom (Margaret) and her younger sister Lucy. Everett and Mary made yard-stew in a bucket. We had pizza and salad from Balistreri’s, and around 6pm they got on the road home.

Cake Disaster
Let’s just come out and say it: the Perry cake was a disaster. We are submitting it to Cake Disasters and are expecting an award. Keeping with his background as an engineer, Chris feels it is important to perform a failure analysis when things don’t go as planned. The following account points out some critical flaws in the construction process, and some lessons for future years.

Background: Chris and Melissa have a lot going on. Just this week we attended a funeral for Chris’ grandfather, bought a house in Utah, had several showings for our house in Milwaukee and planned Everett’s birthday party. This is in addition to the huge amount of work that Chris has going on right now and the incredible effort that Melissa puts in to take care of the twins, who are becoming more mobile every day. These aren’t excuses, just an accurate portrayal of the circumstances right now.

Despite this level of activity Chris still wanted to make a Perry cake and a Frozen cake for Everett’s birthday. He started by trying to create a rock candy castle from a super-saturated sugar solution, which he setup a week before the party. By about Tuesday we realized this failed, probably because he mis-measured the ingredients. Ok, on to the next task. Chris kept fiddling with different designs until Wednesday, at which point Melissa used her Wife Intuition and suggested that he may not be able to bake two custom birthday cakes from scratch before Saturday. First she suggested that Chris use box cake, and then that we just buy a sheet cake for one or both of them. Chris was going to so no to both of these ideas, but then used his Husband Intuition (if there is such as thing) and decided to listen to his wife. He bought cake mix for the Perry cake and we ordered an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins for the Frozen cake.

On Thursday night Chris baked the Perry cake using our giant cupcake form. At Everett’s request the bottom of the cake was vanilla and the top was chocolate. Problem 1: the cakes would not release from the pan, even though it’s made of Teflon and we used cooking spray. Chris managed to pry the bottom half out, but the top half was pretty badly damaged. He set things aside to cool until Friday. This is not the first time this has happened with this cake pan. Perhaps in the future we need to use butter+flour.

On Friday night things really started coming unglued, so to speak. The bottom half of the cupcake was Perry’s head, which Chris cut into a cylinder shape. Then he mixed up some Perry blue icing and made a beak out of Rice Krispies. The top of the cupcake was going to be Perry’s hat, but because it wouldn’t release from the cake pan it was more of a lumpy chocolate crumble, so Chris cut a circle out of galvanized steel to support it. Problem: fluffy box cakes are not dense enough to support steel and other structural elements. Chris tried to support it using wood skewers through the bottom of the cake, but these slid to one side and then the entire top slid off the bottom. At this point Melissa came in the room and lamented that the cake was a complete loss but congratulated Chris for his effort. However, Chris was not ready to quit. He re-iced the head and made marshmallow fondant for the hat, reasoning that it might contain all of the lumps. Problem: fondant is smooth, but it doesn’t hide underlying structural problems. The final product resembled a hat full of golf balls rather than a sharp-looking fedora. Chris decided to leave the hat off until the last moment before it was served. He used the remaining fondant to make the eyes. Chris and Melissa were delighted and agree that it was unmistakably Perry! Unfortunately we do not have a photo of the cake at this stage.

The next day we picked up the ice cream cake and built North Mountain on it, complete with the ice castle. When we arrived at the gymnastics center we put it in the freezer and Chris took it out about 40 minutes before it was time to serve. Problem: it was hot in there, and by the time we served the cake it was oozing liquid chocolate out the sides. In the future we should move it to the refrigerator before serving rather then room temperature. We also discovered that in the warm temperatures the eyes and icing had started sliding off Perry’s face. To make matters worse, the entire Perry cake tipped over during transport. What the hell – let’s serve it anyway! Here is the result:

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