Monthly Archives: November 2014

No Filter December

I am aware that today is still actually November.

However, the 12 year old has convinced me to get down the Christmas decorations, and despite the cold I’m fighting, I gave in.

And as I sat down to recover from all that ladder climbing and box schlepping, something I read on another blog about taking a photo a day for 365 days was buzzing around my brain, and I came up with the idea of posting a photo a day for a month, and accompanying it with a few words regarding whatever I was thinking that day.

Which seems rather self-serving, but if I go too far down that road I will stop writing altogether.  And maybe, amongst all the “okay, Julia, thanks for sharing” posts, there may be a gem that makes someone smile or helps someone along.

Anyone want to join me?  No Filter December.  Photos, thoughts, whatever is on your mind.  Doesn’t have to be earth-shattering.  Doesn’t have to be long.  Just post.

Plus it’s a good bandwagon to jump on for those of us who missed NaBloPoMo.  Ahem.

Can we just called this decorated already?

Can we just call this decorated already?  #CloseEnough

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Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Three (in which we visit Huntington Beach)

(Continued from Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Two)

The Husband (who we shall now call Alan, because “The Husband” is getting a little old.  The term, I mean, not the man. Although he DID just have a birthday…) turned the car west and we drove, obeying the siren call of the beach.  Eventually we found the coast road and headed north toward Huntington Beach.

Huntington is a place we generally drive past in a hurry, since Huntington Pier on a weekend or mid-summer attracts just the size of crowd I will do anything to avoid, but this was November, and it was Monday, so we decided to park and walk around the pier.

559While there are historic buildings scattered around, the main drag leading to the pier and surrounding streets are very trendy, boasting just about any retail establishment or restaurant you might expect to find.  It was somewhat of a cross between San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego.

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I pause to pay my respects to Mr. Huntington.

I pause to pay my respects to Mr. Huntington.

Still full from our breakfast at Rooster Cafe, we walked past the numerous restaurants, bars and treat shops and simply admired the architecture.

I had a teacher in college who gave this piece of advice for exploring a new town: “Don’t forget to look up, and whenever you have a chance, nip up the snickelways.”

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We debated whether that motorcycle just happened to be there or was part of the decor. Because it just matched a little too well.

Admittedly, this class was in England, and the professor was talking about the city of York, but I took his advice to heart and have followed it ever since.  This has resulted in more than one bruised shin, but has also led to many a hidden discovery.

Sure enough, the “snickelways” (alleys) of Huntington Beach proved worth “nipping up” (quickly exploring). Local artists had painted murals and around each corner was something new.

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And there’s just something about a back entrance that intrigues me.

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Eventually we made it to the pier. Considering that both of us grew up in Manhattan Beach, 30 miles to the north, we couldn’t help but compare beach venues.

It pains me to have to admit that indeed, Huntington has the better pier.

For one thing, it’s longer, boasting 1,850 feet to our own Manhattan Beach Pier’s 928.

A shot The Husband took a year or so ago at "our" pier.

A shot Alan took a year or so ago at “our” pier.

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Manhattan Pier prides itself on its landmark roundhouse, which contains a snack bar and the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium, the site of many an impromptu homeschooling field trip or lazy Sunday afternoon walk for our family.

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Huntington Pier Roundhouse

Huntington also has a Roundhouse. Theirs is bigger, of course. And theirs contains an entire stinking ocean-view restaurant. We had no choice but to abandon our deep-rooted South Bay loyalties and bow to the superiority of Huntington.  Ruby’s Diner indeed.

20141124_113725They even had more surfers in Huntington. We consoled ourselves with the thought that the water around OUR pier has become a hangout for young sharks, proving that we’re just that much more hardcore up in L.A. County, because we all still surf and paddleboard and swim (and by “we,” I mean my really cool friends).

Also, we have a restaurant owned by The Fonz.

And I’m pretty sure I saw Kevin Costner on our pier once.

At any rate, despite the superiority of their pier, it was time to turn toward home.  (Read: I didn’t take any more photos worth blogging about).

Well, except this one of Alan with a pelican.

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Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Two (in which we discover Rooster Cafe)

(continued from Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part One)

The next day broke blissfully late at 9 a.m.  The only thing that propelled me from that quiet, comfortable hotel room was my need for caffeine and The Husband’s need for nourishment.  We fired up the trusty Google again, looking for a breakfast place, and found one, strangely enough, across the street from the Antimall. Apparently our need for gluten and dairy-free fare puts us right in the middle of all things young and hipster, because we ended up at another place our kids would love.

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Before the food arrived, I took the time to text a picture of my coffee cup to my friend Di in Washington. She had just texted “Good Morning” to me, so it was only fitting I reply. She accused me then of being overly competitive. I shut her down with a picture of my breakfast. Overly competitive indeed.

This restaurant, Rooster Cafe, has a counter for ordering, just a few tables inside and four more outside, and serves a breakfast menu that consists of a handful of ways one can mix and match 15 basic ingredients. Sounds unimpressive?  Oh, no.  Not when you consider that 96.3% of their produce comes from local farmers markets, and all plates are made to order (“Patience, grasshopper, patience,” the sign says).  Plus they have lattes, cappuccinos and Mexican hot cocoa.  As well as a lunch menu.

At any rate, despite the fact that we got there just before 10 on a Monday morning, which is generally not the breakfast-rush time of the week, the place was hopping. We had to park down the street. We got the last outdoor table.  The staff was cheerful, friendly and on the ball, the music was blasting the same alternative rock mix that Habana had offered the night before (hence the necessity for taking our middle-aged ears outside), and despite the sign’s warning to have patience, the food was ready in record time.

I had the breakfast tacos; he had the huevos rancheros.  Both were served with a generous helping of homemade salsa, which was just spicy enough, and fried red potatoes, which were done to perfection and seasoned with a dash of cayenne. The coffee was strong and fresh-brewed, and the orange juice looked freshly-squeezed.

We shared the outside patio with a pair of fellow Late-Period-Baby-Boomers who were swapping the sober-for-X-years stories that are popular among our generation, and a younger couple with a two-year-old Sheltie and differing views in acceptable breakfast attire: he was clad in t-shirt, basketball shorts, crew socks and cross-trainers, while she wore flowing palazzo pants, contrasting rayon tank, beribboned straw hat and bright red lipstick.

1124141025cropWhile we ate, I resumed my commentary on what was going on behind The Husband’s back.  “APPARENTLY,” I said. “that guy was afraid of parallel parking, because while there are three different spots I can see that he could fit that car into, he just hovered next to each of them and then took off down the street.”

We continued eating.

“No, wait,” I said.  “He’s back!”  The driver had flipped a u-turn, checked the parking on the other side of the street and had come to the conclusion that the spots across the street were the only ones available.  He lined his car up just past the largest spot and cautiously backed into it.

“He’s on a first date with a very beautiful woman,” I predicted. “Parallel parking was not something he anticipated having to do.”

To his credit, he nailed the parking job, hitting it perfectly on the first try.  He got out of the car and swaggered around to the other side to open the door for his passenger, who turned out, sure enough, to be a tall, beautiful red-haired woman. As he escorted her across the street toward Rooster Cafe, she patted him on the back, congratulating him on his parking job, then hung on his arm while the two of them paused in the middle of the street to look back and admire his handiwork.

The mixture of pride and relief on his face was a sight to behold.  He looked a little like someone who has just won the lottery.  A little bit like he was afraid he might awaken at any minute and discover the whole thing was a dream.

We finished our meal, but before we left, I went back inside and asked for a business card.  The server behind the counter gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look and then said he would look for one in the back. He appeared back a few minutes later and said apologetically that the owner would bring one out.  Thus ensued an agonizing two minutes in which I tried desperately not to block access to the tiny counter, the condiment station and the trashcan while the servers behind the counter tried not to stare at me as they wondered why I would ask for a business card.  By the time the owner appeared with one, I wanted to apologize for all the fuss, but instead, I thanked her graciously and tried to appear business-like as I sauntered out the door.  For all she knew, I was a professional food critic, not just a middle-aged Mom who simply wanted to recommend the place to her adult son and his friends.

Back in the car, we set off on the rest of our adventure. The rest of Monday beckoned.

–to be continued–

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Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part One

It’s not that I actually drank all THAT much coffee, but the fact that I had two cups of coffee this morning plus a decaf at Starbucks (and everyone knows that Starbucks decaf has twice as much caffeine as the regular at most other places) has led me to believe that everyone wants to know about the trip my husband and I took to Costa Mesa this weekend.  Or perhaps it’s just that the caffeine-induced words bouncing around in my head need an outlet, and the kids are at a movie and The Husband is running an errand at the moment.

At any rate, it was The Husband’s birthday, and since men of this age are so very hard to buy gifts for, I came up with the winning idea to whisk him away for an one-night adventure (“winning” because that meant I got to go too).  And since it was one night, and since I knew he would want to drive, it had to be close to home but still far enough away that we wouldn’t bump into the kids when we went out for dinner.  Because it’s not much of a birthday gift if it involves driving for four hours.  At least, not if you’re my husband.

We had stayed at an Ayres Hotel once for a marriage retreat, and found it to be very nice while economical, so I decided to look for one of those when I made the reservation. I found one just 52 miles away that was running a buy-one-night-get-a-$50-gift-card deal, which brought the room price down (technically) to $70, so when I was finished with my happy dance, I booked it.

When we got there, it was all exciting and new until we headed for our room and I recognized the cabinet next to the elevator.

“Wait a minute… didn’t that other Ayres we stayed at for the marriage retreat have that same cabinet?” I asked.  The Husband looked at me funny for a second and said,

“This IS the Ayres we stayed at for the marriage retreat.”

“Oh,” I replied, considering playing it off like I’d known all along, but realizing there was no way to do so at this point.  “Well…. at least we know it’s a good one.”  In my defense, I didn’t drive to the hotel on that trip, either, so I hadn’t really been paying attention.

So, for those interested, the Ayres Hotel in Costa Mesa is quite nice, with friendly staff, clean rooms and bubbling fountain in the inner courtyard.  I recommend it.

The Birthday Boy at Habana

The Birthday Boy at Habana

Our first task upon arriving was to Find Nourishment. We whipped out the trusty Google map we had printed out before leaving home and agreed that, given our need for gluten-free, dairy-free fare, a nearby Cuban restaurant named Habana was our best bet.

Well.  That proved to be a fortuitous decision.

We found ourselves at a place our older kids would love.  In fact, if I had to give it a slogan, it would be “Ambiance Adult Children Will Appreciate, At Prices Only The Parents Can Afford.”

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Me and My Blackberry Mojito and a Hipster Habana Waiter.

The music was straight off KROQ’s playlist of two years ago, the decor was urban-Pinterest-repurposed-hipster, and the staff were of the young, cool, pierced, bearded, hatted and tatted, disinterested-yet-friendly ilk.

Fortunately, we are surrounded by this culture at home and were therefore able to appreciate it, unlike the older couple two tables over who looked like they might have been Cuban and had come out looking for a taste of home but were entirely puzzled by what they had found.

The food at Habana was amazing. This is not an exaggeration.  From the freshly baked bread delivered to the table while we waited (which smelled so good we had to flag down the the server and ask her to remove it to remove lest we be tempted to try some and end up in gluten-sensitivity-induced agony later that night), to the roasted-red-pepper salad, ropa vieja, roasted chicken (the seasoning was so good I actually sought out and ate every scrap of blackened skin, and I don’t like skin), homemade pickled onions, plantains cooked just right and even the rice (the secret there is lots and lots of butter, the server confided), every mouthful of the meal was delicious.

And then came dessert.  Hands-down, best flan either of us have ever eaten.  Even if the dinner hadn’t been so appetizing, it would be worth it to us to drive the 52 miles back down there JUST to eat some more of this flan. This is not an exaggeration.

While we were eating, since The Husband’s back was to the rest of the room, I kept up a running commentary on what was going on behind him.

“APPARENTLY,” I said between mouthfuls of salad, “There is no bathroom in this restaurant.”  Just then, as if on cue, a young Asian woman in a short white pleated dress floated past us with hands raised in concern and called to her friend in a distressed voice, “They don’t have a restroom!”

By the time the main course came a middle-aged woman had met with a waiter near our table and confirmed, “So, the restroom is out in the mall, right?”  I wanted to flash her a sign of middle-aged solidarity, for being so au fait in such a Millennial kind of place, but I couldn’t figure out what that would be, so I didn’t.

During dessert I almost choked on my flan.  It took me a minute to calm down and tell The Husband what I had seen. A young couple came into the restaurant from the outdoor patio, she pushing a stroller and looking concerned, and he holding a baby, who looked to be about 10 months old, under the armpits, at arms distance.  They walked across the width of the room, conferred with a waiter, and then did an about-face and walked back across the room and back into the patio, the panic on their faces having doubled, during all of which the baby remained at arms distance from the father.  I will never forget this image as long as I live.  That man must have had some formidable arm muscles.

A very dim and blurry picture of the wall sconces because, well, candlelight...

A very dim and blurry picture of the wall sconces because, well, candlelight…

By the end of our meal, the room had been taken over, at least from an acoustic standpoint, by a group of early-40s Girls Night Out attendees.  At one point I looked up just in time to see one of them, who was standing, turn back around to face the table while lowering the back of her shirt and hitching her pants up.  All I can surmise is that she had a new tattoo on her lower back and had just displayed it to the table.  As the noise level rose exponentially with the amount of alcohol they consumed (leading one to ponder whether it was actually the alcohol or its anticipated effect that was contributing to the tone of the conversation), we decided it was a good time to make our exit.

On the way out, I asked the host whose job it was to light the candles in the wall sconces.  There was one inside, and another two outside, each holding about 40 candles.  This was in addition to the candles that lined the indoor balcony. He smiled and said, “Those are electric candles and they’re on a timer, but up until six months ago, it took an hour every day to light them.”  Not to mention blowing them out at closing, one supposes.

The adventure continued outside the restaurant. Habana is located in a mall called “The LAB Antimall.”  Don’t let the name fool you. It’s a mall.  But it’s an “our mall is so much cooler than your mall we couldn’t really call it a mall” kind of mall.

The LAB fountain

Our picture was taken by a man who was sitting nearby with his young daughter. Not only did he volunteer, but he offered suggestions as to the background, took two shots “just in case” and apologetically pointed out as he handed the camera back that he had positioned us slightly off-center for a more artistic shot. Best Passer-By Photographer Ever.

The name stands for “Little American Business,” and true to its name, many of the shops in it are the type that you might find relegated to a cart at a big, corporate mall.  This is where The LAB is way cooler than the average – besides having closet-sized shop space indoors, they also had shiny metal Streamline trailers scattered around the outdoor shopping place, housing jewelry-makers, macaroon bakers and other small-time, handcrafted vendors.

20141123_192523cropThe decor ranged from a fountain made of brightly-painted 55 gallon drums, to mosaic-covered walls to crocheted handrail covers (!) on a covered bridge.

A Buddha statue with a single daisy propped in its grasp sat inside a plexiglass box on a pedestal with a sign that simply read, “Why?”  Another sign next to it instructed us not to take pictures of it, and, inexplicably enough, I obeyed it.  I intend to return with a real camera to take better pictures of it.  The mall, I mean.  Far be it from me to disobey a posted sign on-camera.  Ahem.

We originally planned to extend our night on the town with a movie, but this weekend apparently falls in the lull before the Christmas movie storm, so there wasn’t much worth watching, and we went back to the hotel and were asleep by 9:30 p.m.  Bliss.

–To Be Continued–

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DNA Part Four – Extraction and Victory

(Continued from DNA Part Three – The Strawberries Await Anon)

Monday morning came far too early.

By 1 p.m. Monday, I had taught the piano lessons and put the dinner in the crockpot and cooked the lunch and helped the 12 year old with his homework and made sure the 14 year old was doing hers and had tidied at least half of the front room and taken a shower, and could really put off the experiment no longer.

Taking a deep breath, I began to collect the items on the materials list from around the house.  Every time I came upon an item and wondered which variety I should choose out of what I had available (table salt?  Pink Himalayan salt?  Salt shaker?  Salt dispenser?) I simply gathered all of them and dumped them on the table.  It was the only way to force myself to complete the task without dithering over details.

At last I was ready.  Here, for Scientific Purposes, is an image of my materials, duly labeled.

006labeled007As luck would have it, the 12 year old chose that moment to work on his Latin declension chart right next to me.  Within the first few seconds of the experiment, I had roped him in.  What 12 year old can resist squishing strawberries inside a bag?  This proved fortunate, since there were times in the course of the experiment that I needed two pairs of hands.

008Once we had our strawberries squished, I carefully mixed a concoction of soap, salt and water. then measured some of this mixture into the strawberries.

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We squished some more and then strained the mixture through a coffee filter into a cup.

016We then carefully poured the chilled alcohol down the side of the cup, deciding that we would outdo the perky scientists from the video by following the directions exactly.

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Sure enough, within a few seconds a white substance started to form on top of the strawberry liquid.

019We used a twig I had broken off our hydrangea bush (HAH!  Take that, mega-popsicle-stick-package makers!) and fished the white stuff out.  It hung from the twig like… well… like snot.  There really is no other way to describe it.

I pointed to it and said, dramatically, “THAT…. is DNA.”

The 12 year old looked at me.  I looked at him.  He looked back at me.

“Is that it?” he asked.  I looked at the instructions.  I looked back at him.  I looked at the clock.  The whole experiment had taken less than 10 minutes.

“I guess so,” I replied.  He looked at the snot on the twig.

“So what do we do with it?” he asked.

“Um… we admire it?” I replied.

He had a better idea.  He ran into the girls’ bedroom and said to the 14 year old, “Look, I just sneezed and I caught my snot on a stick!”

She was not impressed.

I then realized that I had to put away every last stinking item I gathered in my Material Frenzy.

But no, you know, science is fun.  It’s great.  I love science.  No, really.

–fin–

021Postscript: I found some anacharis at the local aquarium store, after asking for it two or three times, accenting different syllables each time and spelling it out for the non-native-English-speaking manager of the store.  It sits in a vase on my mantle awaiting Thursday.  And I can’t help but notice that it is not remotely purple.

I also looked up the word etymology and discovered two things. 1) I was pronouncing it correctly after all and 2) “ana” in Greek apparently means “up” not “without.”  So anacharis means upwardly graceful, which is much more fitting. All of which proves that my intuitive pronunciation skills are far more finely honed than my knowledge of Greek.

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DNA Part Three – The Strawberries Await Anon

(continued from DNA Part Two – The Saga Continues)

When I finished typing the last blog, I had every intention of jumping right into the DNA Extraction of the Strawberries.  Every intention.

But then I noticed that the DNA Extraction was not the only experiment we are doing in class on Thursday.  And frankly, I was still stinging over the Great Disparity regarding the rubbing alcohol, so I decided to give myself a break and read up on the other experiment.  It was a simple examination under the microscope of the popular aquarium plant anacharis. Ah, but I remember this from last year.  None of the big pet supply stores stock anacharis around here.  Or else that plant is just way too popular and they are constantly sold out.  Last year we ended up choosing a different aquarium plant and trying that, and it didn’t work very well.

anacharisSo this time I was determined to find some actual anacharis.  I checked the websites of the chain stores, just in case, and found some at a store at the other end of town, which closed in one hour. So I made a bright-eyed appeal to the husband to accompany me on a “date.” (What? It counts.  We get uninterrupted conversation in the car. Sometimes we even extend the “date” and fill the car with gas just to buy some more time.)  He agreed, but just before we decided to leave, I glanced at the description and noticed the words “plastic plants provide perfect hideaways for resting fish.”   That did, at least, explain the color; every part of the plant was bright purple.  In hindsight, the color should probably have tipped me off going in. Well, okay, it’s obvious NOW.

I then fired up the trusty Google, typing in the word anacharis and the name of our city, and wondering as I did why a graceful water plant would be named ana (without) charis (grace).  After another 30 minutes of research,  I discovered that every aquarium supply store in our area was purported by some clients to be the best store ever with oh-so-friendly staff and a wonderful variety of stock, and by an equal number of other clients to be a horrific example of lack of care, sick fish and far-too-low water levels in every single tank.  Which, while interesting, did nothing to help me ascertain the availability of anacharis.  I did discover an aquarium supply store within walking distance of our house, however, and must merely await the hour of 10 a.m. Monday to discover which reviews are more accurate.

Just as I finished this bunny trail and set my sights back on the strawberries, the 12 year old came limping into the room and said, “I just got a splinter under my toe.”  I made sympathetic noises, but then noticed that he seemed to be in real distress, so I unpacked myself from under my laptop, climbed out of the recliner (very comfortable to sit in, Mt. Everest to get out of) and grabbed a stronger pair of reading glasses and a pair of tweezers.  (While I was doing this, trying to stay calm, he said in a quiet voice, “It’s not like I’m in excruciating pain here, Mom, so go ahead and take your time.”)

After some tweezing sessions and some soaking of the foot, I pulled not a splinter, but a twig, out from under the nail of his little toe. Perhaps I exaggerate, but that’s what it seemed like at the time.

Somehow, being in a scientific mindset, I felt the need to make a record of it, so here is a picture of it.  It came out in two pieces, so it’s the two brown spots to the left of the tweezers.  You’re welcome.

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Winner of the Most Spectacular Splinter Of The Year award

By the time that was all over, my contacts had fogged up, which is a sure sign that it’s much too late to start anything new.  I consoled myself with the thought that although I did not extract any DNA from strawberries, I did extract a splinter from a toe.  So technically, I did half of what I set out to do this weekend.

Also, that splinter left a good-sized hole in the 12 year old’s toe, and I needed to disinfect it, and what did I have on hand but some 91% rubbing alcohol?  I congratulated myself on that fortuity until I remembered where the bottle was.  In the fridge, chilling.

The husband suggested that if I was going to do that to the 12 year old, I might as well mix some lemon in with it too.  I chose Bactine instead.

And I set my sights on Monday.

—To be continued.  Again—

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DNA Part Two – The Saga Continues

(Continued from DNA Part One – With Fear And Trembling)

I decided to put aside my worries about the wooden stirrer sticks and plunge into Step One of my Experiment.  As any good scientist (or cook) knows, this would be the Gathering of the Materials.   The stirrer sticks were the last item on the list, so I started working at the top, hoping that some solution would present itself by the time I got to them.

Well, actually, I jumped down to the next thing that bothered me, which was the rubbing alcohol. I was hyperventilating just ever so slightly over the fact that it had to be ice-cold, and also over the instructions that said to pour it down the side of the cup.  Now, does that mean the INSIDE of the cup, or the OUTSIDE of the cup?  And why do we have to pour it down the side of the cup?  What will happen if we don’t?  Because, you see, with my track record, it’s innocuous details like this that can cause the entire experiment to be a failure.

rubbing alcoholBefore I got to the paper-bag stage of this hyperventilation, however, there was the whole 90% thing to investigate.  Just as I had suspected, the rubbing alcohol I had on hand was only 70%.  I stopped my ice and side-of-cup hyperventilating and rubbed my hands together. This meant I needed to do research. I’m good at research.

I marched straight into the room in which my husband was watching the end of this week’s episode of Dr. Who, frantically motioning for him to pause it, and blurted out, “Our rubbing alcohol is only 70%!  Where do I get 90% rubbing alcohol?”

I don’t know why I thought my husband would know the answer to this question.  He is a systems analyst by trade and an artist and musician at heart. The only time, since I’ve known him, that he has dealt with chemicals was when we had an above-ground pool for a few years.

However, I have been married to my husband for 23 years, so I have developed an instinct about what kinds of facts lie in his mind. And sure enough, I was right. He calmly assured me that the local CVS would probably have this solution.  I looked it up online and the website inventory bore him out.

It did give me pause when I realized that their alcohol was 91%, not 90%, but after a quick search of the Internet, which revealed that most other places sold 99%, I decided that 91% was close enough.  And wondered why in heaven’s name anyone would need four different percentages of rubbing alcohol in their life.

I then grabbed my keys to drive the handful of blocks to the drugstore.

Yes, well, I have four offspring.  So obviously, that didn’t happen.

Title_page_William_Shakespeare's_First_Folio_1623After having a brief conversation with the 20 year old about the contents of the fridge, the job market, finances and the best way to gracefully back out of an accidental date, I noticed that it was almost time for the Shakespearean play the 19 and 14 year old were attending to let out.  Although we had agreed they would walk home, it was getting dark and cold, and I would be driving right past the theater on the way to the drugstore, so I texted them and offered them a ride. The 12 year old noticed that I had keys in my hand and wanted to know where I was going.

“To the drugstore to buy alcohol,” I replied, but before I could clarify, the husband asked what was for dinner.  Glancing at the clock again, despite the fact that I had already checked it just a moment before, I saw the time with new eyes and realized I needed to start cooking.  I began pulling out ingredients to make tacos, but discovered we needed cheese and refried beans.  The 12 year old helpfully pointed out that if I just bought the alcohol at the grocery store, I could buy the cheese and beans at the same time.

“No, ” I replied distractedly, since I was in the middle of the particular bodily contortion necessary to light the oven, “I have to go to the drugstore because I need stronger alcohol.”

The 12 year old looked like he wanted to protest my drinking problem but didn’t feel comfortable having that conversation with his mother.

I still had not received a text from the girls, so I told the men I was going to the drugstore, hoping the girls would text me while I was out so I could pick them up on the way home. The 12 year old insisted on accompanying me.  He was apparently really worried about this drinking problem.

On the way to the drugstore, I pulled into the parking lot of the college on a whim, and pulled up in front of the theater just as the doors opened and the audience spilled out.  Words cannot describe my glee. I will be riding on this particular Mom-Win for at least a week.

The girls piled into the van and I explained to them that we were on a mission for alcohol, cheese and beans, and that they would just have to come along for the ride.  They were so relieved that they didn’t have to walk home, they didn’t complain. We had the conversation about not being able to go to the grocery store because of the need for stronger alcohol as we pulled into the parking lot of the drugstore, and the 19 year old insisted on coming into the store with me.  She too was apparently worried about her mother’s newly formed drinking problem.  The younger two sat in the van and discussed the latest Percy Jackson novel.

As we walked through the store, the 19 year old gestured toward the liquor department and said, “I think you’ll find it over there, Mom,” but I kept heading to the Health department at the back of the store.  “Wait…,” she said slowly as she followed me. “What kind of alcohol were you looking for anyway?”  Somehow I managed to keep a straight face and a casual demeanor, and just as I grabbed the bottle of 91% — the LAST one on a very empty shelf — I calmly said, “Rubbing.”

She hit me.  She said some very ungenerous things as well.  It was Mom-Win Number Two.  I will be insufferable for at least a couple of days now.

Against all odds, we also found two cans of refried beans and a bag of shredded cheese at the drugstore.  Which brought the Mom-Win Total to Three.

I sailed home, laughing all the way at the faces of the children when I showed them the bottle of rubbing alcohol.  I plan to teach them the word “equivocation” tomorrow, so this will serve as a good example.  It will also teach them about jumping to conclusions and the foolishness of thinking that their mother would have a drinking problem.  Or at the very least, that if she had one, she would DISCUSS it with them and bring them along to purchase the booze.  I think they sense this, because when I put the alcohol in the fridge to chill, no one took the opportunity to make the obvious comments.

The tacos were delicious, even more so because they were cooked in large part by the husband and the 14 year old. After dinner, the husband lit a fire in the fireplace and sat with me to watch the YouTube video about the DNA Extraction.  (I think he is secretly a science teacher at heart.  He loves all things scientific.  He should be teaching my Biology classes, but he keeps insisting he has to show up at work.  Pshh.)

We watched two perky scientists smash strawberries and carefully measure soap and salt and water into a bag. After which, they took a bottle of room temperature 70% rubbing alcohol and poured it directly into the middle of the cup of strawberry juice.

green thing earringsYou see?  You see?  THIS is why I hate crafts and experiments.

And I still haven’t touched my strawberries.  I have to get over The Great Disparity of The Directions And The Video first.

Incidentally, I looked up the green stick things that go in the lids at Starbucks to stop spills.  I haven’t found an official term for them yet, but I have found that they are referred to, in the vernacular, as “little green sticks,” “splash sticks,” “little green stick with a wide bit at the end,” and my personal favorite, “little green swizzle stick-stoppers.”  I also discovered that there are a good number of bloggers who can’t get over the irony of the color, considering how much extra plastic waste they represent, and feel the need to write about it with varying degrees of vitriol.

And also that someone has taken the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra to a whole new level and has made earrings out of them.  I am not making this up.

—to be continued—

Categories: Education, Family, Homeschooling | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

DNA Part One – With Fear and Trembling

strawberrySome of you may know that as a Classical Conversations Challenge II Director, along with tutoring the students through subjects for which I have a personal affinity, I must also work with them on their Biology.  Now, Biology is a perfectly respectable, and may I say, necessary subject for high school students. However, it was the one subject I avoided at all costs during my own high school career, managing to take what amounted to a Biology For Dummies class in college in order to fulfill graduation requirements and hoping upon passing the class to never have to revisit it.

It’s not the dissection.  I have control of my gag reflex, so I can dissect.  I can even appreciate the marvels of anatomy that we are exploring as we dissect, and last year I actually had a lot of fun guiding the students through their microscope labs and dissections.

It’s just that it’s not my thing.  I soar through pages of Brit Lit, revel in the trips to art museums, sing my way through the history of music, and delight in Latin declensions and conjugations. I have fun with Algebra and rejoice in Logic, enjoying the whole rule-ishness of those subjects. I even look forward to hearing from Francis Schaeffer and his knee socks in the “How Should We Then Live” videos we watch in class.   All of that falls right where I live, so tutoring from that place is warm and comfortable and enjoyable.

Biology, however…. inside me there is a voice crying out, “Don’t make the English teacher teach Biology!  What are you THINKING???”   The day that a couple of students had to correct me when I referred to a frog as a mammal only served to reinforce my fear.

I am learning and growing from the experience of Biology, though, right along with my students, and I am appreciating the subject.  This being my second year, I figured it would be a walk in the park.

But then They went and changed things.  They added An Experiment to the curriculum. And not a simple baking soda/vinegar volcano type experiment.  A DNA Extraction Experiment.  “So Simple You Can Do It At Home,” They said.

Okay, but, you have to understand, you know those Pinterest recipes and then the photos people post of the disasters that occur when they try to copy them?  Yes. That’s me.  Every time.  Every FAIL photo you’ve ever seen, that could have been taken by me. This is what happens when I try to follow directions.  My experiments over the years, both culinary and scientific, have generally contributed only to the fine-tuning of my sense of humor.

And now They want me to extract DNA from some strawberries.

And since the lab is looming in a few days, I really, really have to try it at home soon.  After procrastinating most of the weekend, I sat down just now to at least read over the directions.  Okay, first paragraph is fine… just an overview of DNA.  Then they mention a YouTube video.  I can do that.  I can watch a YouTube video.  This is good – I can actually SEE someone go through this, instead of trying to interpret words that might mean something different to the person who wrote the directions.

There is a List of Materials, too… resealable plastic bag, strawberries, dish detergent (WAIT!! FREEZE!!! Is that hand dish detergent or automatic dishwasher detergent?  Will that matter?  Oh no…. Deep breath.  Okay, they would have said automatic dishwasher detergent if they meant that, right?  Surely they would have.)… the rest of the stuff isn’t so hard. Wait… except “Ice cold 90% rubbing alcohol.”  Dang.  I’m going to have to go find the rubbing alcohol now, AND I’m going to have to see if I can find a percentage on the label.  And then I’m going to have to make it ice cold. (WAIT!! Does that mean as cold as ice?  Like, frozen?  Or does that mean, throw some ice cubes in it?  As in ice-cold water? Surely I just have to chill it?)

Popsicle-SticksI find myself stymied, in the end, by the last thing on the list: 1 wooden popsicle stick or plastic coffee stirrer.

I don’t have any of those in the house.  We throw out our popsicle sticks when we are done eating our popsicles, thank you very much.  And we stir our coffee, like civilized people, with a teaspoon.  Now, I know some things about popsicle sticks and coffee stirrers from my days of trying to do crafts with the children when they were younger (and trust me, the only thing I’m less comfortable with than experiments is crafts.  I banned play-doh and glitter glue years ago.  My girls learned at an early age to get their crafting materials from the recycling bin. I like to think this built character.)  At any rate, the most important thing I have learned about these items is that you cannot buy them in units.  They only come in mega-giant-jumbo-5000-piece family-sized boxes. I am not going to invest in 5000 popsicle sticks for the sake of science.  It’s just not going to happen.

So at this point, I’m about ready to pitch the whole experiment.

Or maybe I can go “study” down at the local Starbucks and use the little green stick they give you to stop your coffee from splashing out the mouthhole on the lid. It occurs to me that there should be a more succinct term for these little green sticks than that. My heart leaps as I realize I have a reason to do a word study on the Internet.

However, my strawberries, if I don’t conquer this soon, will have molded before I can extract anything from them, which would be okay, but we did the mold lab a few weeks ago.  (Just for the record, I grew some BEAUTIFUL mold for that lab.  None of my “Mom’s Mold Experiment – Do Not Throw Away” items produced even a speck of mold, but the stuff I found at the back of the fridge produced some excellent specimens.  It’s a gift.)

I must conquer the DNA.  I must extract the chromosomes and become one with the octoploid genomes.

Or maybe the kids will learn much, much more if I do this for the first time in class on Thursday…

—- to be continued—

Categories: Education, Family, Homeschooling | Tags: | 4 Comments

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