Education

To Write–Perchance To Dream

I spoke at a homeschooling convention yesterday.  Part of me was wowed by the fact that I had been asked to speak at the convention that, in years past, had been the iconic Homeschooling Event Of The Year in these parts.  The other part of me mitigated that with the fact that, facing competition with other conventions, it has become a much smaller affair.  And the fact that I was only doing an exhibitor’s workshop.

So it wasn’t like I was a keynote speaker or anything.

But I was still thrilled.

In a vague attempt to fool myself into not thinking too highly of myself (because, come on, seriously.  We all do.), I had myself convinced that I would probably attract three or four attendees, and I pictured us pulling our chairs into a circle and having a nice Socratic Dialogue about the topic.

After all, I was representing Classical Conversations, so that would have been fitting.

It turned out to be standing room only, and they turned people away at the door.  Small room, so maybe 40 or so people.  I had made only 10 copies of my handouts.

But it went well, I think. It seemed well-received.  They laughed at most of my jokes, anyway.  I probably told too many – I usually do. But a couple of people stayed after to ask questions, so it couldn’t have been awful.

When I got home, the 14 year old asked me how it went.  I told him how amazed I was that so many people attended.  He looked thoughtful, and then asked me what my topic was.  So I told him it was “How Do I Teach All These Children And Still Get Dinner On The Table?”

He rolled his eyes at me.

“Mom, of COURSE they wanted to hear about that. You should have booked a bigger room.”

It was at this point that it really started to dawn on me that after 17 years of homeschooling, I might know some stuff that people need to hear.  Because while, in my mind, all those articles have already been written, it occurs to me that there is a whole new crop of homeschoolers who aren’t likely to dig through back issues of Home Schooling Enrichment Magazine for the answers to their burning questions.

So I have decided to start writing again.

Soon.

As soon as I get my curriculum chosen for the British Lit. class I’m teaching in the fall.

But right after that.  I am TOTALLY going to start writing again.

Bug me if I don’t. (Although, if you do, you may want to stand ready to duck, because if you have chosen the wrong time to nudge, like, say, when grades are due, I may throw something).

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Othello And His Frenemies Are In The House

029My neighbor dropped by yesterday.  Or more accurately stated, marched up my front walkway with a stack of papers under her arm and a determined expression on her face.

The house was unusually quiet for a Monday afternoon, and the table was unusually clear.  Well, there was a spot in front of one chair without school books or art supplies, anyway.  The front door was open, so I called for her to come in from my corner of the table.  She slid into the chair with a sigh, dumping her papers on the table, and exclaimed, “I have to get these graded and I keep falling asleep at my house.”

I warned her of the impending barrage of piano students and siblings that were due in the next hour, but she assured me anything would be better than waking up on her couch again and discovering that she still hadn’t finished.

And so she corrected English papers and I fielded emails and worked on lesson plans.  She is an English teacher for a high school in Long Beach.  She has been teaching for over 30 years.  I have been teaching and tutoring English for the last few years myself, so we often commiserate on the state of the language.

After a few minutes she grimaced and said, “What the–?”  She handed me a test paper on the Shakespearean play, Othello, and asked,  “What does that say?”

The question on the test asked for a description of the character Brabanzio’s reaction to a certain event.  In answer, the student had scrawled the words “In the hose.”

After some deliberation, we determined that the lad had intended to write, “In the house.”  Wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, I conjectured that perhaps during a lively discussion of this event in class, one of the students had summed it up with the euphemism, “in the house,” and that this student had thought the phrase so fitting to the event, that he assumed she would know what he meant by it.  And that also, he was perhaps dyslexic and therefore didn’t realize that he was leaving concepts out of his sentences. I then tried to come up with a connotation of this phrase, (“I have arrived!”  “The gala can start now!” “Everyone is glad to see this certain person!”) that would fit the event.

A few minutes later, she came across another paper with the same response.  “Ah,” I responded to her wisely. “This just adds credence to my theory.  This must have been a comment that was made in class, because another student remembers it.”

When she discovered a third paper with the same answer, I was about to claim it as proof positive, until she noticed that one of the other answers on the page was identical to the same question on the other two tests.

“Oh,” I responded flatly. “So they were just cheating.”

“Well, that’s bad enough,” she exploded, “but they copied something that made no sense, and this one kid didn’t even copy THAT correctly!  ‘In the hose,’ indeed!”

She continued correcting, then stopped again, puzzled, and read aloud another question: “Describe the relationship between Iago and Roderigo.”

I waited.

She sighed and read the answer: “They were frenemies.”

026“Okay,” I reasoned, “Perhaps the student truly does not realize that that is not actually a word.  They hear it used all the time – how would they know it’s not correct?”

“Oh, it may actually be accepted in the dictionary already,” she countered.

I looked it up.  It is.

Eventually she came to an answer that stopped us, speechless, in our tracks: “What is the play Othello about?”

The answer: “An African American guy.”

I just don’t even know where to start with that.

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No Excuses

I must be the meanest Mom around.

First of all, we didn’t watch the Rose Parade.  Well, we couldn’t, because we don’t have a TV.  Halfway through last year, realizing that the only time we watched the thing was, well, on New Year’s Day for the Rose Parade, we moved it out to the garage and reclaimed a nice chunk of the family room for more important things (i.e. a bookcase).

Besides, I really dislike parades.  I don’t much like firework shows either.  And I’ve never been to a baseball game. This year I plan to apply for U.S. citizenship, and I truly hope these facts do not impinge upon my application’s acceptance.

059I did make donuts this morning, so I’m pretty sure my kids didn’t really miss the parade much. I would like to report that I put the proper amount of salt in my batch of donuts, but the fact that I accidentally doubled it, given the 14 year old’s unfortunate misreading of the same measurement last night, is completely inexcusable.  Fortunately I noticed right away, so I was able to fish the extra salt out of the bowl.  Most of it, anyway.

The 14 year old completed our nutritionally bankrupt meal this morning by deep frying some bacon.  Big pot of oil, just the right temp… how could she not?

Once I had them all sugared up on donuts, I dropped the bomb.  We would be doing our school work today. My resolve stayed flinty, even in the presence of heartfelt wails of injustice. “But it’s a HOLIDAY, Mom.”  “But even the BANKS are closed today, Mom.”  Nothing moved me.

I happen to know that both of my younger kids are quite a few lessons behind in their math, among other things. I also happen to remember hearing multiple promises of “I’ll catch up over Christmas break” in the past month or so. So I put my foot down and pointed out that if they hadn’t taken little personal holidays on days when there was no excuse for not doing their school, they wouldn’t be doing school today when everyone else had the day off.

Unfortunately for them, I possess the ability to compartmentalize doom for days, even weeks at a time, as long as there are enough fires that need to be put out and other deadlines that need to be met.  My last deadline was Boxing Day, when we visited with my side of the family to exchange gifts.  It took exactly five days of not having a deadline looming on the horizon for me to realize how many things I had been letting slip for the past few months.   I had my crisis yesterday, while they were at the movies enjoying The Hobbit.

Today it was their turn.

They will thank me later.  Like, next Thursday, when they get to their respective Classical Conversations classes and actually have something finished to turn in.

As firm as my resolve is today, given the freshness of my Biannual I-can’t-do-everything-I’m-supposed-to-do Meltdown, I sincerely hope and pray that it will continue, at least until the end of this semester.  Because I know myself too well to think that this one foot planting itself firmly today is going to remain that way without major changes being made, not in my kids’ hearts and attitudes, but in mine.

And I know how I am.

For example, my husband found this workout program in a drawer the other day, unopened.  I bought it at least four years ago.

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At least I can use this with my Brit Lit students as a good example of the concept of “irony.”

 

 

 

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No Filter December – Day 11: The Christmas Party

Now, in the title I said “party,” as in singular, but what I really mean is parties, as in Oh My Goodness, People, Does EVERYONE have to have a party this time of year and how on earth do you guys find time to plan these things, let alone cook and decorate for them and now my son wants to have one too and I just laughed at him and now he is looking at me funny.

You get it, right?  Parti-bus?

You get it, right? Partibus?

“Pars, partis” is Latin for the noun “part.” The plural form of this word for both the dative and ablative cases is “partibus,” which I found delightful when I was learning Latin.

I mention this simply because I spent 6 hours with my Classical Conversations students today, at least half of which, after the Dreaded Logic Final (5 pages, baby) and six Art Lecture Presentations (they were all brilliant), was spent having a Christmas Party.  We told embarrassing stories, drank tea, ate food, sang Christmas carols and took group pictures.  And let me tell you, taking group pictures with a bunch of 15 year old girls should be classed as an Olympic sport.

I am now exhausted, and therefore punchy. That’s my excuse for my strange sense of humor today.  (The rest of the year, well, let’s just say I really need those filters I have eschewed this month for my No Filter December Jig.)

At any rate, last Monday night I had two different parties to attend, both of which I missed due to the stomach flu.

On Wednesday the two younger kids had two parties (one in P.E. class, one at youth group), one of which required a treat to share (and we’re gluten-free, so that’s not something you just pick up on the way there) and the other of which required an unwrapped toy per child, to be donated to a local hospital, and a wrapped white elephant gift each.

This morning each kid had a Christmas Party Potluck in their CC classes, as did I, which meant three sets of (gluten-free) Potluck Fare, two wrapped Secret Santa gifts and eight wrapped Christmas gifts for my students, not to mention the other things I mentioned yesterday that I had thought would be spiffing to bring to class today.

We are then party-free until Sunday.

This is then followed by another party on Monday, which requires another white elephant gift.

And then we have another on Thursday of next week. This one requires only (gluten-free) cookies.

This brings us to the next weekend, when we will be missing my good friend’s birthday/Christmas party, because we are hosting not a Christmas Party, but a 21st Birthday Celebration for my oldest.

And then this is followed closely by Christmas itself.

So two things:

1) Do any of you seriously still think homeschooling is dangerous because of the whole “socialization” issue?

2) If I accidentally say “Bah, Humbug” in the next week or so, well, I’m hoping it will at least be understandable to the twelve people who read this blog. (Hi, Mom!)

Here is the Official Picture of the Day:

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I forgot to mention that today was Ugly Christmas Sweater Day as well. I didn’t have one, but I did have 34 years worth of Christmas jewelry to choose from. I chose all the pieces I could find at 7:30 a.m.  My husband bought me the light-up necklace and flashing earrings from The Home Depot. Yep, I’m livin’ the dream.

And here, just because it is cool, and because readers who scroll to the bottom deserve to be rewarded, is a Bonus Photo.  This is a pillow I received as a gift from the one student who gets certain of my jokes during class.  Last year I made at least 4 Doctor Who disciples; I still have another semester to go with this crowd, so I have high hopes.

It LIGHTS UP, people.  With a BLUE light, because Alan insisted it couldn't be a white light and fixed it. (Sharpies fix everything)

It LIGHTS UP, people. With a BLUE light, because Alan insisted it couldn’t be a white light and fixed it. (Sharpies fix everything)

 

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No Filter December – Day Ten: What, Me, Procrastinate?

There will be no TBT post about Mexico Day 2 today, because tomorrow I have a Logic Final to administrate and although it is 9:45 p.m. the night before, I still haven’t gotten around to proofing it or printing it out. If I think hard, I will be able to list what I did instead, but it escapes me at the moment.  I do know that TV shows and bon bons were not involved.  I would have remembered that.

It also occurs to me that I must also grade Art Lecture Presentations tomorrow, so I will need rubrics, not to mention running a Christmas Party, and that somehow in a moment of weakness I promised to make them all Real British Tea in Real Teacups.

Which reminds me I may have also promised to bring my keyboard and some Christmas Carols…

We will also be watching The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Jane Seymour version.  We just finished reading Tale of Two Cities, and this is how I have justified the movie.  Same era.  We will discuss the two different viewpoints of the two stories.  It may boil down to, “That was different from Tale of Two Cities, wasn’t it?” … “Yeah.  I like this one better.”

At any rate, here is a picture of Christmassy stuff that I took this weekend in Mexico.  I’ll put another one in the header.  Happy 10th Day of December.  If anyone needs me I’ll be over here in the corner typing furiously and praying that the printer doesn’t decide to jam tonight.

Baja Mission 12-2014 044crop

 

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No Filter December – Day Three: December Doldrums

We have now entered the Doldrums of December, that time between the week we had off for Thanksgiving and the three weeks we have off for Christmas, in which students must somehow turn their minds back to their studies long enough to take Finals.

This is also the week of reckoning when I discover how little my piano students practiced over the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s never a good sign when a student opens the book to a piece you have been working on with them for the past few weeks, stares at it quizzically for a few seconds and then breaks out into a smile, saying, “Ohhhhhh… I remember this one!” as if it’s a favorite memory from days gone by.

It’s inevitable, though.  In fact, the slow decline for all my students, not just the piano playing ones, begins the day after Halloween and continues until about the third week of January.  Educationally speaking, it’s one of the roughest times of year.

So I give extra grace and cheer my students to reach higher and push through.

Which, of course, is easy enough for me to say, because I’m not the one playing the pieces and taking the finals.

Geography and Latin on A Monday Morning. Even I don't want to do it.

Geography and Latin in the morning. Even I don’t want to do it. I wonder if any of my Latin students will find this photo and enlarge it in time to get a jump on their final on Thursday?

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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.

012

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.

017

.

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.

016

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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