Thursday, October 24, 2013

SMMART SCIENCE: Fizzy Jack-o-Lantern Juice

This fun activity results in the production of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in a fun fizzy drink.  We put a little Halloween twist on this one.

Ask your little haunt to use a black sharpie to draw a picture of a Jack-o-lantern on the front of a clear plastic cup.  Fill the cup with freshly squeezed orange juice to see the Jack-o-lantern appear. 

You can also use bottled lemon juice and a little food coloring to make the drink a nice orange.  (Here's a trick for Halloween:  It will look like orange, but taste like lemon)

Let your child use a spoon to add a little sugar to sweeten the drink to taste.

Now, let your child sprinkle a teeeeeeeny bit of baking soda over the drink.  You will see the reaction between the citrus acid and the baking soda begin to form fizz....or Carbon Dioxide bubbles.

NOW I DO MEAN TEEEEEEEENY bit of Baking Soda.  Let your child take a pinch of baking soda and sprinkle it on the top of the drink.  If you use too much, your drink will taste salty, so use just a little and taste the drink along the way as you add a bit more baking soda.

Enjoy your Jack-o-lantern juice!

SMMART SCIENCE: Trick or Treat Tossers

Physics and Math...what could excite your children more!?!

Let's make a lever launcher to toss those Tricky Treats across the room.  You can make a launcher by just using plastic spoons that won't launch the treats too far, or one made with popsicle sticks that tosses a bit farther.

I'll explain with the spoons.  You'll need two spoons or popsicle sticks.  Lay one spoon on top of the other.  Secure the handle of the spoons together with a rubber band at the very bottom of the handles.  Slide a pencil inbetween the spoons and push it down towards the bottom of the handles.  Then secure the pencil in place.  The pencil acts as a fulcrum for this lever launcher.

If you use popsicle sticks, lay one on top of the other and secure the very end of one side with a rubberband.  Slide a pencil inbetween the popsicle sticks and secure the pencil with a rubberband.  You can now lay a spoon face up on top of one of the popsicle sticks.  Secure the spoon with a rubberband around the spoon handle and the popsicle stick.  The spoon will act as a "holder" for the Halloween treats.

Now, set a treat inside the spoon "cup".  Push down towards the table on the tip of the spoon and release... Watch the treat soar.

Instead of just launching treats randomly, let's set out a cupcake tin.  Try to launch the treats into the tin.  On the bottom of each cup of the cupcake tin, place a number from 1 - 12 inside of it.  (You can just write the numbers on a piece of paper or a small sticky note paper)

Now, let your child launch away and try to get as many as they can into the cupcake tin.  Now for the math.  If you have a little learner, they can just count the number of treats that landed into a certain cup.  More advanced learners can add or subtract the number of treats with the number in the bottom of the cup.  Multiplication students can multiply the number that is on the bottom of the cup with the number of treats that landed in that cupcake cup.  Or, you can divide the two numbers.

However you play, your child will enjoy launching the treats and watching them soar!


We know about purple cabbage as a pH indicator...but did you know that radish skins can be used to test if liquids are acidic or basic?  A pH indicator is a substance that changes color (and sometimes smell) when a basic or acidic substance is introduced.   This is a fun activity and can even be adapted to any holiday.

Have your little goblin draw a picture of something spooky...perhaps a pair of lips and fangs, a pumpkin or a witch. 

Hold on firmly to a radish and rub the radish  onto the picture like a crayon as you color in the lips, pumpkin or witch's hair and dress with the red color skin.

The red radish color on the paper will act as a pH indicator. 

With purple cabbage juice ...If a BASIC substance is introduced, the paper will turn a BLUE/GREEN color.  If an acidic substance is introduced, the paper will turn a PINK/RED color.

With the red radish paper, we found that the BASIC substance turned the paper a shade of ORANGE and the ACIDIC substance turned the paper a shade of dark PURPLE.
Try some substances around the house...water (neutral), milk (neutral), bleach (basic), baking soda paste (basic),  glass cleaner (basic), vinegar (acidic), lemon juice (acidic)... what else?
We made a baking soda paste by adding a little water to a Tb of baking soda and mixing it together.

[Just like making a red cabbage juice pH indicator...If you wanted to make a red radish liquid, you could skin the radish peels and to the peels, add a 50-70% alcohol water solution.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes.  Now you have a liquid litmus indicator.  You can pour the liquid into small cups and it will turn colors when an acid or base is introduced.  OR you can soak pieces of paper in the red liquid, let them dry and then cut the radish-soaked paper in strips..  Now you have pH paper.  Drop a little drop of bleach, lemon juice or vinegar onto the paper...are they acidic or basic substances?]

I found this cool list of natural materials you can use to create pH indicators:

( CrazyBaby69 answered)

 A visual acid-base indicator is just a weak acid with differently colored acid and conjugate base forms. Flower and leaf pigments often fit this description. For example, take rose petals and crush them with alcohol; you have an acid/base indicator solution. Stew some red cabbage and pour off the juice; you have an acid/base indicator solution.
Many indicators can be extracted from plants; others (like phenolphthalein*) and methyl orange are synthetic. Here is a list of 'natural' acid/base indicators.

Alizarin is an orange dye present in the root of the madder plant; it was used to dye wool in ancient Egypt, Persia, and India. In an 0.5% alcohol solution, alizarin is yellow at pH 5.5 and red at pH 6.8. Several synthetic modifications of alizarin are also used as acid/base indicators.
Cochineal is an acid-base indicator made from the bodies of dried female cochineal insects, found in Mexico and Central America. You'll have to grind about 70,000 insects to make one pound of dry indicator. The powder is about 10% carminic acid, which is yellow in acidic solution, and deep violet in alkaline solution. Cochineal solutions are not used much as acid/base indicators these days.
Curcumin, or tumeric yellow, is a natural dye found in curry powder. It turns from yellow at pH 7.4 to red at pH 8.6.
Esculin is a fluorescent dye that can be extracted from the leaves and bark of the horse chestnut tree. You'll need to shine a black (ultraviolet) light on the indicator to get the full effect. Esculin changes from colorless at pH 1.5 to fluorescent blue at pH 2.
Anthocyanin is probably the most readily available acid/base indicator; it is the plant pigment that makes red cabbage purple, cornflowers blue, and poppies red. It changes color from red in acid solution to purplish to green in mildly alkaline solution to yellow in very alkaline solution.
Litmus is a blue dye extracted from various species of lichens. Although these lichens grow in many parts of the world, almost all litmus is extracted and packaged in Holland. Litmus is red at pH 4.5 and blue around pH 8.3. While most litmus is used to make litmus papers, some is used as a coloring for beverages.
Logwood is a dye obtained from the heartwood of a tree that grows in Central America and the West Indies. The extract contains hematoxylin and hematein, which turn bright red in alkaline solution.

Beets change from red to purplish in very basic solution.
Blackberries, black currants, and black raspberries change from red in acids to dark blue or violet in basic solution.
Blue and red grapes contain several different pH-sensitive anthocyanins. For example, blue grapes are colored by a monoglucoside of malvinidin that changes from deep red in acidic solutions to violet in basic solution. Red wines naturally contain these same pigments.
Blueberries change from blue (around pH 2.8-3.2) to red in a strongly acidic solution.
Cherries and cherry juice is bright red in acidic solution but purple to blue in basic solution.
Curry powder and tumeric are spices that contain a bright yellow pigment called curcumin (which is not an anthocyanin). It turns from yellow at pH 7.4 to red at pH 8.6.
Delphinium petals contain an anthocyanin called delphinin, which changes from bluish red in acid to blue to violet in basic solution.
Geranium petals contain pelargonin, an anthocyanin which changes from orange-red in acid solution to bluish in basic solution.
Horsechestnut leaves can be ground with alcohol to extract esculin, a fluorescent dye. Esculin changes from colorless at pH 1.5 to fluorescent blue at pH 2. Shine a black (ultraviolet) light on the indicator to get the full effect.
Morning glories contain an anthocyanin called "heavenly blue anthocyanin" which changes from purplish red at pH 6.6 to blue at pH 7.7.
Onion is an olfactory indicator. The onion odor isn't detectable in strongly basic solutions. Red onion can act as a visual indicator at the same time. It changes from pale red in acid solution to green in basic solution.
Pansy petals
Petunia petals contain petunin, an anthocyanin that changes from reddish purple in acid to violet in basic solution.
Poison primrose (Primula sinensis) has both orange and blue flowers. The orange flowers contain a mixture of pelargonins (the same type of pigment found in geraniums). The blue flowers contain malvin (similar to the pigment in blue grapes), which turns from red to purple as a solution changes from acidic to basic.
Poppy flower petals
Purple peonies contain peonin, which changes from reddish purple or magenta in acid solution to deep purple in basic solution.
Red radish
Rose petals contain the oxonium salt of cyanin, and they turn blue in basic solution. (The potassium or calcium salt of the same pigment makes cornflowers blue!)
Thyme (extract in alcohol)
Tulip petals
Vanilla extract, like onion, is an olfactory indicator. The vanilla odor isn't detectable in strongly basic solution because vanillin exists in ionic form at high pH.
Violet petals

Sunday, October 20, 2013

BRCA2 on "Good Things Utah"

Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Reading were so great to come on "Good Things Utah" with me to help share information about Breast surveillance, Breast Reconstruction and my BRCA2 experience.  They are wonderful, skilled physicians and I am so grateful that they helped me with my surgeries!

You can read more about my BRCA2 experience at

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Hello, Hello!  Just a heads up to watch
"Good Things Utah" on Wednesday, October 16th @ 9:00am. 
My surgeons and I will be on for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October).  We'll talk a little bit about BRCA2, discuss a little about the process of breast surgeries, and hopefully be able to share some information that might help someone.  (Keep an eye on abc4 news too.  I think they're going to tape a segment with us for the Oct.20th news.)
Also, check out some SMMART Science Halloween ideas on
"Good Things Utah" on Thursday, October 24th @ 9:00am

Friday, October 11, 2013

My BRCA2 Journey:

Oh goodness!  I am laughing out loud right now!  I posted inadvertently about something that isn't very SMMART...some of you caught that post:)  I have since moved it over to my other blog where it was meant to be posted in it's proper place.  Sorry about that.

It's a good reason to share a little about me right now.  I had been meaning to talk about my other blog where I have been journaling about my journey with the BRCA2 mutation gene. 

"BRCA2 (breast cancer type 2 susceptibility protein) is a protein found inside cells. In humans it is encoded by the gene BRCA2.[1] BRCA2 belongs to the tumor suppressor gene family,[2][3] and orthologs have been identified in most mammals for which complete genome data are available.[4] The protein encoded by this gene is involved in the repair of chromosomal damage with an important role in the error-free repair of DNA double strand breaks.[5][6]

Although the structures of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are very different, at least some functions are interrelated. The proteins made by both genes are essential for repairing damaged DNA. BRCA2 binds the single strand DNA and directly interacts with the recombinase RAD51 to stimulate strand invasion a vital step of homologous recombination. The localization of RAD51 to the DNA double-strand break requires the formation of BRCA1-PALB2-BRCA2 complex. PALB2 (Partner and localizer of BRCA2)[15] can function synergistically with a BRCA2 chimera (termed piccolo, or piBRCA2) to further promote strand invasion.[16] These breaks can be caused by natural and medical radiation or other environmental exposures, but also occur when chromosomes exchange genetic material during a special type of cell division that creates sperm and eggs (meiosis). Double strand breaks are also generated during repair of DNA cross links. By repairing DNA, these proteins play a role in maintaining the stability of the human genome and prevent dangerous gene rearrangements that can lead to hematologic and other cancers.
Like BRCA1, BRCA2 probably regulates the activity of other genes and plays a critical role in embryo development." (

When I was in 7th grade and my mother was a year younger than I am now,  my siblings and I sat on the floor around the couch while my Dad had his arm around my mom explaining to us that Mom had breast cancer.  This spring my Mother passed away after her fourth battle with cancer.

BRCA gene carriers don't just have the fear of "getting cancer" ONCE... it's an unlimited amount of times that we can get cancer...over and over and over and over...just like Mom.  Our risk is an 87% chance of getting breast cancer...over and over and over and over...

And it's not just Breast Cancer, but our risk is a 50% chance of ovarian cancer, as well as increased risks for uterine, peritoneal and other female cancers.  When I discovered I had an increased risk for ovarian cancer, that almost frightened me more than the breast cancer.  Ovarian cancer is nicknamed "The Silent Killer"...because it's difficult to detect and once it is detected, it's progressed so much that there really isn't any good treatment to stop it.

During the time my Mother was fighting with her 3rd appearance of cancer, the BRCA gene had been discovered and a test was available.  She tested positive for BRCA2 and strongly urged us girls to be tested.  I had just had my second daughter and through the help of a genetic counselor, I was tested for the BRCA2 gene mutation. 

I remember following the genetic counselor into her office, trying to read her face as we sat down.  "Well, what do you think the results were?", she asked me.  I replied politely that I didn't know, but inside I was suppressing the impatience at being asked such a meaningless question.  What did it matter what I think the results were?  Why are we wasting time? You know the results, just let me know!

I tested positive and my sisters, who were also seeking guidance and testing, tested negative for the gene. 

In a way, I was grateful that it was me.  I am the older sister.  I had the support of a husband and had resources making it possible for me to receive whatever treatment I needed. But then again, I was the only one of us three sisters who had children.  When I heard that I was a carrier, my heart squeezed in fear of what that meant for my own two girls.

In reality, because my mother had fought cancer 3 TIMES and WON!, I was reassured that no matter what, even if I had to go through this cancer ordeal over and over that I would win!  Yes, it would be disruptive, but I would do what I had to do to be HERE for my husband and children.

This past November, cancer was found all throughout my Mother's body.  She had a mini stroke from the cancer in her brain.  It was in her lungs, her pelvis...she only had scars where her breasts were previously, so it probably would have been there too.

As she died this year, a part of my hope for a full future with my own family was suddenly threatened.  My Mother who was so strong and so amazing... had to fight against a giant this time. 

After our third little girl was born, my oncological gynecologist counseled that "you never know if you'll get cancer or not in the near future", but he suggested we go ahead and have another baby that we wanted to have.  He felt that one more would be fine, but after that, my "clock was ticking" and I should probably strongly think about having the preventative surgeries I was considering.

As soon as I learned that I was BRCA2 positive and heard that the most effective way to reduce my risk was through prophylactic surgeries, my mind was already made up.

I had a full hysterectomy/oophorectomy in September.  I was blessed that no cancer was found when they  searched around for any cancer during my hysterectomy/oophorectomy.  After researching and interviewing physicians, I scheduled my mastectomy for January.  It's a scary thing, trying to know WHERE to start and WHO to use for a surgeon!

When Mom was battling this fourth time, I told her there was no way I could go ahead with my mastectomy!  With no hesitation, she firmly pushed me forward as she laid in bed those many months. 

It was such a blessing to spend my recovery time close to her.  I had more time to be with her than I would've otherwise and for this, I am so grateful.

The last time I visited my Mother, I held her hand and sang her favorite song to her.  She looked at me, but couldn't make expressions or move.  A kiss and I was back to my mothering duties...   I so regret that I didn't stay longer. 

So, I write down my experience, my thoughts and my hopes to share with my girls as they grow.  I want to hold their hand and help them through if they carry this gene or if they experience something similar.  And if I'm not here to hold their hand, then I hope this blog will bring them strength.

You can read more about my BRCA2 experience, my thoughts, about my hysterectomy/oophorectomy, double mastectomy and reconstruction at  I hope it's a resource for others.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

SMMART Science: Pectin

We received a lovely bunch of sweet plums this fall!  After eating and eating and eating these lovely purple little plums, we could eat no we made a few batches of plum jam!

Instead of dropping the plums in boiling water to remove the skins, we just pitted them and blended the whole plums.  The girls enjoyed measuring and pouring in the pectin and sugar.  After observing the puree and then seeing it set up into jam, even I was marveling at the miracle of pectin.

"In cooking, pectin is used as a thickening agent, and could be considered one of the most natural types around. The first pectin available for purchase was derived from apples, which have a high amount of it. There are other fruits that naturally contain this gelling agent, including many plums and pears. The properties of pectin were discovered and identified by the French chemist and pharmacist, Henri Braconnot, and his discovery soon led to many manufacturers making deals with makers of apple juice to obtain the remains of pressed apples (pomace) that were then produced in a liquid form.

Pectin is a complex carbohydrate, which is found both in the cell walls of plants, and between the cell walls, helping to regulate the flow of water in between cells and keeping them rigid. You’ll note some plants begin to lose part of this complex carbohydrate as they age. Apples left out too long get soft and mushy as pectin diminishes. When apples are just ripe, they have a firm and crisp texture, mainly due to the presence of pectin."

"Pectin is commonly used as the active ingredient in cough drops because it coats the upper trachea and prevents the spasms which precede coughing. Under acidic conditions, pectin forms a gel. This effect is used for making jams and jellies." (



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