ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Should have blogged in 2013… Part 3

(This is part of a series of things that I should have recorded in 2013 – things which were highlights of the year, but which didn’t get recorded when they were fresh in my mind. Now you mostly just get pictures.)

April 2-3 – Laurelville staff retreat to Pittsburgh

In early April, many of the Laurelville staff went into Pittsburgh for a retreat…

Downtown Pittsburgh from the North Shore
Downtown Pittsburgh from the North Shore

We began the day by visiting longtime friends – the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation – who have been coming to Laurelville for 50 years.

Pittsburgh Kids Foundation…and then continued down the street to visit Heinz Field.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Such a fine group of people!

Laurelville staff at Heinz Field
Laurelville staff at Heinz Field

My colleague (and co-conspirator) and I found a spot at the field where we felt a bit at home…

Guest Services at its finest
Guest Services at its finest!

After lunch, we checked into our rooms at the Omni William Penn. Oh, look! They have a Starbucks! In the lobby!

Starbucks in the lobby
Starbucks in the lobby

We had supper at Buca di Beppo, and enjoyed time together at the hotel in the evening. The next day, the staff split up to visit a variety of places around Pittsburgh. The Ordinary Family visited the Phipps Conservatory.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While there, I discovered the source of the previous day’s mocha…



Taste test #2: Starbucks Sumatra vs. Green Mountain Sumatra

As promised, Ordinary Spouse and I conducted another K-Cup taste test this morning, pitting the Starbucks Sumatra against the Green Mountain Sumatra. And things are now getting more interesting. First, some info on the coffees from their respective websites…

Starbucks vs. Green Mountain!
Starbucks vs. Green Mountain!

Green Mountain Sumatra

Exotically lush, sweet and heavy-bodied, born in the mountains of Indonesia.

And despite being labeled as “extra bold” on the package, the website describes this as a medium roast. That may or may not be important.

Starbucks Sumatra

A dark-roasted, full-bodied coffee with spicy and herbal notes and a deep, earthy aroma.

So here’s how we did the test. Ordinary Spouse brewed the coffee (six ounces of each variety), so that I wouldn’t know the brewing order. And I took the brewed coffee, divided it up, and made the modifications so that OS wouldn’t know how the cups corresponded to the order in which they were brewed.

Each 6 oz serving was divided in half: one part was prepared as OS likes it (with just a bit of milk), and one part was prepared as I like it (mocha). And then we tested.

The coffee as prepared
There isn’t much to see here, but these are the coffees we prepared.

OS found both coffees to be quite drinkable and wouldn’t pay extra for the Starbucks – whichever the Starbucks turned out to be. But since we were trying to discern the better coffee, she noted that one of her cups had a slightly better smell and flavor (which she described as fruity or almondy).

On the other hand, I couldn’t discern the difference in smell. In my mocha, I preferred the other coffee. I’m not good with my coffee adjectives, but one coffee seemed stronger (bolder, perhaps?). It did a better job of standing out against the cocoa. OS thought that coffee was more bitter, if anything.

At this point, we revealed which coffee was which, and found Ordinary Spouse preferred Green Mountain, and I liked the Starbucks. I noted that the Starbucks was a dark roast, whereas the Green Mountain was a medium roast. Could that be the source of our different preferences?

What does all of this mean? Well, clearly we haven’t controlled for all the variables yet. Furthermore, we haven’t tested reproducibility or established error bars. According to Ordinary Spouse, “we can make our data fit whatever we want!”

In any case, we’ll just have to drink more coffee!*

* It turns out October is Caffeine Addiction Recovery Month. If you ignore it for long enough, it will be November.

Blind taste test: Starbucks vs. Grove Square

I gave my parents a K-Cup coffee brewer a couple of months ago, when I suddenly found myself with an extra one.

Mr. Coffee K-Cup coffee brewer
Mr. Coffee K-Cup coffee brewer

Of course, one of the potential problems with these coffee makers is the cost of the single serving K-Cup units. And since my parents don’t drink coffee – they only buy it for their children – my mom decided a taste test was in order. Could I tell the difference between Grove Square (42¢ per serving) and Starbucks (100¢ per serving)?

To raise the stakes in this taste test, Grove Square makes some pretty big claims on its website:

Grove Square™ was created as an alternative for people who love coffee and share our belief that it doesn’t need to be grandiose, complicated – or overpriced. We remember a time when coffee was simply hot and delicious, and we’ve made it our mission to provide that classic flavor, quality and value with single-cup convenience.

And there’s another wrinkle — I don’t drink coffee black. On the rarest of occasions, I’ll just add milk. Once in a while, I’ll mix in both milk and sugar. But usually, I’ll add some cocoa and make a mocha.

So here’s how we did the taste test: I prepared a cocoa/milk/sugar mixture…

Milk, cocoa, and sugar

And then my mom brewed a cup of each kind of coffee and distributed the mixture evenly, so that I wouldn’t know which was which.

Cheap mocha? Expensive mocha?
Cheap mocha? Expensive mocha?

(Note the spiffy coffee mugs from Lenox!)

So… how did they compare?

I’ll get straight to the point… it doesn’t look good for the cheap coffee. Even while Mom was brewing the coffee, I had my suspicions based just on smell. Then I sat down to taste things…

Double your mocha!
Double your mocha!

I sipped one… then sipped the other… and got a funny look on my face.

I repeated the test… no doubt about it.

I couldn’t taste any coffee in the one mug. My mocha mix completely covered any coffee taste. In the other mug, I got the wake-up kick that I like – a bold flavor accentuated by the cocoa, mellowed just slightly by sugar and skim milk.

Sorry Grove Square — you just didn’t make the cut. But what about the crazy cost of the Starbucks?

Here’s my recommendation…

K-Cup reusable coffee filter
K-Cup reusable coffee filter

This is what I’ve purchased for my home machine. It pays for itself after about 12 cups, even if you’re drinking more expensive coffee. And I think I’ve figured out how to reproduce the flavor of the pre-packaged K-Cups: grind the coffee fresh and grind it fine.

And now I just need to get my mom a coffee grinder.

A stroll around Goshen

(or ‘What I did on my day off’…)

The ordinary family is on a road trip to Illinois with a couple of days to rest in Goshen. And when in Goshen, here’s how I like to spend a morning…

Better World BooksStart at Better World Books, my favorite used bookstore. Browse for an hour or two (yes – I can browse that long) and try to not to pick out too many books. Today, I purchased with three.

Ten Thousand VillagesGo around the corner to Ten Thousand Villages. Take a look at the new fairly traded items from all around the world, sample some coffee, and ultimately come away with a bar or two of fair-trade chocolate. Today I got the Panama extra dark (my favorite – 80% cocoa) and the caramel crunch with sea salt (addictive!).

The Electric BrewFinish up at The Electric Brew. Order a mocha or latte (almond latte this morning) made from fair-trade beans they’ve roasted in-house. Sit down with one of my books (or a friend) and enjoy the ambiance of a local coffee house. Enjoy a square of the previously purchased chocolate. Watch for the “who’s who” in the Goshen Mennonite community.

Of course, given more time (and a ride to elsewhere in town), there are a few other places that I’d visit. I have a weakness for handmade mugs, so I’d go to the Old Bag Factory to browse Goertzen Pottery. And I’d swing by Goshen College for to stroll around the campus of my alma mater. Today I got a decal for the back of our van.

We have another day here before we continue west. We’re looking forward to some time at Camp Mennohaven with our church family from Lombard.

Starbucks haiku

In a perfect world
I’d order an iced, venti
coconut mocha

A Day in the Life

After blogging some trips to parents and in-laws, and after a friend blogged about her day, I decided that I’d like to blog about my own day.  Ordinary Spouse astutely wondered who would like to read about my day except me. The answer, of course, is no one.  But that hasn’t stopped me from writing stuff on this blog yet! So loyal reader, here is the account of Thursday, May 28th…

0530 – My alarm goes off in a vain attempt to remind me to go swimming. I manage to turn the alarm off without waking up.

0601 – I wake up to Jack doing a happy dance on the bed. Soon he’ll start nipping at me, so I get out of bed to get him breakfast. I’m quickly distracted by Sudoku.

0615 – I decide that my brain is too fuzzy to do Sudoku, so I make my way to the kitchen and get Jack’s breakfast.

0621 – Now that the cat is content, I start my own breakfast (gourmet oatmeal!).  While that’s cooking, I start taking notes on the day’s play-by-play for this blog post.

0630 – Middle Daughter and Oldest Daughter make their appearance in the kitchen just before my oatmeal finishes. School becomes the first topic of conversation for the day. Middle Daughter shares a school project entitled, “Kindergarten Memories”. It includes these lines: “My favorite story was ‘Aliens Love Underpants'” and “My favorite song was ‘Buddy, My Beagle'”. Oldest Daughter wonders why the school district schedule two days of school after Memorial Day, because they won’t be doing much. I’ve wondered similar things.

0641 – The girls want to play with Playmobil toys before breakfast… on the breakfast table. I tell them that they’ll need to clean things up before they can eat. We’ll see how that works out. I clean up the yesterday’s remnants of some child walking around the kitchen eating watermelon.

0646 – Remember that oatmeal? Time to get it ready: grind nuts; slice ginger; and add papaya, odd spice and sugar.  Once again, I’m distracted from the oatmeal – this time to deal with bathroom and Playmobil emergencies.

0700 – I start eating the oatmeal that finished half an hour ago.

0703 – Youngest Daughter wakes up. I eat oatmeal with a daughter on my lap.

0711 – I’ve finished my breakfast, but spend some more time reading blogs.  I also help YD make a crown and listen to OD show off the latest math trick.  What started as a multiplication trick ended as a division trick.

0733 – Ordinary Spouse arrives in the kitchen to much fanfare.  Good morning, honey!

0738 – Time to finish getting ready for work.  I get distracted by Sudoku again, but have more luck this time.

0808 – After four minutes of good-byes, I’m off to work. The weather is incredibly pleasant after three days of hot and muggy.  (And the forecast is for this to continue through Memorial Day!)  I’ve got a Van Morrison in the CD player, and traffic is moving quickly today.  A good start.

0831 – At work, I make a quick check of the beamlines.

0840 – Coffee time! Mocha – while getting caught up on email.

0902 – Time to begin the day’s work. We’ve been in a maintenance period, but the X-rays return next Wednesday. One of the requirements for beamlines is that the have a very high vacuum inside – air would degrade the quality of the X-ray beam.  Since we were working on components during the shutdown, we had to break the vacuum. Much of my job today will be to make sure that the vacuum quality is back to normal for next week.

1020 – Argonne gives certain employees annual physical exams.  Today, it’s my turn.

1215 – The medical department wasn’t very efficient today.  But at least, they’re friendly.  Time for lunch.

1255 – More vacuum work.  In addition, our software developers have made a number of improvements in our data collection software, so I spend time testing those out, as well.

1600 – Our monochromator has been having some problems – probably a repetitive motion injury.  Happily, representatives from the German company that built it are working at another beamline, so I take some time to consult with them.

1640 – More vacuum work

1708 – The day is complete. Only one section of vacuum is still having troubles. I’ll work on it again tomorrow.

1732 – Ordinary Spouse asked me to stop for some salsa for this evening’s dinner (taco salad) on the way home.  At Meijer, I couldn’t decide what flavor or spiciness to get, so I purchased four different options.  I also picked up plain yogurt and tomatoes.

1754 – Home!  Hugs all around.

1802 – Supper time.  It takes five minutes to get everyone rounded up, hands washed, and to the table.

Here we are to thank you for this fine food;
Here we are to thank you for this fine food;
Here we are to thank you,
Because we know you’re with us
Right where we are.

1833 – Supper is finished.  Amazingly the table is quiet – just OS and I.  The girls have all scampered off somewhere.  We enjoy some conversation while cleaning up the dishes.

1856 – It’s time to pull staples out of the floor!* (That is a sarcastic exclamation point.) Joni Mitchell is the music of choice for this work.

2007 – I think I’m done pulling staples, but one never knows about these things.  Time for a few drinks of ice water.

2018 – The girls are getting ready for bed, so it’s time to read to MD and YD.  We have a funny book – funny because it’s about the human body, and it has transparent overlays so that you can take the body apart.  Reading is followed by teeth brushing (or is it tooth brushings?), bedtime prayers, and singing.

2101 – I check what’s happening on Facebook.  Not much apparently.  Maybe I should delete my account for a second time.

2127 – Time for me to get ready for bed.

2128 – Whoops!  I remember that the car is still parked outside, and that I need to clean the garage before moving it inside.

2204 – The lights are off, the teeth are brushed, the house is quiet.  I decide to take a few moments to edit my blog post.

2224 – I decide that I’m too tired to finish editing.  This blog entry won’t post until tomorrow.  It will have to be “Yesterday in the Life”.

Good night!

* Why would I be pulling staples from the floor?  That is another blog entry.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: