Oh, so very wintry

(Photo: Michael Howell)

(Photo: Michael Howell)

Mommyo, reading the weather report last weekend: “Subzero temperatures have arrived in Chicago and will stay all week.”

Daddyo, dourly: “Yep.”

The Seven-Year-Old, anxiously: “How subzero? I’m only rated to -3. Any more than that and I have to stay home, Mommyo.”

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What’s on The Seven-Year-Old’s mind this week?

Our semi-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross the The Seven-Year-Old’s desk.

In the news:

The monarch massacre: Nearly one billion butterflies have vanished
(The Washington Post)
Last week, The Seven-Year-Old asked me what we should plant in our container garden. Then she read this article. Nearly one billion monarch butterflies have been wiped out due to herbicides sprayed on milkweed plants. Monarchs rely on milkweed for their homes, nurseries, and food. Now her answer is easy. “We’re planting milkweed, Mommyo. A whole deck full of it.”

12.7 million metric tons of plastic pour into our oceans annually
(Ars Technica)

(Photo: NOAA)

(Photo: NOAA)

Not as pretty as a coral reef. Reduce, reuse, & recycle, people.

13 Effects of Fast Food on the Body 
Did you know eating fast food can actually make you feel depressed? Not just guilt, actual depression. I wasn’t surprised by the other effects — insulin resistance, dental distress (I chipped a tooth on a french fry once), weight gain, high cholesterol, headaches, shortness of breath, acne, and so on, but depression? I admit it, that one surprised me.

A sampling of this week’s books:


  • The Loathsome Dragon by Kim Kahng and David Wiesner: An adaptation of an old English fairy tale featuring a giant, bad-tempered dragon. (Oh and a princess, a prince, a wicked stepmother, and magical enchantments. But you knew all that once you heard it was a fairy tale, right?)
  • Scientific Progress Goes Boink! by Bill Watterson: A perennial favorite. The Seven-Year-Old is hard at work building another transmogrifier in the family cave. Her previous machines have all disappeared. Very odd scientific phenomenon.
  • Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter: I started reading this to The Seven-Year-Old back when she was merely The Five-Year-Old in an effort to get her enthused about taking karate. (I mean, really, cats with ninja-like fighting skills? How could that possibly fail?) She saw right through me, and began regularly asking her father to read her Hardy Boys to her at night instead. This week, I saw she’d picked the first book in the series back up again. No doubt because there is a picture of Canelo on the cover. Actually, now that I look at it, that cover is sort of a Howell Family Cat triptych. The grey tabby could be Cozy, the angry tortoiseshell is clearly Mulberry, and of course, Canelo, our current cat is lording over them all.

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Wordless Wednesday: Portrait of a Dragon

(Artwork: The Seven-Year-Old Howell)

(Artwork: The Seven-Year-Old Howell)

It is remarkable how well The Seven-Year-Old can draw now, when she puts her mind to it.

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A sad day for picnickers – Eco Lunch Gear closes up shop

Everything a girl needs for a successful picnic

Several years ago, I discovered Eco Lunch Gear, a fabric alternative to Ziplocs. I’ve been using them in combination with air-tight plastic snack containers ever since. Recently I received an email from Tina Beatty, the owner of Eco Lunch Gear, telling me that she is closing down Eco Lunch Gear and setting up a new shop on Etsy called The Bay Owl. I’ve loved using these wraps over the years (and have since reordered more at least twice), so thought I’d take the opportunity to give her a little free publicity.

Sadly, it looks like Tina isn’t making her bags anymore. (She’s taking time off to renovate a mid-Century Modern House.) However, her Etsy shop sells DIY kits (and some of her adorable organic fabrics) so that handy crafters can make their own. If you’re interested, check out The Bay Owl shop at:

The Bay Owl

Happy snacking crafting!

(My original review of the Eco Lunch Gear is below the fold, for those of you who are interested.)

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My shiny new Dutch Oven

I chose the 5-Quart Lodge cast iron Dutch oven, because we love our other Lodge cast iron pots. (Photo: Lodge)

I chose the 5-Quart Lodge cast iron Dutch oven, because we love our other Lodge cast iron pots. (Photo: Lodge)

I’ve been reading a lot of recipes lately, and have been frankly astounded by the number of non-stew recipes that call for a Dutch oven. Take this one for French Chicken in a Pot. Clearly not a stew. Also, yum!

So this week, I finally broke down and purchased my first cast iron Dutch oven, along with a copy of Elizabeth Yarnell’s Glorious One-Pot Meals, so that I could have some idea of what to do with it.

I was very excited the day my cookbook and pot arrived.

Mommyo, happily flipping through her new cookbook: “For our first Dutch oven recipe, would you like to have fish, chicken, or something else?”

Daddyo: “Chicken or something else.”

The Seven-Year-Old: “Something else. Something else gets two votes, Mommyo.”

We had the Mediterranean steak. (Yum! Also easy. The hardest part was lifting the full pot.)

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What’s on The Seven-Year-Old’s mind this week?

Our semi-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross the The Seven-Year-Old’s desk.

In the news:

What do animals see in the mirror?
(National Geographic)
Dolphins, apes, and elephants can all recognize themselves in the mirror. Put a flamingo in front of a mirror and he thinks he’s at a party. Dogs, not so much.

Elephant makes a stool–First known aha! moment for species
(National Geographic)
My Seven-Year-Old cheered this week when she learned that fellow seven-year-old Kandula the Elephant has figured out how to use a stool to reach fruit in high places.

Kandula's new trick (Photo courtesy Foerder/Reiss, CUNY)

Kandula’s new trick (Photo courtesy Foerder/Reiss, CUNY)

Meet a newly discovered aquatic species, the ruby seadragon
Loyal reader and official Caterpickles Norwood correspondent, Victoria Moreno-Jackson, aka the crafting genius behind Sumo Peanut, sent The Seven-Year-Old this news clipping about a newly discovered seadragon. The discovery increases the number of known seadragon species by 33%. There are now three, the leafy, the weedy, and the ruby. Guess which one has the best marketing team. Here’s a hint:

3D model of the ruby seadragon courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

3D model of the ruby seadragon courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Why is sleet? How the atmosphere turns snow into an icy, frozen hell 
(The Vane)
You are always welcome to read the whole thing, but I confess to only skimming the article on my way to this key point:

“Sleet, also called ice pellets, is essentially a frozen raindrop. Sleet forms when a snowflake falls into a shallow layer of warm air a few thousand feet above the surface, allowing the snowflake to begin to melt. Due to the shallow nature of the layer (which is only one or two degrees above freezing), only the outer edges of the snowflake have a chance to melt before it re-enters the sub-freezing air near the ground.

Once the partially-melted snowflake enters the sub-freezing air, it begins to refreeze around the tiny ice crystal that remains in the heart of the snowflake. The droplet completely freezes by the time it reaches the ground, striking the surface as an ice pellet.”

A sampling of this week’s books:


  • Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels by Bill Smith, Doug Chiang, & Troy Vigil:  The Seven-Year-Old would like me to point out that she’s not reading this one cover-to-cover, just the interesting bits.
  • A Small, Elderly Dragon by Beverly Keller: Almost a fairy tale, a charming story about a dragon who begins to think he is too old to go on a proper rampage.
  • Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss: “The moral of this story, Mommyo, is don’t get mad or green goop will start falling from the sky.”
  • Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming: Based on a true story. How a child’s thank you note in response to receiving a box of chocolate from America sparked a friendship that helped save a small Dutch town struggling in the aftermath of WWII.

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Egmont’s Last List

anywhere but paradiseVia Writing and Illustrating comes word that Egmont is closing its doors at the end of January, leaving their authors to fend for themselves.

I can only imagine the emotional turmoil these writers are going through right now.

I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings and stories with mythological and/or literary hooks, so I’ve ordered Ilsa Bick’s White Space and The Dickens Mirror, Valiant by Sarah McGuire, as well as The Shadow Prince and The Eternity Key by Bree Despain. I’m certain these aren’t the only enticing books on the list. Browse through it and show these writers some love.

As Bree Despain remarked on the Writing and Illustrating blog, purchasing these books isn’t the only way to show an author love. Reviewing the books on Amazon and Goodreads or simply ordering copies of the book from your local library are all helpful activities too. If you have a blog, you can spread the word about the last list or sign up to participate in the Last List Blog Hop. (You’ll be asked to review a book on your blog.)

In that light — here’s the complete list from Egmont. Most, if not all, are young adult or children’s titles.

BickJanuary Releases

1/06 – Hissy Fitz by Patrick Jennings

1/27 – Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross

February Releases

2/10 – White Space (paperback) by Ilsa J. Bick

2/10 – The Jaguar Stones 4: The Lost City by J&P Voelkel

March ReleasesPatrickJennings

3/10 – The Dickens Mirror by Ilsa J. Bick

3/24 – Odd, Weird & Little (paperback) by Patrick Jennings

3/31 – Anywhere but Paradise by Anne Bustard

April Releasesvaliant

4/14 – The Shadow Prince (paperback) by Bree Despain

4/14 – Burn Out (paperback) by Kristi Helvig

4/14 – Seaborne: The Lost Prince by Matt Myklusch

4/21 – Good Crooks 3: Sniff a Skunk! by Mary Amato

4/28 – The Eternity Key by Bree Despain

4/28 – Strange Skies by Kristi Helvig

4/28 – Valiant by Sarah McGuire

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Cross-posted on BostonWriters. 

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Wordless Wednesday: I can haz tuna?

Canelo is the only cat I’ve ever had who will sit at the table with you, without actually sitting on the table by you. He prefers the chair, thank you.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

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2015 Reading Resolutions

Cross-posted on BostonWriters

Last year, Reading in Winter got me hooked on reading challenges. Theirs was pleasantly complicated and arranged in a BINGO! format that kept me reading until I had READ ALL THE BOOKS.

This year, Reading in Winter has abandoned their Book Bingo Reading Challenge in favor of a Read Local challenge.  Read Local for them means Read Canadian. I like Canadians, I really do, and I have no doubt that Canadian literature is an underappreciated art form. The problem was I didn’t much want to dedicate my entire reading year to it.

Still, I wanted to do something to focus my reading this year. So I spent some time surveying the reading challenges available to me.

There are tons of reading challenges out there. The Goodreads reading challenge is the most basic. Tell them how many books you’re going to read this year, then go do it. I wanted something a little more intentional than that.

There are challenges to get you to read more library books, read more Victorian literature, clear out your to-be-read pile, read more African American/Asian/Latino/women/new-to-you writers. There’s even a reading challenge to see how many different reading challenges you can enter and complete in 2015.

In the end, I made my decision the old-fashioned way. I made a list.

This year I want to:

  1. Support my local library
  2. Give new-to-me authors a try
  3. Support diversity in publishing
  4. Read great writers in the hopes of picking up a good trick or two
  5. Plow through more of my To-Be-Read pile
  6. Have fun

I borrowed Reading in Winter’s Book Bingo Scorecard idea and crafted one of my own that reflected these goals. Every month, I would work toward these goals by reading:

  • One book from my local library
  • One book from a writer I’d not read before
  • One book from a writer of color
  • One book from a Nobel Prize winner
  • One book from my To-Be-Read pile
  • And just for fun, I’m playing Authors A-Z, a game in which you try to read at least one book from a writer with last name that starts A-Z (the goal being to collect at least one author for every letter of the alphabet)

This means reading six books a month. Most months, that’s not a problem. But in months I can only log four of the good-for-me books (like *cough* January), I let myself use one book from that month in two categories. Toni Morrison, for example, is both a Nobel Prize winner and an author of color, so in January, I used her book A Mercy in both places.

I’d rather read six books a month. But then again, stressing myself out over whether I’ll be able to finish that sixth book in a given month kind of undercuts the whole “Have fun” plan.

The Seven-Year-Old liked the idea of collecting authors by their last names so much that she wants to do it too.

I made a scorecards for both of us, because of course I did. Here are mine.

The Good for Me Books

Looks like someone forgot to visit their local library in January. (Scorecard: Mommyo)

Looks like someone forgot to visit their local library in January. Tsk. Tsk. (Scorecard: Mommyo)

The Have Fun! Books

This one is nice because it lets me record the other books I read that don't fit nicely into the "Make Mommyo a better person" categories. (Scorecard: Shala Howell)

This one is nice because it lets me record the other books I read that don’t fit nicely into the “Make Mommyo a better person” categories. (Scorecard: Shala Howell)

Hmm… My reading may be weighted a little heavily toward having fun.

If The Seven-Year-Old ever lets me see her scorecard again, I’ll share it with you too. Through unofficial channels (read: by tucking her in at night) I’ve learned that she’s reading The Little House on the Prairie series at the moment.

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What’s The Seven-Year-Old reading this week?

It was so much fun diving into The Seven-Year-Old’s brain through the news she was thinking about last week, that I decided to make it a new semi-weekly feature. Here’s a look at some of the things that crossed The Seven-Year-Old’s desk this week.

In the news:

Extinct Mega-Rodent Had Teeth Like Elephant Tusks
(LiveScience via Yahoo! News)
A buffalo-sized rodent with giant tusks and the biting force of a large tiger. Let’s just take a moment and be grateful that sucker died out.

50-foot long ‘dragon’ dinosaur discovered in China
(CNET via loyal reader and crafting genius behind SumoPeanut, Aunt Vic)
Have they finally discovered the dinosaur bones that inspired a world’s worth of dragon stories? Spoiler alert: The Seven-Year-Old isn’t buying it. “That guy doesn’t look anything like a Chinese lung [dragon].”

Viking-era replica part of exhibit opening at Field Museum Feb 27
(Chicago Sun-Times)
We wandered by the plastic encasing around this potentially bug-infested Viking canoe while at the Field this weekend. (The Field is offering free admission for Illinois residents in February! Why aren’t you there?) Everyone in the family is ridiculously excited. This article has lots of pictures of them moving the canoe into the Field. There are cranes. We here at the Caterpickles Institute for Seven-Year-Olds are also fond of moving very heavy things with cranes.

A sampling of this week’s books:

Feb13CollageSmAmazon links

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