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

Our semi-weekly survey of the tidbits that cross The (now) Eight-Year-Old’s desk.

In the news:

Fossils of sea creature give clues to early limb evolution (Chicago Sun-Times)
Another entry for the “I’m grateful that sucker’s extinct” file. At more than 2 meters long, Aegirocassis benmoulae was one of the largest arthropods to have ever existed. Researchers are analyzing this giant fossil to learn more about how limbs developed in modern-day arthropods like lobsters, spiders, and insects.

Artist's rendering of the 2 meter-long filter-feeder Aegirocassis benmoulae. This giant sea creature lived in Morocco about 480 million years ago during the Early Ordovician. (Artist rendering: Marianne Collins)

Artist’s rendering of the 2 meter-long filter-feeder Aegirocassis benmoulae. This giant sea creature lived in Morocco about 480 million years ago during the Early Ordovician. (Artist rendering: Marianne Collins)

Researchers may have solved the origin-of-life conundrum (Science)
The origin of life is a pesky problem, from a scientific perspective at least. Before life can begin, specific basic ingredients—nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids—have to be present and interact with each other in specific ways.

The problem for scientists has been that those basic ingredients are actually fairly complex little molecules themselves. How did they first appear, and once they were around, what triggered the next set of reactions necessary to create life on Earth?

Recently, researchers announced a possible scientific solution. A team of chemists led by John Sutherland at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have described how hydrogen cyanide (HCN) — a common compound in comets that were raining down on Earth daily in that period — could have combined with hydrogen sulfide (H2S) already on the Earth’s surface, and ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun to trigger a series of chemical reactions that could have produced the building blocks of life on Earth.

Scientists are careful to caution that this is not necessarily how life actually began, but merely one plausible scenario for what might have happened.

Ancient Mars Had an Ocean, Scientists Say (New York Times)
New research suggests that far more of Mars’ surface was underwater than previously thought. The finding makes it that much more likely that life once thrived on Mars as well.

A sampling of this week’s books:

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  • Mr. Pants: It’s Go Time! by Scott McCormick (Illustrated by R. H. Lazzell): It’s the last day of summer and Mr. Pants knows exactly how it wants to spend it. Sadly, his sisters have other — less awesome — ideas.
  • I Survived #11: The Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis:  A boy struggles to stay alive as around him, Chicago burns.
  • National Geographic Readers: Rocks and Minerals by Kathleen Wiedner Zoehfeld: This book pairs lovely photographs of sparkling crystals, molten lava, and other natural bling with an easy-to-read scientific text from a respected children’s book author.
  • Rescue Princesses #5 The Snow Jewel by Paula Harrison: The Rescue Princesses travel to Northernland for a spot of sledding, hot cocoa, and an inevitably adorable kitten rescue.

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Wordless Wednesday: “Mommyo, why can’t I ride one of those?”

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Seen somewhere in the tourist trap area of San Francisco last August. (Photo: Shala Howell)

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“Why do they call it 20-lb paper?”

The Seven-Year-Old is a voracious consumer of paper.

Paper is the essential component of the Winnie-the-Pooh museum she is constructing in her bedroom.

The Seven-Year-Old: "I can't find my Tigger and Winnie-the-Pooh plushes, Mommyo. That's why I put the Coming Soon labels there." (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Seven-Year-Old: “I can’t find my Tigger and Winnie-the-Pooh plushes, Mommyo. That’s why I put the Coming Soon labels there.” (Photo: Shala Howell)

Right now, there are at least 8 brightly colored paper airplanes and several dozen paper-based art projects scattered around my office. Doubtless even more paper is being consumed down in the family cave, where The Seven-Year-Old is enjoying her daily dose of Wild Kratts.

When tearing open yet another package of computer paper to fuel her artistic drive, The Seven-Year-Old happened to read the label.

The Seven-Year-Old, holding the ream of paper up proudly over her head: “Mommyo, look how strong I am! I can lift 20 pounds (lbs) of paper!”

It was adorable. And completely incorrect. That ream of paper weighed more like 5 lbs.  Well, 4.8 lbs to be exact.

(We know this because we weighed it using the time-honored method of weighing a conveniently located seven-year-old child on the scale twice — once by herself, and once holding the paper. The difference between the two numbers came to 4.8 lbs.)

The Seven-Year-Old, reasonably: “But if it only weighs 4.8 lbs, why do they call it 20 lb paper? They should call it 4.8 lb paper.”

According to How Stuff Works, paper is named according to how much 500 standard-size sheets of it weigh. 500 standard-size sheets of the printer paper that The Seven-Year-Old prefers for museum labels and paper airplanes weigh 20 lbs, hence the name 20 lb paper. (500 standard-size sheets of 24 lb paper would weigh 24 lbs and so on.)

The Seven-Year-Old, reading the label on her ream of paper: “But this ream has 500 sheets in it, Mommyo, and it still only weighs 4.8 lbs.”

Odd, isn’t it? Were we cheated?

Well, maybe. But probably not.

It all depends on how big you think a standard size sheet of paper is. When we layfolk hear the term standard size paper, we think about 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of paper, like that ream of printer paper The Seven-Year-Old was holding. But when paper manufacturers refer to standard size paper, they mean the larger 17″ x 22″ sheets of paper that they then cut into four pieces to create the familiar 8.5″ by 11″ size.

A 500-sheet ream of 17″ x 22″ sheets of printer paper does weigh 20 lbs. And since the 8.5″ x 11″ sheets we use are only 1/4 the size, the 500-sheet reams we buy in the stores to feed our printers and art-making machines weigh only 5 lbs (more or less).

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The Seven-Year-Old’s on to you, Santa

The Seven-Year-Old, scrambling over a snow bank on a recent walk into school: “I think Santa puts some sort of trance on kids before he comes.”

Mommyo: “You think so?”

The Seven-Year-Old: “Yeah, so no one sees the flying reindeer and gets freaked out.”

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

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

In the news:

Rare Tiger Family Caught on Video in China (National Geographic)
Due to extensive hunting, fewer than 400 Siberian tigers remain in their Russian and Chinese habitats. Video surfaced recently of a tiger family playing in China, possibly signaling a comeback for the big cats.

The Seven-Year-Old: “Whoa! That was awesome! I have to get my tigers and show them. We have something to celebrate! Siberian Tigers are making a comeback in China!”

The Seven-Year-Old sharing the good news with her tiger cubs. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Seven-Year-Old sharing the good news with her tiger cubs. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Ringling Brothers to Retire its Circus Elephants (National Geographic)
Last week, news broke that after 145 years of featuring elephants in its circus acts, Ringling Brothers has decided to retire its 13 remaining elephants by 2018. The retired elephants will be sent to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida.  Ringling Brothers says that the move comes in response to growing audience discomfort with the practice of using elephants in their shows. The circus will continue to include tigers, lions, horses, dogs, and camels in their performances.

Illinois: Land of Lincoln, the Windy City, and Now, Bison (TakePart)
While googling around to find ideas for Mommyo Summer Camp this June, the Seven-Year-Old and I came across this story. Apparently, bison have returned to the Nature Conservatory’s Nachusa Grasslands Preserve in Franklin Grove, Illinois after a nearly 200 year absence. Since the preserve is only about 100 miles from Chicago, the Seven-Year-Old and I are busily making plans for a weekend road trip this summer.

A sampling of this week’s books:

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  • National Geographic Kids™ Chapters: Tiger in Trouble! And More True Stories of Amazing Animal Rescues by Kelly Milner Halls: A tiger confiscated from its owner and sent to the Carolina Tiger Rescue preserve suddenly goes blind, and must learn a new way of life with the help of his tiger friend Apache and his new human caretakers.
  • My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (Illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett): In this classic children’s story, Elmer Elevator runs away to rescue a baby dragon. The Seven-Year-Old was super excited to find a copy of it at Half-Price Books last week: “Mommyo! I’ve been looking for this book for two years!”
  • Judy Moody Girl Detective by Megan McDonald (Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds):  In the ninth installment in the Judy Moody series, Mr. Chips, Judy’s crime-dog-in-training goes missing, and Judy Drewdy — I mean Moody — must track him down.
  • Justin Case: Rules, Tools, and Maybe a Bully by Rachel Vail (Illustrated by Matthew Cordell): Now in fourth grade, Justin Case deals with the perils of juggling friends, bullies, tests, and grades.

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Wordless Wednesday: Spring comes early!

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Just kidding. I took this photo late last summer in San Francisco. Can you tell I’m gritting my teeth to get through this last month without flowers?

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Posted in Nature, Out and About, Wordless Wednesday | 1 Comment

“Mommyo, why is the Chicago River green?”

This picture is not photoshopped. (Photo: Shala Howell)

This picture is not photoshopped. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Every year about this time, Chicago decides that blue-brown rivers are boring. So the local plumber’s union uses a top secret combination of what they pinky-swear are ecologically-safe chemicals to dye the river green. Very very green.

The practice dates back to 1962, when Mayor Richard J. Daley and his boyhood friend Stephen M. Bailey decided it would be a bit of a lark to dye the river green as part of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. The city has dyed its river on the day of the parade ever since.

According to this how-to from the Chicago Tribune, six members of the local plumbers union pile into two boats on the morning of the St. Patrick’s Day parade to spread the chemicals down the river (four crew members in the large boat, and two in a smaller one).

The dye job begins at 9:15 a.m. sharp under the Michigan Avenue bridge near Wacker Drive. Three of the crew in the large boat use kitchen sifters to sprinkle the top-secret powder on the river, while the fourth drives the boat downriver.

Meanwhile, the two folks in the smaller boat drive wackily through the powder trail to disperse the chemicals through the water to turn the river a more uniform green. (Sounds fun, doesn’t it?)

The entire process takes about 45 minutes. If you missed the display Saturday morning, you can watch a time-lapse video of it here.

This photo was taken on Saturday afternoon, about six hours after the river was dyed.  I’m told the dye job lasts about three days. I can’t promise that The Seven-Year-Old and I will make it to downtown today to check, but if we do, we’ll report back.

Fun fact: The top-secret powder they use to dye the river is orange, not green. I honestly can’t decide whether I want to know the chemistry behind that. Do they test the river for pollutants before dying and adjust the formula every year to compensate, or is it a more straightforward manipulation of light and color?

Regardless, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Interview with a Seven-Year-Old

A few years ago, I borrowed an idea from Susan, the blogger behind theskyislaughingand interviewed the then Four-Year-Old about her current crop of likes, dislikes, and toys. Susan, interviews her daughter Selam every year.

I haven’t been as faithful about conducting the interviews, although I wish I had. Still, no time like the present for a check-in. Right?

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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:

Weasel photographed riding on a woodpecker’s back
(BBC)

(Photo: Martin Le-May)

(Photo: Martin Le-May)

Martin Le-May’s photograph of a weasel riding on a woodpecker’s back flew across my Facebook feed this week, captivating every seven-going-on-eight-year-old in its path.

A sampling of this week’s books:

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  • Dragons: Truth, Myth, and Legends by David Passes. “It’s my second time checking this one out, Mommyo.”
  • Furlie Cat by Berniece Freschet. Furlie is afraid of nearly everything. Including showing fear. So he becomes a bully. The plan works until the night he gets stuck in a tree.
  • Stick Dog by Tom Watson. Stick Dog goes on an epic quest for a hamburger. I’m guessing I have Stick Dog to thank for the fact that The Seven-Year-Old finally ate a hamburger without complaining this week.
  • Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog by Tom Watson. Dear Stick Dog, could you go on an epic quest for a pear next week? The Seven-Year-Old is already sold on hot dogs.

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Wordless Wednesday: When will the world look like this again?

 

(Photo: Michael Howell)

(Photo: Michael Howell)

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