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

This summer, The Nine-Year-Old has been participating in Rahm’s Readers. It’s not her first summer reading program, by a long shot, but it’s a particularly enticing one. In exchange for reading for 500 minutes, going to one of Chicago’s museums*, and completing one building/science-y/crafty project this summer, The Nine-Year-Old received two plastic bags full of free books targeted to her grade level and a canvas tote to carry them around in. 

Her books this week have all come from her Rahm’s Readers free book stash. They are a smart mix of books she’d heard of, like Smile by Raina Telgemeier, books she’s excited to have found, like Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld (“You would love Detectives in Togas, Mommyo!”), and books on topics most kids would be interested in, like pirates and do-it-yourself science experiments. Some of the books are brand new, while others are used library books, complete with the fancy library book covers. Watching The Nine-Year-Old plow through her treasure trove, it was hard to tell which type she liked more. 

The program is being run out of public libraries across the city. If you’re in Chicago, I encourage you to check it out. 

*Don’t forget: Most local libraries have free passes to area museums available for check out as well. 

Your renovation update: 
Whole lot of painting, grouting, and tiling going on. Next up: lighting, cabinets, and assorted plumbing fixtures. I am inching ever closer to getting my office (and new-and-improved bathroom) back.

(Photo: Shala Howell)


See you next week!

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Wordless Wednesday: The 9YO goes to the beach

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“Do cats eat newts?”

Kaiser’s spotted newt. (Image: Dr. Richard Bartlett via Wikipedia)


The answer to this question, like so many cat-related questions, is yes they probably will, but they really shouldn’t. (You shouldn’t either, by the way.) 

Newts come installed with a skin toxin called tetrodotoxin, designed to keep predators from eating them. Some newts, like the rough-skinned newt, are toxic enough that simply handling them can be a problem. Other newts, like the fire-bellied newt, can be handled safely (as long as you don’t have an open sore on your hand or forget to wash your hands before touching your mouth or eyes afterwards). 

Most of the time, if a predator tries to eat a newt, it will spit it out right away because the skin toxin makes the newt taste so bad. But if that predator swallows the newt anyway, the toxins will either give that predator terrible indigestion, or worst case, kill it. 

So, if you have reason to believe that your cat, dog, child, or excessively hungry adult friend has licked, snacked on, or swallowed a newt, you need to get them medical attention immediately. 

The Nine-Year-Old, plaintively: “So I can’t get a newt for a pet either?” 

Mommyo, hard-heartedly: “Nope.”

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

The danger of allowing your Nine-Year-Old to read Terry Pratchett is that her peals of laughter will remind you just how very much you enjoy reading Terry Pratchett yourself. This would not be quite so terrible to endure if my entire Pratchett library wasn’t marooned behind dusty plastic sheeting, but since it is, I’ve been dealing with some serious book envy this week. 

In other news, our Mommyo-Daugther book club is going swimmingly. This week, we read The Secret Garden.  I hadn’t read The Secret Garden since I was a child, and it was wonderful reading it in sync with The Nine-Year-Old. I can see why it’s been her favorite book for 12 months now. 

It certainly opened some parenting doors for me. I deeply appreciated the chance to talk with The Nine-Year-Old about how Mary’s grouchiness and how her instinctive disdain for others complicated her social relationships without having to point the finger to specific behaviors in The Nine-Year-Old. I don’t know where your Nine-Year-Old is, but mine is really working hard lately on figuring out this friendship thing, and like many people, she tends to get a bit defensive when criticized.   

Having an objective way to approach the subject has been really helpful. I highly recommend it. 

In fact, I probably ought to pick another slyly improving book for this week, but given the peals of laughter emanating from our Very Large Red Reading Couch, I think I’m going to request that next week’s Reading Lunch feature a Terry Pratchett book instead.

Your weekly construction update:   

Last week, they upgraded the electrical, ran the behind-the-walls/floor plumbing, waterproofed the shower, and put up the drywall. This week there’s painting and tiling going on. Still to come: above the surface plumbing features, lighting, and cabinetry. The bathroom’s taking shape!

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Wordless Wednesday: Courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum 

From the archives, but seasonally appropriate anyway. It’s a summer miracle!

Courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA. (Photo: Shala Howell)

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If you take your Nine-Year-Old to the Shedd Aquarium…

She’ll ask you to take a picture of her by the growth chart, and you will be shocked to discover that your baby is now almost 4 and a half feet tall. 

She’s not even standing up straight. I think she’s trying to spare me the shock of it. (Photo: Shala Howell)


She’ll try to distract you from marveling over her own size by saying the words “Look, Mommyo, these spiders are as big as cats.” And then she will engage you in a spirited discussion about whether or not the word “tiger” belongs in a spider’s name. 

You will both be relieved to finally reach the tanks full of fish, where you will finally remember that you are carrying a camera.

Photo: Shala Howell


There will be lots of pausing as The Nine-Year-Old takes extensive notes. She doesn’t want to forget any of it. Even the bits you’re much happier forgetting all about. Like the fact that there are spiders in the Amazon with “tiger” in their name. 

But finally she’ll move on to the Amphibians exhibit, where you will both marvel at brightly colored itty-bitty frogs…

The yellow frog is actually a Harlequin frog. The others are the dart frogs (Photo: Shala Howell)

Solomon Island leaf frogs…

Solomon Island leaf frog. While writing this post, I just realized for the first time that there are two frogs in this picture. That’s some great camouflage! (Photo: Shala Howell)


Giant toads…

Cane toad. Nine-year-old provided for comparison purposes. (Photo: Shala Howell)


And your first newt…

So that’s a newt! (Photo: Shala Howell)


Well, Mommyo’s first newt. The Nine-Year-Old saw one as a mere Five-Year-Old on a nature hike at Moosehill.   

They’re so cute The Nine-Year-Old wants to adopt one. I’m sure you know where this post is going. 

The Nine-Year-Old, made wary by her previous experience keeping crickets in a house full of cat, “Mommyo, do cats eat newts?” 

That, my dear, is a Caterpickle for another day. Fortunately, because all these photos are about to break my iPad. 

Only two more weeks until I can use a real computer again. 

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The (then) Eight-Year-Old talks with Uncle Phil

Uncle Phil: “Have you ever seen magnesium burn?”

The (then) Eight-Year-Old, sadly: “No. We don’t have that kind of science teacher.”

Fortunately, she does have (carefully supervised) access to YouTube. Because there’s no way we’re trying this at home, Uncle Phil.

Still from Everything Apple Pro's YouTube video "5 lb of magnesium vs iPhone 6" (EverythingApplePro)

Still from EverythingApplePro’s YouTube video “5 lbs of magnesium vs iPhone 6” (EverythingApplePro)

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Your Friday Construction Update: Gaslights

This week, while swapping out the cloth-bound electrical wiring in our new bathroom for something a bit newer, my contractor paused just long enough to show me this: 

Remnants of a long-ago gas light. (Photo: Shala Howell)


That copper-ish colored pipe sticking out of our bathroom ceiling is a gas line (long since disconnected). It would have powered the main light in the bathroom. 

Apparently our condo was originally built with gas lights. When they swapped out the gas lighting for electrical wiring back in the day, they simply disconnected the gas and left the pipes in place. Pretty cool. 
As my contractor said, “Can you imagine installing electrical wiring right next to that?”

Books & such

We’re still reading, although construction news has taken over all the space I would have given to books this week. I finished up the first Percy Jackson series this week, and showed up for our weekly book lunch only to find that The Nine-Year-Old had zoomed ahead of me to Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero (the first book of the second Percy Jackson series). The Nine-Year-Old made a valiant effort not to pepper our book conversations with spoilers. I wish you could have seen her face when she realized that she had accidentally let an important plot point slip. 

My reading assignment from The Nine-Year-Old for this week is The Secret Garden. She is appalled that I can’t remember how the story ends.  She herself has moved on to Septimus Heap

Enjoy your weekend. 

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Wordless Wednesday: View from the Shedd

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Happy 4th of July!

Statue of George Washington in the Boston Public Garden. (Photo: Michael Howell)

Statue of George Washington in the Boston Public Garden. (Photo: Michael Howell)

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