My first documented evidence that someone who doesn’t know me read my book came in via Twitter this week.
My first documented evidence that someone who doesn’t know me read my book came in via Twitter this week.
I can tell my daughter is growing up because she’s starting to experience a bit of emotional turbulence again. She knows we love her regardless, but sometimes she’s not sure about our cat, Canelo. He is not always patient with her erratic moods.
One afternoon after a rough day at school, The Ten-Year-Old tried to calm herself down by picking Canelo up for a hug. He was having none of it.
The Ten-Year-Old was disappointed when Canelo ran off instead of giving her the reassuring head-bonk she was looking for, but as always, her curiosity won out. “Mommyo, can cats smell stress?”
I didn’t know.
Can cats even tell when we’re stressed?
Everyone from Catster to the BBC agrees that cats can tell when their owners are going through periods of stress. Some even go so far as to say that our own stress may have a detrimental effect upon our cat’s health. But very few put forth any sort of explanation for why this is true.
In her article for the BBC, Robin Wylie speculates that over time cats become attuned to their owners’ emotional gestures. They connect our smiles with positive rewards–happy owners are more likely to spoil their cats with treats and snuggles. As evidence for this, Wylie points to an admittedly small study of 12 cats and their owners led by Moriah Galvan and Jennifer Vonk of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Published in the January 2016 issue of Animal Cognition, the study found that while cats didn’t seem as attuned to human emotions as dogs, cats were more likely to want to be near their owners when those owners smiled, and to avoid them when they frowned.
Another earlier study, led by Dr. Isabella Merola from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Science in the UK, tested the reactions of 24 cats when placed in a room with their owner and a strange, anxiety-provoking object — in this case, an electric fan to which plastic green ribbons had been tied. The study found that the cats looked at their owner’s faces while evaluating how to react to the fan. Cats paired with calm, smiling owners appeared less anxious about the fan, although none of the cats approached it.
These studies seem to show that cats pay attention to our facial expressions, but are our faces really the main source of information for our cats?
Back in the day when I had two cats, Mulberry would scratch and hiss at Cozy when he came home from the vet. When I asked my vet about it, he told me that Mulberry was reacting to the fact that Cozy smelled wrong. Things would go back to normal, he told me, once Cozy smelled like himself again. And they did.
Turns out, cats have 200 million scent receptors in their noses, making their sense of smell by far their most important source of information.
If cats are so sensitive to smell, it seems likely that they may be reacting to the scent of our stress, and not just the facial expression of it.
So, does human stress have a smell?
According to the writers at Healthy Women, three things make a human sweat: heat, exercise, and stress. What’s interesting about this is that the mechanism for producing sweat under stressful conditions is different from the mechanism that produces sweat in reaction to heat or exercise.
Sweat from heat and activity is produced by the eccrine glands, which are located all over our body. They produce a thinner, typically odorless, sweat designed to help us cool down.
Sweat from stress originates in the apocrine glands in our armpits. Sweat created in the apocrine glands is thicker and full of fat and proteins. The bacteria on our skin love to feast on apocrine sweat, breaking it down into fatty acids and ammonia. That process is why armpit sweat smells so much worse than exercise- or heat-induced sweat.
George Preti, Ph.D. is an organic chemist who researches the origin of human odors at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. In an interview with Men’s Health writer Alisa Hrustic, Preti pointed out that animals also emit an odor when they are stressed. He thinks that odor may act as a warning to their peers that something dangerous is happening.
If we humans with our inferior noses can smell the difference between heat- or exercise sweat and the funky stuff we sweat in our armpits while stressed, I have no doubt our cats can as well.
Oh my goodness, it feels like forever since I’ve done one of these. I may have failed to tell you about The Ten-Year-Old’s reading life, but that life has been rich and full of books nonetheless.
Let’s see if I can remember how this works.
Planet Tad by Tim Carvell
What the book’s about: Written by a former head writer for The Daily Show, Planet Tad describes twelve-year-old Tad’s seventh grade career, one hilarious blog entry at a time.
Will Tad grow a mustache? Get girls to notice him? Survive his summer as a hot dog? Ever learn not to feed his dog nachos? You’ll have to read his blog to find out.
Why The Ten-Year-Old likes it: “It’s like a gateway into his emotions.”
Who would like this book: People who like to laugh, as well as middle schoolers trying to figure out how other people their age deal with their surging emotions.
Dying to Meet You (43 Old Cemetery Road) by Kate Klise and Sarah Klise
What the book’s about: Former best-selling writer Ignatius B. Grumply moves into the old house at 43 Old Cemetery Road hoping to find a cure for his decades-long case of writer’s block. Instead, he discovers an abandoned eleven-year-old named Seymour, his cat Shadow, and a ghost named Olive, who is outstandingly upset about the fact that she never managed to publish her own set of children’s stories.
Why The Ten-Year-Old likes it: “What makes the storyline so interesting is that this grumpy old author didn’t have emotions. He shut them off, and when he lost his emotions he lost his ability to tell stories.”
Who would like this book: Readers who like their ghosts to be more like Caspar than The Shining. Reluctant readers may be charmed by the fast-paced narrative and the liberal use of drawings, newspaper clippings, and manuscript entries to tell the story.
I can tell my daughter’s growing up because her emotions have been all over the map lately, in a way I haven’t seen since she was a toddler. I can’t help but wonder if she’s been reading these books because she’s trying to sort out what this emotional turbulence means and how she can get a handle on it before it whirls out of control.
Of course, when I asked her, she denied it. “I don’t try to figure out the moral of the books I read, Mommyo. It’s one of the reasons I get into so much trouble with my teachers.”
We are missing our friends and family in Chicago today, so thought I’d post this picture from our last visit to the Field Museum this past summer.
While we were at lunch last week, The Ten-Year-Old’s mind turned to fractions, as fifth grade minds are prone to do. She had learned in school that the top number in a fraction is called a numerator, while the bottom number is the denominator, but the line in the middle didn’t seem to have a special name.
That was disappointing.
“Mommyo,” she asked between bites of grilled cheese. “What’s the line in a fraction called?”
This was easy.
“Division bar,” I said.
“Fraction bar,” Daddyo said at the same time.
Gran chimed in with something that started with v, but I didn’t catch it.
So I decided to look it up. Turns out that little line has lots of names. People frequently refer to it as the:
What’s a vinculum?
I had never heard of vinculums before, so I did a little research on them. Merriam-Webster defines a vinculum as
a straight horizontal mark placed over two or more members of a compound mathematical expression and equivalent to parentheses or brackets about them
Put more simply, a vinculum is a horizontal line placed over a group of math terms to show that they are related to one another.
Even simplified that definition sounds really broad, and like vinculums might appear in lots of other places besides fractions.
Where else can you find vinculums?
Mathematicians use vinculums to designate:
I know many of you like to use the Thanksgiving weekend to finish your holiday shopping, so I thought — why not have a Black Friday sale? Now through Cyber Monday, you can get my new book, What’s That, Mom?, for 20% off (Amazon only).
Targeted to parents of kids ages 3-10 who want to nurture their children’s curiosity about art, What’s That, Mom? makes a great gift for parents and caretakers on your holiday shopping list. Hurry! Sale ends Monday.
In other news, I’m churning through my NaNoWriMo project at a healthy clip (42,000 words so far — more or less), and look forward to resuming regular blogging on December 1.
I hope the rest of your holiday weekend proves to be a peaceful one.
No, seriously. We still have flowers here.
Posting may be erratic for a bit, due to unpacking + NaNoWriMo + Thanksgiving (we’re hosting this year, so unpacking feels both urgent and important).
Remaining Box Count:
(Somebody got some serious help from her family this week.)
Last week, as I was sitting down for a bit of pre-dinner reading, I had what I thought was a bout of dizziness. Then one of my books toppled over, and I figured out that what was actually rocking me in my chair was my first large-enough-to-be-felt California earthquake. (Little quakes happen all the time — QuakeFeed tells me that there have been four earthquakes magnitude 1.7 or smaller within five miles of my house in the past four days. But most people only feel the magnitude 2.5 and bigger ones.)
That, combined with the wildfires raging in Northern California and the news out of Puerto Rico, has me thinking about disaster preparedness.
Moving is the perfect time to revisit your disaster planning
When we moved to Chicago in 2013, my husband set up a set of emergency backpacks and supplies based on the most common types of natural disasters in the Midwest (tornadoes, maybe snow, sometimes floods). Here in California, the disasters feel more apocalyptic (fast-moving wildfires and potentially massive earthquakes), so we wanted to rethink our emergency supplies accordingly.
Settling into a new home is a wonderful time to update your emergency bags. After all, when you’re unpacking boxes by the hundreds already, what’s the harm in sorting through a few more?
Four years ago, my husband worked mostly on hunches when setting up our bug-out bags, but this time we’ve been using the Department of Homeland Security’s emergency preparedness website. I don’t know if you’ve been to Ready.gov lately, but it’s been really helpful for us.
Ready.gov keeps you focused on the essentials
Ready.gov covers the basics of surviving various natural disasters, such as tornadoes, wildfires, and earthquakes, as well as man-made catastrophes such as active shooter situations, bioterrorism, and cybersecurity attacks.
Different types of emergencies require different survival strategies, so Ready.gov provides a handy worksheet to help parents think through the various possibilities and identify options that will work given their individual circumstances.
Elsewhere on the site, you’ll find instructions for building an emergency kit for your home, workplace, and car; making a plan to find shelter in an emergency; identifying an evacuation route; and figuring out how your family will communicate if they become separated.
Don’t wait for the tornado warning. Get the basics in place now.
There’s a lot to sort through when it comes to disaster planning, which is why it’s important to begin working on it before disaster strikes.
And, as I’ve learned this week, once you think the planning is done, it’s pretty important to review your plans and supplies every so often to make sure the plans are still relevant and the batteries, food, and first aid supplies are still fresh. Oh, and that the kids’ clothes still fit the kid in question. Ahem.
I’m about halfway through the process. The bug-out bags are mostly built, but I’ve got some of the document preservation and evacuation planning work still to go. Even though I’m not done, it’s been oddly liberating to work on disaster planning this week.
I had thought that disaster planning would cause a string of sleepless, anxiety-laden nights in which I dwelled on all the things over which I have no control. But it’s turned out to be quite liberating. I am much more comfortable going about my day-to-day life, knowing that if disaster strikes, my family will have a plan and (hopefully) a set of well-staged supplies to see us through.
Remaining Box Count: