Caterpickles Cleans House

Iceland, from the NASA Visible Earth image gal...

Iceland, seen from space (Source: NASA Visible Earth Image Gallery)

The Four-Year-Old has been asking questions much more quickly than I can research and answer them. At the moment, my pending questions queue has some 115 questions in it. So in an effort to tame the beast a bit, I’m going to break with my one primary question per Caterpickle routine and deal with several unrelated questions at once.

1. “Why doesn’t our cat glow in the dark?”

Because she wasn’t born with the glow-in-the-dark jellyfish gene.

2. “Can we give it to her?”


3. “How many shots do I need to go to Iceland?”

None. (The Four-Year-Old is up-to-date on her vaccinations, much to her chagrin.)

4. “Are there dinosaur fossils in Iceland?”


5. “Why not?”

Because the rocks that make up Iceland aren’t old enough. The oldest rocks in Iceland date back to the Miocene epoch (5.3 million – 23 million years ago), a good 40 million years after dinosaurs had disappeared from Earth.

Figure 1: The Four-Year-Old’s Fossil ROI to Shots Received Ratio

As a bonus, the rocks in Iceland are generally the wrong type. Most are igneous rocks formed by volcanic eruptions. Only 10-15% of them are sedimentary rocks–the kind that can contain fossils.

For those of you keeping track, this means that Iceland fails The Four-Year-Old’s Dinosaur Fossil ROI Per Shot Received calculation (see Figure 1). Guess we won’t be going there this year.

6. “How old is Rudolph?”

According to Wikipedia, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appeared in a 1939 story written by Robert L. May. Which means Rudolph will be 72 this year.

Whew! Only 109 questions left to go.

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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13 Responses to Caterpickles Cleans House

  1. David Bowles says:

    So when did Olive first appear?


    • shalahowell says:

      Oh what a fabulous question! Naturally I thought at first you were talking about Rudolph’s little girlfriend in the Christmas special I watched as a kid. But no, her name turns out to be Clarice.

      But of course, as my librarian kindly informed me when I asked her for help this morning, you’re talking about Olive, The Other Reindeer, who first appeared in book form in 1997 in the story by Vivian Walsh , and whose story was later adapted for TV (first airing on Fox in 1999).

      Great question. Perhaps my favorite thing about your comment is that in reading up on the history of the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer story, I learned that Robert May wrote Rudolph’s story in response to a question from his 4 year old daughter. (Source: Ace Collins’ Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas.)


  2. chris says:

    Then I guess you are never going to need readers to send in questions… like “how do you trim a cactus?” it turns out, you can trim a cactus (leading to a whole day of having to hear ” mommy you are wrong”) and there are some specific tools that you can purchase for this task. my personal favorite – the cactus whacker tool pack.


    • shalahowell says:

      Actually, I love reader questions. Thanks to them I’ve learned that fossils are only considered fossils if they are at least 10,000 years old and all about Olive the other Reindeer. So send in the questions from your boys. I know they’ve got lots. Well, one of them might.


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