Wordless Wednesday: Some days, you just need to pet a gerbil

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

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Time for Saturn’s rings to get their close-up

Icy debris makes up the fine lines and striping in Saturn's B Ring. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Tech/Science Space Institute)

Icy debris makes up the fine lines and striping in Saturn’s outer B Ring. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

In case you missed it, NASA this week released an amazing crop of close-up photos of Saturn’s icy rings. The photos come courtesy of the Cassini mission, which was launched in 1997 as a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. Cassini reached Saturn in 2004, and has been sending back a rich stream of photos and data about the beringed planet ever since.

In addition to sending back these highly detailed images of Saturn’s rings, Cassini has made several remarkable discoveries about Saturn’s moons, including the presence of a global ocean on Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan.

Cassini’s final series of passes around Saturn will begin in April 2017, when Cassini will shift its orbit from one that grazes the outer edge of Saturn’s rings to one that dives between those rings and the planet’s surface. When its mission is complete, Cassini will sink into Saturn’s atmosphere and shut down.

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

Cobblestone from Cricket Media

This picture from this month's issue of Cobblestone nearly broke my brain with its awesomeness. It really doesn't look like that cargo ship should be able to make that turn, but since its remains aren't clogging up the Chicago River today (as far as I know), I guess it must have. (Photo: Cobblestone)

This picture from this month’s issue of Cobblestone nearly broke my brain. It really doesn’t look like that cargo ship should be able to make that turn, but since its remains aren’t clogging up the Chicago River today (as far as I know), I guess it must have. (Photo: Cobblestone)

What the book’s about: 
  Cobblestone is an American history magazine geared to children. This month’s issue explores Chicago’s history and is packed with fascinating tidbits that have already sparked more than one intriguing dinnertime conversation.

Why we think you’ll like it: This is a magazine that sparks conversations between kids and their parents. Reading the feature on the Great Migration of 1919 opened up a fascinating conversation about demographics and settlement patterns and how they are still shaping cities all these years later.  Other articles in the issue explore the Columbian Exposition of 1893, the labor wars of 1877, the Chicago Fire of 1871, and of course, the Chicago White Stockings, who began playing National League Baseball in 1870 and would go on to win the World Series in 2016.

(The Nine-Year-Old tricked me with that little bit of trivia yesterday afternoon, btw. When she asked me if if I knew which Chicago baseball team used to be called the White Stockings, I said the White Sox. But no. It was the Cubs.)

If you’re looking for a history magazine that you and your children will both enjoy, give Cobblestone a try. 

The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

smell-of-old-lady-perfumeWhat the book’s about: 
I should tell you up front that The Nine-Year-Old is really struggling with this book, and hasn’t actually finished it yet. It opens with the father having a stroke and the grandmother moving in to help the family pick up the pieces. The grandmother’s perfume slowly takes over the house, and is intricately connected in Claudia’s mind with the smell of sorrow and loss. Hence the title.

The Nine-Year-Old has no choice but to finish the book, however, as her school has named it one of several books all fourth graders are required to read this year. She’s gamely making her way through it, but I can tell it’s a bit of a struggle.

But that’s ok. I personally think it’s wonderful that her school is having her read it, as it is broadening her experience base and helping her develop empathy for others in more difficult situations. That said, I think my daughter would have had an easier time with this book if she and I were reading it together, so my advice for parents is to read this one along with your child, or at the very least, make yourself available to talk about it with them.

The Nine-Year-Old’s advice for kids thinking of picking this book up: “Don’t read it while your dad is out of town.”

Daddyo’s back now (yay!), so hopefully she’ll be able to finish this up this weekend.

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Throwback Thursday: Remember the Snoring Dormouse?

Still from the snoring dormouse video on YouTube. (Video: Snoring Dormouse)

Still from the snoring dormouse video on YouTube. (Video: Snoring Dormouse)

After hitting my Picturing Myself Somewhere Else winter milestone yesterday, I was curious to see where I was in my emotional winter journey at roughly this same point in 2012.

According to David Epstein at Boston.com, the winter of 2011-2012 was the 4th least snowy and the 2nd warmest since records began being kept in 1872. Only 7.7 inches of snow fell during the meteorological winter months (December 2011, January 2012, and February 2012).  The average temperature that winter was a balmy 37.2°F.

Not surprisingly, I was also doing pretty well at this point in 2012, happily posting links to videos of snoring dormice on YouTube. In fairness, though, that guy’s still pretty cute.

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Wordless Wednesday: Places I’m not, Hawaii Edition


Photo: Michael Howell

In related news, my emotional journey through winter is progressing nicely. This week, I hit the Picturing Myself Somewhere Else milestone right on schedule.

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“What is heavy water?”

Yesterday, The Nine-Year-Old came home from science class bearing wild tales of hydrogen atoms with extra neutrons in them. I had forgotten that this was possible. It made me wonder if those extra neutrons were what made up the heavy water that I vaguely remembered was an important component of certain types of nuclear reactors. So I asked Dr. Google, Ph.D.

The short answer is yes. Heavy water is water in which one or more of the regular hydrogen atoms in the water molecule has been replaced with a heavier hydrogen isotope called deuterium.

In case you, like me, need a refresher on what all that means, please read on.

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

Lunchbox and the Aliens by Bryan W. Fields

lunchbox-and-aliensTucked in amongst all the Warriors books from The Nine-Year-Old’s babysitter was this surprising little gem by Bryan W. Fields. Lunchbox is your average basset hound and knows it — or maybe not. Lunchbox doesn’t really think about much at all, until he is abducted by aliens and starts wondering about all sorts of things that basset hounds don’t normally think about. Like how he suddenly knows exactly how to break into the place where the food is kept, and why he knows so much about these weird creatures he’s started hanging around with. Lunchbox even wonders why it is that he knows that he’s wondering about anything at all.

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you’ll like it: “It’s crazy. I’ve been laughing like two times a page in my head. That would probably wake the neighbors up if I laughed out loud. That’s one nutty basset hound.”

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett

presidenttaftWhat the book’s about: George Washington led an army into battle. Abe Lincoln saved the Union. According to this book, President Taft got stuck in the bath. Based on rumors of an actual historical incident, Barnett’s book imagines the chaos that must have followed the news that the President had gotten into the bathtub and couldn’t climb out again. It’s a humorous look at a little-known Presidential anecdote, and a subtle reminder to children that embarrassing things happen even to very powerful people.

What the Nine-Year-Old learned from reading this book:

The Nine-Year-Old's notes on Taft. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old’s notes on Taft. (Photo: Shala Howell)


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Throwback Thursday: “Did kittens get their name in Britain?”

This week’s Throwback Thursday post was originally published on April 12, 2012, when The Nine-Year-Old was only five.

Sometime last year, The Five-Year-Old discovered the highly informative children’s book series “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That.” The books relay all kinds of fun facts about the natural world in a Seussian rhyme scheme. The lively presentation has convinced The Five-Year-Old that words that rhyme have some special connection, if only she can find it.

This hypothesis has made for a fun project. The past few weeks have been filled with all sorts of marvelously poetic discoveries, such as the fact that “worms squirm”, “mice get lice,” and my personal favorite, “old cats sleep on furry mats!”

Recently, The Five-Year-Old realized that kitten rhymes with Britain. So it was only natural for her to wonder, “Mommyo, did kittens get their name in Britain?”

After consulting our copy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, I told The Five-Year-Old that the word kitten comes from the Latin cattus.

The Five-Year-Old, laughing: “Cattus? That’s silly.”

Anyway, a very long time ago, the French…

The Five-Year-Old: “How long ago, Mommyo?”

Sometime before the Middle Ages…

The Five-Year-Old: “What’s that?”

At least 600 years ago, the French took the Latin word for cat (cattus) and turned it into the French word for cat (chat).

The Five-Year-Old, patiently: “I’m talking about kittens, Mommyo.”

And because kittens are small cats, the French made a small word, kiton, to talk about them.

The Five-Year-Old, dubiously: “That word’s bigger.”

So I explained that when I said small word, I meant a nickname.

The Five-Year-Old, reasonably: “Can you just say nickname all the time?”

OK. So anyway, the folks who lived in Britain in the Middle Ages — 600 years ago — heard the French word kiton, and liked it enough to start using it themselves. At first, the British said kitoun….

The Five-Year-Old, giggly: “Why?”

I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t hear it right the first time. Or maybe, like me, their French accent is terrible. Regardless, by the 14th century the Middle English word kitoun became our word kitten.

The Five-Year-Old, suspiciously: “Does Daddyo know this?”

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(almost) Wordless Wednesday: Canelo picks his favorite book

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

When my daughter’s babysitter cleaned out her bookshelf, she very kindly offered The Nine-Year-Old the pick of her collection — including an astounding number of Warriors books by Erin Hunter. (Best babysitter ever!)

Faced with such riches, The Nine-Year-Old is having trouble deciding which book to read first. Canelo, on the other hand, knows exactly where The Nine-Year-Old should start. He’s had his paw, chin, tail, or ears casually resting on Secrets of the Clan all day.

Yes, Canelo, I did notice that that cat looks exactly like you.

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

If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island by Ellen Levine

ellisislandWhat the book’s about:   Ellen Levine’s book talks about what it was like for people who immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1914. Although the title implies that the book talks mostly about what happened to immigrants who had their names changed at the border (whether by choice or by imposition), Levine actually covers much more than that. Levine breaks down the process of immigration through Ellis Island into one or two page chunks that cover issues like medical exams, literacy tests, what happened if/when people were detained, and the situations in which families were allowed to stay together or broken up.  

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you’ll like it: “The one-sentence stories about people who had their names changed and why are really interesting. One guy changed his name from SomethingSomethingNelson* to just Nelson because he was afraid the longer version would be too hard for Americans to say and so they wouldn’t let him into America at all.” (*I would like to note for the record that in telling me this story The Nine-Year-Old said the man’s real name, not SomethingSomethingNelson, but I didn’t write the name down at the time and now I can’t remember what that original name was.)

The Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater

catwhiskeredgirlWhat the book’s about: Big Audrey has cat whiskers and cat eyes (sort of). She’s heard a rumor that there’s another cat-whiskered cat-eyed girl somewhere, so she says goodbye to her friends in Los Angeles and sets off on a road trip with a bongo-playing Marlon Brando to track down her cat-whiskered doppelgänger. Will Big Audrey find the answers she seeks in that international city of mystery, Poughkeepsie, New York?

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you should pick it up: “Daniel Pinkwater is a really funny writer. This book is amazing. I’d rate it six stars if I could.”

Come find us on Goodreads:

The Caterpickles Goodreads page is coming along swimmingly. I haven’t shelved quite as many books this week as I had hoped, but there are still some 130 or so up there to browse through.

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