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

Summer is in full force here at Caterpickles Central, and someone’s reading list this week reflects it. See if you can figure out The Eleven-Year-Old’s summer goals from the books stacked on her desk.

How to Be a Wildflower by Katie Daisy

What the book is about: 

Artist Katie Daisy’s field guide to nature, How to be a Wildflower, encourages readers to get outside and into nature. Recipes, a place to press flowers, meditations, and tidbits from natural history share space with Daisy’s own paintings.

There’s plenty to ponder, wander through, and savor about life outside, and Daisy’s How to be a Wildflower provides a road map for doing it.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old likes it: “It’s a very fun read full of tips on getting out and into nature more. Great for summer.”

How to Keep Dinosaurs by Robert Mash

What the book is about: 

When she hasn’t been outside looking for flowers to press between the pages of How to be a Wildflower, The Eleven-Year-Old has been tucked up on the couch learning everything she can about the care and feeding of dinosaurs.

How to Keep Dinosaurs by Robert Mash is a treasure trove of dinosaur care facts. Feeding, breeding, housing, availability, weight, territory, and size are all covered, of course.

The Eleven-Year-Old, however, appears much more interested in a dinosaur’s ability to adapt to domestic life. Which breeds get along with children? Which breeds eat them? Exactly how large of a shovel do you need to clean up after your velociraptor? Your T. Rex?

Which dinosaurs adapt well to life in an average household, which are better suited for zoos, and which really should remain free and in the wild? There’s even a section for the aspiring dinosaur farmer on keeping dinosaurs for their meat and eggs.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old likes it: “It’s a hilarious take on what might happen if dinosaurs coexisted with modern humans.”

Uh-huh. Sure. I’m certain our cat has nothing to worry about.

Related Links:

Posted in Reading, Reviews: Books, What the 11YO is reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wordless Wednesday: The buttons of summer

Photo: Michael Howell

Related Links: 

Posted in Can we do that sometime?, Crafts, Wordless Wednesday | 1 Comment

“There’s a mouse in my pool. Is it time to freak out?”

The house we’re renting in California comes equipped with a pool. It’s been too cold to swim in it so far, but it has still been a source of lots of excitement. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard have regular date mornings in it.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard taking their morning constitutional in the backyard pool. Forgive the graininess. I had to take the photo from a distance through the pool fence so as not to disturb them.
(Photo: Shala Howell)

This morning when I came downstairs for the necessary cup of coffee, I spied a bedraggled brown lump floating on the surface of the pool. I’ll spare you the picture of that, and simply say that on closer inspection, it proved to be a dead mouse.

Bummer. (Also, eww…)

Which brings us to today’s question: “There’s a dead mouse in the pool. Is it time to freak out?”

The 30-second response (“tl;dr” )

Apparently the answer is no. I do not need to swear off swimming forever.

According to the CDC, most dead animals found in pools do not pose a health risk to humans. The germs those animals carry mostly affect their own species. And most of the germs that can affect humans are killed off within a few minutes’ exposure to chlorine. (The important exception to this rule are raccoons, dead calves, and lambs, which I’ll discuss briefly at the end of this post.)

Still, the fact that the CDC maintains a page on how to disinfect your pool after finding a dead animal in it tells me two things:

  1. It’s fairly common for wild animals like skunks, birds, mice, gophers, rats, snakes, frogs, and bats to drown in pools.
  2. It’s pretty important to clean your pool properly after.

In the 3-minute answer, I’ll tell you how to do that.

The 3-minute answer (or, How to disinfect your pool after a small animal dies in it)

According to the CDC, here’s what you’ll need to do if you find a dead animal in your pool.


  • Disposable gloves
  • Net or bucket
  • Two plastic garbage bags
  • Pool chemicals, including chlorine


  1. Close the pool to swimmers.
  2. Put on the disposable gloves.
  3. Remove the dead animal from the pool using the net or bucket.
  4. Double-bag the animal in plastic garbage bags.
  5. Clean off any debris or dirt from the item used to remove the dead animal, and dispose of it in the plastic garbage bags.
  6. Remove your gloves and place them in the garbage bags.
  7. Close the garbage bags and place them in a sealed trash can to keep wild animals away from the dead animal.
  8. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately.
  9. Disinfect the pool by:
    • Raising or maintaining the free chlorine concentration at 2 parts per million (ppm) for at least 30 minutes
    • Maintaining a pH level of 7.5 or less for at least 30 minutes
    • Raising or maintaining the pool temperature at 77°F (25°C) or higher
  10. Confirm that the pool’s filtration system is working properly during this time.
  11. Disinfect the item used to remove the dead animal by immersing it in the pool during the 30-minute disinfection time.

The very important exception to this rule: Dead calves, lambs, and raccoons

If you find a dead calf, lamb, or raccoon in your pool, it is perfectly reasonable to freak out. You will need help dealing with the aftermath of this incident, because the germs and worms those guys carry cannot be dealt with by simply increasing the chlorine levels in the pool.

Calves and lambs

Pre-weaned calves and lambs are often infected with Cryptosporidium, a chlorine-tolerant parasite that can infect humans, resulting in a nasty bout of diarrhea that can last anywhere from 1 – 4 weeks in humans with healthy immune systems. You do not want this.

Unfortunately, since the parasite is protecting by an outer shell, it is remarkably resistant to chlorine. So if you find a dead calf or lamb in your pool, you will need to call your local health department for advice. Disinfecting a pool after a calf or lamb dies in it requires a hyperchlorination protocol that most residential pool owners can’t do on their own.


Raccoons can be infected with a worm called Baylisascaris procyonis. Typically spread through the raccoon feces, the worm itself is quite chlorine-resistant, and can infect humans, especially children, causing severe neurologic illness. You don’t want this either.

So, if you find a dead raccoon or raccoon feces around your pool, you will need to have Animal Control or your local health department test the feces or raccoon for the worm. If the test comes back positive, then you will need to either filter your pool for 24 hours or drain the pool, clean it, and then refill it.  The CDC website provides instructions for testing the raccoon remnants and cleaning the pool after.

Related Links: 


Posted in Health, Nature | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Summer? Is that really you?

Photo: Shala Howell

Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

You’re invited to my first official book event!

I’m headed back to Dedham, Massachusetts for my first book signing on Saturday June 16th from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., and I couldn’t be more excited about it!

Event Details


  • My first book signing! It’s for What’s That, Mom?: How to use public art to engage your children with the world around them… without being an artist yourself.
  • The debut of my new public art journal, What’s That, Mom?: Field Notes from Your Encounters with Public Art out in the Wild. 

Mother Brook Art Center’s 5th Anniversary Festival
Mother Brook Arts & Community Center
123 High Street, Dedham, MA 02026

Saturday, June 16th from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (I’ll be there all day.)

My Hosts:
The Blue Bunny Bookstore (Dedham, MA)

Rain or shine:
If it’s sunny, we will be on the lawn.
If it rains, come look for us inside. 

Festival Highlights

As of this writing, other events of the festival will include:

  • The return of two of the original Dedham bunnies from the 2012 Public Art Project
  • A visit by best-selling children’s book author and illustrator Peter Reynolds (author of The Dot), who will be painting another bunny on site
  • The results of the community-wide competition to design and paint a brand new bunny
  • The latest news on the GuitArts public art project happening in Norwood, MA this summer to raise money for Norwood music programs

And of course, I’ll have a little something to keep the kiddos entertained while you and I catch up.

Hope to see you there!

BONUS: Cover reveal for my new book

Sculpture: Isis (c) 2009 Simon Gudgeon. Photograph: Michael Howell. Sketch: The Eleven-Year-Old Howell.

Related Links: 



Posted in Caterpickles Books, Out and About | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Is it summer yet?

Photo: Shala Howell

Related Links: 

Posted in Nature, Out and About, Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“What happens in a microwave that makes jawbreakers explode?”

The warning from Loralee Leavitt’s book, Candy Experiments, that got all our wondering started.

If you’re just joining us, last week I learned that jawbreakers can explode when heated in a microwave. This week, I’m going to find out why.

What happens in a microwave that makes jawbreakers explode?

The 30-second answer (That’s “tl;dr” for all you youngsters out there) 

Jawbreakers explode in the microwave for the same reason raw eggs and popcorn do. All three foods combine a hard outer shell with a relatively wet interior.

The 3-minute explanation for “Jawbreakers explode because they have a hard outer shell and a relatively wet interior”

Your microwave oven is so familiar, I bet you’ve forgotten how cool it really is.

I’m going to simplify things a lot here, but in general microwaves cook food by beaming microwave radiation directly at the water, fat, and sugar molecules inside it. The microwaves agitate these molecules, causing them to rub against one another, creating friction. The friction generates heat, and that heat cooks the food.

Some types of molecules absorb microwaves better than others. Water absorbs microwaves much better than fat or sugar, which is why when you cook a Pepperoni Hot Pocket in the microwave, the water-rich tomato sauce inside can burn your tongue even if the relatively dry pastry outside doesn’t feel super-hot.

In the case of jawbreakers, the microwaves can turn the water in the jawbreakers’ inner layers into steam. But the hard outer shell doesn’t let that steam out. As the cooking continues, the steam expands. At some point, the pressure from the steam becomes intense enough that the outer shell is blown into fragments.

Want to simulate this effect for yourself? Safely, I mean?

Exploding jawbreakers are quite dangerous — you can get some serious burns from them. So …


Cover for Loralee Leavitt's Candy Experiments

Heating jawbreakers is not one of the experiments in this book. Making brittle Peeps is, however, and I highly recommend you try it.

However, if you’d like to test this theory and are willing to clean up a huge mess, you can try microwaving a raw egg in its shell.

If like me, you are not terribly enthused by large messes, you can test it by making some popcorn. Popcorn pops in your microwave for the same reason that jawbreakers do — the moisture inside the popcorn kernel turns to steam, eventually forcing the hard outer shell to crack apart. (That’s where all the steam you have to avoid when you open the popcorn bag comes from.)

In fact, making some microwave popcorn sounds really good right now. I think I’ll go make some. If the Eleven-Year-Old asks, I’ll tell her I’m not just making a snack, I’m doing science.

Related Links: 

Posted in Experiments, food, Science | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wordless Wednesday: More California Flowers

Despite appearances, these flowers are not actually made of plastic. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Related Links: 

Posted in Nature, Out and About, Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Critter update: The opossums strike back

Apparently the Opossums That Be didn’t much care for my post on what to do if an opossum visits your backyard.

In fact, they seem to have gotten pretty riled up, because they are now threatening my family. When my brother-in-law showed up for work last week, he found Bruiser here waiting for him.

Thanks to my sister, our family has a new family blessing. “May you never walk in to find an opossum sitting in your desk chair.” (Photo: Bryan Brown)

Some shenanigans ensued, the details of which remain classified. Because the Opossum Army of North America is clearly monitoring this site, all I’m allowed to tell you is that I still have a brother-in-law and he no longer has a furry office mate.

Fear not, brave readers. Even though Bruiser managed to trash every office, hallway, and kitchen in the place during The Omnivorous Opossum Onslaught of 2018, we will not be cowed! Caterpickles journalism continues unabated!

Reminder: What to do when you find an opossum in your home or office

If you too should stroll into your office one fine morning to find an opossum sitting in your chair, you can either:

Related Links: 

Posted in Nature | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Why can’t you heat a jawbreaker?”

In an effort to finally rid the house of our leftover Halloween and Easter candy, I snagged a copy of Loralee Leavitt’s Candy Experiments and began to flip through looking for a way to dispose of all those unwanted Peeps.

I hadn’t gotten very far before I found this:


The warning from Loralee Leavitt’s book on Candy Experiments that got all our wondering started.

And all I’ve been able to think about since is why? Why can’t you heat a jawbreaker?

The 30-second answer (That’s “tl;dr” for all you youngsters out there) 

Because jawbreakers often explode when heated, and you could get some serious burns.

The 3-minute explanation for “Because jawbreakers often explode when heated…”

The Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters devoted part of an episode to this. Apparently, even though all the layers of the jawbreaker are essentially the same thing (sugar syrup), the outermost layer stays hard when you heat it, while the inner layers become molten and liquid. You can’t tell that this has happened when you look at the jawbreaker, because hot jawbreakers look like cold jawbreakers.

But crack the surface of a hot jawbreaker, and it could explode, putting you at risk for some serious burns.


Watch the Mythbusters video instead.

Cover for Loralee Leavitt's Candy Experiments

Through some light-hearted scientific testing the Mythbusters team found that jawbreakers can heat up enough to melt the middle while leaving the outside intact in the microwave — or by simply being left out in the sun for a couple of hours.

When they cracked open the jawbreaker from the microwave in their simulated human jaws, it exploded.

When they cracked open the jawbreaker heated in the sun, it didn’t explode right away, but was still molten and hot in the center.

Ok. So don’t heat a jawbreaker. Message received.

But now I’m thinking about that microwaved jawbreaker. Why did it explode when the one heated in the sun didn’t?

What happens in a microwave that makes the jawbreaker explode?

But that’s a question for another post.

Related Links: 




Posted in Experiments, food, Science | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment