Wordless Wednesday: Deer at Edgewood Park

Photo: Shala Howell

Went hiking last week. Saw some deer.

Related Links: 

Posted in Nature, Out and About, Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Jungle Jane by Fred Hunnicutt

Fred Hunnicutt's aluminum sculpture imitates a face pushed through paper. The so-called paper in this case is actually a grid of aluminum tubes.

Jungle Jane (c) 1998 Fred Hunnicutt. Aluminum. Currently installed on California Ave at Birch Street in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Posted in Out and About, public art | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Were Thin Mints really the third type of Girl Scout cookie ever introduced?”

The Ten-Year-Old dressed up as a Thin Mint.

One of the troop leaders made this Thin Mint costume as a Halloween costume for her daughter, and has generously shared it with my daughter’s troop to use during booth sales. This may be my daughter’s favorite part of the booth sale process. (Photo: Shala Howell)

In case your neighborhood hasn’t been overtaken by Girl Scouts peddling cookies, consider this a public service announcement: It’s Girl Scout Cookie Season. Sales end (in Northern California at least) on March 4, so if you were planning to buy cookies this year but haven’t, you might want to get on that. Find a troop near you.

The Ten-Year-Old is cranking away at the cookie sales. Of the types of sales available to her — door-to-door, digital, and booth — she loves booth sales the best, in part because customers share stories about when they were Girl Scouts, and how much the cookies cost then. The lowest price we’ve uncovered so far in our field research is 50 cents from a woman who claims to have sold cookies about fifty years ago.

We picked up another tidbit over the weekend that has my daughter’s mind whirling. Thin Mints are by far the most popular cookie around here, and this weekend we were told that Thin Mints were the third Girl Scout cookie ever introduced. The customer who told us this said that back in those early days, she sold a vanilla cookie, a chocolate cookie, and Thin Mints.

I’ll admit, this blew our minds a little. We knew that the Girl Scouts celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scout Cookie sales last year, but had no idea Thin Mints might have been one of the original cookies. So naturally, The Ten-Year-Old wanted to know if it was true.

When did Girl Scout Cookie sales start and what did they sell? 

According to the Girl Scouts website, the annual tradition of selling Girl Scout cookies started with a local bake sale. In 1917, just five years after Juliette Gordon Low founded Girl Scouts, the Mistletoe troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma held a bake sale in their high school cafeteria as a service project. The idea took off.

The first official Girl Scout cookie was a fairly simple sugar cookie that troop members baked at home and sold in their neighborhoods. Florence E. Neil, a director from Chicago, Illinois, published the official Girl Scout cookie recipe in the July 1922 issue of the Girl Scouts’ magazine, The American Girl. In her article, Neil estimated that the cost for producing six or seven dozen cookies using her recipe was 26-36 cents. She recommended that troops sell them for 25-30 cents a dozen. Throughout the 1920s, troops would bake her simple sugar cookies, package them by the dozen in wax paper bags sealed with a sticker, and sell them door-to-door for 25-35 cents a bag.

You can find her original recipe here, in case you’d like to bake up a batch yourself.

The Ten Year Old selling cookies at the wooden lemonade-stand style cookie booth the local Boy Scout troop made a few years ago. The sign at the top reads "Thin Mints are Vegan," because that's how California rolls.

The local Boy Scout troop made this booth for their neighborhood Girl Scouts to use in their cookie sales. Thanks, guys! (Photo: Shala Howell)

When did Thin Mints come into the picture?

Thin Mints didn’t come on the scene until the Girl Scouts had shifted away from a business model that required troops to bake their cookies at home. In 1934, the Greater Philadelphia troop became the first troop to sell commercially produced cookies.

In 1935, the Girl Scouts of Greater New York joined them, but raised the stakes by purchasing a trefoil-shaped die for the cookies and printing the words “Girl Scout cookies” right on the box.

The national Girl Scout Council took the idea of selling branded, commercially produced cookies nation-wide the next year. In 1936, they licensed commercial bakers to produce the official Girl Scout cookies. 125 troops nationwide sold them.

Butter, sugar, and flour shortages put a temporary halt to cookie sales during World War II (Girl Scouts sold calendars instead). Sales came back with a vengeance after the war ended. Twenty-nine different bakers around the nation held licenses to produce Girl Scout Cookies in 1948.

Thin Mints came on the scene in 1951. That was the year Girl Scouts began selling three types of commercially produced cookies: sandwich, shortbread, and chocolate mint (now called Thin Mints).

So, were Thin Mints really the third type of Girl Scout cookie ever introduced?

That depends on how you count. They were the third type of commercially produced cookie, yes, but if you include those early bake-at-home years, Thin Mints could have been more like the fourth or fifth or maybe the fiftieth. After all, it’s not hard to imagine that local troops might have offered more than one type of bake-at-home cookies in those early, unregulated cookie sale years.

You can learn more about the history of Girl Scout cookie sales here.

Related Links: 


Posted in food, history, Out and About | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

My Sister the Vampire #2: Fangtastic! by Sienna Mercer

Book Cover for My Sister the Vampire #2: Fangtastic!What the book’s about: Olivia’s long-lost twin sister, Ivy, has finally returned. Bit of a twist–Ivy’s a vampire. You’d think this would be a problem for Olivia, who is herself a vegetarian. But no, ever since Ivy’s been back, Olivia can’t get enough of her sister’s stories about her vampire life. Trouble is, gossip reporter Serena Star wants to know all about Ivy’s life as a vampire, too. And this is one secret that definitely needs to stay hidden.  

Why The Ten-Year-Old likes it: “Perfect for early morning or late night reading. It’s not scary, except for the creepy reporter lady, and has a ton of hilarious jokes in it. It makes you think a lot about the characters, too.”

Who would enjoy this book, according to The Ten-Year-Old: “If you are anything like me and enjoy the not-too-scary, semi-horror genre, you will like this book.”

Project Terra by Landry Q. Walker

Book cover for Project Terra by Landry Q. Walker. What the book’s about: Elara Adele Vaughn is dead set on becoming the galaxy’s top planetary designer. So what if she comes from a planet so far away it’s literally called Nowhere? So what if her roommate is a mute, intergalactic sponge? Elara has everything she needs to survive her first year at the Seven Systems School of Terraforming Sciences and Arts — skills, talent, and the resourcefulness to avoid getting trapped in the belly of a monster on her school’s first field trip. Now, if only she can survive her first year at the galaxy’s top terraforming school.

Why The Ten-Year-Old likes it: “It’s hilarious, especially the part about the giant sponge. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series to see what the author does with that character.”

Who would enjoy this book, according to The Ten-Year-Old: “This book is insanely awesome and great for fans of sci-fi and Star Wars.”

Related Links:

Posted in Reading, Reviews: Books, What the 10yo is reading | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wordless Wednesday: Mural in downtown Palo Alto, CA

Horse and carriage painted in brown and white on the side of a building in downtown Palo Alto, CA

Portion of a mural painted on the Printers Inc. building on Birch Street in downtown Palo Alto, CA. The mural dates from the 1980s. (Photo: Shala Howell)

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

Book Review: Little Girls Can Be Mean

Book cover for Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert. Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades
By Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D & Reyna Lindert, Ph.D
St. Martin’s Griffin (2010)

For the second week in a row, I failed to ask The Ten-Year-Old what she was reading on our walk to school this morning. Oops. Instead of ignoring the book post for a second week, I decided to take this opportunity to tell you about a really helpful book I’m reading.

Most people I talk to either remember middle school vividly or have blocked it out of their minds completely. Personally, I don’t think about middle school most of the time, but when my daughter comes home from school looking for advice on a tricky social situation, the memories come flooding back.

Since The Ten-Year-Old is only in fifth grade, and middle school officially starts in sixth grade around here, I had been hoping to have another year of blissfully ignorant parenting in front of me before this stuff really started to hit.


I don’t want to go into any details out of respect for The Ten-Year-Old’s privacy. Fortunately, I don’t have to, because based on what I’m hearing, middle school relationships are just as complicated and painful as ever. Think back to what being in middle school felt like to you, and know that it’s still pretty much the same.

As a parent, my number one job is to give my daughter the tools to act independently and wisely in whatever situation comes her way.

I had been dealing with these social situations as one-off, independent problems. My daughter would tell me about something that happened at school, I would pose some possible solutions, she’d pick the one she wanted to try, and we coasted along until the next problem came up.

But while this approach felt like helping her in the moment, it wasn’t really helping her in the long run. If your solution to a new problem is “Go ask Mom” you’re not really very independent, are you?

Neither of us were getting what we needed out of this process.

Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert starts from the premise that friendship challenges are universal, complicated, and ever-changing in grades K-6. Still, they argue, it is possible to use a simple, clear process to teach your child how to navigate them on her own.

One of the things I like about this book is that the authors recognize that your child can be on either side of a friendship struggle at any given time. She may be the one hurt by the actions of others, but her own actions can just as easily cause pain to another. Either situation can be addressed with the same four-step method.

  1. Observe what’s going on.
  2. Connect with your child by asking her to tell you about the situation in her own words, listening actively, and possibly sharing a story from your own experience that’s similar. Do not judge or propose a solution in this stage. Simply listen and ask questions about how the situation makes her feel.
  3. When your child is ready, guide your child by asking her to brainstorm possible ways to resolve the problem.
  4. Support your child by allowing her to pick the strategy that works best for her and act independently to resolve the issue.

Rinse and repeat as necessary.

The book organization is well-thought out. The authors spend the first couple of chapters talking about what relationships in K-6 look like and how the process works in general. The next few chapters give specific examples of common situations like yo-yo friendships, dealing with turf wars, and struggling to fit in. They show how parents and their children tried to resolve the situation, and talked about what worked well and what didn’t. They also describe what things might have looked like if the parents and children in question had followed the process at key points. By the time I was done reading these chapters, I felt fairly well-equipped to begin using their process on my own.

The final chapters sum things up by describing how to apply these same skills to situations that come up at home, at work, and at school.

There are tips scattered throughout that describe activities teachers can do in the classroom, that girls can do on their own, and that parents can do with their children to help them develop the social skills they need to navigate these tricky situations independently.

It’s an excellent book, and if you, like me, have found the social relationships in K-6 to be more complicated than you expected, well worth the time it takes to read.

Related Links: 


Posted in Parenting Dilemmas, Reviews: Books | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Caterpickles goes to the library: “How can you tell the difference between a raven and a crow?”

Last Monday while The Ten-Year-Old and I were walking to school, we passed a black bird standing in the middle of the road.

“Look at that crow,” I said. “Or raven. Whatever. Look at that very large black bird sitting in the middle of the road daring the cars to run over him.”

“Mommyo,” The Ten-Year-Old asked. “Can’t you tell the difference between a raven and a crow?”

“I know ravens are bigger than crows, but that’s not much help when there’s only one of them around.”

The Ten-Year-Old sighed. “Better ask Caterpickles.”

Most of the time, when I have a question I’d like to blog about on Caterpickles, I simply fire up Google and ask it. But we’ve been spending so much time at the library lately, I was curious to see if I still go old school, and find the answer to one of The Ten-Year-Old’s questions using only the tools available to me at our local library.

So after dropping The Ten-Year-Old at school, I sauntered off to the library to see if my library research skills still existed.  After all, the last time I hunted for answers in a library on a regular basis, paper card catalogs were the search tool of choice. I haven’t seen a physical card catalog in years. Everything is computerized now.

Surely that would make it easier, though. Finding the answer to a question like this using a computerized card catalog can’t be all that much different from doing a Google search, right?

Step 1: Figure out your search criteria.

“Crow vs. raven,” I typed in the search field of the first available computer.

No matches in catalog. The computer replied.

Huh. That sort of search would have worked great on Google. But maybe this card catalog didn’t do Google-style full content searches. Clearly, I needed to rethink my approach.

Cover of the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America

Back in the day, I did simple keyword searches in the card catalog. My goal was not to find the specific text I needed, but rather to identify the section of the library where that text was likely to be.

I knew from years of idly identifying the birds which visited our various neighborhoods that field guides to birds typically told you how to tell the difference between similar birds like crows and ravens. All I really needed from the card catalog was to identify the section of the library where these field guides were likely to be.

So I tried again. “Birds.”

That was about as general as you could get. And it worked.

Step 2: Scroll through your search results until you find one that looks close to what you need. 

My search term was pretty general, and the results screen reflected it. There were pages and pages of listings. Too many listings, in fact. The list included ebooks and DVDs, many of which sounded interesting, but none of which were any good to me in this context.

Over on the side of the search screen there was an option to specify the format of the resource I was looking for. I clicked “books” and ran the search again.

The list was still fairly long – apparently “birds” is a popular word to use in the titles of picture books and novels — but it didn’t take too long to find an entry that sounded promising.

Step 3: Write down the Dewey Decimal number(s) of the entry or entries that sound good.

The title of the book I found was something like Backyard Birds of North America. I didn’t write down the exact title because I didn’t really care about it. What I cared about was the Dewey Decimal number assigned to the book: 598.2. That number told me where in the library I needed to go to find the nonfiction books on birds.

Step 4: Go to that section of the library and browse the shelves. 

Cover of the Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California CoastI cleared my search and wandered upstairs to the nonfiction stacks. In the 598.2 section I found all kinds of books that looked promising. I plucked the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America and the Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast off the shelf and flipped through them to see what they could tell me.

Conveniently, both guides talk about crows and ravens in reference to each other, making a list of differences a relatively simple thing to prepare.

Step 5: Take notes.

Here’s what I learned.

How to tell the difference between a raven and a crow when you’re up close:

  • Look at the bills: A crow’s bill is smaller and thinner than a raven’s. (Source: Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast)
  • Look at the feathers around the head and neck: Crow feathers are smooth around the head and neck. A raven’s feathers are spiky on its head and its neck feathers look kind of like a mane. (Source: Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast)
  • Look at the tip of the tail: A raven’s tail is long and shaped like a wedge. The American Crow’s tail is short and squared at the end. (Source: Both Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America and Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast)
  • Don’t forget size: Ravens are bigger. Their bodies are longer (24” compared to the American Crow’s 17”). Ravens are also heavier – boasting 2.6 lbs to the American Crow’s 1 lb. (Source: Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America)

How to tell the difference from a distance:

  • Look at the wings: A raven’s wings are longer compared to their bodies than a crow’s wings will be. The wingspan of the American Crow is only 39”, but the raven’s wingspan is a much longer 53”. When in flight, a raven’s wings will look long and pointed, and a crow’s wings will look relatively short and broad. (Source: Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America)
  • Notice their behavior: Ravens rarely associate with crows, because crows attack them. So if you see a large black bird being attacked by smaller black bird, chances are that you’re watching a crow attack a raven. (Source: Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America)
  • Notice how many there are: Crows gather in large flocks. Ravens tend to appear in pairs. (Source: Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast)
  • Watch how they fly: Crows tend to fly straight across the sky, flapping their wings in a regular steady beat. Ravens are more acrobatic, soaring and gliding, wheeling and diving. Crows don’t show off. Ravens do. (Source: Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast)

For the visual learners among us, Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast provided this handy illustration that sums up many of these points.

Illustration showing the difference between a raven (top) and a crow (bottom). Artist: Keith Hansen. Source: Birds of the Northern California Coast.

Illustration showing the difference between a raven (top) and a crow (bottom). Artist: Keith Hansen. Source: Field Guide to Birds of the Northern California Coast.

Step 6: Get distracted by some other really interesting book you found while browsing through the stacks. 

Cover for the Curse of the Labrador Duck by Gene ChiltonWhile hunting for reference books on birds, I stumbled across The Curse of the Labrador Duck: My Obsessive Quest to the Edge of Extinction by Glen Chilton. The Labrador duck has been extinct since 1875. Due to its far Northern habitat, it went extinct before we realized it was even fading away. Today, some 50 stuffed specimens of the Labrador duck are thought to remain.

At some point, bird biologist Glen Chilton got it into his head that it would be a good idea to examine each stuffed specimen, analyze the genes of every remaining Labrador duck egg, and personally visit every site where the duck was shot.  When he started his quest, Chilton quickly learned that what was thought to be true — that there were some fifty stuffed Labrador ducks scattered around the museums of Europe, North America, and the Middle East — was not in fact at all true. Some of the specimens had been lost to war. Others were stolen. Still others were hidden away in private collections.

Finding them all meant meeting up with Russian gangsters, having dinner with millionaire murderers, skinny-dipping in glacier-fed streams, enduring numerous hangovers, and narrowly avoiding arrest in New York City. In the end, however, Chilton was able to examine some fifty-five specimens, some of which weren’t forgeries. It sounds like a fabulous story, and I’m very much looking forward to spending my afternoon reading it.

Step 7: Take your new-found knowledge into the field. 

Sadly, reading about ducks will have to wait, because it’s time to go fetch The Ten-Year-Old. You can bet that I will be eying any black birds I spy pretty closely on my way to see if I learned anything this morning.

Sources for this post: 

Related Links:

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

Wordless Wednesday: High Heels for Going to Heaven

Fiberglass-reinforced plastic sculpture of two giant high heeled shoes with flowers growing out of them. The entire sculpture is painted white with red polka dots. There is a stainless steel mirror embedded in the center of the flowers.

High Heels for Going to Heaven (c) 2014 Yayoi Kusama. Fiberglass reinforced plastic, stainless steel, and urethane paint. Location: San Francisco International Airport (Photo: Shala Howell)

Posted in Out and About, public art, Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Are there ever two new moons in one month? What’s that called?”

Yesterday’s Super Blue Blood Moon was big news here at Caterpickles Central. Most of us staggered out of bed in time to see it. Even Canelo seemed pretty pleased about the fact that the moon turned Canelo-colored, if only for a little while. He kept his fur extra tufty all day, and was careful to be rolled up into a little moonball whenever I approached him. He even taunted a snow leopard on Twitter about it.

Top tweet from @snowleopards is a photo of a snow leopard surveying a snowy mountainous landscape. Text for it reads "We aren't saying the snow leopard is the world's most majestic cat, but ok we are saying it." Bottom tweet from @shalahowell is of a ginger cat sleeping in a cat bed looking unimpressed. Text reads "Nice picture, buddy, but" *yawns* "wake me up next time the moon dresses up to match you."

But while Canelo was busy allowing the Super Blue Blood Moon go to his head, my daughter’s brain was busy thinking about opposites.

As you know, a blue moon is the second full moon in any given month. My daughter wanted to know if the opposite ever happened.

“Are there ever two new moons in a month, Mommyo? And if so, what’s that called?”

In case, you like me, need a refresher on what a new moon is — it’s basically a night on which the moon’s Earth-facing side is completely in the Earth’s shadow, so it looks like there is no moon at all up there.

A new moon occurs every 29.5 days. This lunar calendar only imperfectly lines up with our months, which means every once in a while a calendar month will have two new moons in it.

When that happens, the second new moon is called a black moon. According to Space.com, black moons occur about every 32 months. The last black moon for those of us in the Western Hemisphere occurred on Friday, September 30, 2016. (Time zone differences meant that folks living in the Eastern Hemisphere had to wait until October 30 or October 31, 2016 for theirs.)

As this article in the Sun points out, the term black moon can also refer to a month in which there is no new moon at all. The only calendar month short enough to have this happen is February. Given yesterday’s Super Blue Blood Moon and a lunar calendar that requires 29.5 days to cycle, savvy readers will not be surprised to learn that this sort of black moon is expected to happen again this very month.

Related Links: 

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

Wordless Wednesday: Stealth Mode

Image of cat sleeping in brown cat bed from the side, only the tips of his orange ears are visible. Captioned: Stealth Mode.

Photo: Shala Howell

Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment