Guest Blogger: Trip to UI Paleontology Collection


Working in the Repository.

Coralee has been busy since {home}school began (post-Labor Day) working on her project for the Homeschool Assistance Program’s Science & Social Studies Fair at the end of October.  She initially planned to study the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.  Over the summer, however, her interest in the fossils Merritt and her have been collecting from our creek was greatly renewed due to some massive flooding & resulting changes in the creek bed.  Her project idea changed & I instantly invested some late-night/early-morning hours searching for local resources to shape her science curriculum during the first trimester.  I love that aspect of homeschooling–the ability to alter the coursework to match the child’s interests, while still following the standards & benchmarks.  I wish all children could experience learning in this manner.

As part of her Social Studies work, we use the New York Time’s Learning Network’s 6 Q’s About the News to keep up on current events, further critical thinking skills, broaden vocabulary & geographical knowledge…the list of benefits goes on & on.  A wonderful resource.  In the past I’ve had her choose an article herself from one of her many birding magazines & create a ‘6 Q’s’ for me to answer, but I’ve never required her to take on the task of reporter & journalist.  She wrote an article following our visit to the University of Iowa’s Paleontology Repository on Friday, September 19th.  The Collections Manager is in the process of reorganizing the entire million+ specimen collection–moving everything from the decades-old, wooden cabinets into state of the art specimen cabinets to provide better protection against dust and environmental fluctuations.  A staggering project.  I took photos (lighting was not great–no windows in the repository) while Coralee worked.  The Collections Manager is the mother of a young son herself & set up a tub of sand filled with small fossils for Merritt & June to dig through for treasures–so sweet of her.  Below the photos find Coralee’s article in full–hope you enjoy my “guest blogger.” 🙂




I found the backstory behind each fossil fascinating. This particular Brachiopod specimen was found by a “Junior Paleontologist” just a few miles from our home in 1943!


Coralee’s fossil on the bottom.






New cabinets.


Over the course of the last five years, my brother and I have been pulling up strange fossils from our creek bed in Benton County, Iowa with little idea as to what creatures the fossils represented. A visit to Trowbridge Hall at the University of Iowa changed my initial guesses of shells, beehives, and mushrooms to something much, much older and completely out of place on the fields and prairies of Iowa today.

Approximately 375 million years ago, during the Devonian Period, Iowa was much like the Bahamas, covered by a shallow sea. Iowa lay below the equator at this time and was absolutely swarming with life. It wasn’t until I began my 7th grade science project that I discovered all our fossils were from the Devonian. Following two weeks of research at the library and online I still could not identify the fossils with absolute certainty. I had to talk to a professional about my collection. I made a trip to Iowa City to consult with Tiffany Adrain.

Tiffany Adrain is the Collections Manager at the University of Iowa’s Paleontology Collection. Ms. Adrain started working at museums in London when she was 15 years old. As we enter the collection room, she tells us the collection has fossils from all over the world. The room is crammed with rows upon rows of floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of fossils (mostly procured from private collections). “I’ve been here for ten years and I still haven’t opened all the drawers,” she tells me with a laugh.

After introductions we get right down to business. First Ms. Adrain and I pick a fossil from my collection and hypothesize what type of Devonian creature it might represent. Then we start the fun part. Ms. Adrain opens a marked cabinet that has potential. We search for a fossil match or as close as we can manage. It isn’t as simple as it seems. The drawers are organized by scientific name, sometimes down to specific species and those are pretty tricky to figure out. Spirifera cedarensis, for example, is the scientific name for the brachiopods I found. A brachiopod is a shelled filter feeder much like a mollusk today, but not related. The word Spirifera is the genus (or group) that this shelled creature belongs to and cedarensis is the name for its species. There can be a lot of different species belonging to a genus. For about an hour we search through drawers and label most of my fossils with a genus and some with a genus and species designation.

As my visit came to a close, we packed the now-labeled fossils into my shoe boxes, signed the Paleontology Collections guest book, said our farewells, and headed for the elevator.  Weaving our way back to the North Parking Ramp, through the student-saturated campus, I had time to reflect. I’ve heard it said many times “you can have an adventure even in your own backyard”. This literally proved true for me. This adventure of mine started with a single coral fossil pulled from a creek bed six years ago this November. A fossil I thought was some sort of beehive. My visit to Tiffany Adrain and her amazing collection took me far from that creek bed to below the equator and back 500 million years. And I didn’t even leave Iowa.



Yarn Along {& Audubon}






I’ve been pouring over the latest issue of Audubon this week.  The State of the Birds Report for 2014 also came out this month & it was surely depressing in many ways, especially the list of Common Birds in Steep Decline:

Northern Pintail
American Wigeon
Cinnamon Teal
Greater Scaup
Long-tailed Duck
Scaled Quail
Northern Bobwhite
Purple Gallinule
Franklin’s Gull
Herring Gull
Black Tern
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Snowy Owl
Short-eared Owl
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Loggerhead Shrike
Horned Lark
Bank Swallow
Varied Thrush
Snow Bunting
Cape May Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Field Sparrow
Lark Bunting
Grasshopper Sparrow
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Common Grackle
Pine Siskin

Did you spot a favorite or two?  There were a few bright statistics in shorebird populations and forest-dependent species in specific areas of the country, but for the most part the Report was worrying to someone like me who loves to bird.  Declining bird populations are often a harbinger of habitat distress & even if one doesn’t bird or birdwatch or even like birds (gasp! really?!!), the state of birds can tell a lot about the future of human existence & the world our grandchildren & great-grandchildren will one day delight in without us.  I was most upset to read the Eastern Meadowlark was in steep decline & mostly due to habitat loss as a result of farming fencerow to fencerow…enough said, I suppose,  I live in Iowa where the ghosts of prairies-past whisper quite weakly nowadays.  It’s proven difficult for a patch of grass to claim a ditch anymore.  Thankfully, the Meadowlark’s decline seems to have stabilized at this low point due to efforts to conserve more grasslands (mostly outside of Iowa), but a leveling out at the bottom of the pitch doesn’t seem like a great solution.

I’ve been knitting a custom Sleigh Ride Cap in pale pink Merino wool for an Etsy order.  I use the immensely popular Justine Turner pattern Aviatrix for my Sleigh Ride Caps. {My Ravelry notes for one of the many I’ve knit.}  Yes, the pattern has a cottage license which I adhere to as written.  Seriously, Aviatrix is the BEST newborn/baby/toddler cap pattern EVER.  And the pattern is free!  Such a well-written pattern.  So well-fitting.  So cleverly-designed.  I just love it.  Highly recommend it.  I usually put a double-stacked knit flower on the right side of the cap, over the place where the chin strap fastens.  I also knit this cap without the strap for newborns–brilliant as a little “Amelia Earhart” cap for girls or an old-fashioned football helmet cap for boys.

June has been keeping track of the first maple in our yard to put on her Autumn finery & is still wearing her own Autumn finery. 😉  She was very impressed with the large red leaf she found on the ground yesterday, as evidenced by her expression in the second-to-last photo.  We also rediscovered our Purl Bee Hedgehog this week & he’s been showing up all over the house.  Another fantastic pattern.  I’m using the same yarn for the Sleigh Ride Cap as I did for Hedgie’s charming pink face & belly.

Joining in with Ginny

The Best Text










My dad sent me a text last month out of the blue that I’ve thought about every day since.  I cried after I read it the first time, I was that happy.  My dad is a very intelligent man, a Texan, a scientist, an outdoorsman, a writer & columnist, a retired 3M chemist that climbed almost to the top of the management chain before he left.  I went to college in 1999 with dreams of being a scientist like him, but life got in the way & somehow I ended up an elementary teacher (something I told my friends in high school I would NEVER EVER become) & eventually a stay-at-home mother.   I’ve always felt like I failed him (& my potential) in a way, even though I know that these feelings are absolutely not true.

We took my dad fishing & birding in the Yellow River State Forest Paint Creek Unit this summer & it was the best day.  He caught several trout with his fly rod & after he got back to Wisconsin, he told my mom how much fun he had with my family.  These are photos from that day.

Love ya, Dad.  The Best Text is rewritten below.

At Silverwood Park, north edge of the Metro [Twin Cities] for my writer’s group.  New, very nice.  Lots of nature programs for children.  There is a mother with three girls about the ages of your three.  All are sitting atop a wall outside.  She is telling them something and has their attention.  The scene reminds me of you.  I am proud of you, Ruby.  You are doing a remarkable job rearing three children.  Daddy. 


Autumn creep, fossil collecting, wool washing, & a wee Wurm obsession











I don’t exactly feel Autumn around these parts yet, but I can see the subtle signs she’s slowly wetting her paintbrush and readying the canvas. The kids spent a lot of time outside this weekend due to the mild temperatures.

We had one volunteer sunflower this year thanks to our prolific winter bird feeding. Coralee found an abundance of clay in the creek recently & made a clay pot {even baked it in the sun!} to temporarily hold the seeds she’s collected.  She is ever the seed saver.

Following church on Sunday, the older ones spent the entire afternoon in the creek looking for more fossils for Coralee’s archaeology studies. She’s getting a trunk from the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History this week to aid her in her identification of her finds & felt the 20+ fossils she’s amassed so far is clearly not enough.

The autumn creep caused me to dig out all the woolens that lasted well into the spring/summer months this year {read: fingerless gloves} &  wash.  I LOVE handwashing wool.  I once thought the only way to own wool was to dry clean it or get rid of it when it got dirty.  So glad I was set straight around the time June was born thanks to cloth diapering with wool.  Handwashing is not only easy, but very enjoyable.

I truly have developed an addiction to the Wurm slouchy cap pattern.  Coralee has said I need to stop & KNIT SOMETHING ELSE.  I need to knit one more, just one more!, for me & then I promised her I would move on…for awhile at least.  June got a Wurm today and, no, the child does not need anymore caps but she loves wearing her mama’s handknits so it’s hard to resist.  I made a mini of the Wurm pattern, only knitting 5 repeats but sticking with the 100 stitch cast-on.  She will probably be able to wear this forever.  I used an entire 50g ball of a DK merino/silk blend for the fuchsia & about half a skein of Blue Sky Alpacas for the rust–it’s like wearing a woolly cloud & it’s delightfully squishy.

Has the autumn creep found you yet?

Accidental Spelling Comedienne



As part of Coralee’s homeschooling, we use the New York Time’s Learning Network a lot.  Back when I taught K-5 Talented & Gifted students in the public schools, I relied on this website for much of my curriculum.  Last year Coralee was required to add a word to her spelling/vocabulary notebook daily using the Learning Network’s ‘Word of the Day’ blog.  She also had to write an original sentence, using the word correctly, for each word.  Each time a new word was added to the current list, she had to write a sentence for each of the previous words.  We usually worked toward a list of 10-15 words before I gave her a spelling/vocab test.  It all proved a bit too much, so this year she adds three words to her list per week & writes sentences for those words on the two “off” days.  She uses for definitions, synonyms & antonyms.

I was flipping through her spelling/vocab notebook from last year & gave myself a good chuckle over many of her original sentences.  There was a running ‘Frozen’ theme at one point, multiple sentences about Hans, Anna, & Elsa.  She also seemed to draw from her Iowa history lessons for many sentences, that’s got to be a good thing.  The bulk of her writing, however, centered around her younger brother Merritt or birding.  I typed my favorite sentences below (spelling/vocab word in bold)–hope you enjoy a little chuckle, too, whilst reading.

* * *

He woke up and found toothpaste in his omelet and cereal in his drink.  I asked the doctor if it was just senility kicking in, he said no it was just the maid.

My grandmother tells me “just senility kicking in” whenever she forgets.

I have hoodwinked Merritt many times into going to the basement with me.  –Mom’s note: this is SO TRUE.

Field corn is an extrinsic part of a white-tailed deer’s diet.

Corn syrup is an extrinsic part of the American diet. –Mom’s note: can you tell we live in Iowa?

Our friendship seemed irreparable after I smashed his thumb with the hammer.

Let’s just say that my excuse for buying 200 candy bars was not unassailable.

To gawk is to disappoint granny.

It was like he required an anesthetic to pull a bandaid off.

Merritt is an incorrigible boy, especially when he locks himself in his room and refuses to do his homework.

This word is expanding my lexicon.

My secret tepee hidden in the woods is known as Coralee’s Hermitage. Mom’s note: I think this might actually be true.

After breaking his diet for a month, Kyle was looking a little paunchy.

After the Easter egg hunt, Merritt had found all the eggs (or stolen them).  You can guess I felt enmity.

I felt enmity for our rooster, while he was alive. –Mom’s note: this is true.

I went to a lecture on plant “feelings,” the professor’s dogmatic attitude is to blame for me failing the Poison Test. –Mom’s note: this sentence was accompianed by a doodle of a professor named Awesome Phil touching a bunch of apparently poisonous plants & saying “Ow, that hurt.”

The president wished to repeal the law banning dogs, but Congress did not.

The Congress really had the President in an untenable position, so he just decided to forget freeing dogs.

The buff, sinewy movie star was filmed in many wrestling movies.

Christmas morning is a jovial time for Merritt and I, but not for Mom and Dad and I quote, “Why are you awake already?”–Mom’s note: true story.

My mom says I’m a swindler. –Mom’s note: I think I’ve been misquoted.

The mallards nesting by the dock scolded me when I came too close with loud quacks.

My Great-Grandma went to a quack thinking she had cancer, but he just said it was a cold.

When the creature I loved dearly began to quack and swim I had mixed feelings about my cat.  I took my cat to the doctor and he said, “I may be a quack, but I do know that ducks aren’t allowed at a clinic.”

The trees at the cabin look nebulous in the morning fog.

Papa hadn’t cleaned his glasses lately, so everything he looked at seemed nebulous. –Mom’s note: true.

If you have an arch enemy, your best bet is to eschew them.

* * *

During the fall the temperature cascades and so do the leaves.

* * *

 Happy Friday!

Yarn Along {life hums along & babies grow up}







Not sure when my baby Coralee, my firstborn, became such a lady, but the fact that her foot is now the same size as mine & we are very close to literally seeing eye-to-eye should have been a clue. When I brought her home from the hospital 12+ years ago I was 20 years old myself & naive & clueless (we all are, right???). The past dozen years raced away from me so fast I feel like life has given me whiplash. We ventured outside this morning to take photos of my latest knit Wurm cap–I’m addicted to the pattern again (the brim is GENIUS, check it out if you haven’t). After finishing Megan’s Wurm last week, I’ve knit this one & cast on another in oatmeal & teal. As I flipped through the photos, I focused on Coralee’s captured gaze & realized she will be gone into the world before I know it & I cried. She is so beautiful. Sometimes I can’t believe she is part of me–how did I get so lucky with such a stunning daughter both outside & in? Mamas’ hearts are tested so much in the course of 18ish years (& forever after)…it’s good sometimes to peer into their eyes & realize that little baby you held & nursed & ached for many years ago is still there & always will be, no matter how far the years take you from that beginning. No matter how much the exterior changes, grows, ebbs & flows…no matter how much you change yourself.

Joining Ginny