In the United States alone, it is estimated that we use over 500 million plastic straws each day! With roughly 326 million people in the U.S., that is like each of us using 1.5 straws every day.  Wow.  Do I really use a straw a day? Does that mean I throw away at least one straw a day?

Plastic straws, like coffee stirrers, water bottles, plastic shopping bags, yogurt cups and most food packages are single-use plastics.  Single-use plastics are also called “disposable plastics” because they are used only one time before they are disposed of.  Think about it… the useful “life cycle” of my straw is literally the amount of time it takes me to drink my Frappuccino.

Most single-use plastics, like straws, are made of polypropylene.  Polypropylene is a type of plastic made from a fossil fuel: petroleum oil.  Hmmmm…. Do I really want to be using up our limited, non-renewable natural resources for the “coolness” of sipping through a straw that I will throw away less than an hour later?


In fact, I am wondering…  Do I really need to use a straw at all?   Is it possible to drink my Starbuck’s Triple Carmel Frappuccino without a straw?  Could I actually just sip it straight from the cup?

IMG_1322Weird.  It works.   In fact, except for very few people with medical needs, straws are technically not necessary for drinking beverages or water.   FYI.  Your great grandparents did not need straws.  They didn’t even have straws.


Straws were first introduced in the United States in the early 1900s when fear of spreading diseases like polio raised concerns about drinking directly from a glass in public places.  But, back then, the “safety” straws were made of paper which could easily decompose in the environment or landfills.  However, in the 1950s, despite the discovery of the polio vaccine, straw usage skyrocketed.  Plastic had been invented!  The invention of plastics and rise of “fast food” restaurants found the perfect partnership.  This is when plastic straw usage became “cool” and rampant.  Today, ready to make drinking an “experience”, straws are everywhere… coffee shops, restaurants, school cafeterias, attached to juice boxes and coconut waters.

The Real Plastic Problem
Personally awakening to the frivolity of straw coolness and regret for literally “sucking up” natural resources are relevant reasons but not the driving reason for why I will put down my Last Straw today.   Today, I will use my last straw because plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a “super plastic” that took off in the 1950s due to its flexibility and durability:  The plastic sales companies’ pitch at the time was “It can last forever”… Yay!

“Lasting forever” is the big problem with my polypropylene straw and all plastic.  It is not biodegradable.   Plastics that begin with natural materials (fossil fuels) are man-made in such a way that living organisms like bacteria and fungi (bio – part of the biodegradable) cannot break the chemical bonds between the atoms apart.  My super plastic straw will never break down into the simple carbon and hydrogen molecules that it is made of.

So if plastic doesn’t biodegrade what happens to it? It is estimated that only 10-13% of  the millions of tons of plastic produced worldwide are recycled, therefore most of it ends up in landfills or littered.  Even if I don’t litter my straw, they are light and small and often just blow or wash away from trash collectors or land fills to end up in the natural environment.  A great deal of this single-use plastic finds its way to our oceans and has led to a real crisis for marine life…

Bali Scuba Diver Video


…. and ultimately our own lives.

In the ocean my straw will not biodegrade but it will degrade or break down into smaller and smaller bits over time due to weathering in the ocean.   The smallest bits of plastic are called “microplastics.”

microplastic production

These microplastics can easily work their way into the food chain and ultimately into our bodies.

plastic food chain

Action against plastic straws speaks louder than blogs.  Seattle and other cities, Hyatt, Starbucks and other companies… are already taking action and saying NO to plastic straws.

WATCH: Strawless in Seattle Video

Better late that never.  TODAY I put down my straw and will never again use a plastic straw because plastic “lasts forever”.
Will you join me?   #TheLastStraw #StrawWars

Not ready to give up straws for good… here’s a first step:

Use a paper straw.  Paper biodegrades quickly and easily.  Trees can be replanted.  Check out these really cool compostable, biodegradable paper straws that help fund sea turtle research … Awesome Paper Straws!

Looking for a fun and meaningful science fair project idea??
How about burying a bunch of plastic and paper straws in a compost pile (maybe you could try these “biodegradable plastic” ? straws too) …. dig them up and get their mass every two weeks… record your data.  Take pictures of changes.
How long before your paper straw biodegrades?

Farewell Saturn Superstar!

cassiniTomorrow, September 15, 2017 at 6:55am Central Time,  just shy of twenty years after launching, the space probe, Cassini, will end its mission by crashing into Saturn.  Cassini, you might remember from our space probe studies, has made remarkable discoveries during its time visiting Saturn.  With the help of the ESA’s hitchhiking probe, Huygens, Cassini discovered lakes of liquid methane (CH4) on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and jets of H2O erupting from its moon, Enceladus.  It has opened our imaginations to the possibility of life on Saturn’s moons.
Cassini/Huygens Discoveries

Life on Enceladus?

If I remember correctly, our friends, Steele, Adrian and Kaylie were our 6th grade experts on this hard-working, history making space probe.  I imagine they will be up early, closely watching the NASA Live Feed tomorrow morning to see their probe’s “Grand Finale” before school. NASA TV Live  I expect that this will be an oddly emotional moment for the very serious and rationale scientists that have worked for over three decades on the Cassini/Hyugens mission.  Thomas Burk, a JPL engineer that has worked tirelessly on the Cassini mission for decades was quoted this week saying:   “It’s been part of my life for so long, this spacecraft, it’s going to be a shock to have this happen,”     I wonder..  How will our experts, Steele, Adrian and Kaylie, feel as Cassini is vaporized tomorrow morning in Saturn’s atmosphere?

Don’t Miss this Memorable Moment

Please watch this amazing National Geographic tribute to Cassini that images its history,
Last good link….
Why NASA is crashing the $4 billion Cassini spacecraft into Saturn

Eclipse Trip: Flying West 

I recently discovered the word umbraphile while sponging up everything on the World Wide Web about solar eclipses.  It isn’t in any official dictionary…yet.  I don’t know for certain if I will become one of these or not but I strongly suspect that after August 21,2017 at 10:21am PDT that umbraphile will be a new label I carry.   I will let you read on to discover the implied meaning of this undefined word :). 

Per the USA Today I picked up at George Bush Intercontinental airport this morning it appears that clear skies will prevail in Madras, Oregon allowing Mr. Caldwell, myself and the other 100,000 Oregon Solarfest visitors the opportunity to experience a total eclipse of the sun!  You should grab this weekend edition of USA Today. It would be great for an eclipse scrapbook or time capsule.  The full page infographic is awesome. 

Just reading about totality has me borderline umbraphile! I can’t imagine what it will actually be like to be in the moon’s narrow umbra shadow and witness day turn into night for two peculiar minutes.  I”ve heard even seasoned NASA heliophysicists quoted as saying “words cannot describe” the feelings that come over them when they experience totality.   This of course has me a bit anxious as I am a total solar eclipse newbie and it is my hope to share all of this eclipse excitement with you … through a word filled Blog!  

I am currently on a United flight, exit row aisle across from Mr. Caldwell. The two nice people to my right are from Houston and are also traveling west to “totality” experience The Great American Eclipse.  They have the same Bill Nye Solar viewing glasses that I have!!  

Lucky them, they are staying with family that live on a 50+ acre farm in the Oregon Williamette Valkey.  That sounds like it will be a much more intimate encounter with totality than what Mr. Caldwell and I are expecting at Oregon Solarfest.  We are imagining something more along the lines of a music festival gone science.   The concert line up doesn’t look as stellar as the line up of the celestial spheres. Wink. Wink.    

Solarfest Link
So after too much coffee I am thinking about this plane flying at 503 mph to Portland, OR.  Sounds fast.  Right?  Not so fast.  The moon’s umbra shadow will make landfall on the coast of Oregon on Monday at 9:04am PDT and race eastward at roughly 2,000 mph (land speed slows a bit as the shadow moves east due to the Earth’s geometry.)  The moon’s shadow will cross our nation rushing off the South Carolina coast in just 90 minutes.  In Madras we will have a wee 2 minutes and 2 seconds to stand in awe of the Sun’s corona and experience totality.  No blinking!

It’s taking this plane four hours to travel half the distance the moon’s shadow will travel in an hour and a half.   Lest you think that at 2,000ish mph the moon is equivalent to some sort of cosmic sports car, take note of spaceship Earth’s speed.  We ride planet Earth orbiting around the sun once every year (365.25 days) at 67,000mph!!

Well that is all this teacher blogger has for now.  I think I might join Mr. Caldwell in a pre-eclipse nap. 

Clear skies!


“Open your log book.” “Don’t forget the date!”

How many times have you heard me say the words in the title of this blog post?   I just thought I’d share that I use a science log book too!  

I’m using my log book these days for scientific drawings of the corn snake babies.  I need to make sure I can tell which baby corn snake is which.  It is important that I know who’s who so that I can keep track of each baby’s health.  Who shed? Who ate? Who made waste?  Who didn’t?   I keep the log book by their habitat.  

This drawing is of a little Okeetee that I’m calling “Torch”.

Feel free to help me out! Send me your scientific drawings of the baby corn snakes as you observe my pictures and videos. Do you have any names you’d like to suggest? 

“Herp” Fans Wanted!

It’s  been a few days since the first of Cookie and Brownie’s offspring started to peek out into the world.   Sadly two eggs are still in the incubator with no signs of hatching.  It’s not too late for hopeful thoughts but the odds of them hatching now are slimming. 

On a happier note, we do have a bunch of healthy little snakes that I have moved into their new home.   Here is a video of them moving in…

I know several of you are interested in adopting one of these cuties so today I thought I’d share how to set up a baby corn snake home. 

I have Cookie and Brownie in the 20 gallon low and long terrarium you see on the right.  It has two very sturdy locking lids.  The “locking’ part is really important as captive corn snakes have good reason to be nicknamed the “Houdini Snake”.   I bought my habitat at an awesome independent reptile shop out in Tomball: http://www.ultimatereptiles.com/

The owner and staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful especially if you are a first time herp owner. (Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles.). If you never have visited this place …. GO!!  It’s better than the zoo. 

I have all the baby corns right now in the small terrarium you see far left.  I line the floor with paper towels as they are easy to change out every few days while I have so many little ones.  You should start with paper towels too.  Later I will change to the small pebbles/sand you see in the bigger habitats.  

Above is the 50 lb bag of pebbles/sand that I buy from Pets a Plenty. (Fish R Us on 242 sells it too for $17.99) Don’t let anyone talk you into using cedar shavings as a floor material.  Too difficult to clean!! 

I like to add all sorts of cool places for the baby corn snakes to hid.  Cardboard paper towel rolls or empty yogurt cups work well.  You will need a nice light to keep your corn snake warm.  As soon as I placed the new snakes  in their new home several sped over to get a drink of water.  Hatching must make you thirsty 🙂 You will need a heavy water dish that can’t be knocked over. 

Important…. I wet a bunch of sphagum moss and put it in under the snakes’ hide structure.  The moisture makes it easier for them to shed their skin.  

Corn snakes usually have their first shed about one week after hatching and will shed every few weeks as they grow.   A few days after the first shed I can offer the baby corns their first meal.  After the babies have eaten two meals with me then I know that they are healthy and ready for a new home!

Want one?

LIVE ACTION…Corn Snakes are Pipping!

I woke up this morning to this corn snake excitement!  Clearly I need a tripod or something for my phone.  The shaking is a bit annoying, but still the time-lapse video results are pretty amazing to witness.  These are big video files so be patient with the download.

Above you’ve seen a few of Cookie and Brownie’s newest offspring “pipping”. Pipping is the name given to the animal behavior of breaking or tearing through an egg to hatch. Birds and reptiles all “pip” and they all have a special sharp adaptation called an “egg tooth” that sticks out from their snout that is used for this purpose.  Corn snakes and most reptile eggs are soft and leathery so the egg tooth tears the shell so the little snake can peek out into the world.

So far, seven of Cookie’s nine eggs have some sort of “activity” as you can see below.  I am careful not to disturb them because I don’t want to startle the hatchlings causing them to leave their eggs too soon.  It is important that they fully consume their first “meal” before venturing fully out into their shoe box   …. Thanks for the egg yolk, mom! ...


The pebbly looking material the eggs are resting in is called vermiculite.  Vermiculite (available at most hardware stores)  is a natural mineral product that is known for being porous and holding moisture/water.  I use it to help maintain a humid incubator environment.  It is also a friendly first material for the hatchlings to explore once they have bravely exited their egg. Here is one of our first bold explorers.  And yes, she is amelanistic!!

Are you looking closely at the picture and videos????  How many amelanistic babies have you counted?

Remember the word amelanistic “dissected” works like this….  a = not,  melanistic = melanin.  Therefore, not or no melanin in these corn babies. Melanin is a pigment found in animal skin and hair that provides black/brown coloration.  Without melanin corn snakes will be red, yellow and white only.  Their eyes of course will be red instead of black because of the absence of melanin.

It’s not too late to take the poll below! We are waiting on two more eggs….




A Fish Tale with Teeth!

Earlier this month we were fishing on the more remote “backside” of Southern California’s Catalina Island.  We tied up the bow line of our little boat to a large kelp frond just outside Catalina Harbor to hold us in place around the off-shore “forest”.

Cat Harbor

The water was crystal clear so I could see the bright orange Garibaldi Fish (CA State Marine Fish) and Calico Bass frolicking below.  Nature’s aquarium!

We dropped our fishing line loaded with squid between the kelp stalks hoping to bring a big speckled “Cali” home for dinner.  Instead, we were treated to catching several beautiful California sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher).  A beautiful fish in the wrasse family, the sheephead has some pretty crazy teeth.  The front two incisors look very human like.  The tale of the teeth is obvious from these images of one of the fish we caught. Fingers beware! Carnivore or Herbivore?  You decide.


While reportedly very tasty, this omnivore decided to “catch and release” all the sheepheads we caught even though many were CA Fish and Wildlife “legal” at over 12″ in length.  The California sheephead is classified as a vulnerable species due to overfishing and the relatively long time that it takes them to reach reproductive maturity. Sheepheads are also considered (like the cuter and more celebrated sea otters) to be a critical keystone predator in the kelp forest.  Their specialized teeth allow them to feed on the sea urchins that can dangerously overpopulate and overgraze the kelp.
See Video on Kelp Forest Keystone Species
#NoSheepheadNoKelp  #SavetheKelp

urchin on kelp

I learned a final fascinating fishy fact after observing some very different color patterns in the sheephead fish we caught.  Several of the sheepheads were a beautiful pale pink color (females) but one big one was mostly black with a broad pink stripe (male).  There is a large color variation between the male and female California sheephead that is typical of many animal species (think Peacock!).  BUT those of you observing closely…. may be wondering about the one that I caught with the toothy grin in the picture above. It doesn’t quite look like either of these; does it? Odd?


That’s because my fish is in the process of changing from a female to a male.  What?! Yup, it is changing its sex and has not completed the change fully yet!!  Cool fact…. California sheephead fish are all born female!   When the females reach 12-14″ in length hormones trigger the biggest among them to develop the coloration, square forehead and reproductive parts of a male.   Nature never ceases to amaze!  Get out there and explore.  Share your stories!


Living in Space City brings a responsibility for being informed about manned space missions.  I am on a plane headed to Los Angeles but I fully expect when I land to be quizzed all about the #NewAstronaut candidates that NASA is bringing to Houston/Johnson Space Center for two years of training. Thank goodness for in-flight WiFi.  Watch Live NOW on NASA TV


Totality Awesome!

Hooray!!  Another rewarding school year is now a beautiful memory and it is time to experience the wonder of the natural world up close and personal this summer.  My first blog post for the Summer of 2017 is actually not an experience YET but… a plan.  A BIG PLAN.  A plan that I encourage you all to consider making as well. Quickly.

On Monday, August 21st, our moon will totally eclipse the sun for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds along a thin pathway of totality that crosses our country from coast to coast. The last total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. covered only a small portion (Pacific NW & Montana) on February 26, 1979 but it was mostly cloud covered.  A cloud free total solar eclipse crossed the continental U.S. on March 7, 1970.  I have vague memories of witnessing this eclipse just outside the line of totality as a 7 year old living in North Carolina.

But, on August, 21, 2017, Mr. Caldwell and I will be directly IN THE PATH of totality for what is being nicknamed “The Great American Eclipse” in the small Oregon town of Madras.  Actually we will arrive there on Friday, August 18th to get into position before the likely traffic jams.Table 1


Being as close to the center line of totality (red line above) is key to experiencing a total solar eclipse.  In the band of totality you will encounter complete darkness as the moon comes between the Earth and the Sun.  Watch this great NASA video for a scientific explanation and safe viewing tips!
NASA Solar Eclipse Video


Positioning for viewing within the band of totality allows you to witness the sun’s awe inspiring corona (outer atmosphere) and the celestial objects that are obscured during the day due to “light pollution” from our closest star, the Sun.  The image below shows the position of the stars and planets that will be visible for the few minutes that our Sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Planets-and-stars-visible-during-totality-as-seen-from-Wyoming-e1477481376419Mr. Caldwell and I spent a fair amount of time researching optimal viewing sites for this total solar eclipse and landed on Madras, Oregon due to its higher probability of clear skies, airfare, lodging economics/comfort, and NASA’s endorsement.  We waffled back and forth between several locations in Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming but are ultimately happy with our choice and now are hopeful for cooperating weather conditions.


We will be camping in a farmer’s field just north of the airport in Madras, Oregon.  Our chosen location is supported as part of a local event called Oregon Solarfest.  Here is the promo video for the location.
Video: Madras Oregon: Solarfest 2017
Maybe we’ll see you there?  Make your plans NOW.

Can’t make the 2017 solar eclipse?  You’re young!  You can wait 7 more years.  The next one passes right over the GREAT STATE!


Dive In…Every Full Moon

Fitting and timely with our Dive Into Five LC theme this year,  NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, have recently teamed up to introduce exciting educational videos about our ocean.   Inspired by the tidal connection of our Earth’s ocean and the moon, every full moon, NOAA Ocean Today releases a new episode.  The video series began with our October full moon releasing a 6 part episode on Ocean Exploration and Bioluminescence.  Only two episodes (October & November full moons) are available so far.  Series are designed around a different ocean theme each month.  The videos are short and very well done as many of them were originally designed for kiosks for the ocean hall of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.   We were able to enjoy just some of the short videos released on the October full moon about bioluminescence as we studied exothermic chemical reactions.  Please try to watch them all!
Ocean Today Every Full Moon

bioluminiesenceThe November 14th Supermoon brought the release of Ocean Today’s second and most recent episode, an excellent 7 part series on Marine Debris. trash_talkWe were first introduced to this topic last year when our classmate, Rafa, developed a power point presentation that he shared with the LC on the problem of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  His presentation introduced us to a young man, Boyan Slat, determined to solve the problem of this marine debris.  Here is the link to Boyan’s 2013 TedX talk that we watched last school year..
Boyan Slat on TedX

boyan-slat-le-sauveur-des-oceans-paris-match Below at the link to Boyan’s website, interested students should be pleased to see that since 2013 Boyan has had great progress on his plan to clean up the ocean plastics.  I encourage you to click around the website…. Careers??
The Ocean Clean Up – CEO Boyan Slat

The next two NOAA Ocean Today series will release on December 13th, with the last supermoon of 2016, and on January 12th, the first full moon of 2017.    I hope to share some bit of the January series on Ocean Acidification as a follow-up to our recent Chemistry unit learning about acids and bases.  Mark your full moon calendar to catch up with the release of these new episodes!   I hope a second season is in the works 🙂