Dinosaur Bones and Derring-Do!

As it's Women's History Month, and every month is a good month for dinosaurs, I thought I'd dedicate this fine Tuesday to the landslide-dodging academic! The exhumer of ichthyosaurs! The discoverer of everyone's favorite swan-necked sauropterygian (that's the Loch Ness Monster plesiosaur, folks): Mary Anning!
Mary Anning would probably have been my childhood hero if I'd known of her. The landslide-dodging is not an exaggeration–the cliffs of Lyme Regis, England, where Mary made her historic fossil discoveries, have a habit of shedding bits of themselves unexpectedly and at speed. She had some very near misses with falling cliff debris, but escaped time and again with both her life and the bones of twelve-foot-long seafaring lizard ancestors (a.k.a. ichthyosaurs).

She supported herself by selling fossils, at first to the curious tourists who flocked to her seaside town on holiday, and then to to the scientific community, which at that time consisted largely of wealthy gentlemen. The latter had an unfortunate habit of writing up her discoveries in scientific journals without crediting her in any fashion, though any taxonomic insights such papers contained often belonged to Mary as much as the physical unearthing of the fossil in question. Persons of authority, uncomfortable with the notion that a woman (especially one without significant financial means) could be a paleontological superhero, tended to write of her somewhat condescendingly when they did so at all. She found this irksome, to say the least, but went on making landmark discoveries.

One of her most important breakthroughs should appeal to the ten-year-old in all of us. Check out the illustration to the right. It's now called a coprolite. When Mary Anning began her work, paleontologists were finding plenty of those, but no one could fathom what they were. Mary Anning correctly deduced that they're…(drumroll) dinosaur poop!

No, no, don't look at me like that. Ask anyone who studies animals–you can learn an astounding amount about how they live from the little presents they leave behind. For starters, dino coprolites can be used to determine whether a dinosaur was carnivorous or herbivorous. In some recent cases, scientists have even been able to figure out specifically what the dinosaur that extruded the coprolite ate!

We also owe most people's mental picture of Nessie (a.k.a the Loch Ness Monster) to Mary Anning. The dinosaur to the left, perhaps popularly thought of as Nessie, is a plesiosaur, and Mary Anning found the first (and second) fossilized plesiosaur remains known to science. (They didn't live in Loch Ness, in case anyone was holding out hope. In fact, not much of anything lives in Loch Ness. I know. I'm as disappointed as you.) After study, she concluded that it was a wholly new species of dinosaur.

It's nothing less than a tragedy that brilliant and intrepid Mary Anning didn't receive proper recognition for her work in her lifetime. I'm glad for the chance to talk about her now, though, in no small part because acknowledging women's contributions in the past helps to prepare the way for today's and tomorrow's innovating women. And it affirms for young girls that their ideas matter, and their knowledge, work, and bravery deserve respect.

On that note, this post is dedicated to every (other) little girl or former little girl who stared up at a rearing brachiosaurus skeleton and thought, "WHOA, COOL!"

Profuse thanks to Missed in History's podcast on Mary Anning, available in the iTunes store, through which I first learned of her; and to those who collaboratively penned the excellent and thorough Wikipedia article on Ms. Anning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Anning).

Image credits:

Plesiosaur skeleton: Shutterstock.com/Lefteris Papaulakis

Coprolite: Shutterstock.com/IgorGolovniov

Plesiosaur rendering: Shutterstock.com/Bob Orsillo


If you (or a dino-thusiastic kid you know) are interested in fun dinosaur crafts and entertaining little dinosaur fact-snippets penned by yours truly, check out PPP's Ready, Set, Draw…Dinosaurs!

Or if you're up for something in three dimensions, check out illustrator and paper artist Mary Beth Cryan's book of Paper Craft Dinosaurs!

Travel Tuesdays Careens Down the Pacific Coast Highway

Hail, Travel-teers! (Does that sound a bit too much like something out of a 1990s kids’ show? Probably it does. Consider it scratched.) I spent the weekend nursing a cold and a demanding cat, so I’m posting a vignette from a trip my mother and I took to Northern California, post–college graduation. It was a particularly memorable adventure, and I thought I might chronicle it in installments. Away we go!A native Californian informed my mother and I that drivers occasionally hit the gravel on Big Sur’s highway-side cliff overlooks "a liiiiittle too fast . . . and just keep going."

“How often does this happen?” asked my mother, eyeing our rental car nervously.

“Oh, about once a month,” he replied.

I haven’t ruled out the possibility that this is something locals exaggerate a bit to mess with delirious, jet-lagged tourists flicking bloodshot eyes from hills to waves and wondering how the world got so yellow and so blue. Still, thereafter we approached the lip of each scenic pullout with considerable caution. And when we stopped, we stared out at the miraculously fogless ocean from a safe fifteen feet back.

We’d been bumped up to business class on the flight from New York to San Francisco, but I hadn’t slept much, preferring instead to experiment with every possible configuration of my absurdly adjustable motorized seat. (I eventually succeeded in arranging it such that I couldn’t sit in it without bracing against something. For, y’know, science.) The already huge, bright landscape was therefore filtered through the everything-is-huge-and-bright lens of exhaustion. I goggled.

After the rather involved process of lunch-procurement (we were so weary, I believed I’d have trouble finding a vegetarian sandwich in Northern California), we had set off down the Pacific Coast Highway. My mother had taken the helm, not because I worried about driving off a cliff but because my confidence that she wouldn’t accidentally Thelma-and-Louise us wasn’t remotely mutual. I deemed this fair. If I’d seen her struggle for most of elementary school to master the loop-around method of shoelace tying, I might’ve felt less secure in the passenger seat.

She’d taken me to the Golden State as a gift following my college graduation, because I fell in love with the Monterey Bay Aquarium after writing a paper on its architecture, and told her I’d like to see it in person. I knew little about where else we were going. I’d just come from Western Massachusetts, land of cornfields, grey stone, green knolls, and easily driveable distances. I found the soaring ochre hills here a bit overwhelming. I thought they might actually eat me. But what, I considered, is an adventure worth without a little intimidation?

When we reached the coast, we parked (carefully, carefully) at a roadside overlook and peered ahead at the arch of Bixby Bridge. We snapped photos, joked, wondered if the black winged shapes circling high overhead were condors. (Alas. Turkey vultures. Impressive birds sadly condemned to popular dismissal by virtue of condor-proximity. I appreciate you, smaller bald scavengers!)

She brought up Foul Play, her favorite Californian movie, in which a young and fetchingly windblown Goldie Hawn drives up the very highway we now navigated, casting pensive looks at the waves far below as Barry Manilow’s “Ready to Take a Chance Again” plays in the background.

“T.,” my mother stated, “I need you to humor me and then never tell anyone about this.”*

“Is this going where I think it’s going? Are you a Fanilow?”

She kindly refrained from replying. In her place I might have offered me an unkind suggestion.

We got out her mp3 player and plugged it into a little speaker. As the non-driving half of our dynamic duo, I was in charge of logistics. I turned to her once we were on the road again. “Now?”

She assented, and I hit "play." Barry Manilow’s voice echoed off the cliffs as we drove, accompanied by my mother’s clear soprano in pitch-perfect harmony.

I couldn’t help thinking Goldie’d just been a bit outclassed.

*She changed her mind and gave me permission to blog about it. There was no duress involved. Honest.


Topmost photo copyright Shutterstock.com/Kenneth Sponsler. All other photos by Talia L.


Welcome to Meet the Paupers: The Pet Edition. People have great relationships with their pets and PPP staffers are no exception. Some of our pets have been our companions for years, some are new family members, some are rescue pets, and some have recently passed away. I hope you enjoy their pictures as much as I enjoyed compiling them for this post.

Meet LaRue, who was found 1-1/2 years ago in "the street" in front of our office building. She was adopted by one of our editors, and has been living the life ever since. She shares her space with two dogs, and often seems to think they are her prey. Here she looks like she could star in a Halloween movie.







Meet Runa, daughter of one of our designers, Margaret. Runa does not look happy here, but after enduring her bath, she becomes the cute dog you see in the next picture!


Runa (old High German for "mystery") cleans up well, huh? Our designer altered the photo with Instagram to make it look old-fashioned. Cool. Runa is a Brussels Griffon.





Here is Rocky, beloved Welsh Springer Spaniel. Production assistant Jen had the pleasure of having Rocky for 12 wonderful years! Sadly, Rocky was recently laid to rest, but Jen and family have great memories to hold onto forever.







PPP designer Eleanor is owned by Paulie and Coco. Paulie is the suave gray tuxedo; he hails originally from California as is evidenced by his laid-back attitude. Coco (Puff) is the plump white and gray kitty. She is a Jersey girl (and might put one in mind of a female version of Chris Christie). Paulie and Coco were brought together at a young age by a former owner who had to give them up because of her allergic boyfriend.  Eleanor arranged to meet to find out about  possible adoption. When she arrived, Paulie jumped on her lap and looked straight at her. That was it. Now she has two of the most loving and funny critters ever!  


This is our Editorial Director Barbara's sweet dog Sophie as a pup. She was a rescue dog from a NYC kill shelter. Barbara located Sophie through petfinder.com and got her from Closter Animal Welfare Society Inc. (CLAWS) in New Jersey. Photo submitted by Barbara as a warm tribute to Sophie, who passed away last week after almost 13 years as chief morale officer of her family. Duties included herding cats (literally), wrestling children, cleaning plates, greeting arrivals, cheering the despondent, empathetic listening, and providing squeaky toy accompaniment to phone calls. 

Barbara's family also includes two tuxedo cats, Ruffio and Henry. They are shown sharing a cat carrier for a trip to the vet for check-ups and shots. Both were adopted from the Stamford Animal Shelter in January. Ruffio is 1-1/2 years old and Henry is 9 or so.






How could you not love these little faces? Andi in Accounting is the proud parent of Coco and Monty. Coco (on the left) is around 4 or 5 years old. She was rescued from a puppy mill in January. She loves to chew on things and follow her "brother" everywhere. Monty (right) is 14 years old and still kicking. Andi adopted Monty when he was 2 months old! Both pups are purebred Cocker Spaniels. Andi reports that they get along great. After Monty's brother Cody passed away a while back, Monty was lonely and Andi and family decided to see about another dog. When Monty spotted Coco, it was love at first sight. He actually grabbed Coco's leash and walked her to the door! Awww!

The Story of Django, aka Sugar Cat (shown above) — Django, owned by Production Director Ginny, is a six-year-old kitty who developed diabetes a year and a half ago. After the heroic efforts of the Katonah Animal Hospital, he was brought back from the brink of death and he is now a happy, almost-healthy house cat. Never far from the food trough, Django must undergo twice-daily injections of insulin, like a human, only in much smaller doses, of course. This ritual involves a body-slam by his owner and a quick fake-out with a treat as the needle goes in. Django still manages to make time for the occasional hunting expedition, and enjoys Internet cat videos, especially the Russian “No-No Cat.” Sorry, ladies, he is a confirmed bachelor, and outside interests keep him very busy. Watch for him practicing his Gangnam Style or break dancing at local charity events.

The Tail of Gus and Xena, Warrior Princess (pictured above). Xena is Django’s litter-mate, but the two could not be less alike. She is petite and ladylike. Older man Gus fell hard for her when she joined the family in 2006. Like her warrior namesake, Xena is not the retiring type and has been known to bring down prey at least as large as she is. Her goal is to bag an elk. Her doting husband's hunting days are behind him, however, and Gus is just as happy to keep the kitty bed warm while his lady brings home the . . . bacon.


The story of Kodi, the Brown Squeezle Dog. Baby Kodi was found wandering the banks of the Ohio River as a pup. A natural charmer, he won Dad’s (Ginny's hubby Jim's) good graces by licking his ear at the rescue center, and was promptly adopted. Always the fastest pooch at the dog park, he corners like a Lamborghini, and can go from zero to 60 in record time. After all that energy’s burned off, Kodi kicks back at home with a tennis ball and begs for belly rubs while catching up with Dad and NASCAR. It may surprise you (it sure surprised us) to learn that after having his DNA tested, he is one quarter dachshund. The rest is anyone’s guess, but all agree he’s a handsome fellow, always ready with a welcoming wag and wet nose.




These two playful pups are owned by our IT guy here at PPP. Maggie and Millie are sisters and were rescued and adopted together from a shelter in Tennessee when they were only eight weeks old. They are now one year, eight months. Who do you think ended up winning the toy battle?



Last but not least is our Production Assistant Carol's cute-as-a-button cat Dusty, soon to be 11 years old. His birthday is on the most romantic day of the year, Valentine's Day. I guess that is why he is so lovable.

There you have it. I really enjoyed doing this post. I got to bond with my co-workers while simply learning the stories of how their pets came into their lives. And if you are considering a pet, please think about all the rescue animals awaiting homes. You won't regret it. We didn't. I think this quote perhaps sums it all up: "Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." –Anatole France