Month: September 2014

Late Bloomer!

From our Nobel Prize unit:  An inspiration for those of us who cling to the hope that if all else fails, we might at least achieve the status of “late bloomer”!  In 2007, the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences went to ninety year old (yes 90!) Leonid Hurwicz, (“commanding intellect, humble soul”)!  YAY LH!  A quick trip over to Wikipedia told us that Professor Hurwicz passed on in 2008.  So, the award came just in the nick of time, because we learned that Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously. (new vocab word!)

leonid h

– A young Leonid Hurwicz –

Novels: we finished “Zen and the Art of Faking It”, by Jordan Sonnenblick. Good story, believable characters, reasonable predicaments. We continued to read “Under the Egg” and we just started “The Absolute Value of Mike”. Interesting coincidence: “Under the Egg” has a teen-aged daughter living with her academically-absorbed flaky mother. “The Absolute Value of Mike” has a teen-aged son living with his academically-absorbed flaky father.

Our Explorer Unit:  As a youth did you hesitate before you talked about Austria or Australia in hopes that you would remark upon the right country? Hey! Either I zoned out during my formative years, or the textbooks were so hideously pitiful, but I only found out last night that there is an actual connection between the words “Austria” and “Australia”.  In case you had the same sorry textbook, here is the deal:  AUSTRALIA was named (in 1606, by sea captain Pedro de Quiros) in honor of the Archduke of AUSTRIA. When one of us learns, we all learn.

Roman Numeral Review: We have been over Roman numerals before, but it is time for a slow, in-depth review. Our goal is to be able to read the Roman numeral copyrighted dates included with the end credits of movies.

Le Fictitious Local Diner Story Problem: Last night’s story problem was all about the quarters collected in the tabletop jukeboxes at the diner. We converted the quarters into dollars, figured the average amount collected in each jukebox, and calculated the total dollars collected annually.

red bus

A Classic Plays Classical: The red double-decker buses in London play classical music (all British composers) through their sound system!

  • Jupiter, from “The Planets”, by Gustav Holst (Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity – you can hear sort of an instrumental Santa Claus “ho, ho, ho” throughout this piece.)
  • Pomp and Circumstance, by Sir Edward Elgar (Elgar was a big fan of the new-fangled concept of recording music, so it is possible to download music with Elgar speaking and then conducting. So great!)
  • Fantasia on Greensleeves, by Ralph Vaughan Williams (soothing and beautiful, included in many orchestral Christmas albums)
  • Overture to H.M.S. Pinafore, by Sir Arthur Sullivan (jaunty and fabulous)

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH



A new study unit:  The Nobel Prize. Intriguing even before we begin.  Here is what we’ve learned so far:  Alfred Nobel was a gifted scientist and brilliant businessman;  though his vast fortune was based upon his invention of dynamite (ka-boom!), he was also the holder of 354 other patents. We have learned that Nobel Prize recipients are not called “Winners”, because they are not in a contest. The recipients are called “Laureates” (the word springing from the ancient Greek’s laurel wreath of honor). Perfection on so many levels.

New words to become acquainted with: “Patent” (from the Nobel Prize unit) and “Scurvy” (from our explorers unit).   Find me a student who isn’t curious about scurvy.  Seriously, we were all over the gruesome Google images so fast.

Farmer Brown Story Problem: Crop failure! Farmer Brown has 4 acres devoted to growing eggplant. It costs Farmer Brown $300 per acre to plant and water, and $200 per acre to harvest. How much money will Farmer Brown lose if shopkeepers won’t buy because nobody wants to eat eggplant ever again? (Heh, heh, eggplant makes me gag. This goes way back to a harrowing childhood experience, when a certain mother tried to pass off  “Mrs. Paul’s Fried Eggplant Sticks” as french fries.)


A fourth of the fifth:  Classical Music – what about the longer pieces? A few posts back, I mentioned that we broke into classical music by listening shorter compositions. When we felt ready to listen to larger works, here is what we did (not that it takes a high IQ to figure this one out) – taking Beethoven’s 5th Symphony for example: we listened to one movement a night (Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is comprised of 4 movements,  thus it took us 4 nights to hear the entire symphony).

The whole darn fifth: There is a reason Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor is so well known. It is stunning. Pop quiz: how long do you think Beethoven’s 5th Symphony lasts?  One hour?  Two hours?  Is this the reason you haven’t sat yourself down and had a listen? Well, awesome news everybody!  It lasts only half an hour!  Find a speedy conductor and the whole thing can be enjoyed in 28 minutes. Let’s do the math:

  • Movement 1 – around 7 minutes (the classic, “fate knocking on the door”)
  • Movement 2 – around 8 minutes (the heartbreaker)
  • Movement 3 – around 5 minutes (the A++++ movement – alternately furtive and then fearless)
  • Movement 4 – around 8 minutes (the grand triumph)

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Insert Clever Title Here

Greetings.  I couldn’t think of a snappy title to lure any and all into this posting.  Well, you are here!  Welcome!  Here is our update from last night:


India: We have completed our unit on early 20th century India. We finished the novel, “All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens” by Gloria Whelan – a captivating read with interesting historical information and a wonderful point of view. I do think there is a disconnect between the story and the title, but nobody is asking me. We finished our unit on Mohandas Gandhi (maybe one of our best units ever). I am so impressed with the DK Eyewitness book on Gandhi: OUTSTANDING research and well organized. I am still trying to find a poster of Gandhi that I like…am thinking about having a print shop make up a poster sized copy of the DK book cover. Hope this is legal.


Explorers: Last night we read about Hernando Cortes, and we learned the difference between an explorer and a conqueror. Suffice it to say, we won’t be searching high and low for a poster of this MEAN man.

Le Fictitious Local Café story problem:  The 3 cooks and 4 waitresses at “Le Fictitious Local Café” need new aprons. Aprons for the cooks cost $8 each, and each cook needs 3 (so there will always be a clean one to put on). The waitresses all want aprons with cute rickrack stitched on, and these are available for $15 each. Each waitress needs 2 aprons. How much will the owner of the café need to shell out to provide aprons for his staff?

Classical Music: It was VIRTUOSO NIGHT again, starring violinist Itzhak Perlman!

  • Humoresque, by Antonin Dvorak. Until you’ve heard this piece conducted by Seiji Ozawa, featuring Perlman on violin and Yo-Yo Ma on cello, you have not heard the potential of this composition.  BTW, a “humoresque” was a genre of music in the 1800s that suggested a fanciful, sweet mood.
  • Out of Africa, the title music, by John Barry, composed in 1985. Itzhak Perlman’s solos break your heart.
  • Violin Concerto in E Minor, movement 3, by Felix Mendelssohn.  This video (linked below – my FIRST youtube link BTW!) is not the crispest, but who cares?  We LOVE it!  Perlman knows this piece backwards and forwards and upside down. We have watched this at least 10 times.  It is the perfect background music for a cat stalking a mouse.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

As far as quotable phrases go, isn’t “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” perfection?

Stanley and Livingstone in miniature (just the thing for your locket)

We are loving our African explorers unit!  Last night my son and I read about Dr. David Livingstone (discoverer of Victoria Falls), his frightening disappearance of three years, and his subsequent rescue by H.M. Stanley, of the “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” quote. (Years later, Stanley mapped Lake Victoria and was able to confirm that it was the source of the Nile. Note: Victoria Falls and Lake Victoria are about 2,000 miles apart.) ANYWAY, the explorations of Livingstone and Stanley form the template for any adventure novel.  At every turn there is malaria, slave traders, dying guides, deserting guides, hippo attacks, storms, robbers, uncrossable rivers, bloody battles, and cannibals!  Riveting!

Tomorrow night – Marco Polo!

As if you couldn’t tell, this explorer unit is so A+++!  We are reading from The Usborne Book of EXPLORERS.  Side note: every Usborne book we have read has been well researched and interestingly presented. USBOURNE BOOKS is a direct sales company (think Mary Kay or Discovery Toys).  I have no idea who, in my neck of the woods, sells Usborne books, but I can usually find a copy of what I am looking for through Amazon’s third party sellers.

Our Farmer Brown story problem was all about butter.  We calculated how much butter Farmer Brown would need to purchase for his “corn on the cob” booth at the county fair, and how much the butter would cost.

Parlez-vous française?  Or Japanese or German or Spanish or Vietnamese?   We can count to 10 in each of these languages. Last night, I verbalized 20 different numbers in one of the above languages and my son would find each number on our iPad language software app. Counting to ten isn’t really the goal; I just want my son to have an awareness that many languages are spoken throughout the world.

Classical Music – It was Franz Schubert night! Poor Franz!  He was short, chubby, wore glasses, and his so-called friends called him, “Mushroom”.  To sort of top it all off, he died of syphilis at age 31. But, oh, his music legacy!

  • Serenade – written when he knew he was dying, it’s all about crushing sorrow. A beautifully executed composition.
  • Ave Maria – Yes, THE “Ave Maria” that you are familiar with! Schubert wrote it!
  • Marche Militaire – a completely polished work. This is one of those pieces that is thoroughly likeable on first listening.  It might sound familiar – it was used in the Disney cartoon, “Santa’s Workshop”.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH