Explorers

What We Want

We want a GRAND SLAM – Go Dodgers World Series 2017!

Dodgers

We always want THE GRAND SLAM (our version) setting the scene:  I am reading to my son, finishing a chapter and am starting to close the book, and out of nowhere his hand comes slamming down on the page, clearly communicating DO NOT EVEN THINK OF CLOSING THIS GREAT BOOK.  KEEP READING.  It happened again last night.

Animal orchestra

Last night we started reading “The Great Animal Orchestra – Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places” by musician/naturalist Dr. Bernie Krause.  When we begin a new book, we read only a few paragraphs to get a sense of what awaits us, but I was so pleasantly surprised with this book – the writing, bright and observant – that I was half way through the 8-page prologue before deciding to close the book for the evening.  This was met with a decided difference of opinion from my son – his hand came crashing down onto the page.  It was the GRAND SLAM once again.  YES.

crusoe 3

We didn’t want to cheat on Robinson Crusoe – I hate to admit this, but we just finished an abridged version (A REALLY ABRIDGED VERSION) of Daniel Dafoe’s classic.  We read through the first chapter of the original, and there was so much explaining necessary at the end of every paragraph, I could see that it would take us forever to plow through the book.  But we still wanted to know about the story inspired by pirate Alexander Selkirk, who lived alone on Juan Fernandez Island (off the coast of Chile) for 4 years, so we found a cartoony version “Robinson Crusoe (Graphic Revolve: Common Core Editions)”, which gave us the basics.  I think we are still hungry to read the real story, but ALAS, I cannot face the work of explaining Dafoe’s work just yet.

cousin tree

We wanted to see where we fit in – COUSIN CITY!  Cousin Caitlin is getting married soon!  Did my son understand the concept of cousin (vocab)?  Did he know where she fit into the family tree?  Did he know where HE fit into the family tree?  Out came the big drawing paper and the pastels and we worked together to create a cousin-centric family tree.

paint 3

(Story Problem) Farmer Brown wants to gussy up his roadside stand – Farmer Brown has plans to paint the inside of his roadside produce stand, as soon as his roadside-stand cashiers (vocab) decide on the color.  So far, 4 quarts of sample paints have been tried out to no one’s satisfaction.  If each quart of sample paint costs $6, and there are plans to try out 3 more colors, but – OH NO – they end up purchasing 5 more samples after the 3, how much will have been spent on sample paint?  A)  $30    B)  $42    C)  $60    D)  $72

After a color is finally agreed upon (YAY), 6 gallons (at $30 each) will be required to complete the paint job.  How much will have been spent on the gallons and sample quarts?  A) $180     B) $252     C) $72     D) $600  (story problem answers at bottom of post)

tango poster

We want to be Tango-ologists – My son and I concluded our South America unit this past week, absolutely loving our guide book: “Not for Parents South America – Lonely Planet Kids”.  This past week we read about:
– the importance of the coffee industry to the Brazil economy
– Columbian emeralds
– the navy of land-locked Bolivia
– AND WE READ ABOUT THE TANGO OF ARGENTINA.  We had no idea how much we were going to love the tango music!  Our toes have been tapping non-stop.

  • “Por una Cabeza” – this true Argentine tango, composed in 1935 by Alfredo Le Pera and Carlos Gardel, tells the story of a man comparing his horse race gambling addiction with his attraction to women.  Whoa.  The music: anguished, gorgeous, yearning – the perfect selection for the tango scenes in “The Scent of a Woman” (1992) and “Easy Virtue” (2008) (shown here):

  • “Hernando’s Hideaway” – if I had more friends that were more musically aware, and I asked them to hum a tango, this is the one they would probably come up with – it is from the 1954 musical, “The Pajama Game”. (The Pajama Game centers around labor troubles at a pajama manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa…Hernando’s Hideway is the local dive bar).  Great fun, a most aggressive tango with no pretensions toward subtleties:

  • “Blue Tango” – Leroy Anderson’s contribution to the tango genre, composed in 1951. My son and I have been tapping our toes to “Blue Tango” for a few years. Every time we listen to this we feel sorry for the snare drum player (mind numbing repetition).  Interesting: in searching for a “Blue Tango” video footage I think I came across more terrible filmed versions of this than of any other music I have researched:

  • MORE????? “Doc Martin Theme Song” – my son has heard this melody so often, as I have watched every episode of this favorite British TV series.  The theme was composed by Colin Towns in 2004, and is indeed a tango.  What a metaphor for the on again-off again relationship between the doctor and of the citizens of Portwenn:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
Jane BH
(story problem answers: part 1 -D)  $72 and part 2-B) $252)

Advertisements

Miners and Minors

miners     little boys

Homonyms, homographs, and homophones:  the craziness of the English language!  Miners and Minors.  Wail, Wale, and Whale.  Watch (look) and Watch (timepiece).  Bark (dog talk) and Bark (on the tree).  Homonyms are the life of the party at our language arts gatherings.  My son and I had a great time going through a long list of these words last night, and it all started with “miners”.

gold rush books

The 49ers were miners:  a few nights ago we completed our second book about the California Gold Rush of 1849.  We are still thinking about –

  • how would we have traveled to California from the east coast;  all choices were dreadful.  Would we have taken a ship around the tip of South America (hideous seasickness/horrible food)?  Would we have taken a ship, disembarked (vocab) in Panama, hiked the 60 miles through the jungle (bugs and disease) and hoped we were able to find a ship to take us the rest of the way?  Would we have traveled over land in a covered wagon (we learned that the most dangerous part of covered wagon travel was the CROSSING OF RIVERS.  We would not have guessed that.)?
  • PAY DIRT – this is what happy prospector’s called finding gold dust in their pan of dirt.
  • those who profited the most for the gold rush: the store owners who sold supplies to the miners, Levi Strauss and his jeans, the Wells and Fargo mail delivery service, and women who cooked, washed, and mended the miners’ clothing.

hangtown fry

Hangtown Fry on the menu at Le Fictitious Local Diner (story problem) One of the diner’s cook’s kids was studying about the California Gold Rush, so the cook put a traditional 49er feast on the menu: Hangtown Fry, which he decided to serve with a side of sourdough bread.  Hangtown Fry is an omelette (vocab) made of eggs, oysters, and bacon.  The meal has been so popular that the chef has had to bake 10 loaves of sourdough every day.  If one loaf provides 12 slices of bread, and each Hangtown Fry order comes with 2 slices of bread, how many orders does the diner sell in a week? (answer at bottom of post)

Rounding out our homonym theme, in music:  After learning about the gold rush MINERS, we listened to three classical compositions in MINOR keys (in this case, each in the key of B minor).  We talked about the difference in sound between a major and minor key, we talked about why each of the chosen pieces needed to be written in a minor key, and then we sat back and enjoyed:

  • The Hebrides Overture, composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1830 –  the minor key essential for evoking the mystery and might of nature.  Wonderfully conducted by the etherial Nathalie Stutzman in this video:

  • In the Hall of the Mountain King, from the incidental music Edvard Grieg composed in 1876 for Henrik Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt.  Furtive (vocab), stealthy (vocab), secretive and aggressive – brought to us only by the minor key.  Excellent presentation:

  • Ride of the Valkyries, from Richard Wagner’s opera, The Valkyrie, which premiered in 1870.  The minor key brands the women warriors as fierce and relentless in their duties.  This piece performed by the Berlin Philharmonic is masterfully and energetically conducted by a young Daniel Barenboim. Oh my, the tempo is FANTASTIC:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
Jane BH
(story problem answer: 420 orders)

This Week: One Sculptor, One Scoundrel

michelangelo     Francis-drake

 Yay!                         Icky

Interesting Coincidence – a few posts back (“Two Different Worlds”, July 12, 2015) we mused that the two people we were studying (Rasputin and Albert Einstein) lived at approximately the same time, within a thousand miles of each other, but followed such different paths.  It has happened again!  We just concluded surveys of Michelangelo (1474 – 1564) and Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596), again living at about the same time, within a thousand miles of each other, but following two such different paths.  Michelangelo – devoted to the perfection of his sculpture, painting, architecture.  Drake – devoted to the accumulation of wealth via the only means he was clearly proficient at: brutal thievery.

It is too revolting to speak of Drake; our energy is better spent waxing enthusiastically about Michelangelo.  The book we read, “Michelangelo” by Diane Stanley is A++++.  Among simply loads of other things, we learned a lot about the Sistine Chapel:

Sistine-Chapel full

  • It was named for Pope Sixtus IV (get it? Sistine – Sixtus?), and the ceiling was commissioned by Pope Julius II, who just happened to be the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. Hmmm.
  • In case you haven’t studied the ceiling, there are 9 major panels illustrating three themes:  the creation of heaven and earth, Adam and Eve, and Noah and the flood.  It took Michelangelo 4 years to paint this masterwork.
  • The 60 foot-high scaffolding (vocab!) upon which Michelangelo stood (yes, STOOD.  He did not paint lying down) stretched under only one half of the ceiling area.  Michelangelo painted the Noah’s Ark panels first. When he finished these panels, and the scaffolding was moved to the other end of the chapel, Michelangelo decided that it was difficult to decipher all the activity on the ceiling, so he painted much larger figures on the creation and Adam and Eve side!  I swear, live and learn.

Other stuff we’ve worked on this past week:

  • Reading comprehension – I wrote up a few paragraphs about my daughter and her job, and had my son read through it – I did not read it out loud – then my son took a multiple choice quiz about what he had read.  Did well.  Important activity.
  • Roman Numeral review. A+
  • We continue to enjoy the novel, “Greetings from Nowhere” by Barbara O’Connor.

michelangelo book

  • We were so impressed with Diane Stanley’s “Michelangelo”, that we selected another of her books, “Charles Dickens, The Man Who Had Great Expectations” to anchor our new study unit. So far, EXCELLENT!  My son is quite taken with this book.  We have learned what “shorthand” is and we are now motivated to give “The Pickwick Papers” a try.

Granny Smith Apple -Photographed on Hasselblad H3-22mb Camera

Our Farmer Brown Story Problem – Farmer Brown supplies apples to Le Fictitious Local Diner for their famous apple pies.  He sells the diner a box of 100 Granny Smith apples for $8.00.  The diner uses 6 apples for each pie. How many boxes will the diner need each month if they make 10 pies every week?  How much will the diner be billed for the apples every month?

Music to remind us of Michelangelo’s Rome

  • “The Pines of Rome”, movement 1, composed in 1924 by Ottorino Respighi.  Characteristic of Respighi’s work, this piece SPARKLES. (This movement has a quirky ending – beware!)

  • Allegretto from “Palladio for String Orchestra”, composed in 1995 by Karl Jenkins to honor the Roman architect Andrea Palladio, a contemporary of Michelangelo’s. (BTW, this music was used in a De Beers Diamond advertising campaign in the 1990s.)  Gorgeous church used in this video.

  • Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 4 in A major” (“The Italian”), movement 4, composed in 1883. We LOVE this entire symphony, and we’ve probably listened to this movement 30 times.  It moves right along.  This video?  OUTSTANDING performance.

Welcome to the best part of my day!  And Happy Birthday HKH!

– Jane BH

 

Two Different Worlds

germany globe rasputin einstein russia globe

Two Different Worlds – we are reading about the extraordinarily weird Grigory Rasputin and the extraordinarily brilliant Albert Einstein.  The two were born only 10 years apart (Rasputin 1869, Einstein 1879), but WHOA, what different worlds they lived in.  After each night’s reading, my son and I have much to discuss – first the family background, the education, and the character of each man (we haven’t gotten to their contributions yet) and then the comparison between cultures.  Grossest tidbit from last night’s reading – Rasputin’s teeth were brown. Yeecks. BTW, both sources of information are well researched, well written, and captivating.

Thinking about Letters – last night I brought out the old family dictionary, so my son could see that there is a non-electronic means of finding the definition of a word.  Then, I asked my son to guess which letter of the alphabet is at the beginning of the greatest number of words (he guessed “E”), and which letter is the beginning of the fewest number of words (he guessed “Z”). Thus begins a 13 day miniature side-study. We are counting the number of pages for each letter; two letters per evening. So, in 13 days we will know!

pluto new

Focus on Pluto – we are keeping abreast of the New Horizons spacecraft that was launched nine and a half years ago with the task of flying by Pluto, sending back images and information.  So exciting!  After traveling some three BILLION miles, the FASTEST spacecraft ever is due to pass Pluto NEXT WEEK.  It is already sending images.  We marvel once again at the brainpower that can successfully manage these far-reaching projects with such precision.

rice treats

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner is gearing up to make some big bucks at  the county fair – their plan is to sell 3,000 Rice Krispies Treats at their booth during the weekend-long fair. The diner chefs are working from the recipe on the back of the Rice Krispies box, which uses 6 cups of the rice cereal to make 12 large square cookies.  How many cups will the diner use to produce their goal of 3,000?   If a regular sized box of Rice Krispies can make two batches of the treats, how many regular sized boxes will be needed?  Delving into the arena of common sense:  is it likely that any grocery store would have this many boxes of Rice Krispies?

black wreath

Our music theme a few nights ago – “The Sad Song Scale”.  We listened to, and ranked these tear-jerker compositions on a sadness scale of one (“bummer”) to ten (“unrecoverable heart-crushing despair”):

  • “Symphony No. 3 in F major” (third movement), composed by Brahms in 1883.  We ranked this a most worthy 10 on our sadness scale.  SO much desolation.  This piece has been well positioned in several movies.

  • “What’ll I Do”, by Irving Berlin, composed in 1923.  Earns an impressive 6 on our scale.  Sad AND clever. That is sort of hard to pull off.  Kudos Mr. Berlin!

  • “Serenade”, by Franz Schubert.  A solid 9 on the scale.  Written in 1828, during the final year of his life, despondent because he knew he was dying of Syphilis. Blog followers know that my son and I are enthusiastic Itzhak Perlman admirers and this performance is another reason why.  Perfection.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Messenger Service

mercury head

Best Messenger Ever – Oh!  The brainpower that sent space probe Messenger on its successful-beyond-all-measures mission to planet Mercury!  My son and I learned that Messenger was launched from earth in 2004 and started orbiting Mercury in 2011.  The plan: Messenger was to orbit for a year and send back 2,500 images.  But the space probe was so well built, that it circled the tiny planet for 4 years and sent back 270,000 images!  WHOA.  On April 30, dear Messenger ran out of propellant, was pulled out of orbit by Mercury’s gravity, and sent one final photo before it crashed into the planet.

messenger's final photo

Messenger’s final image of Mercury

We paid homage to the team that constructed Messenger by listening to Gustav Holst’s “Mercury” from his orchestral work, “The Planets”.

More academics from last week –

  • Napoleon – as we learn more about Napoleon we are struck by how his brilliant ideas were dwarfed by his all-around awfulness.  This man belonged permanently in time-out, and of course, that is exactly where he ended up (we found the little island of St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled for the final six years of his life, on the globe). Vocab from our Napoleon unit: artillery, boycott, emperor, strategy, and trench.  BTW, our book, “A Wicked History – Napoleon, Emperor and Conqueror”, by Kimberley Heuston, is EXCELLENT.
  • Shakespeare – we finished “Romeo and Juliet”, and we have started “Twelfth Night”.  Love it!  We do prefer the mixed-up craziness of Shakespeare’s comedies to his gruesome tragedies.
  • Exponents – we gave the Mathtoon’s “Exponents and Radicals” iPad app another try. Much more fun this time. This app is splendid!  Cool, in-your-face, badboy graphics.  And the app is free!

peacock

Last week’s best Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown has a muster (or ostentation, if you will) of peafowl on his property.  Vocab time: we had to learn the difference between peafowl, peacocks, peahens, and peachicks. Seriously, what is cuter than the word, “peachick”?

OK, the story problem:  Farmer Brown has a large muster of peafowl on his property. He collects the peacock’s discarded long tail feathers to sell to a local interior designer, for $3.50 each. If the designer paid Farmer Brown $140 last month, how many feathers were handed over? If the designer sells each feather for $15, and all feathers are sold, what is the profit, once Farmer Brown has been paid?

dental tools   Ugh.

Last night’s music theme: “Music for a Dental Procedure” – my son and I take meticulous (vast overstatement) care of his teeth (so far no cavities, so that is something), but we thought soothing music could bring such relief if Novocain loomed.  Here is what we selected:

  • Beethoven’s 6th Symphony “The Pastoral” (1808), movement 1.  Any of the movements would work, and may we suggest the entire 5-movement symphony (about 45 minutes) for lengthy oral surgery.  Such life affirming music.

  • Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcarolle”, from his “Tales of Hoffman” (1881).  All you have to do is lie back and imagine yourself floating in a gondola around the Venetian waterways.  Soothing to the extreme.

  • “The Moldau” by Bedrich Smetana, (1875) from his larger orchestral work, “Ma Vlast”. Relax and let the dentist do the work as you follow the Moldau (a river in Smetana’s native Bohemia, now the Czech Republic) from its source past woods, meadows, a farmer’s wedding, and ending as the Moldau flows into the Elbe River. Piece lasts about 12 minutes. Fantastic ending.  This is a superb video, filmed in Smetana Hall in Prague.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

 

 

Mounting Interest

Mount Everest

Our Wonders of the World unit: last night, Mount Everest.  Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level at the summit (the summit being about as big as my son’s bed – we spent a few minutes thinking about whether we could be up so high, standing on something so small without freaking out and throwing up).  But back to the height:  when we fly to LA, our cruising altitude is not that much higher than the top of Mount Everest.  Wouldn’t it be weird to be in a plane, just about cruising altitude and look eye to eye with a person outside the airplane?  This puts the size of the Everest into a perspective that forces us to understand that THIS IS ONE GIANT MOUNTAIN.

New unit: George Ohr, potter. We started a most interesting book, “The Mad Potter, George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius”. George Ohr (1857 – 1918) tried/failed about 14 different career paths before he was trained in ceramics.  In his own words, he “took to the potter’s wheel like a duck to water”. My son needed to know what a potter’s wheel looked like, so we viewed a neat video of a skilled potter throwing a pot.  He was spellbound as the solid lump of clay was transformed into a rather large bowl. Here is the video we watched:

Last night’s music theme celebrated Mount Vesuvius!

funicular illustration

Here is the story:  in 1880, a local journalist (Peppino Turco) teamed with composer Luigi Denza to create the immensely popular “advertising” jingle, “Funiculi Funicula”, commemorating the grand opening of a funicular cable car up the side of Mount Vesuvius. The original words are essentially “ride the totally cool cable car to the top of the mountain, see what you can see, bring a love interest”. The song went as viral as viral could be in 1880.

THEN!  Only 6 years later, composer Richard Strauss was touring Italy, heard the song – thought it was an old traditional Neapolitan theme – and wove it into movement 4 of his “Aus Italien” tone poem. Bad surprise: Denza sued Richard Strauss, won the lawsuit, and Strauss paid royalties every time “Aus Italien” was performed.

THEN!  (here we go again) 21 years after the Denza vs. Strauss dust-up, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov was touring Italy, heard the song – thought it was an old traditional Neapolitan theme – so he polished it up for full orchestra and it became “Neapolitan Song”.  He apparently was not sued. This is a sparkling orchestration, but my son and I think the original, unrefined rendition is THE BEST. (spoiler alert:  this is a flawed video visually – you will see what I mean immediately, but Pope Benedict is in the audience, so that is pretty awesome)

Final note:  Vesuvius is a dormant volcano, but in 1944 it erupted and the cable car was a casualty.  Rats.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

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