Geography

Too much gushing?

We plow through so many poorly edited books (case in point: the North American Birds book that had a chapter entitled “Finches” in which there was no mention of finches in said chapter), or stupefyingly boring books (case in point: the recent purchase of a most disappointing volume on the history of yodeling), so when we come across books such as we’ve been reading these past weeks, I gush.  Sorry.  Not sorry. 

Paddle-to-the-Sea – this book is so A++++.  Written and illustrated in 1941 by Holling Clancy Holling, and selected as a Caldecott Honor Book in 1942.  This soothing reading is: 

  • a geography lesson in the Great Lakes (which provoked us to order a rather large Great Lakes map poster for my son’s room):

lakes map

  • a lesson in “sticking to the plan”
  • a lesson in “letting go”
  • a lesson in observation
  • a lesson about the kindness of strangers

For us, “Paddle-to-the-Sea” was one almost poetic page per night, accompanied by detailed illustrations, to help us follow the journey of a small hand-carved wooden canoe, complete with hand-carved wooden passenger, as it traveled from a river in Canada through the Great Lakes and eventually on to the Atlantic Ocean.  The 4 year voyage concludes in a most satisfying manner (I was sort of weeping).  Excellent, excellent night-time reading.

Dinosaur Atlas  a spectacular, though slightly unwieldy effort (it is a large book whose large pages unfold making an even larger book) from Lonely Planet Kids.  This book is FILLED with late-breaking dinosaur findings, photos, and deliciously bold graphics.

News to us:

  • 80% of identified dinosaurs have been named since 1990. Those among us who learned everything they know about dinosaurs from “The Flintstones” should take note
  • dinosaur fossils have been found in abundance in every continent INCLUDING Antarctica
  • there is a strong possibility that all theropods (meat eaters that marched around on the 2 hind legs (think T-Rex)) – HAD FEATHERS! (not for flying, perhaps for warmth)

The Flag Book – another keeper resource from Lonely Planet Kids.  All world flags displayed and analyzed, PLUS flag topics that drew an intrigued look from my son: 

  • Car race flags
  • Why the flag on the right side tail of a national airplane is displayed backwards
  • Jamaican flag – only flag in the world that does not contain red or white or blue
  • Bermuda flag – only flag in the world that showcases a disaster (a shipwreck)
  • Why the state flag of Hawaii features the British “Union Jack” flag in its design
  • Hey!  We couldn’t help but notice – the flag of Chile is so similar to our Texas flag

The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects – this is the type of book that makes us more appreciative citizens.  Each short chapter provides background information on a treasured item from the Smithsonian collection, then explains how the Smithsonian came in possession of the object.  First-rate writing.  Since the last post, the items that provoked extensive side conversations between my son and I:

  • A compass from the Lewis and Clark expedition
  • Harriet Tubman’s shawl from THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND!!!
  • The Brownie camera that shot pictures of the RMS Carpathia rescue of Titanic passengers

pickles

Story Problem:  gushing about Farmer Brown’s newest product – Farmer Brown had such luck with his cucumber crop this year that he has gone into pickle production.  Using his grandmother’s recipe, he has made jars and jars and jars of dill pickles.  He is not only selling them at his road-side stand, but a national food catalog has made a substantial purchase.  

– If Farmer Brown slices 2 cloves of garlic into each jar of his extremely popular dill pickles, and there are approximately 10 cloves in a head of garlic, and he has filled 12 dozen jars, how many heads of garlic were needed?

A).  10     B).  18     C).  25     D).  29  (answer at bottom of post)

Speaking of story problems!  Coming semi-soon! –  A booklet that will include 100 story problems from this blog.  Illustrations are finished!  This will be available from this website  before Christmas.  STAY TUNED. 

Classical Music we gush over –

pick 3

About 4 times a week, I make a list of 10 classical music pieces and have my son select the three we are going to listen to that evening.  If one of the following is on the list, it ALWAYS gets picked. I would estimate that we have listened to each of these no less than 400 times –

  • The Moldau, the second movement from Bedrich Smetana’s symphonic poem, “Ma Vlast”, which premiered in 1882.  The piece follows a river’s path, passing woodlands, meadows, a wedding, mermaids, castles and ruins.  An abrupt and fabulous ending: 

  • The Wild Bears, the sixth movement from Sir Edward Elgar’s “The Wand of Youth” (second suite), premiering in 1908.  A rollicking 3 minutes, full of sophisticated orchestration,  surprises, and a smashing ending.  We also really like Mariss Jansons, the conductor in this video:

  • Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, movement III (AKA “Fandango”), composed by Luigi Boccherini in 1798.  Soothing, warm, intriguing.  Not much to look at in this video, but this is the recording we love:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  D).  29 cloves of garlic)

In a Happy Place

flags nordic

If you’re happy and you know it (you must be living in one of the Nordic countries) We wanted to learn a bit about Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland when we read through the 2019 survey which ranked these Nordic countries the happiest in the world.  (FYI:  the USA placed 19th out of 156 – not too shabby)

We are using multiple resources, our globe is out, and here’s what has caught our attention: 

  • there are 30 active volcanos on Iceland
  • the only Finnish word in the American language is “sauna”
  • male AND female reindeer have antlers, and their wonky antlers are NOT symmetrical (vocab)
  • we know where to find 5 versions of the Nordic cross (all 5 countries use the Nordic cross on their national flag)
  • the Danish alphabet has three letters not found in the English alphabet
  • in 2019, the Helsinki, Finland public library was awarded Best Public Library in the World!

For those working toward a PhD in Herpetology – “Lizards” by Sneed B. Collard III is probably not the book.  For the rest of us, it IS the book:  organized, written in a casual voice, funny, funny, funny and filled with opinions, pretty good photos, and easy to grasp facts.  I tested my son on his lizard info comprehension by having him take THE LIZ QUIZ.  (A+, of course)(yay!)

Story Problems! 

From Le Fictitious Local Diner –  January is not only CHICKEN POT PIE MONTH at the diner, it is FREE IN-TOWN DELIVERY FOR CHICKEN POT PIES MONTH. Sales are skyrocketing.  Typically, the diner sells 50 pot pies a week.  But during free-delivery month, the diner has been selling 150 weekly.  Each pot pie costs $3 to produce and sells for $8.  How much more per week does the diner PROFIT in chicken pot pies during the free delivery month?
A)  $150     B)  $300     C)  $500     D)  $800  (answer at bottom of post)

From Farmer Brown’s ranch – Every January, Farmer Brown provides each of his 5 farm hands with 2 new pair of fleece lined jeans (at $50 each, including tax) and a heavy-duty waterproof jacket (at $90 each, including tax).  Was Farmer Brown able to spend less than $1,000 for the purchases this year? (answer at bottom of post)

Zigzagging from our solar system to  woodcut prints to Claude Debussy –

planetarium

– It started with “Planetarium”, Raman Prinja’s dazzling book of planets, galaxies, dark matter, etc.  My son and I have read through several excellent outer space books, so we are on the lookout for anything new:  “Planetarium” did not disappoint –   we have now been introduced to THE OORT CLOUD.  But the real story for us:  the imaginative and superbly crafted woodcut print illustrations by Chris Wormell.

– We are now in WOODCUT PRINT APPRECIATION mode:  we are re-reading “The Old Man Mad about Drawing”, about the great Japanese woodcut print master, Hokusai.  We are also working through “Making Woodblock Prints” by Chesterman and Nelson, to understand the skills and tools involved.

– THEN, while listening to the radio show, “Exploring Music with Bill McLaughlin” we learned that Claude Debussy was so intrigued by woodcut prints that he requested that Hokusai’s famed “The Great Wave” be used on the cover of his La Mer sheet music.

Our classical music selections – the focus had to be on Claude Debussy.  As polished and deeply moving as the music is, we do not often select Debussy pieces for our nightly STUDIES AND STORIES conclusion as we are usually looking for something jollier.  However, three pieces that we are familiar with (and like) – 

  • Jeux de Vagues – movement 2 from Debussy’s 1905 orchestral composition, La Mer.  My son and I envision being plopped in the middle of an ocean where the music has no beginning nor end.  That is what we hear in this intuitive piece:

  • Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – this 10+ minute symphonic poem, composed in 1894, is considered to be the beginning of modern music.  Here is what we think:  that flute player, who opens the piece is under ENORMOUS pressure:

  • Clair de Lune – the beloved movement 3 from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque (for piano), of 1905.  

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  Diner – C.  $500, Farmer Brown – Yes)

Not on my watch

Last Tuesday, I was lunching at a neighborhood cafe and felt a magnetic pull to eavesdrop on the two teenagers a few tables down who had obviously cut class.  The theme of their distressing conversation was “I hate school”.  Oh my.  Who or what stomped the life out of their learning adventure?  

grandma watch

Not on my watch.  Every single night it is my pleasure to make sure that the learning adventure for my son (AND myself) is set on FULL BLAST.  One goal is to read something so startling that we stop, reread, and marvel.  A few items that had us marveling this past week:

national parks better

  • From “The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth”, by Rachel Ignotofsky:
    • the one place on earth, that by 1959 international treaty, can only be used for peace and science (with all discoveries shared freely).  Nice.  (Antarctica)
    • while many ecosystems are under threat from unsustainable farming techniques, deforestation, and global warming, the Mongolian Steppe has quite another problem:  GOATS.  One of Mongolia’s successful exports is the fiber from cashmere goats,  so there are a LOT of goats grazing with a vengeance, munching roots as well as the grass,  destroying entire landscapes.
    • the Gouldian finch of the Australian savanna.  Crazy GORGEOUS (see photo below in the music listening section).
  • From the Lonely Planet Kids book, “America’s National Parks”:
    • which state, after California and Alaska, boasts the greatest number of national parks?  (Utah).  We never would have guessed that.
    • there are national parks that exist primarily underwater:  American Samoa National Park, Biscayne National Park, Channel Islands National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Everglades National Park.

tide pool 3 tries

More interesting information on the horizon  We have just started the terribly elegant little “Pacific Coast Tide Pools” by Marni Fylling.  So far we have become knowledgeable about low tides, high tides, the splash zone, the challenges of being permanently attached to a rock, and the toxic beauty of sea anemones.  Sponges are on deck.

trivia sign

Story problem:  Trivia Night at Le Fictitious Local Diner – Tuesday nights are slow at the diner, so the new manager, Miss Jeanette, is hosting “Tuesday Twilight Trivia” to bring in more customers.  Admission is the purchase of the “Tuesday Twilight Trivia Dinner Special” for $7.50.  If the first Tuesday there were 20 players and the second Tuesday there were 40 players, by what percentage did the the attendance rise?  
A)   20%      B)  40%       C)    50%     D)  100%

If the diner awards a cash prize of $25 to each evening’s winner, how much did the diner gross on night number two?
A)  $150     B)  $275     C)  $400     D)  $1,000
(answers at bottom of post)

finches

Music to celebrate that ridiculous-yet-gorgeous Gouldian finch –

  • Vivaldi’s “Flute Concerto in D major” (known as “The Goldfinch”), movement 3, published in 1728.  Yay, James Galway –

  • “Dawn” from Ravel’s ballet, “Daphnis and Chloe”, which premiered in 1912.  A superb, compact performance by the Berlin Phil, complete with chorus.  We put our full attention to listening for the subtle birdsong theme that runs in the background throughout the piece –

and finally:

tie dyed hippie    finch singular

  • “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers.  The psychedelic colorwork that is the Gouldian finch simply begged for a vintage song from the psychedelic 1960’s.  How can we not smile when we listen to this?  GREAT rhythm.  Peace out –

(for more ’60’s vibe:  the April 29, 2015 post, “Peace, Love, and Tambourines”)

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  D)  100%  and  B)  $275)

Doc and Bach

front desk book

Last week’s stories and studies agenda:
  become informed about world ecosystems via Rachel Ignotofsky’s superb book, “The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth”:  CHECK
  cheer for everything protagonist Mia Tang stands for in Kelly Yang’s important fiction read, “Front Desk”:  CHECK
But really, the past week has been dominated by Albert Schweitzer and Johann Sebastian Bach.

schweitzer at organ face right    bach organ

Scholarly, Spiritual, Musical – Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) – doctorates in theology (vocab), philosophy, and medicine.  Pipe organ virtuoso.  Authority on the works of JS Bach (and 4 published papers to prove it).  Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1952.  Whoa.

We are leaning forward as we read through Ken Gire’s bio of Dr. Schweitzer, “Answering the Call”.  The book begins as Schweitzer and his wife, Helene, make their way to Lambaréné, Gabon (Africa) where they set up the area’s first hospital.  The past few evenings we have been learning about how WWI – so very far away in Europe (globe out) – drastically affected the economy in Gabon.  And FOR HEAVENS SAKES Albert and Helene were sent back to France to be imprisoned during the war, leaving the people of Lambaréné with no medical care. (Discussion topic with my son:  is this right?  what would we have done?)  What next?  We’re riveted.

albert and bach books

Schweitzer’s interest is our interest – Because of Schweitzer’s fascination with all things Bach, we are darting around David Gordon’s “The Little Bach Book” learning lots about Bach’s world (1685-1750).  This neat little reference is packed with well researched information, delivered with sly humor (pretty much an A+ sort of book): 

  • quotes about Bach by other composers (superlative after superlative) (vocab) 
  • feather pens; until 1820 (when metal ink pens debuted), composers used feather quills to write their music.  We found out that one could write/compose for about 5 minutes with a particular feather before it had to firm up, be cleaned or recut
  • men’s hair fashion (wigs)  
  • dental care in the 1700’s (yeeks)

violin outdoors

Meanwhile, BACH at the ranch (a Farmer Brown story problem) This summer, Farmer Brown’s ranch will be the site of a series of 3 outdoor symphony concerts featuring 30 Bach compositions, which may sound like a lot of Bach, but when the BWV (which my son and I learned was the official Bach Works Collection listing) was last tallied in 1998, the list of compositions attributed to this musical genius totaled over 1,100 pieces.   Approximately what percentage of Bach’s total output will be performed during the ranch concert series?
A.   1%     B.   3%     C.   15%     D.   30%     (answer at bottom of post)

More and More Bach – Over the years my son and I have downloaded several (32 to be exact) Bach compositions onto our iPod and this week we listened thoughtfully to each one.  My son “reviewed” each piece, and we listened again to his favorites:

bach quiz

  • Sheep May Safely Graze, composed in 1713.  Calming perfection:

  • Invention No. 13 in A minor, composed about 1720.  A super short jewel played skillfully on the harpsichord by a 9 year old!

  • Finally, we listened to THE GRAND, THE MIGHTY, THE REPETITIVE Symphony No. 5 in F minor, movement 5 (the toccata) (1879) composed by Charles-Marie Widor, recognized Bach scholar AND Schweitzer’s organ professor at the Paris Conservatory.  A high energy performance by virtuoso Frederick Hohman:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  B.  3%)

Sea Hunt

Sea Hunt – Do you know about the Sargasso Sea?  Located in the Atlantic Ocean, to the east of Bermuda, it is about 2/3 as wide as the continental USA (so it is HUGE), yet there is a glaring shortage of non-fiction books focused upon this important ecosystem.  Surely my son and I are not the only people who want to know more about the turtles and eels of the Sargasso Sea.  We learned a bit by reading through Ruth Heller’s, “A Sea Within a Sea”, a lovely book with information set to rhyme, but we want more.  Attention people who are looking for something to write about: big opportunity here.

Great Beginnings – We are hopeful about two books we began last night: “Ocean” by Ricardo Henriques and Andre Letria (in just the first four pages we enjoyed a richness of information woven into sparse, eye-catching graphics) AND, we started an abridged version of Homer’s “The Odyssey”, by Gillian Cross and Neil Packer (oh my, the illustrations! and of course, oh my, the story!)

What else are we reading?
“Boats Fast & Slow” by Iris Volant and Jarom Vogel (almost a bit too elementary for us. Nonetheless, there are things to learn from this well organized book).
“The War I Finally Won”, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (a sequel to the excellent “The War that Saved My Life”).
“While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away” by Mary Nash (only our 6th time through) (a plot line that makes us smile through every single re-read) (this book needs to be read during the summer).

Willy Nilly Time Zones – My son and I love opening up a Ken Jennings book – his writing is clever, funny, and informative.  This week, we are in the middle of his “Junior Genius Guide to Maps and Geography” and have spent time twirling our globe while we read about the International Date Line, the Prime Meridian, and time zones.
WE DID NOT KNOW THIS: countries can determine whether they want to follow international time zone designations.  China, which spans 5 time zones, and Greenland, which spans 4 time zones both make do on a single time zone.  We spent a few minutes thinking about what this would mean if you lived at the far east or far west of either country.  Interesting.
When we are feeling rebellious we say THROW AWAY the state approved text books and replace them with anything written by Ken Jennings.

A Farmer Brown Story Problem – Over Labor Day weekend, there is to be a kayak race in the local river and Farmer Brown is anxious for his ranch team to win the competition (good publicity for his farm stand).  He is purchasing 6 kayaks at $250 each for his employees to practice with, and super competitive Farmer Brown has promised to captain the team! (the ranch team will be so glad when the race is over)
After the race, Farmer Brown is going to offer kayak rentals to be used on his ranch pond. If he charges $15 to rent a kayak for an afternoon of paddling fun, and assuming that 6 people want to kayak every single day, how many afternoons will pass before he makes a profit (which will probably go into kayak maintenance)?
A) 17     B) 27     C) 37     D) 47 (answer at bottom of post)
For discussion: Is this a fast way to make money?

Water Water All Around – a classical music theme to compliment all the reading about oceans, seas, and boats:

  • “The Aquarium”, from Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Carnival of the Animals”, composed in 1886.  Saint-Saens congers up an atmosphere of creepy deep sea mystery in this short short two minute piece –

  • “Jeux de Vagues” (“Play of the Waves”), from Debussy’s “La Mer”, composed in 1904.  We haven’t braved listening to this intellectual masterpiece until this very week; a bit too sophisticated for us, I thought.  But this week, my son and I sat back and let Debussy bring us the sounds of waves being pushed around by the wind, currents, and other waves.  Terribly elegant –

  • “Over the Waves”, composed by Juventino Rosas in 1888.  This waltz rhythm is definitely happier listening than the Aquarium or Jeux de Vagues.  However (semi-interesting side-note), we keep getting this confused with Emile Waldteufel’s “The Skaters Waltz” of 1882 (could Rosas have been “more than” inspired by Waldteufel’s piece?) –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  A)  17 afternoons)(and our discussion topic:  we decided that this actually was a semi-fast way of making money, faster than we thought)

Finishing Touches

Finished:   Lonely Planet’s “The Cities Book”, AKA “The Seven and a Half Pound Book that is also a Weapon”.   Our plan was to tackle two cities a night and we did!  We ended up taking 200 trips around our globe and it was sort of exhilarating to find every single location.

globe and book

A few final observations:

  • really old cities:  
    • Lisbon – since 1,000 BC
    • both Mecca and Jerusalem – since 2,000 BC 
    • Nicosia – since 2,500 BC
    • Dubai – since 3,000 BC
    • Amman – since 3,500 BC 
    • Shanghai – since 3,900 BC
  • altitude sickness possibility:  Lhasa/Tibet, Santa Fe/New Mexico, Cuzco/Peru
  • city built upon coral:  Male, Maldives
  • cities really close to active volcanoes:  Kagoshima/Japan and Arequipa/Peru
  • world’s steepest residential street:  Baldwin Street (with a 35% grade), Dunedin, New Zealand.  (yes, we compared it to San Francisco’s Lombard Street; sorry, only a 27% grade)
  • cities my son and I would like to visit based solely upon the two page spread in the book:
    • Ljubljana, Slovenia (fairy tale charm with early morning fog making the “weakness” list)
    • Muscat, Oman (pristine beauty)

Finished:   Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s simply excellent book, “The War that Saved My Life”.  I wanted my son to spend a little time reflecting upon how well conceived and well written this book was, so I had him fill out a report card.  I talked about each category before he decided upon a grade.  This book is so deserving of its 2016 Newbery Honor Book award.

report card

Of course, a story problem:  A Vegetable Tasting at Farmer Brown’s:

sugar snap peas

Farmer Brown has put out trays of cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and turnips because he is hosting a vegetable tasting for local school children (specifically, Ms. Becque’s and Ms. Lesh’s picky first graders).  (There are 18 students in each class.)
Results:

Ms. Becque’s class vegetables Ms. Lesh’s class
6 tastes cauliflower chunks 12 tastes
12 tastes sugar snap peas 18 tastes
9 tastes turnip slices with dip 3 tastes

1)  which class had the pickiest eaters?
2)  what percentage of Ms. Becque’s class tried turnips?
3)  what percentage of Ms. Lesh’s class tried cauliflower?
4)  the school district will will have the greatest chance of getting kids to eat vegetables if they purchase which vegetable from Farmer Brown? (answers at bottom of post)

moon

Finishing up the day – we always end each STORIES AND STUDIES session with 3 pieces of classical music.  Unless I have a very specific theme for the evening (like “The Anvil as Musical Instrument” or “Circus Music Classics” – see “Our Music Themes” in title block), I try to promote drowsiness by selecting something soothing for the final selection.  Something like these:

  • Song to the Moon, from the opera “Rusalka” (1901), Antonin Dvorak
  • The Flower Duet, from the opera “Lakmé” (1883), Leo Delibes
  • The Little Train of the Caipira (1930), Heitor Villa-Lobos
  • Scottish Fantasy, movement 1 (1880), Max Bruch
  • Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, movement 3, (1798), Luigi Boccherini
  • Sailing By, (1963), Ronald Binge

or these:

  • The Dove, from “The Birds” (1928), Ottorino Respighi.  This is the very recording we’ve been listening to for years on our iPod. The best parts:  the cooing of the dove throughout the piece, and the ending (just splendid):

  • Theme from “Out of Africa” (1986), John Barry.  We listen specifically for distant rolling thunder brought to us by the timpani:

  • Nimrod, from “The Enigma Variations” (1899), Sir Edward Elgar.  Dignified and sobering.  An adaptation of Nimrod was used in the score for the 2017 movie, “Dunkirk”.  No better choice:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1)  Ms. Becque’s class,  2)  50%,  3)  66%,  4)  sugar snap peas)

April, at last

welcome mat

March was really a long month, full of planned and abrupt schedule changes.  A beloved grandmother, “The Peach” passed on (so many tears) – a cousin got married (adorable) – an iPad got lost in the TSA security screening at LAX (oh no, oh no, oh no) – and there was the daylight-savings time switch (ugh).  Not a dream month for an autism family, but STUDIES AND STORIES times were a constant, and that helped.

happy faceTSAhappy face

The “Lost and Found” department – this was a new concept for my son. (What? Hotels, schools, grocery stores, gas stations and the like are equipped to deal with people losing things?????  This is so handy!)  And happy, happy day!  The lost iPad turned up within 24 hours in the TSA “Lost and Found” office, and with a minimum of paperwork, was in a box on its way to our home in Texas.  Cheers cheers cheers TSA!  Their lost and found system really works!  Excellent!

geography books.jpg

Reporting from “The Cities Book” (a Lonely Planet publication) – reading about two cities per night, we are one third of the way through this book – the locations are presented in alphabetical order and we are just about through the “K’s”.  We scamper all over our globe finding each night’s destinations (this is actually kind of fun).  We are also interested in each city’s:

Primary Exports – some of the better conversation starters:
– Asmara, Eritrea – salt
– Baku, Azerbaijan – pomegranate juice
– Hamburg, Germany – Steinway pianos
– all cities on the equator – coffee

Observed Weaknesses – again, some of the better conversation starters:
– Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – bugged hotel rooms (yikes)
– Dhaka, Bangladesh – polluted waterways (yikes)
– Christchurch, New Zealand – situated on a major tectonic fault line (yikes)
– Florence, Italy – pigeons everywhere (yikes)

More geography – “The Philippines, Islands of Enchantment”, by Yuson and Tapan.  Side story:  It would be impossible to find a kinder heart, a more dedicated worker, a more mechanically adept young man than the super fantastic Ogie M, who cared for “The Peach” (grandmother supreme) for the final 10 years of her life.  Upon her recent passing, Ogie returned to his family in the Philippines.  So this has propelled my son and I to begin a Philippines unit with a book filled with beautiful photographs and decided opinions (this is not a “let’s pretend everything is perfect” book).  We are getting our first glimpse of this tropical paradise of 80 dialects (vocab) and 7,000 islands.

violin book

We thought we knew about violins.  We knew NOTHING.  This is changing:  we are reading “The Violin Maker”, by John Marchese.  Every night we get smarter and smarter, learning about:

Cremona, Italy, home to Stradivari and Guarneri, rival luthiers (vocab) of the early 1700’s who produced stringed instruments of astounding quality that remain highly sought after and extremely valuable to this day.
Sam Zygmuntowicz, recognized expert violin maker and stringed instrument historian extraordinaire.
The Emerson String Quartet (or “ The Emerson”), and specifically, quartet member Eugene Drucker for whom Sam Z has been commissioned to create a violin.
Bach’s compositions for the violin – and most emphatically stressed, the final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D minor, “the Chaconne” (composed around 1720).  This piece is the gold standard for the crushing relentlessness of loss, despair, and grief – I think my son and I are a bit too immature for this, but we did give it a try (and we listened to the best):    

 

Classical Music Time – well, duh, we had to listen to more music that showcased the violin:

From The Emerson String Quartet   we always like listening to The Emerson’s (we are so in-the-know now) recording of Alexander Borodin’s “String Quartet No. 2 in D”, composed in 1881 (perhaps better known as music used in the 1953 American musical, “Kismet”, for which Borodin won a Tony, posthumously (vocab)):

The perfection of a performance by Itzhak Perlman – when we are tired, Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” (1880), movement 1, soothes us:

Thank you good friend Amy S for suggesting that my son and I would love “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka” (1900).  The performance by Joshua Bell clutches our hearts:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH

Meanwhile…

city book

Around the world in perhaps 150 days – my son and I are working our way through Lonely Planet’s “The Cities Book” (thoughtful Christmas gift from sister –  Lonely Planet books are so A+).  There is a two page spread for each of the 200 cities showcased , and we are managing one or two destinations per evening.  Ten categories define each city, but alas, most are of little interest to my son, so here is how we are using this book:
1- we find the city on the globe.  I am dismayed to report that there are several cities of significant population that I have previously never heard of, like Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (5 million) or Lahore, Pakistan (almost 9 million).  For shame!  So I learn along with my son and I just keep appreciating the opportunity.

globe

2- we find out how old the city is.  (eye-opener)
3- we read about the location’s “weaknesses” (beastly hot/spotty electricity/toxic smog levels)(always worth a side conversation).
4- we read about the city’s exports.  If the city produces enough of something to supply the city residents and the product is good enough to export, like coffee, oil, silks, and Siamese cats (!!!), we want to know about it.
And lastly, I should mention this book is quite large and weighs a lot.  I let my son guess how much it weighed.  He guessed 10 pounds, my husband guessed 2 pounds, I guessed 40 pounds (and ta-da! the book weighed in at 7.5 pounds on the cooking scale).  “The Cities Book” can be our new go-to device for pressing flowers or flattening out a curled document.

president book

Meanwhile, back in the USA – we are pretty much loving every page of Ken Jennings’ “Junior Genius Guide to U.S. Presidents”.  Frankly, we are planning on reading everything this super clever author publishes (we have read “Maphead” and his “Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”).  We like to know quirky info like:
– James K. Polk accomplished all of his campaign goals in his first term!  Commendable, but at what cost?  (He quit after one term and died three months later.)  Jennings suggests that Polk’s time was spent “working, not having fun, working more”.  (It would be so interesting to get a glimpse of the family dynamics of his childhood.) (It looks like mirth and relaxation were not encouraged.)
– James Garfield came from the most economically deprived upbringing. He was 19 before he ever heard a piano!  He was 23 before he tasted a banana!
– Woodrow Wilson was the only president (so far) to earn a PhD.

herbs

Meanwhile, back at the ranch – Farmer Brown has all the seed catalogs out, anticipating planting a large herb garden once the winter frosts have passed.  He wants to purchase 40 heirloom seed packets at $4 per packet from the “It’s About Thyme” company and 25 seed packets at $5 each from the “To Bee or Not To Bee Heirloom Seed Company”.  If Farmer Brown budgeted $250 for his herb garden, will he have enough money buy all the seed packets? (answer at bottom of post)

NY Phil

Well, listen to this!   I have recently enlisted the assistance of personal trainer “Brute” (not his real name – smirk).  Brute promised that I could work out to my choice of music.  Yay!  So I said, “classical” and was met with the most puzzled expression.  (Seriously?)  To make it simple, I said I would be happy to listen to any recordings by the New York Philharmonic, to which Brute responded, “Hmmm, I have never heard of that band.”. (Seriously?) AAAAAAACK.  See? This is what happens when school systems are forced to cut funding from the music curriculum.  My son selected three pieces that he decided even a new classical music listener could love, and I found a recording of each by the New York Philharmonic:

  • “Mars”, from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, composed around 1916.  The standard by which all scary aggressive music must be judged:

  • “The Radetzky March” , composed by Johann Strauss, Sr, in 1848, commissioned to commemorate Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz’s victory at the Battle of Custoza (Oh yeah, the Battle of Custoza)(?????).  This is just the dandiest of marches, maybe THE BEST MARCH EVER:

  • “Masquerade”, a waltz composed  in 1941 by Aram Khachaturian (as incidental music for a play of the same name).  Delicious, dark, depraved.  Yikes, it is all here:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer: NO)

The Sweet Life

honeycomb

Sweeter than honey – I think this is our fourth bee study unit – we must be so close to earning some sort of bee scholarship certificate – but who could resist the utterly giant, INYOURFACE “Bees – A Honeyed History” by Piotr Socha – AND – the book is even better than I anticipated.  We’re only half way through, but we’ve learned more than we knew previously about

swarming – bees and bears – bees and Napoleon – the waggle dance (!!!)
honey as a preservative – St. Ambrose (patron saint of bees) – pollination

Tonight: how to construct a beehive!  Clever graphics compliment the broad spectrum of bee topics addressed.  We just love this book. There is no other choice but to give it an A+.

bee book

“Wonder” IS wonderful – If you walk into any major book store you cannot miss R.J. Palacio’s prominently displayed book, “Wonder”.  The hype is not overdone.  This is a deeply thought-provoking read, with short chapters that grab your heart.  The author tackles several different points of view with authentic insight.  What a story.  What a privilege to work through this book with my son. (We know the “Wonder” movie is premiering this month.  Alas, our movie theater experiences have not been too positive, so thank heavens we have the book.)

AfricaCountriesMap

Africa Calls – We have the most interesting and inspirational friend (yes, you, SLC) who serves as a school director in Guinea, Africa.  Lucky, lucky school.  (Sidebar – if I lived anywhere near and had school-age children, they would be enrolled in that school SO FAST).

But to the point:
Here is what my son and I know about Guinea: NOTHING.
Here is what we know about Africa: VERY LITTLE.
– the atrocities of the Congo Free State (late 1800’s) under the shameful King Leopold II of Belgium
– a bit about ancient Egypt
– Dr. Livingston’s travels and his meeting up with Henry Morton Stanley on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871

Shouldn’t we know a LOT more about Africa?

  • We are starting with another “Lonely Planet – Not for Parents” book, this one, “Africa – Everything you wanted to know”.  Already we’ve discussed the ridiculously huge Sahara Desert (and compared it to the size of the Amazon rain forest), wildebeest migration patterns, cannibals (!), African colonization, insects as snacks (we are so not eating bugs as snacks), cheetahs, and the very first heart transplant.
  • We have compared a currant African country map with an African country map from 60 years ago.
  • We have just begun reading “I Will Always Write Back” (this title makes me burst into tears), by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch.  This is a story about pen pals (vocab), one in Pennsylvania and one is Zimbabwe, who began their correspondence in 1997.

We now know where Guinea and Zimbabwe are.  Let the Africa unit begin!

donuts

Sweet Students for Sweet Seniors (a Local Diner story problem) The local junior high is hosting a “Design your own Donut” breakfast at Le Fictitious Local Diner, to raise funds for a Thanksgiving party they are planning for the senior citizens center.  It will cost the diner $750 to serve 1,000 donuts with 15 topping choices. Once costs are met, the diner will give all remaining money taken in to the school.  If a “donut and topping experience” will be priced at $3, and all donuts are sold, how much money will the junior high have raised for their Senior Citizen Center Thanksgiving party?
A)  $750    B) $1,000    C) $2,250    D) $3,000

If everyone purchases two donuts each, and half of these people order up a cup of hot chocolate (priced at $2) to enhance the sugar high, how much money will the diner gross from hot chocolate sales?
A)  $200    B) $500    C) $750    D) $2,000

Gli_uccelli_score_respighi

Suite Music – I wanted to solidify in my son’s mind the concept of an orchestral suite and how it differs from a symphony or concerto.  If you are like my son’s grandmother, The Peach, and you have no idea what a suite is, we like to compare a suite to a book of short stories by a single author – each story stands alone, yet the entire collection resonates with the author’s style.  What composer better to turn to than Ottorino Respighi – really such a suite master:

“Pines of Rome” – “The Birds” – “The Fountains of Rome”
“Church Windows” – “Brazilian Impressions” – “Ancient Airs and Dances”

My son and I happen to like “The Cuckoo” from his “The Birds” suite (composed in 1928), so instead of listening to one movement from several suites, I decided we should listen to 3 of the 5 movements from this one work – so we could hear how each movement is complete in itself, yet all three have the Respighi touch (a very clean sound, exquisite attention to his subject matter).

“The Dove”, movement 2 from Respighi’s “The Birds”.  We listened for the cooing of the dove and the magical ending.  The music starts after about a minute-long introduction from the conductor:

“The Hen”, movement 3.  Nailed it:

“The Cuckoo”, movement 5 (We like to count the “cuckoo” sounds – SO many crammed into this 4 minute piece.)  Such a sparkling performance by the youth orchestra from the Bachmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv (and yet check out the bored stiff audience – how could this happen?):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH

(story problem answers:  C) $2,250;  B) $500)

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)