Novels

Let’s Get This Party Started!

This is post #148, ever so close to our 150th post; definitely cause for a party, so my son and I started the festivities by laughing through two favorite story problems from the vault – 

From the Oct 2, 2018 post (Did absence make the heart grow fonder?):  A  Farmer Brown Story Problem –

Poor Farmer Brown, literally, poor Farmer Brown. He is spending so much money replacing items that his cats, Olive and Owl (the hissing sisters), have destroyed. Over the past twelve months, Farmer Brown spent:

– $300: area rug in kitchen (shredded)
– $150: winter coat (clawed to death)
– $100 each: 3 farmhand bed quilts (each mistaken for litter box)
– $200: office blinds (permanently bent from bird watching)
– $100: large ceramic planter (tipped over so many times that it finally cracked)
– $ 78: small ficus tree (casualty of repeatedly tipped over planter)
– $300: neighbor’s yarn stash (don’t ask)

Judging the past year to be typical, how much should Farmer Brown budget per month to replace things Olive and Owl will most likely have their way with in the coming year? 

A). $59      B). $79      C). $99      D). $119  (answer at bottom of post)

From the September 19, 2015 post (Lights! Camera!  Edison!):  A Local Diner Story Problem – 

Art at the Local Diner – The diner is gussying up the place with selected pieces of what some might call art. Of course, they are installing the classic “A Friend in Need” (the rest of us know it as “Dogs Playing Poker”) by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, purchased for $45. A portrait of Elvis on black velvet has also been purchased for $90. Posters of Batman, Superman, and Marilyn Monroe round out the collection, the lot acquired at a garage sale for $10. 

How much has the diner spent on “artwork”? (Heh, heh, the answer is not “zero”.)

A).  $10     B).  $145     C).  $175     D).  $900 

 Money to purchase the exciting wall decor came from the diner’s tabletop jukeboxes. At 25 cents per song, how many songs had to be played before the art could be purchased? 

A).  45     B).  580     C).  850     D).  1,000  (answers at bottom of post)

We take a break from story problem frivolity to present a few notes from the current academic focus:  our “Shining Stars of the 1860’s” unit –

Ely S. Parker – “One Real American – The Life of Ely S. Parker”, by Joseph Bruchac.   A larger-than-life man:  Seneca sachem (which we learned is pronounced “say-chem”, meaning chief), Mason, Civil War General (close aide to General Ulysses S. Grant), competent engineer, skilled writer, diplomat, bi-lingual, you name it.  We love this man and we loved this book.

Abraham Lincoln – “Abraham Lincoln – A Life from Beginning to End”, an Hourly History book by Henry Freeman.  Of course, there are so many books written about Lincoln, but this one speaks to my son’s level of comprehension.  Here is something that caught our attention:  before marrying Lincoln, one of Mary Todd’s previous suitors was NONE OTHER THAN Stephan A. Douglas, YES that Stephan A. Douglas of the Lincoln-Douglas debates!!!!  

Matthew Brady –  “Matthew Brady, Historian with a Camera”, by James D. Horan.  This book includes 450 of Matthew Brady branded photographs (many were taken by his trained assistants).  Totally interesting to us:  a Matthew Brady photograph of Lincoln is used for both the $5 bill and the copper penny.

Harriet Tubman –  “Harriet Tubman – A Life from Beginning to End”, another Hourly History book.  Excellent resource.  This caught our attention:  as Harriet Tubman would guide fugitives along the underground railroad, she would change the tempo of the spiritual “Go Down Moses” to indicate whether it was safe to move forward.  Of course, we had to listen to “Go Down Moses” and consider the parallels between the tasks of Moses and Harriet Tubman:

Back to the party!  What is a festive gathering without a prize drawing? 

I have set up a container for my son to draw three surprise classical music suggestions for Saturday night listening.  I did not know this was going to involve a learning curve – my son does not have the grasp of selecting only three items from the container, but we will get there.  Here are last Saturday’s winners –

“The Hen Symphony” – from Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 in G minor, “The Hen”, movement 4, (1785).  We LOVE this super merry movement and have probably listened to it 15 times so far.  We sort of think we can hear a few measures from “Three Blind Mice” stuck right in the middle:

“Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” – from Handel’s Old Testament-based (Book of Kings and Book of Chronicles) oratorio, “Solomon” (1748).  The 18th century “Englishness” of this piece almost makes us smirk, but then we hear those oboe harmonies and all is forgiven:

“Brandenburg Concerto No. 3” in G major, movement 3 –  from Bach’s 1721 assemblage of the 6 concertos.  Hurries along at a fast clip.  Who can’t like this?

As if two story problems and a surprise drawing for music listening were not enough, there is EVEN MORE partying to come in the next two blog posts! 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  D.  $119, B.  $145,  B.  580 songs)

Making the Grade

Straight A’s  for everything in our July book basket – 

A+:  A History of Pictures” – by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It is really called “A History of Pictures for Children” and we are perplexed:  this stunner of a book is for EVERYBODY.  It is thought-filled and thought-provoking, tempting us to take a fresh look at cave paintings, Egyptian wall paintings, mirrors, shadows, Disney cartoons, pencil marks, brush strokes, perspective, collage, and the influences of photography, movies, and computers. The 4 page timeline of inventions that pertain to drawing and painting is worth the cost of the book alone.  This book is in line for a re-read.

A+: One Real American, The Life of Ely S. Parker” – by Joseph Bruchac.  A superb book about the Seneca sachem (chief) and Civil War general.  Easy to read, filled with information that was new to us (go ahead, ask us about the Iroquois League, ask us about Red Jacket, ask us about Ely S. Parker), extremely well edited and documented, and a timeline is included at the back of the book.  My son and I are impressed by both Ely S. Parker and author Joseph Bruchac.

A+:  “What Linnaeus Saw” by Karen Magnuson Beil.  In my last post, “Our Hour”, I mentioned that we had read about artist/nature observer Maria Merian, who was cited so very many times by Carl Linnaeus.  So, we HAD to read about Carl Linnaeus (1707 -1778), whose quest was to systemize, classify, and name every animal, plant, and mineral.   The book is a weency bit repetitive, but the author is forgiven – Linnaeus’s path to the goal was neither short nor direct.

A+: Three Keys” – My son got a feel for the term “refugee” in “Home of the Brave” by Katherine Applegate (the finest book we read in 2020).  He is now beginning to understand the plight of the immigrant via Kelly Yang’s book “Three Keys”.  This is about friendship, open mindedness, hard work, and having the confidence to speak out for what is right.  We really liked the prequel, “Front Desk” and we will definitely be reading “Room to Dream” when it comes out in September.  Kelly Yang:  A+!

Other study topics from the July book basket

  • The Everglades   “Everglades National Park” by Grace Hansen.  This book is written for the younger reader, but it does come across with the basic facts and the photos (including a nice photo of President Harry Truman dedicating the park) are large and representative. 
  • Geometry   “Everything You Need to Ace GEOMETRY in One Big Fat Notebook” by Workman Publishing.  Oooooh, I do not like this book because any venture into math that doesn’t involve a story problem leaves me dizzy.  BUT, my son really likes it.  DARN.  So we sally forth learning about congruency, chords, transversals, etc.  With each page, I feel like my head is diving deeper into a swirling fog, so I just read the words aloud and marvel that my son is entranced.  I give myself a C-.  
  • Geography – “Bird’s Eye View – The Natural World” by John Farndon/Paul Boston.  Very pretty book, soothing illustrations, AND we both learned a new word!  We LOVE being smacked in the face with a new word!  We have never come across the word MEANDER used as a noun.  A meander is a bend in a river or a road.  It takes so little to make us gleeful.

The Local Diner plans for August (story problem) –  The diner is installing a pop-up snow-cone hut on the diner’s back deck for the month of August.  It will be manned by a high school summer-time employee, who will work 5 hours a day for $12 an hour.  There will be 3 flavors of snow cones:  cherry, mint, and watermelon, and a commercial snow cone machine has been purchased for $250.  The diner is making the syrups and providing the ice.  So the questions are:

  1. How much will the diner pay a week for a high school snow cone artisan?  
  2. If the diner sells a snow cone for $2.00, how many will have to be sold to recoup the money spent of the snow cone machine?
  3. Will the diner spend more on the snow cone machine or employing the high school worker (for the month of August)? (answers at bottom of post)

Classical music:  A+ Musicians  

It was VIRTUOSO NIGHT last night.  My son made the selections (the writing chaos on the side of the page is my son indicating “Yes” or “No” for each of my suggestions) –

On the flute:  James Galway – We both love James Galway and we both love Tambourin, a short, happy piece for flute composed by Francois-Joseph Gossec in 1794, for his opera, “Le Triomphe de la Republique”.  For some reason, midway through the video there is a blank screen for about 40 seconds, but NO WORRIES, the spritely music continues – 

On the violin:  Itzhak Perlman   We have compared Itzhak Perlman’s performance to other violin virtuosos and no one touches the finesse he puts into this performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, the finale (composed in 1844).  BTW, my son and I refer to this as the Cat and Mouse movement – 

On the piano:  Simone Dinnerstein   We consider ourselves members of the Simone Dinnerstein fan club.  Her discs are part of our music line-up as we drive to In-N-Out Burger twice a week. We LOVE her way with a Bach invention – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1)  $420,  2)  125 snow cones,  3)  the diner will spend more for the high school worker)

Smitten with Britain

UK quiz

What’s it all mean? 
(What we learned, and I do mean WE.  How did I not know most of this?)

  • UK, the United Kingdom – refers to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland  
  • Great Britain – is a geographical term, referring to the land mass that includes England, Scotland, and Wales 
  • The British Isles – another geographical term, referring to Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and 6,000 teenier islands in the general area 
  • The British Commonwealth – (correctly referred to as “The Commonwealth”) a political association of 54  countries (including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) for which Queen Elizabeth II serves as leader (finally, she is in charge of something!)

Our favorite takeaways from our “Smitten with Britain” unit:  

manx sheep

1)  The Isle of Man –  Located in the Irish Sea, midway between Ireland and Great Britain.  Home of:

  • Manx cats
  • Manx Loaghtan sheep (SHEEP WITH FOUR HORNS)(GET OUT OF TOWN) (immediate Google image search) (we couldn’t stop staring at the 4 horns)
  • the Bee Gees (Bee Gee tunes are favorites in my son’s trampoline-time music lineup)

2)  Trafalgar Square – London  

  • it is all about Admiral Horatio Nelson and an 1805 sea battle.  Discussion provokers:  1)  the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column (the centerpiece of the square) were cast from cannons (vocab) from battleships,  2)  we talked about the process of “casting”,  3)  we spent time lamenting Lord Nelson’s loss of an eye and an arm for the British cause
  • Trafalgar Square boasts London’s smallest police office (the observation post can only fit one person)
  • the square is the site for a ginormous Christmas tree that is sent every year from Norway

Our resources:  

UK books

  • Wikipedia 
  • “The Usborne Book of London”
  • “The Big Book of the UK” (Williams/Lockhart)

Smitten with these British authors:

dog books

James Herriot:  From the consummate British vet and master story-teller, his “Dog Stories” are calming and kind recollections.  Perfect night-time reading.  Our favorite stories so far:  “The Darrowby Show” and “Granville Bennett”.

Tom Gates:  Liz Pichon’s books activate our grin machines.  We are currently rereading the entire Tom Gates series (just finished “Super Good Skills”, now mid-way through “Dog Zombies Rule”).  We cannot get enough of Tom’s sullen sister Delia,  Tom’s bothersome classroom seat-mate, Marcus Meldrew, Tom’s grandparents (“The Fossils”).  We love Tom’s doodles.

scones

Story Problem from the local diner – The diner is caught up in a British frenzy, so for the next month, the diner will serve afternoon tea with scones and tea sandwiches.  The diner needs 5 quarts of raspberry jam per week.  Farmer Brown sells his jam for $8 a quart, but he is going to give the diner a 10% discount.  How much will the diner spend on raspberry jam during the next four weeks?

A.  $16     B.  $40     C.  $144     D.  $160  (answer at bottom of post)

shakespeare

Shakespeare Comedies – we were so taken with The Usborne “Complete Shakespeare” book that augmented our reading of Gary Schmidt’s “The Wednesday Wars” (see “Perfect Pairings”, the post of February 2, 2021), that we read through all of the Shakespeare comedies (we learned that in terms of Shakespeare, “comedy” means happy ending).  An excellent use of our time: 

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Twelfth Night
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • Much Ado about Nothing
  • As You Like It
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor (maybe this is our favorite)
  • The Winter’s Tale
  • The Taming of the Shrew (on our fave list)
  • Pericles (on our fave list)
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • The Tempest
  • All’s Well that Ends Well

Classical Music Time:  The Siren Call of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” – this play seems to beckon composers:  we listened to three versions of the overture and discussed the very different points of view – 

From 1674, English baroque composer Matthew Locke:  this introduction is very fussy, very baroque, very short (only a minute long) – 

From 1861, English composer Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert/Sullivan): this was Sullivan’s first published work (he was only 19!). My son and I hear themes of loneliness and disappointment, and as the piece gets underway we hear the storm approach, burst, and move on –

From 1925, Finish composer Jean Sibelius: sort of 7 minutes of heavy winds (enough already), but it does paint a picture of the terrible storm that sets everything in motion –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  C).  $144)

Perfect Pairings

Perfect Pairings from our current studies.  May we suggest:

Pairing No. 1: The Wednesday Wars” and “The Complete Shakespeare

This is our second time reading Gary D. Schmidt’s “The Wednesday Wars”…I had forgotten what a clever, multi-layered work this is.  So far, the teacher in the book has forced “The Merchant of Venice”, “The Tempest”, “MacBeth”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Julius Caesar” onto the protagonist.  And he LOVES them.  Well, how can we not want to see what the excitement is about?  We really lucked out with “The Complete Shakespeare” (an Usborne book, Melbourne/Surducan).  This reference provides a two-page spread at the beginning of each play, identifying characters with a brief description and winsome illustration.  We refer to these pages every night before we continue reading each very thorough play synopsis.  First-rate resource for those of us who would be overwhelmed by the prospect of explaining every line of the original Shakespeare. 

Pairing No. 2: “125 Animals that Changed the World” and “Cat Stories”

Graphically, “Animals that Changed the World” is loud, cluttered, and jarring (nonetheless, we DO like opening this book and cheering for the animal-of-the-night).  The perfect foil for this chaos?  The calm, reflective, soothing chapters of James Herriot’s “Cat Stories”.  Purrrrrr.

Pairing No. 3: My son’s toothbrush and Jason Chin’s “Gravity”

I have been responsible for brushing my son’s teeth FOREVER (no cavities folks, no cavities), then OUT OF NOWHERE, last month, my son grabbed the toothbrush I was holding, took the tube of toothpaste, unscrewed it, spread it on the toothbrush, pressed the button to make it vibrate and dipped it under the faucet! And he has been doing this night and day ever since. ONE TINY THING: when he holds the toothbrush under the faucet, he has the bristles facing downward and guess what happens? So we read through Jason Chin’s beautifully illustrated book on gravity to see if that would rectify the situation. It didn’t. Still, the book is lovely.

Perfect Pairings at the Local Diner – Story Problem

To beef up orders during the pandemic, the local diner is having a “Perfect Pairings TO GO” special: Miss Carolyn’s Chicken Pot Pie teamed with the diner’s famous Super Cinnamon Apple Pie. If each pie has a top and bottom crust, how many crusts need to be rolled out every morning if the diner sells 50 “Perfect Pairing” orders daily?

A. 50 pie crusts B. 100 pie crusts C. 200 pie crusts D. 400 pie crusts (answer at bottom of post)

Classical Music Time – Perfect Pairings: The Expected and The Unexpected

Pairing No. 1 – 

The Expected:  Gustav Holst’s “Country Gardens”, from “Morris Dance Tunes, Set 1”, of 1910.  It is such an expected “let’s make nice” melody.  Don’t be taken in by Percy Grainer’s “Country Gardens” (basically the same melody as Holst’s) composed a full 8 years after Holst’s!  The scoundrel!  This tuneful, sweet, repetitive piece gets a shot in the arm in this particular recording,  speeding along at a faster tempo than usually performed – 

The Unexpected:  Gustav Holst’s “Mercury, the Winged Messenger” from “The Planets”, composed in 1916.  Oh boy, do we love this short, unexpected, erratic piece, and apparently the conductor (Susanna Malkki) in this video footage has caught the fever, too –

Pairing No. 2 –

The Expected:  Luigi Boccherini’s “Minuet”, AKA String Quintet in E Major, movement III, composed in 1771.  Syrupy sweet, but a lively play in this performance – 

The Unexpected:  Luigi Boccherini’s “Fandango” from Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, composed in 1798, a far cry from the conservative minuet.  This intricate, warm, romantic (I am not going to say “sexy” in front of my son) piece was inspired by Boccherini’s days as a court musician for the Spanish royal family.  This is the recording we have listened to about 200 times.  We like everything from the LA Guitar Quartet – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  C).  200 pie crusts)

 

December Template

December Staples –

If it is December we are smiling our way through Mary Nash’s “Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians”.  What about this book makes us eager to read it for the 15th time?

funny ✓  original plot   champions self-reliance   holiday spirit  ✓

Or we might be enjoying “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus”, by Julie Lane.  This is our third time through this old fashioned December read. The author has skillfully woven plausible reasons for Santa’s sled, Christmas stockings, Santa’s red suit, etc into the story. 

The best book we’ve read in 2020 – Katherine Applegate’s award-winning “Home of the Brave”:  Kek, a refugee (we discussed differences between immigrant and refugee) from The Sudan (found it on globe, briefly read of its inner turmoil/armed conflict and despaired) has a new home with his aunt and cousin in America.  Every word in this book has been so carefully selected; it is easy to read, calmly poetic, heart-wrenchingly deep, and even funny.  It is about kindness and appreciation.  I was pretty much choked up by the end of every single short chapter.  This is a book that makes us be better people. 

Walruses for the win – We have just finished a unit on pinnipeds (fin footed), using “Scary Creatures:  Pinnipeds” by John Malam as a resource.  We now have the basics on seals, sea lions, and walruses, but seriously, there wasn’t too much that was tremendously interesting except this:

Guess how many clams an adult male walrus can eat at one meal?  6,000.  As in SIX THOUSAND.  How is it that there are any clams left?  My son and I decided that from now on when we see somebody gobbling up way more than their share we are not going to refer to them as a pig or hog, but rather as a walrus.

“American Trailblazers” by Lisa Trusiani – This book presents compelling introductions to 50 Americans who have shaped US history.  Some, my son was familiar with –  Example:  Paul Robeson.  My son loves Robeson’s recording of “Old Man River” from the musical “Showboat”, but we had no idea that Robeson was majorly intellectually gifted with a first-rate education (Rutgers University valedictorian in 1919, Columbia Law School graduate in 1923).

Some were new names to my son – Example:  Alexander Calder.  We learned that Sandy Calder (of the fabulous ultra modern mobiles) came from a line of professional sculptors.  His grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder constructed the bronze statue of William Penn that stands atop the Philadelphia City Hall.  His father,  Alexander Stirling Calder created a sculpture of George Washington that is part of the Washington Square Arch in New York City.  We had to see photos:

Story Problem Time – Jingling all the way at the Local Diner – Somebody, probably the diner cashier, Miss Fran, decided it would add a lot of holiday cheer if 5 large jingle bells were attached to every chair in the diner.  Chairs pushed in, chairs pulled out:  jingle, jingle, jingle.  

  • If there are usually 32 chairs in the diner, but due to the pandemic, 3/4 of the chairs had to be placed into storage, how many chairs would be adorned with bells?
  • If each bell costs 50 cents, how much would it cost to jingle up the chairs remaining in the diner? (answers at bottom of post)

December Listening – Handbell Choirs! What says HOLIDAYS ARE IN THE AIR more than the ting ting tinging of a handbell choir? –

First, a very cute performance of “Up on the Housetop” by the Raleigh Ringers –  

Next, LeRoy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” – a perfect match with a handbell choir (all that jingling), and the usual shenanigans provided by the Raleigh Ringers – 

And finally, “Patapan” – a superb performance by the Hong Kong Youth Handbell Ensemble.  Adorable ending –  

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  8 chairs, $20)

 

The Octopus Shocker

He writes!  He illustrates! – For the past few weeks my son and I have become entranced with  Owen Davey books.   Informative, clever, teamed with sophisticated graphics in a perfection of colors.  Our type of book.  We’ve just finished – 

  • “Mad about Monkeys” – We needed to get a better grip on our knowledge of primates (as in the fact that chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons are NOT types of monkeys) (we had sort of thought they were)(we were wrong).  Also, we now have a passing knowledge of “old world” and “new world” monkeys.  
  • “Obsessive about Octopuses” – 1)  this book is so A+, 2) the correct plural of octopus is octopuses, NOT octopi, 3) we stopped short when we read about the common blanket octopus: the female stretches to 6 feet in length and the male (ARE YOU REALLY READY FOR THIS?) measures in at 1 inch. A live male blanket octopus was sighted for the first time in 2002 (Wikipedia) OH MY GOSH and 4)  THE SHOCKER!!!!!  Most of the 300 species of octopus live ONLY A FEW MONTHS!  I have been asking all my friends how long a typical octopus lives and guesses have ranged from 16 years to 50 years.  Dear dear magical, nimble, problem-solving octopuses –  taken at so young an age.
  • Next on the reading list, “Fanatical about Frogs”.

Deforestation – My son and I read a lot of books about endangered animals, so we know that loss of habitat is a primary cause.  We have come across the term, “deforestation”  many times, so deforestation was on our minds when we read from the excellent “How Ships Work” (a Lonely Planet Kids book) that – 

  • around 2,000 trees were used to build a Spanish galleon in the 1500’s (and we know there was more than one galleon).
  • 6,000 trees were needed to construct British flagship HMS Victory in 1765. 

 Deforestation is not a new trend.

“Everest” by Sangma Francis and Lisk Feng – all topics Everest are covered in this well written, well designed book:  Sherpas, the sacredness of the mountain, climbing clothes, the development of oxygen masks, trash on the mountain, routes to the summit, inspirational climbers AND my son and I are still musing over the fact that Mount Everest grows 1/3 inch a year.

“Little Men”, by Louisa May Alcott – I have read “Little Women” several times and I was eager to share my first reading of “Little Men” with my son.  1)  Jeepers, this is relentlessly moral story.  2) This is a difficult read what with the vernacular of the 1870’s and the loads of characters, some with multiple nicknames. I read aloud one paragraph and then take the same amount of time to untangle what I’ve just read for my son.  Sigh.  We have augmented “Little Men” by reading a short bio of Louisa May Alcott from “American Trailblazers” by Lisa Trusiani.

Time for a change in tone!  Story Problem – Farmer Brown Runs for Town Mayor!  –  Yes, Farmer Brown is running for town mayor and his chances for winning look good!  His campaign manager has all sorts of campaign ideas to get Farmer Brown’s name before the public:

  • 50 big yard signs spread around town, with the slogan, “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!” ($4 for each sign and $25 each for Farmer Brown’s two nephews to place the signs)
  • 1000 campaign buttons (“Farmer Brown can make our town grow!”) for $250
  • A running ad (boldly proclaiming that “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!”) in the local newspaper for $75
  • A banner spanning the width of Main Street boldly proclaiming, “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!” for $75
  • 1,000 grocery sacks at Farmer Brown’s road-side stand with “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!” imprinted for $150

Farmer Brown has budgeted $750 for campaign PR.  Can he afford all the ideas ?  (answer at bottom of post)

Classical Music for Octopuses – we were still thinking about the brief lives of the octopuses.  If the current crop of octopuses is going to enjoy classical music, the pieces had better be short.  May we suggest – 

  • Violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler’s “Schön Rosmarin” (Beautiful Rosmarin), composed in 1905.  Just under two minutes. We listened for iconic Kreisler embellishments while easily envisioning an octopus swaying with the tides –
  • “Solfeggietto”, by CPE Bach, composed in 1766. One minute sixteen seconds. This fast, frantic piece is certainly the “go to” background music for an octopus needing to escape predators –
  • “The Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals (1886), by Camille Saint-Saëns.  Two minutes, four seconds. Reflective, yearning, chilling, mysterious; it seems as if the octopus was the muse for this piece –

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

A Glimpse and a Glance

What was life like for my son’s grandparents, who were teenagers during the Great Depression and young adults during World War II?  

We got a glimpse of the Great Depression – through Cheryl Mullenbach’s first-rate book “The Great Depression for Kids”:

  • setting the scene for the Great Depression: the roaring twenties
  • Herbert Hoover’s policies and FDR’s “New Deal”
  • and when things could not get any worse: the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s
  • differences between city schools and country schools
  • fun diversions:  roller derbies, the circus, Shirley Temple
  • neighbor helping neighbor, farmer helping farmer  (very heartening)
  • vocabulary and concepts defined:  migrant workers, prohibition, the stock market, banks collapsing, breadlines, striking workers, rationing, silent movies /“talkies”, rural, urban

We got a glimpse of the early days of World War II – through Richard Peck’s YA novel, “On the Wings of Heroes”.  Peck’s short chapters seamlessly combine the realities of a nation at war with a middle school student’s realities:

  • an adored older brother serving in the air force
  • rationing (we did not know that even shoes were rationed)
  • collection drives for the war effort (rubber tires, paper, all types of metal), culminating in the most wonderful town event:  a parade of rusted out jalopies headed for the scrap yard
  • ineffectual teachers vs. dynamite craftier-than-a-fox teachers
  • classroom bullies (who are served their just desserts)
  • the best friend
  • the hilarious next door neighbors

This is a comforting book set during nervous times and a perfect follow up to our study of the Great Depression.

A glimpse at trees and the high seas – 

Trees, a Rooted History” –  Socha and Grajkowski explore 32 tantalizing tree topics and team them with clever, superbly executed illustrations.  Our favorite two-page spreads: prehistoric trees (lots of fern-like leaves), the tallest trees (FYI, the tallest tree in the world:  “Hyperion”, a coast redwood in California), tree houses (why yes, we would like to stay in the treehouse on the grounds of  Amberley Castle in England), and the art of bonsai (who can’t love the sheer art and patience evident in a bonsai tree?).

We concluded our tree unit with a fill-in-the-blank version of the Joyce Kilmer’s poem of 1913, “Trees”.  (This was easy for my son – we have read this poem many times.)

Speaking of trees:  a Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown’s cat, Olive, loves to scamper to the top of the front yard apple tree, but is jittery about the descent.  Smart thinking Farmer Brown has been successful in coaxing Olive down the tree with a fragrant offering of tuna.  If a can of tuna costs $4 and Farmer Brown needs to lure Olive down around 7 times a month, will $400 be enough to cover the cost of Olive’s “rescue tuna” this year?  (answer at bottom of post)

deep sea voyage

Professor Astro Cat’s Deep-Sea Voyage” – YAY! We have the new book by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman!  My son and I have loved every book by this team (especially “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space”).  And once again, THIS IS WHAT A LEARNING EXPERIENCE SHOULD LOOK LIKE IN BOOK FORM.  We are only half way through, but here is what has grasped our attention so far:

  • How low can you go?  My son and I both shivered as we read about depth zones in the ocean.  How it gets darker/colder and darker/colder and darker/colder the lower you go (thank heavens for deep sea vents) .  We found the Mariana Trench (the deepest known place on Earth) on our globe and pondered how anybody found this in the first place.
  • Ocean birds:  We are giving “A+ for Effort Awards” to cormorants, sea birds that can dive to 130 feet below sea level, and Arctic terns, who migrate further than any other animal on Earth (from north pole to south pole).
  • Octopuses have NINE brains: each arm has a brain – after getting over the semi-creepiness of this, we mused over the mechanics of an arm having a brain.
  • Most thought provoking:  those who have viewed fish tanks at any aquarium will have seen schools of fish moving together quickly and almost poetically.  Now that we think about it, we have never seen fish bumping into each other.  WHY?  Because fish have something totally confusing called the LATERAL LINE SYSTEM which enables them to detect vibrations, movement, and pressure from their surroundings.  

manderinefish

  • The utterly elegant manderinefish:  our new favorite fish 

A glance at ants –  If you need to know about ants, may we recommend, “The Life and Times of the Ant”, by Charles Micucci.  It is simply jammed with all sorts of stuff we budding ant scholars did not know previously, like:  

  • an ant scholar is properly known as a myrmecologist (what an RTW – really tough word)
  • a queen ant can live for up to 15 years and can produce 1million eggs annually
  • all worker ants are ladies;  the only job for male ants is fathering ant young ’uns
  • ants rely on the senses of touch, smell, sound, and taste (but not sight)

Concluding thought:   ants have been busy on Earth for around 100 million years.  They are smart, strong and supremely organized.  Homo sapiens have been busy on Earth for less than 1 million years.  Some of us are smart, some are strong, few are supremely organized.  No wonder we cannot get a handle on how to deal with ants in the sugar bowl.

Classical Music Time – we created a soundtrack for busy ants:

  • Moto Perpetuo by Niccolo Paganini,  1835.  We’re imagining ants with teeny iPods, working non-stop to the rhythm of Paganini’s composition.  Do they notice how this four and a half minute piece seems to be managed on a single breath by trumpet virtuoso, Wynton Marsalis?

  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, composed in 1748 by George Frideric Handel for his oratorio, “Solomon”.  All hail the Queen of the Ant Colony!  After producing all those eggs, this little lady deserves all the royal pomp that Handel can muster – 

  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, movement 3 – Oh my, it is as if Tchaikovsky was writing about ants marching toward the ultimate prize:  A PICNIC BASKET.  There they go!  March, march, march, up and down little hills on the trail, no time for funny business.  But wait!  About a minute and a half in, AN OBSTACLE in the middle of the path!  A big leaf perhaps?  But take heart, quick thinking ants maneuver around the leaf and by minute 3, they are back on track.  What a grand ending as the picnic basket is reached (even the orchestra’s conductor is jubilant!).  Treasures (maybe a potato chip and cookie crumbs) are hoisted to bring back to the Queen, and the march back to the colony’s nest commences.  (My son LOVED the commentary and welcomed it again in the next night’s music line-up)(success!) –

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

The Fireproof Safe

safe third

Prologue-
Q: Did my son know what a safe was?
Q: Did my son know what “fireproof” meant?
Those resolved, Q: If my son owned a factory that produced fireproof safes, how would he mark the occasion of the sale of the 20,000th safe?  (Wait, what?)  Would he do what the Wertheim Company of Vienna did in 1869?
The story – I estimate that my son and I have listened to Joseph Strauss’s “Feuerfest Polka” about 240 times.  It is fast-moving, happy, accented with the pinging of a hammer on an anvil, and comes with an adorable story – the polka was commissioned in 1869 by Franz von Wertheim, whose firm produced fireproof safes (feuerfest means fireproof in German).  The music was in celebration of Wertheim’s 20,000th safe! My son and I spent time imagining a company today commissioning a polka for the 20,000th production of anything.  This is SO GOLD.
“Feuerfest Polka”: the story continues – Because of the hammer/anvil pinging, we’ve been referring to Strauss’s piece as the “Blacksmith Polka” for years.  But last week it occurred to me that my son might not know what a blacksmith was.  Did he?  No.  Oh, dear.  Time to find out about blacksmithing.  We chose “History of the Blacksmith in Photographs” by Bryan Crawmer, and “The Backyard Blacksmith” by Lorelei Sims.  Both exceptionally helpful.  To conclude this unit I read aloud (the quite lengthy), “The Village Blacksmith” by Longfellow.

blacksmith books

Epilogue – Because of a very short piece of music, my son now knows about blacksmithing and fireproof safes.  AND BTW, The Wertheim Company is still making safes.

All is calm – We have just finished “The Prairie Builders” a superb book by Sneed B. Collard III, for which he received the American Association for Advancement of Science Award in 2006.  It chronicles the reconstruction of an 8,000+ acre tall grass prairie in Iowa, beginning in 1992 – the site preparation, the reintroduction of native seeds, bison, elk, butterflies. The pureness, calmness of both endeavor and writing reminds us of “The Ox-Cart Man” (Donald Hall/ Barbara Cooney, Caldecott Medal 1980).  Both soothing reads make us appreciate focused, honest work.

“How Trains Work” – a comprehensive, high energy, vibrantly illustrated Lonely Planet Kids Book. Our two favorite takeaways:
– We found out exactly how a funicular works.  We have known about funiculars, but did not have a grasp on the mechanics. (See blog post of November 22, 2014, “Mounting Interest”) (the post is one of my faves)
– We were reading about suspension railways (sort of like an upside-down monorail) and came across this SHOCKINGLY AWFUL YET HILARIOUS account: in 1950, for an ill-thought-out circus publicity stunt, an elephant named Tuffi was traveling on a suspension railway in Germany.  She FREAKED OUT and jumped out of the train (40 feet above ground). LUCKILY she landed in a river and was rescued. Well! This certainly speaks to the sturdiness of that particular suspension railroad.

Reading for great pleasure – We have just started Richard Peck’s book of short stories, “Past Perfect, Present Tense” and it is so A+.  The introduction, an essay on the short story genre, should be required reading. Two points stuck with us –
(semi-direct quote)  “Stories present the metaphor of change, to prepare the readers for changes coming in their lives.  NON-READERS WILL NEVER BE READY” (I added the caps)
(semi-direct quote)  “A short story isn’t easier to write than a novel.  It has less time to plead its case.”
Last night we read the first story in the collection, “Priscilla and the Wimps”, AND LOVED IT.  In the span of 4 pages, the best short story we have ever read.  First of all, THE TITLE.  Second of all, SWEET JUSTICE! Oh my gosh, the ending!  This is re-read worthy.

Story Problem – Le Fictitious Local Diner has an app! (not really)(for story problem purposes only) – And what’s on the app?  Videos of cooking demonstrations from local celebrity/diner chef Jeanette.  The diner is paying Chef Jeanette $50 for each uploaded video and $1 for every view.  Views so far:
– “Bake your own Potato Chips with Chef Jeanette”:  20 views
– “Diner Cherry Pie with Chef Jeanette”:  15 views
– “Diner Healthy Diet Plate with Chef Jeanette”:  0 views
– “Hot Dogs in Pastry Dough with Chef Jeanette”:  25 views
– “Let’s Make Salmon Treats for your Cat with Chef Jeanette”:  500 views
At this point, how much does the diner owe Chef Jeanette?
A) $250    B) $560    C) $810    D) $1,000 (answer at bottom of post)

From our classical music time –
To honor short stories:  the very shortest piece on our iPod – Glenn Gould’s lightning fast interpretation of Bach’s Invention No. 13 in A minor (composed in the early 1700’s).  Usually this piece takes just over a minute, Gould has shaved off 15 seconds –

To honor the Regal Fritillary butterfly, reintroduced to the prairie project:  a composition for piano and two flutes, “Deux Papillons” (Two Butterflies) by Emil Kronke, composed in 1739.  Spritely performance in gorgeous cathedral setting –

And of course, to honor Franz von Wertheim’s 20,000th fireproof safe, Josef Strauss’s “Feuerfest Polka”:  this performance is pretty cute, with conductor and “local blacksmith” fighting for control of the orchestra –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer: C). $810)

The Power of the Deadline

I set myself a goal to post one more time before 2020.  So, VOILA!  Where have I been?  It’s been two and half months!  (We are still here, we are still reading stories and delving into academic material every night.)  My “Poor Me” explanation is hastily offered at the bottom of the page.  But meanwhile, a brief review of what we’ve been learning:

Nonfiction – 

Low Earth Orbit – Oh my gosh, who wouldn’t feel elite and intellectual knowing what LOW EARTH ORBIT means?  Being able to use it in a sentence?  That is one reason my son and I loved “Building on a Dream:  The International Space Station”, written by Tamra B. Orr, published in 2018 (so essentially up to date).  We learned that anything that orbits within 1,200 miles from the earth’s surface is considered LEO.  The ISS is positioned 240 miles from the earth’s surface.  MATH PROBLEM:   1)  If the moon is approximately 240,000 miles from earth, the ISS is what percentage of that distance?  2)  If the ISS circles Earth 15.5 times daily, how many orbits are made in a year? (answers at bottom of post) 

Opera Stories – Sing Me a Story” – a worthy book by the Metropolitan Opera that explains in great detail an array of opera stories.  Our brief synopses of the book’s synopses – 

  • Aida – SAD:  a terrible misunderstanding, lovers die at end
  • Amahl and the Night Visitors – HAPPY:  good things come to those pure of heart
  • The Barber of Seville – HAPPY:  characters in disguise, happy ending
  • La Boheme – SAD:  poverty, love, tragic death
  • Carmen – SAD:  Carmen (not a sympathetic character) comes to a bad end (a stabbing death)
  • The Daughter of the Regiment – HAPPY:  all sorts of surprises, happy ending
  • L’Enfant et les Sortilèges – HAPPY, SORT OF:  naughty boy has a change of heart
  • Die Fledermaus – HAPPY:  ever so many things going on, merry ending
  • Hansel and Gretel – HAPPY, SORT OF:  morbid fun
  • The Love for Three Oranges – WHO KNOWS:  way, way, way too confusing for the likes of us
  • The Magic Flute – HAPPY:  really long, many intertwined themes, triumphant ending
  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – HAPPY, SORT OF: the trials of joining the town chorus
  • Pagliacci – SAD:  vintage opera (clowns and a stabbing)
  • Porgy and Bess – HEART WRENCHING:  drugs, gambling, murder.  Too adult for us.
  • The Tales of Hoffman – SAD:  the three weird loves of ETA Hoffman PLUS tuberculosis

Around the World – we really enjoyed every page of “Amazing Expeditions” by Anita Ganeri, superbly illustrated by Michael Mullan.  

  • Most engaging journeys – Marco Polo, Norgay and Hillary, Ellen MacArthur
  • Most likable expedition leader – James Cook
  • Most unlikable expedition leader – Hernan Cortes

Maurice Sendak – we are in the middle of a unit on American illustrator Maurice Sendak, using multiple resources.  We loved learning that among his many jobs, Sendak constructed window displays for famed NYC toy store, FAO Schwartz.  We are fascinated by the meticulous crosshatching in many of Sendak’s illustrations (and we tried our hand at crosshatching)(and we were terrible, our drawings looked like fly eyes).

Book Learnin’ – we have been giving focused attention to book anatomy:  prologue, epilogue, table of contents, and glossary.   But mostly THE TABLE OF CONTENTS.  We are astonished by what we can learn just by fully appreciating a good table of contents.  

Fiction – 

The Best Man” – as per usual, Richard Peck writes a well-paced book we were happy to open every night.  Amid the chaos of middle-school hijinks, restoring automobiles, best friend’s mom becoming a teacher, and computer geeks, the theme of an uncle being gay is woven in seamlessly.   This is the first time I have discussed homosexuality with my son and this book made it easy.  Kudos to the late Richard Peck (he passed away in 2018).

hearts and music

Classical Music Corner – our favorite pieces that we heard for the first time in 2019:

  • Tambourin, composed by Francois-Joseph Gossec for his 1794 opera, “Le Triomphe de la Republique”.   We just LOVE this short happy piece, here played by the best:  Sir James Galway:

  • Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major, movement 3, composed in 1777.  Great piece:  so precise and borderline fussy:

  • Mozart’s Flute Concerto No.2 in D major, movement 3, “composed” in 1778 (it is the same thing as the Oboe Concerto, just transposed for flute – so the patron refused to pay!)  We had to have a listen:

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

Low Earth Orbit math problem answers:  1)  .001%  and 2)  56.6 orbits

PS  My original plan was to post twice monthly.  It is still my plan.  Here is the thing:  the past 6 months my son’s full-throttle OCD has significantly narrowed the hours I have to think, write, and post our stories and studies progress.  Please, 2020 be a nicer year than 2019.

From the Wanderlust Files

Wanderlust – 
“You don’t even know where I’m going.”
“I don’t care. I’d like to go anywhere.” 
― John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley:  In Search of America”

Wanderlust –
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

Wanderlust – 
“The gene itself, which is identified as DRD4-7R, has been dubbed the “wanderlust gene,” because of its correlation with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness.”
― Dan Scotti, March 2015 edition of Elite Daily

and more Wanderlust – The Lewis and Clark Expedition – My son and I agree that there had to be a heaping helping of DRD4-7R present among the army volunteers assembled for President Thomas Jefferson’s “Corps of Discovery Expedition” (otherwise known as the “Lewis and Clark Expedition”).  We are reading Roland Smith’s “The Captain’s Dog”.  Each chapter begins with an entry from Captain Meriwether Lewis’s journal and the remainder of the chapter is told from the perspective of Lewis’s dog, Seaman.  We happily open this book up every night and use the included map to follow the arduous journey through the Louisiana Purchase territory and Oregon Country.  New vocab/concepts:  court marshal  –  desertion  –  forts  –  fur trappers  –  grizzly bears  –  keelboats  –  parley  –  pirogue  –  portage  –  privates  –  river currents

wanderlust books

and more Wanderlust – All things Hobo – Hello relentless traveler:  lots of DRD4-7R going on here.  My son and I have learned that a hobo is a continually traveling worker, and the traveling is done by means of a “free” ride on a train.  We are halfway into Barbara Hacha’s comprehensive resource, “Mulligan Stew”.  Just ask us about hobo signs, symbols, carved nickels, bindles, and the dangers of riding the rails.  We’ve read through “Tourist Union 63”, an (excellent) ethical code of behavior chartered by 63 hobos in 1889.  We’ve read about the National Hobo Convention, held annually in Britt, Iowa since 1900.  We’ve read about hobo funerals (sidebar: there is actually a marked gravesite in the hobo section of the Britt cemetery to honor “The Unknown Hobo”).  

and other stuff:

reading

Stop the presses – a few weeks back, someone asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks: Could my son read?  Whoa.  I thought so, but how could I have overlooked that?  So I have added something into our STORIES AND STUDIES routine:  a VERY SHORT story with a few follow up questions.  I remain silent, but I do help my son run his index finger under each line of text.  Then he answers the questions.  Is he reading?  YES!!!!! PHEW!!!!!  He has now read about:

  • Grandmother’s job at a potato chip factory
  • Aunt Susan’s blue ribbon for best pie in the state of California!
  • Peppy, Dog Obedience School Drop-out
  • The Shoes in the Ice Block Contest

carter jones book

Current fiction reading – Gary Schmidt’s “Pay attention Carter Jones”.  We pretty much always enjoy a Gary Schmidt book, but this one is a little daunting.  Premise is adorable – a family is bequeathed the services of a British butler.  But (here is the “but”):  the butler is intent upon teaching the family’s son the British game with the most bewildering set of rules and traditions:  CRICKET.  Every night when I pick up the book I think, oh my gosh, what did we learn last night and is my son picking up any of this?  Still, he is not pushing the book away, and if you look beyond the confusing cricket component, the dialog is fun reading.   

and who doesn’t love a Venn Diagram?  Sets, unions, intersections:  what’s not to like?  My son is FOCUSED! 

venn diagram

From our Venn Vault:
Set A – letters of first half of alphabet 
Set B – letters of last half of alphabet 
Intersection – letters that rhyme with “B”

Set A – people who like to wear red clothes
Set B – people who are jolly 
Intersection  Santa Claus

Set A – odd numbers 1-20
Set B – even numbers 1-20 
Intersection  numbers that can be divided by 3

 

marshmallow roast

A Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown and his farm hands have invited just about everyone they know to a Labor Day campfire!  Farmer Brown has purchased loads of s’more fixings:  marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers, and the hands have prepared roasting skewers for the marshmallows. The ranch has 4 campfire pits, and each can accommodate 8 marshmallow roasters at a time.  It takes 5 minutes of careful tending to warm a marshmallow to a perfect golden brown.  If 60 friends show up to the s’more fest, how long will it take for everyone to roast a marshmallow for their first s’more of the evening? (answer at bottom of post)

Memorial Service Music to honor The Unknown Hobo – 

The Big Rock Candy Mountain – this song about a mythical hobo heaven (complete with “cigarette trees”, oh dear), was first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, and has been sung at hobo funerals.   My son and I listened to the original McClintock recording:

Ashokan Farewell – composed in 1982 by American folk musician, Jay Ungar.  From the very first bar, the piece captures the sense of loss, and yet, as each additional instrument joins in, we also feel surrounded by the warmth and camaraderie of more and more friends –

Song of the Riverman, from “The American Scene” – even though this is the song of the riverman, my son and I clearly hear the smooth rhythm of the rails.  Composed by William Grant Still in 1957, the melody conveys strength, wistfulness, loneliness and a bit of danger.  The somberness is so right for this memorial service –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  10 minutes)