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)


Having a Dickens of a Time

Dickens quote

Achievement!  Last night we finished the original version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Due to the centuries-old language and phrasing, it was certainly the most difficult book I have ever read out loud. However, the story is well crafted and it was easy to review each previous night’s reading…in only six chapters, the penurious, mean spirited Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed into a grateful, generous soul who would claim, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”  Of course, my son had to endure my weeping at the end of the story.  SORRY.  We concluded by comparing the spiritual journeys of Dickens’ Scrooge and Seuss’s Grinch.

plum pudding

Holiday Story Problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – the chefs at the diner, inspired by Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” decided to add the classic British dessert, PLUM PUDDING, onto their December menu. HOWEVER, when they read through the recipe and were overwhelmed with the list of ingredients they decided to order a plum pudding from Harrods in London and sell raffle tickets for it. If a plum pudding costs £30  (and a pound is currently worth $1.50), how much will the festive dessert cost Le Fictitious Local Diner?  If the diner sells 150 tickets for $5 each, will they cover the cost of a plum pudding? How many more puddings could be purchased with the collected raffle ticket money? (Assuming, probably incorrectly, that shipping was included in the £30)?

carolers two

Last night’s music theme – we listened to traditional English Christmas carols that Charles Dickens would have been familiar with:

  • “The Holly and the Ivy”.  An old, old carol (mention of the title is found in an essay written in 1823), so beautifully performed by a British boys choir.

  • “Fantasia on Greensleeves”, by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Vaughan Williams’ dreamy composition was based upon a ballad from the 16th century.  In 1865, William Chatterton Dix penned the lyrics, “What Child is This?” to be sung to the Greensleeves melody.  The good news is that Dickens had five Christmas seasons to enjoy this carol before passing away in 1870.  The bummer is that he missed Vaughan Williams’ effort, as the Fantasia was not composed until 1934.

  • “The Wassail Song” – first we discussed the concept of wassailing (sort of a British Christmas version of trick-or-treating).  Then we found out that there are two carols (we love both) that are often referred to as “The Wassail Song”, so to clarify:
    • “Here We Come A-Wassailing” – composed in 1850, author unknown.  This high-energy video is brimming with Christmas cheer, and the sound is EXCELLENT.

    • “Wassail! Wassail! All Over the Town” – also known as “The Gloucestershire Wassail”, believed to date back to the Middle Ages.  Oh boy!  We found a troop of choristers singing this wassail song in YE OLDE ENGLISH costume.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH