Animal Kingdom

Hey, Rhododend!

Hey, rhododend!
Courage, little friend.
Ev’rything’ll end rhododandy.

Hurry! It’s lovely up here!

My son and I are experiencing the satisfaction of growing plants from seeds, and I have been humming the GO TO gardener cheerleading tune, “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here”, from the 1965 Lane/Lerner Broadway musical, “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever”. 

How this came to be – 

First, back in December, my son started a microscopic volunteer job at the most wonderful local nursery.  Mr. Paul, the manager, as well as every single employee we have encountered, has been accommodating, tolerant, and welcoming.  So, when we arrive for the once-a-week “job”, my son literally bursts from the car and yanks on his garden gloves, revved up to walk through the magic land of plants and get to work.  At completion of the day’s task, we purchase a seed packet (so far:  radishes, sunflowers, thyme, cucumbers, peppers, turnips) for planting that very afternoon. 

Then, we learned so much from Riz Reyes’ “Grow”, a superbly organized book offering a four-page spread for each of 15 different types of plants (plants that my son can understand, like mushrooms, bamboo, maple trees, daffodils), enhanced by the vibrant illustrations of Sara Boccaccini Meadows.  This A+ book has inspired us to plant tomatoes, pumpkins, and carrots from seeds.  (And speaking of “A+”, this book was written by a former high school student of my best college room-mate, (top flight language arts teacher) Miss Jeanette – who has made it into a few of my story problems).  We are already on our second read through. We just love every page of this book AND his Instagram page:  rhrhorticulture.

Finally, a few months ago I paid a visit to the very best kind of new relative (a half-sister!), whose backyard produces such an abundance of fruits/citrus/vegetables that I knew, right then, that I wanted my son to be able to witness the slow motion miracle of all sorts of plant growing cycles.

Change of topic, but still in the backyard –  “Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches”, by Mike O’Connor, of the “Bird Watchers General Store” in Orleans, Massachusetts.  First of all, this is the work of a skilled and knowledgeable writer and almost more importantly, THIS BOOK IS NON-STOP HILARIOUS.  It is comprised of letters of inquiry to Mr. O’Connor, whose responses make me shriek with laughter, and are filled with information we had never considered (how can we be responsible citizens if we don’t have a birdbath in our back yard?????)(we are SO getting a birdbath).  Learning while we are laughing is THE BEST.

More outdoor stuff – We have just finished “The Northern Lights – Celestial Performances of the Aurora Borealis”, dazzler photos by Daryl Pederson and Calvin Hall and relevant accompanying essay by Ned Rozell – prompting us to discuss the commitment a photographer would need to spend endless nights in the freezing cold environs of the North Pole, just waiting and waiting and waiting to capture aurora phenomena.  (Of course, we learned what causes the aurora:  solar winds jousting with the earth’s electromagnetic field.  Sort of FREAKY STUFF.)  We augmented our study (Wikipedia) by learning that  “aurora borealis” means  “northern lights”.  Is there a similar phenomena by the South Pole?  Yes, the “aurora australis” (australis meaning “south”, not a reference to Australia).  Damn, we know a lot.

Story problem from the nursery – a project my son is currently working on (at his volunteer job) involves moving pavers (that have been stacked on a falling-apart wood palate) to a brand new palate.  Over the course of the past few weeks he has moved:

week 1 – 25 pavers
week 2 – 30 pavers
week 3 – 30 pavers
week 4 – 33 pavers

Question:  If the pavers sell for $3 each, and Farmer Brown needs 50% of the pavers on the new palate to create flooring for his new birdbath sanctuary, how much cash will he need to retrieve from his secret safe (not including tax)?

a)  $60     b)  $177     c)  $300     d)  $354  (answer at bottom of post)

And more outdoor stuff  – We’ve just finished the Gordon Korman YA book, “Unplugged”, which takes place in the great outdoors (a remote camp in Arkansas) and involves a ban on electronics, a vegetable-forward diet, quirky new friends AND a sinister, illegal alligator enterprise. This is the most advanced mystery/adventure book I have tackled with my son.  He liked it!  As per usual with a Gordon Korman work:  excellent book, excellent message.

Classical Music Time: celebrating the growing season –

“Spring”, movement I – from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, composed around 1720.  About 30 seconds into this spirited performance we can hear jillions of insects buzzing like crazy in the meadow.  We love this part!

“Spring Song” from Mendelssohn’s “Songs without Words”, book 5 (of 8 books), composed around 1844.  My son is familiar with the main theme of this composition because it has been used more than once in cartoons (case in point, Disney’s 1937 “Clock Cleaners” – about 6 minutes into the cartoon) – 

And of course, “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here” – Adorably sung in this video clip by Audra McDonald – my fave lines (about the “rhododend”) are stuck right in the middle of the song – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer:  b)  $177)

Be like Sarah

A Citizen of the World – 

Among other things, last week found my son and I exploring the depth and breadth of The Royal Society of London and continuing our 2022 quest to match academic and non-academic topics with places-of-origin on the globe.  But something came up that caused us to put aside our stack of books for a bit.  We had the opportunity to cheer for up-to-the-minute SUPERB GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP IN ACTION.  

May I present long time family friend, international educator Sarah LC, who currently resides in Germany.  Here is what she posted a few days ago:

I volunteered to meet Ukrainian refugees at the Berlin Central Train Station today.  Wearing an identifying yellow vest, along with about 30 other people, I met incoming trains of refugees, some of which were carrying as many as 750 people.  I roamed, or I stood still, and people knew they could ask me a question, and I would do my best to help.

– “Are you traveling on to another German city? Stand here, and you will get a ticket “
– “Do you need food? Follow me, here is the area where you can get food and sit for a bit.”
– “You do not have any place to go beyond this? You are here in Berlin and you don’t know anyone, or you don’t have a plan beyond this? Then come here…a bus will take you to an apartment or hotel room here, or in Dresden, or Hamburg…we will put you up.”
– “Are you traveling on to Portugal? Then let me show you where you can get your next train ticket.”
– “Do you need a SIM Card? Here is where you can get one.”
– “You need a COVID test? Follow me.”
And on and on.

Signing up to volunteer was the easiest thing in the world. Read a few few rules, register, and show up. I don’t speak a word of Ukrainian, Russian or Polish. It didn’t matter. We made things work.
I was quite impressed with the ad hoc consortium that set up this spontaneous structure in the midst of the greatest migration of people since WWII.

We think Sarah is a superb citizen of the world.  We want to be like Sarah.  (Of course we located Germany and Ukraine on the map and marked each with a gold dot.)(We are cyber-sending a bouquet of gold dots to Sarah LC.)

That settled, our current studies – 

The Royal Society – two books have caught our attention:  Adrien Tinniswood’s “The Royal Society and the Invention of Modern Science” and Bill Bryson’s masterwork anthology, “Seeing Further – The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society” (which is WAY too intellectual for the likes of us…nonetheless, we are charting key points).  Before this study, here is what we knew about The Royal Society:  nothing.  Now we know – 

  • Founded in 1660, to assist and promote the accumulation of useful (scientific) knowledge
  • Members (“Fellows”) have included:  Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (all of whom we have studied).  So far there have been over 8,000 members (women are included in the number).
  • In the official name, “The Royal Society of London”, “London” refers only to the location of the society’s headquarters.  It is not “pro-Britain”, but is rather “pro-scientists of the world” (example:  Benjamin Franklin was a welcomed member even during the Revolutionary War).

Owls –  Currently we are reading about 40 species of owl in Jack Byard’s “Know Your Owls” and marking a dot on the map where each is found (and BTW, there are no owls in Antarctica).  Every species’ particular hoot is notated, so in order to make this a 3-dimensional learning experience I give each hoot a try.  “A” for effort, “B-” for execution.  OK, here are two owl relationships we were not aware of:

  • Owls and Woodpeckers:  many of the smaller owl species set up their nests in trees where gaps have been drilled by woodpeckers
  • Owls and Mice:  owls eat a lot of mice

“Daily Bread – What Kids Eat Around the World”, an original artistic endeavor by Gregg Segal documenting over 50 children from around the world (another opportunity to dot up our map) and what they eat.   A full page, gorgeous photograph of each child, surrounded by food they consume during the course of a week is accompanied by a few enthusiastic and respectful paragraphs, but there is an implied message about each kid’s nutritional intake (the junkier the foods, the chunkier the kids).  BTW, interesting fact in the author’s introduction: a 2015 Cambridge University study ranking diets around the world placed Chad and Sierra Leone at the top of the list for healthiest diets.  Author concludes that these countries have such poor infrastructures that food conglomerates haven’t figured out how to set up shop there.  Maybe Chad and Sierra Leone are luckier than they know.

Make us laugh – After all this heavy duty reading and analyzing we really needed to conclude our evenings with something funny.  Something like the latest book by Liz Pichon,  “Tom Gates – Ten Tremendous Tales”.  Layers of fun with an always amusing ensemble cast (we are not sure who we like reading about most – Tom’s impossible sister, his annoying uncle, his overworked teacher, the out-of-touch principal, the ridiculously upbeat music teacher?).  We are sort of fans of Ms. Pichon.

Story problem from the local diner – (oh, this is such an easy one) Every April 1st, the local diner hosts the premier social event of the season:   Stand-Up Comedy Night!  10 super hilarious members of the community have signed up to tell jokes on a hastily erected stage and tickets have been sold out for months.  The ticket price includes not only the outstanding entertainment, but also a slice of pie and a beverage.  If 150 tickets have been sold and each of the comedian wannabes gets a slice of pie, and each pie serves 8, how may pies should be prepared for the event?

a)  16 pies     b)  20 pies     c)  40 pies     d)  75 pies (answer at bottom of post)

Classical Music:  Fanfares for Global Citizens – We wondered if the type of person (like Sarah) who volunteers to make the world a kinder place, is the type of person who would relish being announced with a fanfare (we sort of think not), but that doesn’t mean that a fanfare is not deserved – 

  • First, we listened to “Call to Post”, a classic fanfare familiar to anyone who has ever seen the Kentucky Derby.  This 34 note fanfare has been used at horse races since the 1860’s and alerts everyone of the next race commencing in a mere 10 minutes –  

  • Handel, “Music for the Royal Fireworks”, movement 4 (La Rejouissance) (1749).  A regal, no funny business, 3 minute piece.  What we hear is essentially 2 robust fanfare themes played over and over –   

  • Gilbert and Sullivan, Iolanthe, “Loudly Let the Trumpet Bray” (1882).  The intent of this piece in the operetta is a satirical jab at the powers that be.  Regardless, it is still great fanfare music, worthy of our inspirational volunteers –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  b)  20 pies)

Global Positioning

My son and I have chosen global positioning as a study theme for 2022.  For every topic we tackle this year we are going to to answer this question: where in the world is this or where did it come from?  (We are primarily limiting our focus to countries.)

Our world map and colored pens are at the ready.  Every time we find out where something originated we mark a color coded dot on the map (example:  goat breeds – a black dot, penguin breeds – a silver dot).  Our big map is becoming our big polka dotted map.  The idea is to find ourselves at the end of 2022 knowing where every country on the globe is located.  

To illustrate:  reading from Jack Byard’s “Know Your Goats”, we learned

  • the Girgentana goat (best in class for truly WOW horns) originated in Sicily:  mark a dot on the island of Sicily.  
  • the Boer goat (super sweet Basset Hound ears) is indigenous to South Africa:  mark a dot on South Africa.
  • the Kiko goat (off-the-charts hardy – resistant to disease, parasites, weather) initially from New Zealand:  mark at dot on New Zealand.
  • we have read about 6 breeds of goat from Switzerland.  When you keep going back to Switzerland to mark yet another dot, you finally learn where Switzerland is (this is for my son’s benefit, please don’t think I didn’t know where Switzerland was).

Our topic line-up so far:  goats, penguins (hey! 18 species of penguins and only 2 live their lives in Antarctica: so, 18 sparkling silver dots scattered about our map’s southern hemisphere), owls, bears, and here’s a change of pace:  breads of the world.  This dot marking is more satisfying than one would think.

But all other topics get a dot on the map, too.  Example:  we are reading Lori Alexander’s well researched, well written, “All in a Drop – How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World” (BTW:  illustrations by Vivien Mildenberger are just so right for this book)(and another BTW:  the timeline at the back of the book is worth the price of the book) .  

  • I can finally pronounce his name without pausing to gather my wits:  “LAYVENHOOK” 
  • this man ground down a lentil shaped lens (hey!  we learned “lens” comes from the word “lentil”) and made a separate microscope for every single item he viewed 
  • kind of chilling: van Leeuwenhoek saw things under his microscopes that had NEVER EVER BEEN SEEN before.  My son and I reflected upon this crazy wonderfulness
  • after seven years of heel dragging, the Royal Society in London finally accepted van Leeuwenhoek as a Fellow (1677)

Yes, yes, yes, but where did he come from?  Delft, The Netherlands.  Bring forth the map and mark a gold dot on The Netherlands.

Current Fiction Reads (and global positioning dots) – 

“Room to Dream”, Kelly Yang.  The third in her very readable and very worthy series.  At the point we are in the story, protagonist Mia’s family is about to embark on a trip (from Anaheim, CA) to see family in China (2 dots marked on the map).

“Surviving the Applewhites”, by Stephanie S. Tolan.  I think this is our 4th time through this relentlessly entertaining book.  With each reading we discover new truths about human nature and the creative spirit.  Location?  North Carolina: another dot on the map.

Back to the Goats: Story Problem – 

Farmer Brown has 6 acres of overgrown weeds that need to be cleared out, so he is hiring a team of goats from neighbor, Farmer Fran (yes, THE Farmer Fran of “Farmer Fran’s Grazin’ Goats”), to get the job done.  Farmer Fran has a herd of 30 goats that can clear a half acre in 3 days. The cost runs $400 per acre.  

1)  How long will it take the goats to clear Farmer Brown’s 6 acres?
a-  3 days     b- 18 days     c- 30 days     d-  36 days

2)  How much will it cost to have the land cleared? 
a- $240     b-  $400     c- $2,400     d-  $4,000

3)  If Farmer Brown hires a local construction company to clear the brush, it will cost $4,000 per acre.  How much will he save if he hires the goat team instead?
a- $0 (they both cost the same)     b- $2,400     c-  $4,000     d-  $21,600
(answers at bottom of post)

Classical Music Time with the Goats – 

Farmer Fran says that her goats work more efficiently if they are munching to music, so my son and I looked for music with a happy, rambunctious melody and rhythm – 

  • “Hoe-Down”, from “Rodeo” by Aaron Copland (1942).  An A+ performance by the USA National Youth Orchestra of 2018.  Thanks to the outstanding percussion section we can imagine the goats’ little hoofbeats all over this exuberant composition –

  • “Maple Leaf Rag”, Scott Joplin (1916).  Oooooh, we found an actual pianola roll played by Scott Joplin.  The tempo is much faster than we’ve ever heard this piece played.  Just the right thing to keep those goats moving – 

  • Alexander Glazunov’s “Symphony No. 4”, movement 2 (1893).  This piece transports us smack into the middle of Farmer Brown’s acreage.  We can feel the fresh air, we can see the goats scampering from one clump of weeds to the next.  They are making short work of this 6 acre task!  This is not exactly rambunctious music, but there is a playfulness and joyfulness present –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1) d- 36 days     2) c- $2,400     3) d- $21,600 )

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)

Our Hour

Class is in session for one hour every single night and my son and I LOVE this time together.  We are focused, fascinated, and leaning forward to learn more.  Here is how we divided up our studies and stories hours this past week:

Before Carl Linnaeus, before Charles Darwin, before John James Audubon:  MARIA MERIAN  (1647-1717), artist/nature observer.  We learned all about Merian in the Sibert Medal 2019 book, “The Girl Who Drew Butterflies”  (Joyce Sidman).  Merian’s meticulous work documenting caterpillars/butterflies/host plants was cited 130 times by Carl Linnaeus in his major opus, “Systema Naturae”.  Maria Merian was the first to bring scholarly attention to the caterpillar-to-butterfly connection.  More, of note:

  • We rolled our eyes:  As a female in her native Germany, Maria Merian was forbidden to study at college, and yet her groundbreaking work was criticized because she was a “self-taught amateur”.  
  • We cheered:  Tsar Peter the Great bought 300 of her original watercolors to start Russia’s first art museum.  My son selected one of her works in poster form for his room:

History Time:  

“The World Jesus Knew – A Curious Kid’s Guide to Life in the First Century”, by Marc Olson/illustrated by Jemima Maybank.  A scholarly work, accented with sly humor.  Here is what caught our attention:

  • Palestine was under the rule of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus.  This was actually a BIG deal – Roman rule infiltrated all aspects of life
  • Because fisherman were in the water so often, they often fished WITH NO CLOTHES ON
  • The Sanhedrin, what was it and how powerful was it?

Learning-about-Careers Time:  

“Vet Academy” (Martin/Keoghan) – My son’s cousin Kelly is a vet (and as far as we are concerned, THE BEST VET), so we thought we should learn more about her world: 

  • My son and I mused over three vet specializations and what each would mean in terms of life-style:  small pets (vet treats animals at local veterinary clinic), farm animals (vet drives all over creation to check on “patients”), or zoo animals (vet essentially lives at the zoo).  
  • Our favorite page of the book was in the zoo animal section:  we learned to distinguish between cheetahs, leopards, and jaguars by examining their spots.  We keep getting smarter.   

Language Arts Time:  

PREMOOSC – YENIDS – HEVETOBEN – TWESARE – YECCLER – PRITOMANEL

After spending really a lot of time putting together months and months of puzzles, I bought a “Jumble Junior”  book.  Perfect.  

Math Time:  

A Farmer Brown Story Problem – Even though Farmer Brown has a perfectly good rooster to awaken his 8 farmhands, he has been under pressure to purchase an alarm clock for each worker.  Farmer Brown is letting them choose between a digital (vocab) clock ($12) or a vintage analog (vocab) clock ($15).  Three fourths of the farmhands want a digital clock, the rest have ordered the analog.  Total shipping will be $10.  Farmer Brown has budgeted $100 for new clocks, will this cover the costs?  (answer at bottom of post)

Reading for Fun Time:  

Three words:  Hank the Cowdog.  Years ago we read through the gigantic series and we are now revisiting our favorites.  Two weeks ago we read, “The Mopwater Files”.  Last week it was “The Disappearance of Drover”, this week, “The Incredible Priceless Corncob”.  Hank time is Texas-sized smile time.

Arts and Crafts Time:

French curve – We were swerving and curving after I found an envelope of plastic French curve templates that had belonged to my father (an engineer).  Why shouldn’t my son know about Ludwig Burmester’s (a German mathematician) French curves?

Music Appreciation Time:  last night we listened to music for CLOCK-WATCHERS: 

– Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 “The Clock” (movement 2, the “tick-tock movement”) composed in 1794.  Performed competently (and adorably) by the Kawartha (Ontario, CA) Youth Orchestra –

–  Zoltan Kodaly’s “Viennese Music Clock” from his Hungarian folk opera “Háry János” (1926).  A spirited performance, complete with dancing clock, by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra –

– LeRoy Anderson’s “Syncopated Clock”.  This piece was composed in 1945, while Anderson was serving in the US Army, as Chief of Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence (proving that he could do two things at once).  I sort of think that Leroy  Anderson (a brilliant man with a huge sense of humor) would have approved of this kookie performance by the St. Luke’s Bottle Band (and I totally want one of those feathered green hats).  This ensemble is having WAY TOO MUCH FUN –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Unscrambled words:  COMPOSER, DISNEY, BEETHOVEN, SWEATER, RECYCLE, TRAMPOLINE)
(Story Problem answer:  NO)

 

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)

 

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!)

Brownie Points

smithsonian left

Brownie points for us!  It was LENGTHY, but we have finished The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, compiled by Richard Kurin (currently Acting Provost and Under Secretary for Museums and Research at the Smithsonian Institution).  And brownie points for this first-rate endeavor, a superior textbook choice for a full semester of American History.  My son’s favorite chapters:

  • Lewis and Clark’s Pocket Compass – we loved our unit on the Lewis and Clark expedition (see “From the Wanderlust Files”, August 27, 2019), and couldn’t believe we were actually viewing an artifact from the journey.
  • Helen Keller’s Watch – first of all, this is a VERY INTERESTING WATCH. Secondly, here is something that cheered us – totally unrelated to the watch – Helen Keller’s tuition to Radcliffe was arranged by Mark Twain!!!
  • The Tsimshian Totem Pole – an utterly elegant piece of art that became more enchanting after we understood the story this totem pole reveals.
  • Marian Anderson’s Mink Coat – a well balanced account of events that prompted an ice cold outdoor concert (Easter Sunday, 1939) given by American treasure, contralto Marian Anderson.  We have now added Ms. Anderson’s  recording of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” to our Sunday night listening –
  • The Brownie Camera – the most captivating chapter! We learned about George Eastman and his concept for the Brownie camera (provoking us to read The Brownie Book, Palmer Cox’s mini stories of mini spirits, which inspired Eastman to name his little camera, “The Brownie”) and we were riveted reading the report of the teenage girl, traveling in 1912 aboard the RMS Carpathia, using her Brownie camera to record the rescuing of survivors from the sinking Titanic.

The Photo Ark, by Joel Sartore – a coffee table book with a noble purpose:  to create awareness of extinction possibilities threatening Earth’s current animal kingdom.  Each of the 399 photographs touched our heart.

  • Our favorite chapter – the success stories of species that have been brought back from the brink of extinction.
  • My son’s selection for most beautiful animal photographed in the book –  a three-way tie:  the California Sea Lion, the Pink-Tipped Anemone, and the Bali Mynah.  I would include photos, but the new format options on this blog site have me perplexed.
  • What we learned – most of the monkey-type animals (OK, this is an outrageously incorrect generalization, but this is the easiest way for my son to grasp the idea of the primates-minus-humans group) are in danger of becoming extinct.
  • What we learned – most insects are not in danger of becoming extinct.   (hmmm, drat)
  • What we learned – The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species codes:

EX= Extinct EW= Extinct in the Wild CR= Critically Endangered
EN= Endangered VU= Vulnerable NT= Near Threatened
LC= Least Concern DD= Data Deficient NE= Not Evaluated

Story Problem – Brownies are served! – The local diner is offering adorable after-school snack boxes for $5.  Each box includes 2 of their town-famous peppermint frosted brownies and a small bottle of apple cider.   If there are 500 students in town and every single student purchases a snack box once a week, and each box costs the diner $3, how much will the diner net after a month of after-school treat sales? (answer at bottom of post)

A)  $1,000     B)  $2,500     C)  $4,000     D)  $10,000

Classical Music Listening – we were smiling over the detailed engravings in Palmer Cox’s The Brownie Book, so we put together a program of background music for his merry mischievous brownies – 

  • Badinerie, from JS Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor” (1738). This piece makes us imagine brownies dashing all over the place doing good works for the nice people and tripping things up for the mean people – 
  • Banjoland Buffoonery, by Grant Kirkhope for the 2008 video game, “Banjo-Kazooie:  Nuts & Bolts”.  The brownies are up to no good and having a good laugh at the same time.  You do not want to get on the bad side of the brownies – 
  • The Wild Bears, by Sir Edward Elgar, from his “The Wand of Youth, Suite No. 2” of 1908.  This superb short composition has got everything – speed, originality, hold-your-breath moments, a smashing ending – the brownies are sneaking around and this is easily their theme music –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  Farmer Brown’s question: “Yes”. Diner question: C). $4,000).

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)