Birds

Old Business

blue-barrow-map

An old name is a new name – How did this bit of news pass us by?  My son and I just learned that the citizens of Barrow, Alaska voted this past October to change the city’s name back to its ancient traditional name, Utqiagvik!  (Doesn’t everybody know that we love knowing stuff like this?)  The town has been called Utqiagvik – meaning “place for gathering wild roots” – for the past 1,500 years but has been officially “Barrow” since 1825.  Apparently, the governor of Alaska has until mid-December to rule on the name change.  Will the governor want to mess with the decision of the people in America’s northern-most city?  We are standing by!

Animals of yesteryear – our current course of study:  “Lost Animals – Extinction and the Photographic Record”, by Errol Fuller.  Fuller’s research is thorough and each chapter follows a particular species from it’s heyday to its regrettable demise (mostly there are a LOT of bird species that are no longer with us) (and we really wish color photography had been around before the pink headed duck of the Ganges River became extinct).  Last night we read about the thylacine – a species that was in existence when my son’s grandparents were children.  The stories captivate, stay with us, and I think make us more aware and maybe worried for the distant future of every healthy animal we see.

betsy

Well, here is an OLDIE – we are enjoying “Understood Betsy” written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher 1917.  This classic shows up on many recommended reading lists, and I was finally persuaded to give it a try after reading a mini-bio of Ms. Fisher on the always informative “Focus on Fraternity” blog (franbecque.com).  Happy surprise!  This book presents a wealth of information about how things were 100 years ago, there is a dash of adventure, and a pervasive advocacy of self sufficiency which should put this book on a required reading list for parents and teachers.

cloth-napkins

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner is bringing back an old tradition for the month of December: cloth napkins.  They are going to see if it is more economical to rent cloth napkins or to purchase napkins and have them laundered by a service.  The diner goes through 200 napkins daily.  Cloth napkins rental price:  200 napkins for $25.  The laundry service charges $10 to wash and press 200 napkins, but the diner would have to purchase two days worth of napkins first (at a cost of $3 per unit).  If the diner decides to use cloth napkins for December, should they rent or own/pay for a laundry service?  What is the least they can spend for this festive endeavor? (answers at bottom of post)

The music theme this past week:  PARODIES (vocab) – When I was in 5th grade, my friend Pam received the best-record-album-ever at her birthday party: Allan Sherman’s “My Son the Nut”.  I absolutely collapsed in laughter just looking at the album cover (Mr. Sherman, up to his neck in assorted nuts); I did not believe that anything could be more screamingly hilarious (hey folks, this was the early 1960’s – simpler expectations).  On top of a great album cover, THE CLEVER PARODIES!   What fun, some 45 years later, to share this listening experience with my son.

my-son-the-nut

This past week, we matched up a few songs from “My Son the Nut” with the classical compositions from which they were inspired:

“Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”:  the lyrics were written to a theme from Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” (1876).  “Dance of the Hours” was also used in Disney’s “Fantasia” of 1940.

“Hungarian Goulash No. 5”:  the lyrics were written to Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5” (1869). Gustavo Dudamel conducts in this video – and you know how I feel about Mr. Dudamel.  MERCY.

“Here’s to the Crabgrass”:  the lyrics were written to Percy Grainger’s “Country Gardens” (1918).  This performance by the Hastings College Wind Ensemble really scoots along.

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answers: the diner should definitely rent the napkins, renting will run $775. Purchasing napkins and paying a laundry service will cost almost twice as much.)

Flying into 2016

home posterpigeon face left

Look homeward – hey!  This captured our attention a few nights ago: scientists think that the bit of iron present in the beaks of homing pigeons might serve as a compass, allowing these totally cool birds to fly straight home from recorded distances of up to 1,100 miles.  Well! How interesting is this?  We checked this morsel of information (from “Animal Kingdom” – a neat infographic book by Blechman and Rogers) with the Homing Pigeons entry in Wikipedia, where we learned that pigeons might also be guided by odors and low frequency sounds. We are such fans of homing pigeons (seriously, everything about these sweet birds is so A+ on our interest scale) – we first learned about them last March (mentioned in the blog entry, Flying, Farming, and Felix).

cummings book

A new poetry unit – we are learning about poet, e.e. cummings (1894-1962).  We have read so many biographies about people with harrowing childhoods, it comes as a relief to read about somebody from a thoroughly delightful and supportive family.  For heaven’s sakes, the family vacation home was named “Joy Farm” (happy all the way with this family)!  First-rate book:  “enormous SMALLNESS”, by Matthew Burgess, charmingly illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo.

dog biscuitdog biscuitdog biscuit

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – the diner is ringing in 2016 by gifting all dog-owning customers with organic dog biscuits!  The diner is baking up 20 dozen dog biscuits every Monday for the month of January.  Leftover biscuits from each week will be given to the town’s pet shelter.  If 15% of the batch is left over each week, how many biscuits will be delivered to the shelter by the end of the month?

wave goodbye

(ooooh! UCLA colors!)

Music – we bid farewell to 2015 by viewing our favorite videos from the many we had watched this past year:

  • Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E minor”, movement 3, showcasing the beyond great Itzhak Perlman.  We call this the “cat and mouse” movement (we hear “advance/retreat, advance/retreat” and imagine a cat crouching outside a small opening in the wall, toying with a mouse on the other side of the wall who is anxious to make his escape and hunt for cheese).  This is an old recording, but the violin performance CANNOT get better than this.

  • Bach’s “Invention No. 8”, 44 seconds of pure pleasure, played by the astounding Simone Dinnerstein. Watching Ms. Dinnerstein’s fingers fly over the keys is mesmerizing; we have watched this over and over.

  • Camille Saint-Saens’ fabulously fun “Danse Macabre”, played by a Polish youth orchestra. I am sorry that we cannot decipher exactly which Polish youth orchestra, but this performance is jaw-dropping perfection.  In fact, it is so outstanding that I forced my mother (“The Peach”)(a most reluctant classical enthusiast) to watch.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Good Books, Bad Books

Sorry to be on a rant in mid-December, but REALLY!  How do poorly edited books manage to get published?   Case in point: my son and I were reading a coffee table-style book about birds of North America.  The introduction was rather good:  we learned that birds with long legs have long necks; we learned that a grouping of bird eggs in a nest is called a clutch.  And then the book fell apart.  A chapter entitled, “Swifts and Hummingbirds” contained NOT ONE MENTION, NOT ONE PHOTOGRAPH of a swift.  And you would think that an author making an effort to explain the simple word, “clutch”, would make sure the reader understood more difficult terms, such as “arboreal” and “terrestrial”.  But no.  In an angry huff, we have bid adieu to that sham of a book.

animal kingdom

Happier reading: we are now reading “Animal Kingdom” by Nicholas Blechman and Simon Rogers…same outstanding graphic format as “Human Body”, which we read a few weeks ago.  Currently, we are mid-chapter, learning about senses; last night reading about animal eyes (largest eye: giant squid…eyes covered by skin, rendering them blind: mole rats (GROSS)), tonight reading about animal ears, and the variety of listening abilities. So interestingly presented, we are back to being happy learners.

Even happier reading:

books final

  • we have finished “Rules of the Road” by Joan Bauer. EXCELLENT story: well written, complex plot, skilled characterizations, and topped off with all sorts of life lessons.
  • and if it is December, we return once again to a super favorite, “Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians” by Mary Nash. This book was a Children’s Book Club offering in 1962.  I LOVED it then, and I LOVE it every year for a re-read. We are reading the very same copy that my dad read to my sister and me, but the book is still available on Amazon and the plot is a DELIGHT.

Our music project last night – selecting music to enhance another poster in my son’s room, “Checkered House” by Grandma Moses, painted in 1943. (The poster was purchased after we completed a unit on Grandma Moses a few years ago.)

Grandma Moses Check

  • “Over the River and through the Wood”, a poem by Lydia Maria Child originally entitled, “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day” (but it still works for all of the December holidays), published in 1844.  Alas, the composer is unknown. Darling video footage taken from an elementary school winter concert.

  • “Sleigh Ride”, composed by Leroy Anderson during the heat wave of 1946! Mr. Anderson was VERY smart (a Harvard man!) and VERY funny. A perfect performance by the President’s Marine Corps Chamber Orchestra.

  • “The Friendly Beasts”, also known as “Carol of the Animals”, words by Robert Davis, penned in the 1920’s, set to French music from the 12th century.  Not too much to look at in this video, but the song is sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary, and it is wonderful!

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Things that go bump in the night

beebee raccoons

Our Easter Evening Event:  As our family gathered to reflect upon a lovely Easter day, tranquility was interrupted by sudden bumps and scraping sounds coming from the attic. A quick look revealed a mama raccoon tending sweet, sweet “kits” amid the attic insulation.  This propelled my son and me to begin a mini-study on raccoons.  We found out that they are native to North America, they are “omnivores”, and they are “nocturnal” (that is why we didn’t hear them moving around during the day).  A happy ending to the day:  new vocab words for my son, and mama and babies are now enjoying their new home in a safe wooded area of the local golf course.

We thought the phrase, “things that go bump in the night” perfectly described our Easter Evening Event.  We learned that the words come from an old Scottish prayer –

“From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-legged beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!”

Zigzag Learning (where we let one topic lead us to another at lightning speed): Julia Rothman’s excellent book, “Nature Anatomy” started the learning chain this time. We were looking at her illustrations of butterflies, and we took particular notice of a “swallowtail” butterfly. My son needed to know why swallowtail butterflies were called swallowtail butterflies.

 swallowtail     swallows white background     capistrano swallows     swallowtail tux

  • So first, we looked at several photos of swallows. We saw how the birds’ pointy, forked feather tails could easily have inspired the animal naming committee to call butterflies with the tiny drip on the hindwings, “swallowtails”.
  • Then, we decided to read about the swallows of the San Juan Capistrano Mission (with a short-side trip to learn a bit about the California mission system). We found out that the swallows spend the winter in Argentina and the summer in southern California.
  • So now, we had to locate Argentina on the globe, and think about the iron-strong muscles in the birds’ wings, that allow them to fly the 6,000 miles.
  • Finally, we had to see how the swallows have had their way in fashion: we looked at men’s clothing from the Victorian era – the formal tailcoat, with “cutaway”, “swallowtail” or “morning coat” options.

That’s a lot of learning from one little butterfly.

Our music theme for last night – “Cuckoo for Music”. We considered the two-note cuckoo motif and then listened to three neat compositions:

  • “Organ Concerto No. 13 (The Cuckoo and the Nightingale)”, movement 2, by Handel (1740).  About one minute twenty seconds into the movement you can definitely make out the cuckoo motif.  This piece really moves right along. Classic Handel.  Fabulous pipe organ in this video!

  • “Symphony 6 (The Pastoral)”, movement 2, by Beethoven (1808). This is a long movement (around 13 minutes of happy, relaxing gorgeousness) (and this video clip has Leonard Bernstein conducting and one should NEVER miss an opportunity to watch Bernstein conduct).  The bird sounds aren’t evident until the final minute, but so worth the wait (or one could be the type of person that fast-forwards to the final minute) (your secret is safe with us, because maybe we have felt compelled to fast-forward upon occasion).

  • “The Birds”, movement 5 (The Cuckoo), by Respighi (1928). Here is what we like to do: count the number of times we hear the cuckoo motif. Try somewhere around 70 times, in the short span of 4 minutes.  This is an absolute jewel of a piece.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH