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26 Candles!

candles

My son celebrated his birthday this past week!  Among the wrapped presents, two spectacular books:

wonder-garden-book

“Star Talk” by astrophysicist and consummate showman, Neil deGrasse Tyson.  So far – tremendously engrossing; last night we read about why astronauts grow taller in space (due to lack of gravity) (and apparently this is NOT good for bone density), the night before we learned how long it would take to travel to Mars via current space travel technology. (3 years).  Full of quirky facts and explanations, this is exactly the type of book we like to spend time with.

“The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom focuses upon animal life in five distinct habitats (vocab) around the world.  We are in the middle of the Amazon Rain Forest (located it on the new globe/another birthday present!) chapter.  Gross fact from last night: the green anaconda NEVER STOPS GROWING.  Ewww ewww ewww.  Aside from that, this book is a jewel. The obsessively decorative artwork is first rate, the book is well written and the excellent research is apparent.  Learning materials were NOT this captivating when I was in school.

horseshoe

Story problem – Farmer Brown recycles used horseshoes!  Farmer Brown has 6 horses and is filling up a barrel with used horseshoes.  He has found a craftsman who would like to purchase the horseshoes and turn them into “good luck” wall art items.  If each horse gets fitted for new shoes every other month, how many used shoes will Farmer Brown have in the barrel at the end of a year?  If he is able to sell the used shoes to the craftsman for $10 each, how much money will he collect by the end of a year?  If it costs $125 to shoe one horse, how many horses could be shod from the money earned from selling the old shoes? (answers at bottom of post)

blacksmith

Speaking of horseshoes – our poem for the evening was “The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1840), which led us to look at and talk about anvils (vocab) and bellows (vocab), which led us to our music theme:

Plink, clank, plink – the anvil as musical instrument!  What a most satisfactory listening experience:

anvil

The Anvil Chorus from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera of 1853, “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour).  This song of the gypsies praises hard work, good wine, and gypsy women.  For my son, I emphasized the hard work and the unique sound of the sledge hammer hitting the anvil, and sort of didn’t mention the good wine and gypsy women.  Outstanding production:

The Feuerfest (fireproof) Polka, composed in 1869 by Josef Strauss, brother of waltz king, Johann Strauss II.  This is probably one of our top ten favorite classical pieces; we like to anticipate each anvil clang.  In this linked video Mariss Jansons conducts the Vienna Philharmonic WHILE “playing” the hammers and anvil.  Adorable, and kind of spellbinding.

– Finally, “Heigh Ho” from Disney’s 1937 blockbuster, “Snow White”.  Music by Frank Churchill, words by Larry Morey.  Anvil plinking all over the place.

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 144,   $1,440,   11 horses)

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High Five!

dwarf-planets-121120b-02

FIVE?  Last night we were reading from “Information Graphics – Space”, and my son and I were startled to learn that there are 5 dwarf planets in our solar system.  FIVE????  Of course, we knew about Pluto, but 4 others?  Joining Pluto: Ceres (actually an asteroid, but so large that in 2006 it was designated a “dwarf planet”), Eris, Haumea, and Makemake.  We learned more about these cuties via a Wikipedia search.  And we want this poster!

Bullard book

Required Reading:  We have finished reading “Eugene Bullard, World’s First Black Fighter Pilot” by Larry Greenly, and it deserves another shout out.  Really! What this man (1895 – 1961) couldn’t do well.  He wasn’t just the first black fighter pilot (WWI), he was a prize-winning boxer, an excellent drummer, a night club owner, a spy for the French Underground…he spoke excellent French (once serving as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong when he toured France) and passable German.  Eugene Bullard was an American with a CAN DO attitude – who started from nothing and did everything. (This book also casts a wonderfully positive light on France.  Quite refreshing.)  This should be required reading, or at least an alternative choice for high schoolers struggling through “All Quiet on the Western Front”.   A definite HIGH FIVE in the inspirational/motivational reading catagory.

To honor those who served in THE GREAT WAR, we read “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae, twice. (and I wept) (couldn’t help it) (just think what my kids have had to put up with).

poppies

On the lighter side: Last week we started playing HANGMAN.  I am always looking for “normal” interactive games, and I think we have a hit with hangman.  It was fun, and my son quickly figured out the words I had chosen (rabbit, waffle, dentist, cattle); words selected because one comes upon some of their key letters rapidly, if one is simply selecting letters alphabetically (you do know how to play hangman, right?).  We’re playing again tonight.

Mid-Terms: Last Night my son took a multiple choice “mid-term” quiz and scored 100%!  (I had typed up questions that touched on topics we have covered since January – e.e. cummings, Punxsutawney Phil, the doldrums, Catherine the Great, rodents, the French Foreign Legion, and Cleopatra.)  Best of all, he demonstrated an understanding of how to take a multiple choice test – he no longer needs prompting to select the letter that goes with the correct answer. Yay!  We are making progress!

airplane

Farmer Brown story problem:  Farmer Brown had to travel out of state to attend a lecture on hay, and he traveled on a plane with recently refitted coach seats.  The seats were luxurious and really comfortable for everyone under 5’6” tall.  A large man himself, Farmer Brown noticed that 3/5 of the passengers were well over 5’6” tall.  If there are 180 seats in coach, how many people were desperate to reach their destination, de-sardine their bodies and stretch their legs? (answer under signature at end of this post)

empire state building               burj khalifa

High in the Sky:  we have just finished a study on enormously tall structures, and discussed whether we would be happy finding ourselves at the top of said tall buildings.  My top height is the Empire State Building.  My son indicated that he would be OK going to the top of that frighteningly half-mile-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai (which also boasts the world’s fastest elevator) (NOT A PLUS in my book).  Kudos to those who will go where my genetics cannot.

Beethoven

A High Five to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, who recently hosted a FREE performance for kids with autism.  The auditorium was filled!  Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducted Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in C Minor – what a PERFECT choice –  short, grand, majestic, deep (but uncomplicated) and polished from beginning to end.  What a gift.  My son and I decided that we needed to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth again.  For added interest, I selected a different conductor for each of the movements.

Beethoven’s Fifth – movement 1, Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (so, in other words, awesome):

Beethoven’s Fifth – movement 2, Jose Luis Gutierrez conducting the Carlos Chavez Youth Orchestra (good job for a youth orchestra, but excellent job for such a youthful conductor, I swear he looks 18):

Beethoven’s Fifth – movement 3 and 4 (difficult to find these filmed separately because the 4th movement commences without a pause from the conclusion of movement 3), this features conductor Paavo Jarvi conducting the Deutch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Farmer Brown story problem answer: 108)

Heavenly

     vatican     swiss guard and pope

The Vatican – our new unit!  We are Catholic, so the Vatican seemed a logical subject of inquiry.  We’re reading from the August 2015 issue of National Geographic and “The Incredible Book of Vatican Facts and Papal Curiosities” by Nino Lo Bello.  Here is what has IMMEDIATELY captured our attention: THE SWISS GUARDS.  Wow.  BEST UNIFORMS EVER.  Here is what we have learned about the Swiss Guards – there are around 100 guards at any one time, with sole responsibility for guarding Vatican City and the Pope. The basic requirements for becoming a guard:  single male Catholic between the ages of 19 – 30, with Swiss citizenship and Swiss military training.  Very, very cool.  And, again, those GREAT uniforms (we learned that it takes about 32 hours to sew up one of these splendid striped ensembles)!

big bang books
Stephen Hawking said it – so far, Stephen Hawking and his daughter, Lucy, have written 3 remarkable novels for youthful minds about (what else) outer space.  We are on book three, “George and the Big Bang”.  Every so often, there is a break in the story for a few pages of facts and theories.  As far as we are concerned, if Stephen Hawking said it, we are getting the most up-to-date information, un-doctored up and un-watered down.  These books are important.  We are augmenting the Hawking novel with “The Moon” by Seymour Simon.  Lovely book, thought provoking photographs.

persdeids meteor shower

Farmer Brown looks to the heavens and thinks about buying a telescope!  From one of our story problems of last week – Farmer Brown was so fascinated viewing the Perseid meteor shower last week that he realized his farm hands might enjoy having a telescope to view the night sky.  He has found a beginner type telescope for $300.  State sales tax is 8.25% and shipping will run $21.00.  How much will Farmer Brown spend if he wishes to purchase 2 telescopes?  If Farmer Brown wants speedier delivery he will pay an additional $15 per item.  What will this bring the total to?

 church singing

Music time – Negro Spirituals.  What sobering and inspiring listening.  But what great songs!  Written by slaves pre-civil war, we learned that spirituals were prayers about the rewards awaiting in heaven and coded encouragement for escaping the chains of forced servitude.  My son and I had a serious talk about the inexcusable wrongness of slavery.

  • “Down by the Riverside” – this timeless spiritual became a signature song for Vietnam War protesters of the 1970’s.  This video clip features Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  What a treasure.

  • “Wade in the Water” – we love this arrangement sung by Oakwood University students.  Refreshing, energetic, outstanding.

  • “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – I don’t see how anybody could watch this video and not weep (well, my son didn’t weep, but he was captivated) (I wept).  It showcases operatic lyric soprano Kathleen Battle and the Boys Choir of Harlem.  It is just so beautiful.  Also noted: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is the anthem of the national rugby union team of England.  That’s weird.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Two Different Worlds

germany globe rasputin einstein russia globe

Two Different Worlds – we are reading about the extraordinarily weird Grigory Rasputin and the extraordinarily brilliant Albert Einstein.  The two were born only 10 years apart (Rasputin 1869, Einstein 1879), but WHOA, what different worlds they lived in.  After each night’s reading, my son and I have much to discuss – first the family background, the education, and the character of each man (we haven’t gotten to their contributions yet) and then the comparison between cultures.  Grossest tidbit from last night’s reading – Rasputin’s teeth were brown. Yeecks. BTW, both sources of information are well researched, well written, and captivating.

Thinking about Letters – last night I brought out the old family dictionary, so my son could see that there is a non-electronic means of finding the definition of a word.  Then, I asked my son to guess which letter of the alphabet is at the beginning of the greatest number of words (he guessed “E”), and which letter is the beginning of the fewest number of words (he guessed “Z”). Thus begins a 13 day miniature side-study. We are counting the number of pages for each letter; two letters per evening. So, in 13 days we will know!

pluto new

Focus on Pluto – we are keeping abreast of the New Horizons spacecraft that was launched nine and a half years ago with the task of flying by Pluto, sending back images and information.  So exciting!  After traveling some three BILLION miles, the FASTEST spacecraft ever is due to pass Pluto NEXT WEEK.  It is already sending images.  We marvel once again at the brainpower that can successfully manage these far-reaching projects with such precision.

rice treats

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner is gearing up to make some big bucks at  the county fair – their plan is to sell 3,000 Rice Krispies Treats at their booth during the weekend-long fair. The diner chefs are working from the recipe on the back of the Rice Krispies box, which uses 6 cups of the rice cereal to make 12 large square cookies.  How many cups will the diner use to produce their goal of 3,000?   If a regular sized box of Rice Krispies can make two batches of the treats, how many regular sized boxes will be needed?  Delving into the arena of common sense:  is it likely that any grocery store would have this many boxes of Rice Krispies?

black wreath

Our music theme a few nights ago – “The Sad Song Scale”.  We listened to, and ranked these tear-jerker compositions on a sadness scale of one (“bummer”) to ten (“unrecoverable heart-crushing despair”):

  • “Symphony No. 3 in F major” (third movement), composed by Brahms in 1883.  We ranked this a most worthy 10 on our sadness scale.  SO much desolation.  This piece has been well positioned in several movies.

  • “What’ll I Do”, by Irving Berlin, composed in 1923.  Earns an impressive 6 on our scale.  Sad AND clever. That is sort of hard to pull off.  Kudos Mr. Berlin!

  • “Serenade”, by Franz Schubert.  A solid 9 on the scale.  Written in 1828, during the final year of his life, despondent because he knew he was dying of Syphilis. Blog followers know that my son and I are enthusiastic Itzhak Perlman admirers and this performance is another reason why.  Perfection.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Messenger Service

mercury head

Best Messenger Ever – Oh!  The brainpower that sent space probe Messenger on its successful-beyond-all-measures mission to planet Mercury!  My son and I learned that Messenger was launched from earth in 2004 and started orbiting Mercury in 2011.  The plan: Messenger was to orbit for a year and send back 2,500 images.  But the space probe was so well built, that it circled the tiny planet for 4 years and sent back 270,000 images!  WHOA.  On April 30, dear Messenger ran out of propellant, was pulled out of orbit by Mercury’s gravity, and sent one final photo before it crashed into the planet.

messenger's final photo

Messenger’s final image of Mercury

We paid homage to the team that constructed Messenger by listening to Gustav Holst’s “Mercury” from his orchestral work, “The Planets”.

More academics from last week –

  • Napoleon – as we learn more about Napoleon we are struck by how his brilliant ideas were dwarfed by his all-around awfulness.  This man belonged permanently in time-out, and of course, that is exactly where he ended up (we found the little island of St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled for the final six years of his life, on the globe). Vocab from our Napoleon unit: artillery, boycott, emperor, strategy, and trench.  BTW, our book, “A Wicked History – Napoleon, Emperor and Conqueror”, by Kimberley Heuston, is EXCELLENT.
  • Shakespeare – we finished “Romeo and Juliet”, and we have started “Twelfth Night”.  Love it!  We do prefer the mixed-up craziness of Shakespeare’s comedies to his gruesome tragedies.
  • Exponents – we gave the Mathtoon’s “Exponents and Radicals” iPad app another try. Much more fun this time. This app is splendid!  Cool, in-your-face, badboy graphics.  And the app is free!

peacock

Last week’s best Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown has a muster (or ostentation, if you will) of peafowl on his property.  Vocab time: we had to learn the difference between peafowl, peacocks, peahens, and peachicks. Seriously, what is cuter than the word, “peachick”?

OK, the story problem:  Farmer Brown has a large muster of peafowl on his property. He collects the peacock’s discarded long tail feathers to sell to a local interior designer, for $3.50 each. If the designer paid Farmer Brown $140 last month, how many feathers were handed over? If the designer sells each feather for $15, and all feathers are sold, what is the profit, once Farmer Brown has been paid?

dental tools   Ugh.

Last night’s music theme: “Music for a Dental Procedure” – my son and I take meticulous (vast overstatement) care of his teeth (so far no cavities, so that is something), but we thought soothing music could bring such relief if Novocain loomed.  Here is what we selected:

  • Beethoven’s 6th Symphony “The Pastoral” (1808), movement 1.  Any of the movements would work, and may we suggest the entire 5-movement symphony (about 45 minutes) for lengthy oral surgery.  Such life affirming music.

  • Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcarolle”, from his “Tales of Hoffman” (1881).  All you have to do is lie back and imagine yourself floating in a gondola around the Venetian waterways.  Soothing to the extreme.

  • “The Moldau” by Bedrich Smetana, (1875) from his larger orchestral work, “Ma Vlast”. Relax and let the dentist do the work as you follow the Moldau (a river in Smetana’s native Bohemia, now the Czech Republic) from its source past woods, meadows, a farmer’s wedding, and ending as the Moldau flows into the Elbe River. Piece lasts about 12 minutes. Fantastic ending.  This is a superb video, filmed in Smetana Hall in Prague.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

 

 

Desperately Seeking Ganesha

From our “World Religions” unit – we are reading from the Usborne Book of World Religions, last night finishing the chapter on Hinduism. How can our favorite Hindu deity not be Ganesha (the elephant-headed god in charge of removing obstacles)?  GANESHA STOP HERE!  We have obstacles aplenty that need removing.

ganesha line

Math Concept Check – we reviewed fractions, percentages, and ratios last night with the help of jillions of Legos.  So much fun!  Did my son like this?  Well, he went to sleep clutching a Lego tower.  I am taking that as a yes.

 lego math

Current Events – we dipped our toes into current events, using “The Economist” magazine as our resource. We found two articles of interest – first, an update on space probe “Philae” (which had us spellbound in November, when it landed on comet 67P – way way way way way far away).  And, since we just finished a unit on cats, we also read about the latest census of wild tigers in India (numbers way up last year!)(Good show India!).

 philae     tiger

Last night’s music theme was “Classical Broadway” – we listened to a few American musical comedy songs that were either embellished or inspired by particular classical music compositions:

  • “Rosemary” from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Frank Loesser, 1961) references Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A minor” (1868).

  • “Baby Face” from the 1967 movie “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (although the song was actually a MAJOR hit in 1926) includes a bit of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” (1742). (spoiler alert – the music is perfect, but this is one of the lamest youtube pages ever)

  • “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from “Evita” (Rice/Webber, 1976).  A significant musical phrase in the chorus certainly must have been inspired from Johannes Brahms’ 1878 “Violin Concerto in D minor”, movement 3. (Have a listen, it is glorious!)

(the Brahms) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOx0eKhD9f0

(Don’t Cry) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d01NpclvlE

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

 

A Fanfare for the Water Bear

water bear

Water Bears? Last night we finished “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space” but not before this wonderful book tantalized us with a few facts about water bears. Do you know about water bears?  Water bears look like cousins of those icky dust mites that mattress companies use to scare you into purchasing a new bed. I have included a link (about water bears, not mattress critters) so you can see for yourselves. Interesting and borderline gross.  Two thumbs up from my son.

Here is why astro-scientists want to know about water bears: they are the hardiest organisms on earth. They can live in extreme temps (-300 degrees F to +300 degrees F), they are unfazed by high pressure, low pressure, or radiation, they can be completely dehydrated and then years later resuscitated, and they can exist in outer space without protective covering.  All hail the indestructible water bear!

Tick Tock: time for a new unit – we are starting to study the concepts of time and clocks. This looks like a cool topic, but we loved “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space” so much, I am afraid that any unit tackled after that book would pale in comparison. Bummer for the clocks.

We Read:  we are more than half way through “Under the Egg” by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. This is the perfect type of book for my son, with intrigue and friendship woven into the complex plot-line, AND we have learned so much – about the paintings of Renaissance painter Raphael, about the Monuments Men of WWII, and last night, about the people-locating resources of various holocaust museums. It is hard to put this book away at the end of each chapter.

Our Le Fictitious Local Diner Story Problem: The local diner sells lots of pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies in November (but not mince, because the chef thinks mince pies are just awful). If the diner sells 80 pies the week before Thanksgiving, and 60% are apple, how many apple pies are we talking about?  If the diner is planning to bake 150 pies for Thanksgiving week, using the same percentage, how many apple pies should be prepared?

Our music theme for last night was “Fanfare for the Water Bear”.  Why not?  This invincible organism surely needs a glam theme song. One of these might be perfect:

  • “Water Music, Alla Hornpipe” from Handel’s “Water Music in D Major”– is this the perfect fanfare for the little super bug?  It was perfect for King George I as he cruised up and down the Thames.
  • “The Aquarium” from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” – for the water bear looking for dreamy relaxation music with a bit of star power (this music was used at the beginning of the “Beauty and the Beast” movie).
  • “The Wild Bears” from Sir Edward Elgar’s suite, “The Wand of Youth” – we LOVE the high voltage energy this piece. It scampers all over the place. Maybe this is the theme music for the bad boy water bear?

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH