Wonders of the World

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)

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)

Quandary

Here is the quandary (vocab):  I do not like reading to my son about man’s inhumanity to man; he has enough to deal with without trying to grasp the perplexing notion of cruelty.  HOWEVER, the “Wicked History” series books are so well written, organized, researched, and crazy fascinating – we can’t stay away.

leopold-book-cover

We just finished the book on BAD BAD King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909); and he was indefensibly bad – Hitler and Stalin BAD.  There were passages in the book describing atrocities under his leadership of the “Congo Free State” (his PERSONAL colony) so barbaric, that while reading aloud to my son, I had to skip over paragraph after paragraph.
On the plus side:
– we learned a LOT about what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came away fascinated
– we added to our hero list:  George Washington Williams (a journalist), Edmund Morel (a most alert shipping clerk) and Roger Casement (a British consul). These men brought the brutal policies of Congo Free State administrators to world wide attention and censure (vocab)
– AND Leopold II died with just about everyone (well, maybe everyone) despising him. (ridiculously small consolation)

amazon-pic himalayan-pic

from “The Wonder Garden” book by Williams and Broom – stunning

The subject matter gets a LOT happier, but DRAT:  we just hate it when a good book ends. We loved EVERY page of “The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom; luscious illustrations accompanied by solidly interesting facts.  This startlingly beautiful book showcases animals of five distinct habitats around the world. We were familiar with the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, but we really hadn’t read anything about the Black Forest, the Chihuahuan Dessert or the Himalayan Mountains.  This delicious book is SO on our “read-it-again list”.

Last night my son took a simple matching location-to-fact quiz and then we paired up one piece of music with each habitat.

habitat-quiz

Music to remind us of five living wonders of our world:
– The Amazon Rain Forest – hosting around 1,500 species of birds, Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Aviary” (from his “Carnival of the Animals”, 1886) was an obvious selection.  The music is prefaced by an Ogden Nash poem read by Roger Moore.  Elegant:

– The Great Barrier Reef – again, from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals”:  “The Aquarium”. Gloriously haunting music provides a backdrop for the world’s largest living structure (however, as beautiful as this linked video is, “The Aquarium” takes up only the first 2.5 minutes; the carnival’s donkey and the cuckoo movements follow, for some unknown reason):

– The Black Forest – the habitat for not only the world’s largest owls, but also the setting for several fairy tales from the brothers Grimm.  My son and I listened to “Evening Prayer” from the opera “Hansel and Gretel”, composed by Englebert Humperdinck in 1893.  We twiddled our fingers during the three minute LONG introduction; however once we got to the meat of the composition we enjoyed possibly the most comforting lullaby ever:

SIDEBAR:  another Englebert Humperdinck??? we followed Humperdinck’s “Evening Prayer” with a short discussion of British pop star (of the ’60’s and ’70’s) Englebert Humperdinck (but really Arnold George Dorsey) (obviously NO relation to the composer of the late 1800’s).  My UCLA college room-mate, J’nette, warbled a mocking version of  Humperdinck’s giant hit “Release Me” throughout our undergrad years, so I made my unappreciative son endure a trip down memory lane:

– The Chihuahuan Desert – Well, first of all, we had no idea where the Chihuahuan Desert was (southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern parts of Mexico) and we are practically living in it!  We felt the second movement (the “Largo” movement) of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” evoked the loneliness, uncertainty, and the grandeur of this habitat:

– and finally, The Himalayan Mountains – we paired “the rooftop of the world” with  “Approaching the Summit” composed by genius genius genius John Williams for the 1997 movie “Seven Years in Tibet”.  We could hear how this music captures themes – majestic and mysterious – from both sides of the Himalayan Mountains (India and China):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(The story problems from this week seemed painfully frivolous after reading about the human suffering provoked by King Leopold II.  I just couldn’t post any of them.)

Thousands and Thousands

Our Wonders of the World Unit: last night – giant sequoias!  The largest trees, the oldest trees (my son learned about counting rings in a slice of tree trunk to determine the age).  We love that the hugest of the huge trees have names (like “The President” and “General Sherman”).  We love that there is only one way to get an accurate measurement of the trees: a forest ecologist has to climb up to the top (some 300+ feet up, count me out).  But here is what got us thinking: a typical giant sequoia can produce up to 11,000 cones a year.  11,000!  What if they all drop at once?  Is there some sort of cone maintenance protocol?  What’s the deal here?

sequoia cones

Our George E. Ohr Unit: with great regret, we finished the A+ book on wacky, outrageous self-promoter, potter George Ohr. If you don’t know about George Ohr, here is the heartbreaker:  although he was able to support his family with the sale of his utilitarian ceramic pieces, and although his art pieces won awards at the national level, he was unable to sell ANY of his thousands of art pieces!  No one wanted them.  Fifty years after he passed on, the public “discovered” Ohr’s work and went into a buying frenzy.  There is now a fabulous George Ohr museum in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi, designed by an architect worthy of the project: Frank Geary.

ohr 2 ruffled ohr okeefe museum ohr book

Our Back Yard:  mistletoe has made a home in one of our oak trees, so last night we learned all about this parasite and its legends.  Then we took on a related Farmer Brown story problem.

 mistletoe clump

Our Farmer Brown Story Problem:  Farmer Brown has donated clusters of mistletoe to a local ecology club for a holiday fund raising project.  Club members are going to sell sprigs of mistletoe (packaged in cellophane bags and tied with a festive red ribbon) at the Holiday Romance Dance.  If 150 bags of mistletoe are sold at $5 each, how much profit will the club realize (remembering that although the mistletoe was free, the bolt of ribbon cost $60 and the cellophane bags cost $60)?

Our Music Theme: last night was VIRTUOUSO NIGHT starring Sir James Galway, flute player (flutist/flautist/flute player…we learned that all terms are correct, so ONE LESS WORRY).  Of note for anyone wanting to improve their flute playing skills: there are several FREE really fun master classes taught by James Galway on youtube!

We love listening to Sir James Galway:

  • Mozart’s “Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra”, movement II –  as a non-pharmaceutical means of lowering blood pressure, this piece is probably the music equivalent of an aquarium in a physician’s office.  Unhurried and soothing.  Ahhhhhh.
  • “I Saw Three Ships” – the traditional Christmas carol, so brightly played, from Galway’s Christmas CD of 1992.  The CD is still available and really, if you celebrate Christmas, you should own it.
  • Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” – composed in 1899 for the opera, “The Tale of Tsar Saltan”.  How can he play this fast?  Is this played with one breath?

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Mounting Interest

Mount Everest

Our Wonders of the World unit: last night, Mount Everest.  Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level at the summit (the summit being about as big as my son’s bed – we spent a few minutes thinking about whether we could be up so high, standing on something so small without freaking out and throwing up).  But back to the height:  when we fly to LA, our cruising altitude is not that much higher than the top of Mount Everest.  Wouldn’t it be weird to be in a plane, just about cruising altitude and look eye to eye with a person outside the airplane?  This puts the size of the Everest into a perspective that forces us to understand that THIS IS ONE GIANT MOUNTAIN.

New unit: George Ohr, potter. We started a most interesting book, “The Mad Potter, George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius”. George Ohr (1857 – 1918) tried/failed about 14 different career paths before he was trained in ceramics.  In his own words, he “took to the potter’s wheel like a duck to water”. My son needed to know what a potter’s wheel looked like, so we viewed a neat video of a skilled potter throwing a pot.  He was spellbound as the solid lump of clay was transformed into a rather large bowl. Here is the video we watched:

Last night’s music theme celebrated Mount Vesuvius!

funicular illustration

Here is the story:  in 1880, a local journalist (Peppino Turco) teamed with composer Luigi Denza to create the immensely popular “advertising” jingle, “Funiculi Funicula”, commemorating the grand opening of a funicular cable car up the side of Mount Vesuvius. The original words are essentially “ride the totally cool cable car to the top of the mountain, see what you can see, bring a love interest”. The song went as viral as viral could be in 1880.

THEN!  Only 6 years later, composer Richard Strauss was touring Italy, heard the song – thought it was an old traditional Neapolitan theme – and wove it into movement 4 of his “Aus Italien” tone poem. Bad surprise: Denza sued Richard Strauss, won the lawsuit, and Strauss paid royalties every time “Aus Italien” was performed.

THEN!  (here we go again) 21 years after the Denza vs. Strauss dust-up, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov was touring Italy, heard the song – thought it was an old traditional Neapolitan theme – so he polished it up for full orchestra and it became “Neapolitan Song”.  He apparently was not sued. This is a sparkling orchestration, but my son and I think the original, unrefined rendition is THE BEST. (spoiler alert:  this is a flawed video visually – you will see what I mean immediately, but Pope Benedict is in the audience, so that is pretty awesome)

Final note:  Vesuvius is a dormant volcano, but in 1944 it erupted and the cable car was a casualty.  Rats.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

The Price Is Wrong!

Money Talk – My son is way out of the commerce loop, so I wondered if he had any sort of grasp on what things cost. I gave a multi-choice quiz last night to probe, and asked about the cost of such things as a car, a carton of orange juice, a haircut, a house, an iPod, and the cost of admission to Disneyland.

money

Just as I suspected, he has no idea, so we are going to work on this. I will start bringing the newspaper’s automotive section, real estate section, and grocery store circulars to STORIES AND STUDIES. We will thumb through the sections to get ideas of prices.  Please let this be more interesting than I am projecting.

The Clock Unit – There is a lot to learn about clocks (sun dials, water clocks, hour glasses, weights, springs, pendulums), and the book we just finished covers the clock development time-line rather well. I am sorry to say that the author lost our attention by repeatedly inserting unfamiliar terms (without explanation) into his text.  The illustrations are really nice, but alas, we were not sad to turn the final page of this book.  Our next unit is “Wonders of the World” and I am pretty excited! (hope springs eternal)

Our Science Unit – from the “Usborne Book of Scientists” we continued learning about THE FIGHT AGAINST DISEASE.   Last night: RABIES! Tonight: GERMS!  What can I say? Awesome.

Novel – We finished “Under the Egg” by Laura Marx Fitzgerald.  Good book for us: well written and we learned bits about World War II, the Renaissance painter Raphael, oil paint chemistry, the concept of self-reliance, AND the ending was most satisfying.

Our “Le Fictitious Local Diner” Story Problem – Last night’s story problem dealt with the number of sweet potato and marshmallow casseroles needed by the diner for Thanksgiving. For silliness, we calculated the exact number of mini marshmallows required to fit atop each casserole (new vocab word).

 marshmallow

Music Theme – Pizzicato!  Pizzicato,  for those who were deprived of any sort of musical education due to school districts slashing funds from the fine arts departments, is the technique of plucking a stringed instrument, rather than bowing. Neat sound – always sounds like sneaky tiptoeing.

  • Leo Delibes’ “Divertissement – Pizzicati” from his ballet, “Sylvia”.  A short and sweet classic.
  • Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony 4, movement III”.  This could be background music for people tiptoeing madly about getting ready for a surprise party.  I am pretty sure this is what Tchaikovsky had in mind.
  • Edvard Grieg’s “Anitra’s Dance” from his “Peer Gynt Suite”.  It’s pizzicato city as ALL of the orchestra’s stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello, and bass) get to take turns plucking away.  And if that weren’t enough, Grieg has composed a deliciously sinister melody that brings to mind robbers and thieves darting in and out of dark places.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH