Aram Khachaturian


city book

Around the world in perhaps 150 days – my son and I are working our way through Lonely Planet’s “The Cities Book” (thoughtful Christmas gift from sister –  Lonely Planet books are so A+).  There is a two page spread for each of the 200 cities showcased , and we are managing one or two destinations per evening.  Ten categories define each city, but alas, most are of little interest to my son, so here is how we are using this book:
1- we find the city on the globe.  I am dismayed to report that there are several cities of significant population that I have previously never heard of, like Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (5 million) or Lahore, Pakistan (almost 9 million).  For shame!  So I learn along with my son and I just keep appreciating the opportunity.


2- we find out how old the city is.  (eye-opener)
3- we read about the location’s “weaknesses” (beastly hot/spotty electricity/toxic smog levels)(always worth a side conversation).
4- we read about the city’s exports.  If the city produces enough of something to supply the city residents and the product is good enough to export, like coffee, oil, silks, and Siamese cats (!!!), we want to know about it.
And lastly, I should mention this book is quite large and weighs a lot.  I let my son guess how much it weighed.  He guessed 10 pounds, my husband guessed 2 pounds, I guessed 40 pounds (and ta-da! the book weighed in at 7.5 pounds on the cooking scale).  “The Cities Book” can be our new go-to device for pressing flowers or flattening out a curled document.

president book

Meanwhile, back in the USA – we are pretty much loving every page of Ken Jennings’ “Junior Genius Guide to U.S. Presidents”.  Frankly, we are planning on reading everything this super clever author publishes (we have read “Maphead” and his “Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”).  We like to know quirky info like:
– James K. Polk accomplished all of his campaign goals in his first term!  Commendable, but at what cost?  (He quit after one term and died three months later.)  Jennings suggests that Polk’s time was spent “working, not having fun, working more”.  (It would be so interesting to get a glimpse of the family dynamics of his childhood.) (It looks like mirth and relaxation were not encouraged.)
– James Garfield came from the most economically deprived upbringing. He was 19 before he ever heard a piano!  He was 23 before he tasted a banana!
– Woodrow Wilson was the only president (so far) to earn a PhD.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch – Farmer Brown has all the seed catalogs out, anticipating planting a large herb garden once the winter frosts have passed.  He wants to purchase 40 heirloom seed packets at $4 per packet from the “It’s About Thyme” company and 25 seed packets at $5 each from the “To Bee or Not To Bee Heirloom Seed Company”.  If Farmer Brown budgeted $250 for his herb garden, will he have enough money buy all the seed packets? (answer at bottom of post)

NY Phil

Well, listen to this!   I have recently enlisted the assistance of personal trainer “Brute” (not his real name – smirk).  Brute promised that I could work out to my choice of music.  Yay!  So I said, “classical” and was met with the most puzzled expression.  (Seriously?)  To make it simple, I said I would be happy to listen to any recordings by the New York Philharmonic, to which Brute responded, “Hmmm, I have never heard of that band.”. (Seriously?) AAAAAAACK.  See? This is what happens when school systems are forced to cut funding from the music curriculum.  My son selected three pieces that he decided even a new classical music listener could love, and I found a recording of each by the New York Philharmonic:

  • “Mars”, from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, composed around 1916.  The standard by which all scary aggressive music must be judged:

  • “The Radetzky March” , composed by Johann Strauss, Sr, in 1848, commissioned to commemorate Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz’s victory at the Battle of Custoza (Oh yeah, the Battle of Custoza)(?????).  This is just the dandiest of marches, maybe THE BEST MARCH EVER:

  • “Masquerade”, a waltz composed  in 1941 by Aram Khachaturian (as incidental music for a play of the same name).  Delicious, dark, depraved.  Yikes, it is all here:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer: NO)


We’re in A+ Book Territory

We are in A+ Book territory!  Sometimes we’re lucky and every book on the nightly agenda is so first-rate that we can’t wait to get started.  Do we think every book is dandy?  Ha.  Frankly, about half of the books we start do NOT get finished.  If they are dull or poorly edited we give them a quiet farewell, and sort of feel bad about tossing them in the give-away box for the next charity drive.  But this week, we are in A+ Book Territory!


A+ for “Grammar-Land” – what an entertaining book we have found in “Grammar-Land” written by M.L. Nesbitt in – GET THIS – 1877! (never fear, reprinted/available from Amazon).  M.L. Nesbitt must have had so much fun writing this, and as we get caught up in the grammar court room cleverness, we are being drilled over and over with grammar rules. We are getting smarter! Oh my gosh, I was so nervous about last night’s topic – we were tackling “the nominative case” – which ended up being ridiculously easy.  I have reviewed many supposedly “fun” grammar books, which are decidedly NOT.  This one: A+.

A+ for the “DK Eyewitness Book: North American Indian” – we continue our Native North American unit and this book is providing a decent introduction for our survey.  We have admired the sleek design of birch bark canoes, we have learned a bit about the Iroquois League (5 tribes that worked together, under the guidance of a council made up of men – who were chosen by elder tribe WOMEN!!!), and last night, we read through a most interesting mini sketch of Tecumseh.  Two thumbs up for this reference (A+)!

A+ for “The Memory of an Elephant” – We are enjoying this quirky book about elephants by Sophie Strady, gloriously illustrated by Jean-Francois Martin, so the news of the week – the announcement by Ringling Brothers of the imminent close of their circus – caught our attention.  So much to talk about – the skilled performers, the death-defying acts, circus snacks, circus parades, circus music, and then a thoughtful discussion about the realities of “freak exhibits” and circus animals (including a mention about PETA and their role in forcing the circus to retire their elephants).  This book: conversation provoker!  A+!


Story Problem – Too many books in Farmer Brown’s library – Farmer Brown has run out of storage room, so he has decided clean out his book shelves.  He has found 40 hardcover books and 50 paperback books to donate to a charity. He has determined that the worth of each hardcover book is $7, and the worth of each paperback is $3.  How much will Farmer Brown be able to tell his CPA that he has donated in books?  My son did the computation in his head:
A) $90      B) $430      C) $730      D) $900 (answer at bottom of post)


Circus Music Classics – Even though the Ringling Brothers Circus is about to be a thing of the past, we will always love these attention grabbing compositions:

Entry of the Gladiators – composed in 1897 by Julius Fucik.  As I wrote in August 2015, Fucik had quite an interest in the Roman Empire.  He did NOT intend for this composition to be used as a circus SCREAMER (how can you not love this term?????) (a “screamer” is an invigorating circus march).  Is this not THE music that should be blaring in elementary school halls on the first day of school?

Sabre Dance – Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, composed in 1942, is the definitive go-to music for any and all knife throwing attractions.  We found a simply outstanding performance of this edge-of-your-seat music (and we would do anything to be part of this percussion section):

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze – composed by Lyle and Lee in 1867 to glorify Jules Leotard, a French acrobat who developed the art of the trapeze AND AS IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, he invented the 1-piece form-fitting knitted gym suit: the leotard.  An extremely popular song for decades! (But I guess not in this decade – last weekend, I was at a leadership workshop, singing with a group of 80 bright collegians, and I was stunned to discover that NOT A ONE OF THEM was familiar with the circus music classics.  REALLY?  NOT ON MY WATCH – I made them listen over and over to “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”)

Welcome to the best part of my day!
Jane BH
(story problem answer: B) $430)

Back in the Saddle Again


Annnnnnnd, we’re back!  Since our last post, we have read about Princess Kaiulani of Hawaii (so refined, educated, and loyal to her people) and Genghis Khan of Mongolia (so unrefined, so uneducated, so loyal to himself. In his defense, the living was pretty uncertain on the Mongolian steppe (vocab) in the 13th century.  We get the impression that there was no lack of unrefined, uneducated, and untrustworthy yurt (vocab) dwellers.  My son and I are SO glad we didn’t live then and there.  So glad.)

marley door knocker

Current fiction – we loved learning about Charles Dickens last month, so we decided to tackle “A Christmas Carol”.  So far, the book’s conversational style is a delight, although I need to interpret countless phrases and concepts on every page: door knocker, counting-house, Bedlam, workhouses, melancholy, tavern.  This is not a problem!  Bring it, Mr. Dickens.

Current non-fiction

human body book

Reading only one page a night from Peter Grundy’s captivating book, “HUMAN BODY” gives us plenty of thought-provoking information. Example: on the page about the sense of smell, we learned that a human has 15 million olfactory receptors (vocab), most dogs have 1,000 million olfactory receptors, BUT a bloodhound has – GET THIS – 4,000 million olfactory receptors.  So this led to a little discussion about why bloodhounds are the dog of choice for finding lost people, followed by a discussion about how people get lost.  Graphics? Genius.

france map     map book     escargot2

We are also reading through “MAPS”, by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski.  What a joy this gigantic book is.  Again, one page a night is plenty.  As we begin each new country, we find it on our globe, then we treat ourselves to the jillions of darling hand-drawn illustrations.  Last night we spent time with the page on France and ended up discussing whether or not we would consider eating escargots.


Our story problem: Farmer Brown’s Halloween – Farmer Brown is giving glow-in-the-dark bracelets for Halloween instead of candy. He can purchase 300 bracelets for $24. How much will each bracelet cost?

glow in dark bracelets

If he gives the first 50 trick-or-treaters one bracelet each, but gives the next 100 children 2 bracelets each (because he really doesn’t want to end up with a bunch of bracelets at the end of the evening), how many bracelets should he give to the final group of 10 trick-or-treaters (so he doesn’t end up with any bracelets)?

Scary Music for Halloween

  • “Dance Macabre”, by Camille Saint-Saens, composed in 1874.  The clock strikes midnight on Halloween, calling the dead to arise and dance until dawn.  This splendid video showcases a most skilled youth orchestra from Poland.  Well worth the view to watch for the marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, and orchestral bells – instruments of perfection for evoking the sounds of rattling skeleton bones.

  • “Mars”, from “The Planets”, composed by Gustav Holst in 1914.  This is the poster child for menacing music.  We love this particular video – it is a simulation of a rover landing on Mars.  We’ve probably watched this 10 times.

  • “Masquerade”, movement 1 (the waltz), from a suite written by Aram Khachaturian in 1941.  This video is a full-blown production number, dark and decadent, just like the music.  For some reason, it is a bit out of focus, but this only adds to the Halloween creepiness.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH


One thing leads to another

Our December was as jam packed as everyone else’s, so although I didn’t post, my son and I still gathered nightly for STUDIES AND STORIES.  In the midst of Christmas chaos, we discussed/looked up/whatever: the concept of alliteration – charm bracelets – the Chunnel – poppies – rafts – storks – submarines. Good month.  But now, we are back in business!

lighthouse  dominator  fog

One thing leads to another – for some reason, my son and I were reading about the big lenses used in lighthouses…this led me to show him a photo of the lighthouse in the town where I grew up….this led me to tell him about the SS Dominator, an unlucky freighter that sank pretty darn close to our local lighthouse in 1961 (fog issues)…this led us to look at photos of the Dominator, where we noticed: RUST.  So this led us to do a bit of a study on rust.  And fog.  Yay to the freedom of studying in a zigzag fashion.

Last night we began a unit on CATS – all kinds of felines, wild and domesticated (vocab word).   Interesting take-aways from last night: (1) take any type of feline, and the male and female look pretty much alike, EXCEPT one type of cat.  Can you guess?  Answer: LIONS (the male lion looking way different than his female counter-part).  Just the kind of fact that interests us, and (2) the Clouded Leopard: weird weird weird fur pattern.  Doesn’t it look like the design on the back of a tortoise?

clouded leopard

Our current novel: L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.  Our book has extreme, contemporary, WONDERFUL graphics by Olimpia Zagnoli.

oz book

Thought: Baum wrote this as a book for children, so is there a need for so many watered down “children’s” versions? Don’t you think that diluted re-writes are an insult to our children’s minds?

Our Farmer Brown story problem: Farmer Brown’s cousin, Farmer Jimmy, produces maple syrup from the trees on his Vermont farm. He has asked Farmer Brown to sell the syrup for him, so he can concentrate on his syrup making techniques.  Farmer Jimmy is going to pay Farmer Brown 20% of everything sold.  A pint of maple syrup will sell for $8.00.  If Farmer Brown can sell 200 pints, how much money will he earn after he forks over most of the money to his cousin?

Our music theme: “One Thing Leads To Another” – we thought 2014 should go out with a bang and 2015 should enter with a bang…so we selected music that prominently features a booming instrument we want so badly to play – the TIMPANI (kettledrums):

  • Two by Richard Strauss!  “Dance of the Seven Veils” from his opera, “Salome” (pha-yew!  This is IN YOUR FACE sensuality set to music, but I would NEVER say this in front of my son – rather, I DO say that this is a staggering work of genius, and let’s concentrate on listening for the timpani) and “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (otherwise known as the theme music to the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey”).
  • Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” – who cannot be delighted by this piece? C’mon! It’s a circus staple, what’s not to love? In the video, you will find the timpani positioned smack in the middle of the back row. What a great instrument!

 Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH