Buffalo Bill

The Last Dog’s Tail

dog tail

– Our final post for 2017 –

Ben best of blog 2017

– Here is what my son and I learned a LOT about in 2017 –
Africa – bees – Buffalo Bill – Canada – Cixi – crime science – grammar – Greek mythology – Jim Thorpe – maps – Native North Americans – Roy Lichtenstein – Royal Canadian Mounted Police – salients – South America – the Loch Ness Monster – the NATO phonetic alphabet – whale fall

My son’s favorite topic?  WHALE FALL, from the July 21st post, “Whale Fall and other Water Wonders

– Our most memorable story problem themes for 2017 –
an outdoor deck renovation – box lunches – Canadian geese – cider – doilies at the diner – donating books – donuts – frying pans – live music at the diner – macaroni – nail polish – painting Farmer Brown’s roadside stand – radishes – the diner’s summer give-away – work gloves

My son’s favorite story problem?  FARMER BROWN AND THE CANADIAN GEESE, from the April 24th post, “Looking North

– Our coolest music themes for 2017 –
circus classics – Dvorak’s birthday – minuets – music for the Narcisse Snake Pits – rootin’ tootin’ music – suite music – the Brandenburg Concertos – the crescendo – the fugue and canon controversy – the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – the saxophone – the snare drum – the tango

My son’s favorite music theme?  MUSIC FOR THE NARCISSE SNAKE PITS, from the April 24th post, “Looking North”.  I have to agree, the music selections for the Narcisse Snake Pits, are hilarious.  A definite favorite theme for me.

christmas tree

So that brings us to December (so difficult to post a blog when one is a mom in charge of Christmas) – our engineering unit!

engineering books

Seriously, I can’t believe that we are loving three books ABOUT ENGINEERING!  But, now it is sort of like, if we cannot be an engineer (thanx to our DNA), at least we can be thrilled and inspired by the awesome achievements of engineers.

– “The Erie Canal” – oh my gosh, this resource by Martha E. Kendall is SUPERB.
– “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” – authors William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer have captivated our hearts.
– “Engineered! Engineering Design at Work” – by Shannon Hunt and James Gulliver Hancock – we’ve just started this. So far, “YAY!”.

grimms book

And a classical music theme focus for December – Fairy Tales:

– “The Sleeping Beauty Waltz”, from The Sleeping Beauty Ballet (1889) by Tchaikovsky, played by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, featuring the largest bass drum I have ever seen.  Just a perfect performance.

-“Cinderella’s Waltz”, from the Cinderella Ballet (1944) by Sergei Prokofiev – with a darkness and edge so typical of Prokofiev.  The Dutch National Ballet brings a superbly choreographed performance, full of bounce and humor (bounce and humor marrying well with the Prokofiev music?  YES!).

– “The Children’s Prayer” (or Evening Prayer), from the Hansel and Gretel opera (1892), by Engelbert Humperdinck (not the pop star from the 1970’s).  Very soothing, somber, hopeful.  Beautifully played by Leipzig’s very famous Gewandhausorchester, conducted by a very thoughtful, if not super confident, Bobby McFerrin.  Interesting note:  the idea AND libretto (vocab) for this opera came from the composer’s sister, Adelheid Wette. YOU GO GIRL!

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
P.S. Most of my blog writing has been done at my local Starbucks, where they start preparing my “grande peppermint hot chocolate made with soy no whip” as I walk through their door.  Thank you Starbucks!  Au revoir Starbucks!  Beginning in just a few days (January 2018) I get to work in a real office.  It is teeny, but it has a window and I am très excited!


Looking North

Our Canadian Unit: the 49th parallel propels us into action – While reading about Canadian provinces, and we came across this:  British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba border the United States along the 49th parallel north. WHAT???????? It was like our alarm clock clanged!  It was obviously time to learn about parallels, longitude, latitude and the like.  So, two books to the rescue:  we’re reading through the scholarly and quite fascinating “Longitude” by Dava Sobel, and “Maphead” by Ken Jennings is on deck.  BTW, “Wow Canada!” by Vivien Bowers is proving to be an excellent resource.

olivia 3

Fiction Fun – We were sorry to finish two entertaining books this past week: our 10th Tom Gates book, “Top of the Class (nearly)” by the utterly imaginative Liz Pichon (gosh we love those Tom Gates books) and a revisit read of Gordon Korman’s insightful “Schooled” (important read).  We’ve just begun “Olivia Bean Trivia Queen”, written by Donna Gephart, a new author for us. So far: YAY!

Reporting in on our Buffalo Bill unit:
– We have just finished “Presenting Buffalo Bill” –  We’ve impressed ourselves by absorbing the material of Candace Fleming’s long, brilliantly researched book.  We probably learned EVERYTHING about this over-the-top man,  a LOT about the myth of the “wild west”, and a BIT about some unsettling American government policies of the late 18th century.
– A side note:  Buffalo Bill fits the profile –  My son and I have studied many “larger than life” individuals whose impact has been significant.  To a person, the greater the achievement, the more glaring the personal deficit(s) (vocab).  William Cody fits the profile.  Poor Bill – literally POOR BILL – had no concept of money management.  Although this is a comparatively benign (vocab) deficit, how could his friends and family not shudder in horror as he plunged unthinkable quantities of money into one ill-advised investment after another.  Oh Bill!

canadian geese

Farmer Brown and the Canadian Geese story problem – Farmer Brown loves the honking sound of Canadian Geese as they fly over his ranch, migrating south for the winter or back north for the summer.  He was interested to read that a town in Kansas counted 1,800 geese as year-round residents, their number increasing to 18,000 every winter.  A percentage increase of what?  A. 10%      B. 100%      C. 1,000%  (answer at bottom of post)

Back to our Canada studies:  WE DID NOT SEE THIS COMING – Here we are knee deep into our unit on the Canadian provinces, learning about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian Shield, poutine, puffins, prairie dogs – lovely, lovely, lovely and then, WHOA: smack in the middle of Canada, in the province of Manitoba: THE NARCISSE SNAKE DENS.  SNAKE DENS!!!!  We had to drop everything, find out more and look at GROSS WRIGGLING PHOTOS.  OK, here is the deal: every spring and fall, thousands and thousands of red-sided garter snakes congregate for a three week mating frenzy.

narcisse snake dens

Last night’s music:  A HISSY FIT – we pretended that the director of the Narcisse Snake Dens phoned and pleaded with us to plan a program of background music for the slithering sweethearts:


  • “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Richard Strauss’ one act opera, “Salome”, which premiered in 1905 (but was banned in London until 1907 for being WAY too steamy) (my son doesn’t need to know this).  This piece masterfully scores the out of control fever of the snake pits (thank you timpani) with the sinuous gliding of the snakes over and under each other (thank you snake charmy oboes).  This performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Santiago, conducted by Paolo Bortolameolli is SUPERB. TONS of energy:

  • “Blue Tango” by Leroy Anderson, composed in 1951.  We just laugh and laugh through this whole piece.  This is the go-to sassy music for a garter snake meet and greet:

  • We anthropomorphized (vocab) the snakes and imagined two snakes eyeing each other from opposite sides of the crowded and heaving den – and their hearts connect (we are laughing so hard) to “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1949 “South Pacific” production:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer: C. 1,000% increase)

Rootin’ Tootin’


Required Reading – We are nearly through “Presenting Buffalo Bill – The Man Who Invented the Wild West” (Candace Fleming).  Wow.  This should be adjunct reading for any history course that covers the late 19th century.

Quirky take-aways from this outstandingly researched book:

– William Cody did not like Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer…and after “Custer’s Last Stand” at Little Big Horn, Cody hired Sitting Bull (inspirational leader of the victorious Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho) to be part of his Wild West show.
– While the US Government sought to “Americanize” American Indians (passing laws forbidding traditional clothes, housing, religious practices, etc.), the Wild West show was partially responsible for keeping these customs alive – Buffalo Bill’s insistence upon authenticity meant his Pawnee, Cheyenne, and Lakota performers could wear their traditional clothing, speak their language, live in traditional dwellings, etc.
– When the Wild West performed in London, Queen Victoria broke a 26 year seclusion (lamenting the death of her husband, Prince Albert) to attend the show (and LOVED it).
– We are still marveling at William Cody’s energy and leadership skills:  managing 200+ performers (among which he was the central star OF COURSE), scores of horses, buffalo, elk, Texas steers, donkeys, deer, bears, full size wagons, a log cabin, a stagecoach, gigantic sets (vocab) and a brass band…not to mention food, accommodations, and travel arrangements.  We’re exhausted.
– William Cody was not a perfect person; he certainly had a handful of glaring deficits. But DARN IT, my son and I are fans!


Map Happy – Our “find each USA state and color it in” map is complete.  My son looked forward to this activity every night; we would find the state in question, talk about its shape (Louisiana looks like a capital “L”, the Michigan “mitten”, etc.), and then ink in the state together.  We’ve now started on the Canadian map. Vivien Bowers’ most enjoyable book, “Wow Canada!” is providing background info as we color in each province and territory.

Funny, thought provoking, excellent read for us – we are in the midst of a fifth reading of our favorite Gordon Korman book, “Schooled”.  Such an original theme – a very centered, capable kid who has been raised in a defunct hippie commune is forced to matriculate into a public school.  A+.


Fancy, Fancy, Fancy! Story Problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – diner management has decided that a paper doily (vocab) under the condiments (vocab) on each table is a must.  There are 10 tables and 5 booths at the diner. Each table will get a fresh doily before both lunch and dinner services.  Will a case of 1,000 doilies be enough for one month?  If each case costs $7.00, how much should the diner budget for doilies for a year? (answers at bottom of post)

Rootin’ Tootin’ Music – we found rambunctious, fast paced, toe tappin’, hootin’ and hollerin’ music to help us imagine Buffalo Bill’s mightily successful Wild West extravaganza:

“Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” ballet, which premiered in 1942.  I think we feel intellectually elevated every time we listen to anything by Aaron Copland:

– The theme from the long-running TV show (1959-1973) “Bonanza”, orchestrated and arranged by David Rose and Billy May.  Voted by the Western Writers of America as one of the Top 100 Western Songs of All Time.  Is it THAT difficult to be in the top 100???  Why not TOP 10?  No matter – we love it:

– The theme from the 1960 American Western movie, “The Magnificent Seven”, composed by Elmer Bernstein.  We learned that Elmer Bernstein was NOT related to Leonard Bernstein (but they were friends), that he composed for loads and loads of movies, his scores were nominated for 14 Oscars (winning in 1967 for “Thoroughly Modern Millie”)…Back to “The Magnificent Seven” –  this classic was nominated for an academy award in 1961, but lost to “Exodus” (score composed by Ernest Gold).  Tough break.  BTW, this is a simply outstanding recording of the theme (but why the pineapple photo at the very beginning?):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: yes, and $84)

It’s All Fun!


Giant Cartoon Art – We are currently reading through “Whaam! The Art & Life of Roy Lichtenstein” by Susan Goldman Rubin.  This book is filled with examples of his pop art of the 1960’s that both shocked (“this is art?????”) and rocked a generation.  Each of Lichtenstein’s paintings was inspired by published comic book drawings of others, and I like that the author addressed the issue of copyright. My son likes looking at photographs of Lichtenstein’s art on display, with people standing near the paintings, so he can get an idea of exactly how large the paintings are.


Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show – Hot off the press! Candace Fleming’s “Presenting Buffalo Bill – The Man who Invented the Wild West” was just published in 2016.  We are only a few nights into this book and we are loving every minute.  Oh my! Buffalo Bill – what a man with BIG vision and what a risk (vocab) taker!  This book is part of our Native North American unit – we are impressed with the author’s excellent research and sensitivity regarding Lakota tribe members who were part of the Wild West Show (and this has provoked a short side study of the Lakota tribe).

Game ON – the other night, my son grabbed a pen, and I knew he wanted to communicate something – so I supported his wrist and here is what he wrote, “I want to play hangman.”!!!!  Really?  Well, OK!  We have been playing hangman about 2 times a week for a month or two, but I had no idea he was liking this spelling game.  I am relieved that his handwriting has improved to the point that I can read it.  Huge communication progress!

50 Days of Fun!  I am stretching the definition of “fun”, but this is sort of diverting:  we have started playing, “WHERE IS THAT?”.  I place a blank map of the USA on the desk and I ask my son to ink a dot in the middle of a particular state.  After he finds the correct state, we (hand-over-hand) color it in. Could this be a gateway activity – first the USA, then maybe the countries of South America?  Then WHO KNOWS???

And if that weren’t enough – I have added a new resource tab (look on title block) – “The Bookshelf”.  This is where I will keep a running list of the books that have worked particularly well for my son and me.


Box Lunches at Le Fictitious Local Diner –  Everyone knows that box lunches (vocab concept) are by definition FUN!  And here is a twist: the Local Diner’s box lunches are vegetarian, and include a bottle of kombucha that comes with it’s own teeny paper parasol.  FUN!  The lunches are apparently delicious, and the response has been enthusiastic:  during the first week 30 boxes were sold on Monday, 20 on Tuesday, 40 on Wednesday, 10 on Thursday, 40 on Friday, and 20 on Saturday!  Each box sells for $9.  If it costs the diner $4 to put the box together (including the box and the napkins, etc), what was the diner’s profit for the first week?
A. $800    B. $160    C. $1,440    D. $60 (answer at bottom of post)

Music – It was time to learn more about the SNARE DRUM – Yay percussion instruments!


First, we needed to see how the snare drum was constructed.  We learned that a band of narrow wires stretched across the bottom of the drum gives it that muffled rattly sound. We listened for the snare drum in:

Blue Tango, composed by LeRoy Anderson in 1951, and was ranked by Billboard as the number one song of 1952!  Sassy.

Scotland the Brave – this pipe and drum corps classic is considered to be one of three unofficial national anthems of Scotland.  BTW, in Scotland, the snare drum is called a side drum.  BTW, we are the sort of people that really like the music of bagpipes.  This footage is just so great:

Bolero, composed by Maurice Ravel, as a one-movement orchestral piece for ballet, in 1929.  From everything we have read – and can readily believe – playing the snare drum in this piece is a musician’s nightmare.  Seventeen-plus minutes of the same rhythm over and over and over and over.  But what a fine, fine performance by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted so carefully by Gustavo Dudamel:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer: A. $800)