Farmer Brown

Did absence make the heart grow fonder?

Good heavens!  Over six weeks since last I reported in.  Did ya miss me?  My goal is to write and post every other week, but my son and I have been slogging through months of disruptive routines – our stories and studies times have been cut short and I have so much less to write about.  Not happy about this, but there you have it.

odyssey ithaka

The Odyssey – we are coming to the end of Gillian Cross’s superb retelling of Homer’s ancient adventure poem.  As we bid farewell to this book we will discuss C.P. Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaca” and its Odyssey references.  Next up: “The Iliad” (which, if I had been a more aware scholar, we should have read first.  Darn.).

citrus

We are Citrus Savvy – it seems like we always have a book in the nightly line-up about sailors, pirates, the sea and such, and one cannot read about sailors, pirates, the sea and such without reading about the SCOURGE OF SCURVY and the importance of citrus.  So, after reading through the Wikipedia entry on citrus, we got out the pastels.

cat paw and dollar

There is always time for a  story problem   Poor Farmer Brown.  Literally, poor Farmer Brown.  He is spending so much money replacing items that his cats, Olive and Owl (the hissing sisters), have destroyed.  Over the past twelve months, Farmer Brown spent:

– $300:  area rug in kitchen (shredded)
– $150:  winter coat (clawed to death)
– $100 each:  3 farmhand bed quilts (each mistaken for litter box)
– $200:  office blinds (permanently bent from bird watching)
– $100:  large ceramic planter (tipped over so many times that it finally cracked)
– $  78:  small ficus tree (casualty of repeatedly tipped over planter)
– $300:  neighbor’s yarn stash (don’t ask)

Judging the past year to be typical,  how much should Farmer Brown budget per month to replace things Olive and Owl will most likely have their way with in the coming year?  

A).  $59     B).  $79     C).  $99     D).  $119

classical music

Classical Music:  How I am able to act like I know what I am talking about –

  • ClassicFM.com – a hip website that makes you feel like you are sitting at the cool kids’ table at lunch.  The graphics, clever topics, quizzes, surveys, contests, video links – all VERY COOL.  
  • The Great Courses – (college level courses offered on DVD, etc, through thegreatcourses.com) so far, I have taken 17 of 26 music history courses taught by the organized, captivating, and hilarious Dr. Robert Greenberg.  These classes have had enormous influence on the classical music experience I share with my son.
  • Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin  – an hour-long radio show broadcast 5 times a week, full of entertaining anecdotes from decades of Mr. McGlaughlin’s music profession memories.  If my son and I are in the drive-thru lane of “In-N-Out” at 7pm we are tuned to “Exploring Music”.
  • Wikipedia – in terms of the 300+ classical music entries I have come across, this resource offers dependable and comprehensive information.  A+.
  • The Secret Lives of the Great Composers”, by Elizabeth Lunday – this is the first book that made me aware that the very finest composers are quirky individuals.  Jarringly quirky.
  • The Really Terrible Orchestra (Edinburgh, Scotland) – I cannot get enough of this ragtag group of enthusiastic musician wannabes who find themselves blatantly unqualified to play with any recognized orchestra.  Just thinking about their performance of “Entry of the Gladiators” makes me collapse in laughter:

  • Mozart in the Jungle, both book and Amazon series are eye-opening and entertaining.  A few pieces that I have shared with my son, after hearing them in various episodes:

– Mozart’s “Oboe Concerto in C major”, movement III (rondo) – composed in 1777.  This is such a proper, almost fussy, piece but it moves right along and my son and I love it:

– José Pablo Moncayo’s “Huapango” – this Mexican folk dance was composed for orchestra in 1941 (which is why we listen to this piece played by orchestra, not by a mariachi band)(even though we LOVE mariachi bands).  Absolutely full of the flavors of Mexico:

– Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe”, suite 2, dawn – composed in 1912 for a ballet based upon the ancient Greek romance between goatherd Daphnis and shepherdess Chloe.  So much to listen for in this 6 minute piece, but when dawn actually breaks we hear nothing but GENIUS!

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  D).  $119.)

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Sea Hunt

Sea Hunt – Do you know about the Sargasso Sea?  Located in the Atlantic Ocean, to the east of Bermuda, it is about 2/3 as wide as the continental USA (so it is HUGE), yet there is a glaring shortage of non-fiction books focused upon this important ecosystem.  Surely my son and I are not the only people who want to know more about the turtles and eels of the Sargasso Sea.  We learned a bit by reading through Ruth Heller’s, “A Sea Within a Sea”, a lovely book with information set to rhyme, but we want more.  Attention people who are looking for something to write about: big opportunity here.

Great Beginnings – We are hopeful about two books we began last night: “Ocean” by Ricardo Henriques and Andre Letria (in just the first four pages we enjoyed a richness of information woven into sparse, eye-catching graphics) AND, we started an abridged version of Homer’s “The Odyssey”, by Gillian Cross and Neil Packer (oh my, the illustrations! and of course, oh my, the story!)

What else are we reading?
“Boats Fast & Slow” by Iris Volant and Jarom Vogel (almost a bit too elementary for us. Nonetheless, there are things to learn from this well organized book).
“The War I Finally Won”, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (a sequel to the excellent “The War that Saved My Life”).
“While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away” by Mary Nash (only our 6th time through) (a plot line that makes us smile through every single re-read) (this book needs to be read during the summer).

Willy Nilly Time Zones – My son and I love opening up a Ken Jennings book – his writing is clever, funny, and informative.  This week, we are in the middle of his “Junior Genius Guide to Maps and Geography” and have spent time twirling our globe while we read about the International Date Line, the Prime Meridian, and time zones.
WE DID NOT KNOW THIS: countries can determine whether they want to follow international time zone designations.  China, which spans 5 time zones, and Greenland, which spans 4 time zones both make do on a single time zone.  We spent a few minutes thinking about what this would mean if you lived at the far east or far west of either country.  Interesting.
When we are feeling rebellious we say THROW AWAY the state approved text books and replace them with anything written by Ken Jennings.

A Farmer Brown Story Problem – Over Labor Day weekend, there is to be a kayak race in the local river and Farmer Brown is anxious for his ranch team to win the competition (good publicity for his farm stand).  He is purchasing 6 kayaks at $250 each for his employees to practice with, and super competitive Farmer Brown has promised to captain the team! (the ranch team will be so glad when the race is over)
After the race, Farmer Brown is going to offer kayak rentals to be used on his ranch pond. If he charges $15 to rent a kayak for an afternoon of paddling fun, and assuming that 6 people want to kayak every single day, how many afternoons will pass before he makes a profit (which will probably go into kayak maintenance)?
A) 17     B) 27     C) 37     D) 47 (answer at bottom of post)
For discussion: Is this a fast way to make money?

Water Water All Around – a classical music theme to compliment all the reading about oceans, seas, and boats:

  • “The Aquarium”, from Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Carnival of the Animals”, composed in 1886.  Saint-Saens congers up an atmosphere of creepy deep sea mystery in this short short two minute piece –

  • “Jeux de Vagues” (“Play of the Waves”), from Debussy’s “La Mer”, composed in 1904.  We haven’t braved listening to this intellectual masterpiece until this very week; a bit too sophisticated for us, I thought.  But this week, my son and I sat back and let Debussy bring us the sounds of waves being pushed around by the wind, currents, and other waves.  Terribly elegant –

  • “Over the Waves”, composed by Juventino Rosas in 1888.  This waltz rhythm is definitely happier listening than the Aquarium or Jeux de Vagues.  However (semi-interesting side-note), we keep getting this confused with Emile Waldteufel’s “The Skaters Waltz” of 1882 (could Rosas have been “more than” inspired by Waldteufel’s piece?) –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  A)  17 afternoons)(and our discussion topic:  we decided that this actually was a semi-fast way of making money, faster than we thought)

Finishing Touches

Finished:   Lonely Planet’s “The Cities Book”, AKA “The Seven and a Half Pound Book that is also a Weapon”.   Our plan was to tackle two cities a night and we did!  We ended up taking 200 trips around our globe and it was sort of exhilarating to find every single location.

globe and book

A few final observations:

  • really old cities:  
    • Lisbon – since 1,000 BC
    • both Mecca and Jerusalem – since 2,000 BC 
    • Nicosia – since 2,500 BC
    • Dubai – since 3,000 BC
    • Amman – since 3,500 BC 
    • Shanghai – since 3,900 BC
  • altitude sickness possibility:  Lhasa/Tibet, Santa Fe/New Mexico, Cuzco/Peru
  • city built upon coral:  Male, Maldives
  • cities really close to active volcanoes:  Kagoshima/Japan and Arequipa/Peru
  • world’s steepest residential street:  Baldwin Street (with a 35% grade), Dunedin, New Zealand.  (yes, we compared it to San Francisco’s Lombard Street; sorry, only a 27% grade)
  • cities my son and I would like to visit based solely upon the two page spread in the book:
    • Ljubljana, Slovenia (fairy tale charm with early morning fog making the “weakness” list)
    • Muscat, Oman (pristine beauty)

Finished:   Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s simply excellent book, “The War that Saved My Life”.  I wanted my son to spend a little time reflecting upon how well conceived and well written this book was, so I had him fill out a report card.  I talked about each category before he decided upon a grade.  This book is so deserving of its 2016 Newbery Honor Book award.

report card

Of course, a story problem:  A Vegetable Tasting at Farmer Brown’s:

sugar snap peas

Farmer Brown has put out trays of cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and turnips because he is hosting a vegetable tasting for local school children (specifically, Ms. Becque’s and Ms. Lesh’s picky first graders).  (There are 18 students in each class.)
Results:

Ms. Becque’s class vegetables Ms. Lesh’s class
6 tastes cauliflower chunks 12 tastes
12 tastes sugar snap peas 18 tastes
9 tastes turnip slices with dip 3 tastes

1)  which class had the pickiest eaters?
2)  what percentage of Ms. Becque’s class tried turnips?
3)  what percentage of Ms. Lesh’s class tried cauliflower?
4)  the school district will will have the greatest chance of getting kids to eat vegetables if they purchase which vegetable from Farmer Brown? (answers at bottom of post)

moon

Finishing up the day – we always end each STORIES AND STUDIES session with 3 pieces of classical music.  Unless I have a very specific theme for the evening (like “The Anvil as Musical Instrument” or “Circus Music Classics” – see “Our Music Themes” in title block), I try to promote drowsiness by selecting something soothing for the final selection.  Something like these:

  • Song to the Moon, from the opera “Rusalka” (1901), Antonin Dvorak
  • The Flower Duet, from the opera “Lakmé” (1883), Leo Delibes
  • The Little Train of the Caipira (1930), Heitor Villa-Lobos
  • Scottish Fantasy, movement 1 (1880), Max Bruch
  • Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, movement 3, (1798), Luigi Boccherini
  • Sailing By, (1963), Ronald Binge

or these:

  • The Dove, from “The Birds” (1928), Ottorino Respighi.  This is the very recording we’ve been listening to for years on our iPod. The best parts:  the cooing of the dove throughout the piece, and the ending (just splendid):

  • Theme from “Out of Africa” (1986), John Barry.  We listen specifically for distant rolling thunder brought to us by the timpani:

  • Nimrod, from “The Enigma Variations” (1899), Sir Edward Elgar.  Dignified and sobering.  An adaptation of Nimrod was used in the score for the 2017 movie, “Dunkirk”.  No better choice:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1)  Ms. Becque’s class,  2)  50%,  3)  66%,  4)  sugar snap peas)

Meanwhile…

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.

globe

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.

herbs

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)

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!

What We Want

We want a GRAND SLAM – Go Dodgers World Series 2017!

Dodgers

We always want THE GRAND SLAM (our version) setting the scene:  I am reading to my son, finishing a chapter and am starting to close the book, and out of nowhere his hand comes slamming down on the page, clearly communicating DO NOT EVEN THINK OF CLOSING THIS GREAT BOOK.  KEEP READING.  It happened again last night.

Animal orchestra

Last night we started reading “The Great Animal Orchestra – Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places” by musician/naturalist Dr. Bernie Krause.  When we begin a new book, we read only a few paragraphs to get a sense of what awaits us, but I was so pleasantly surprised with this book – the writing, bright and observant – that I was half way through the 8-page prologue before deciding to close the book for the evening.  This was met with a decided difference of opinion from my son – his hand came crashing down onto the page.  It was the GRAND SLAM once again.  YES.

crusoe 3

We didn’t want to cheat on Robinson Crusoe – I hate to admit this, but we just finished an abridged version (A REALLY ABRIDGED VERSION) of Daniel Dafoe’s classic.  We read through the first chapter of the original, and there was so much explaining necessary at the end of every paragraph, I could see that it would take us forever to plow through the book.  But we still wanted to know about the story inspired by pirate Alexander Selkirk, who lived alone on Juan Fernandez Island (off the coast of Chile) for 4 years, so we found a cartoony version “Robinson Crusoe (Graphic Revolve: Common Core Editions)”, which gave us the basics.  I think we are still hungry to read the real story, but ALAS, I cannot face the work of explaining Dafoe’s work just yet.

cousin tree

We wanted to see where we fit in – COUSIN CITY!  Cousin Caitlin is getting married soon!  Did my son understand the concept of cousin (vocab)?  Did he know where she fit into the family tree?  Did he know where HE fit into the family tree?  Out came the big drawing paper and the pastels and we worked together to create a cousin-centric family tree.

paint 3

(Story Problem) Farmer Brown wants to gussy up his roadside stand – Farmer Brown has plans to paint the inside of his roadside produce stand, as soon as his roadside-stand cashiers (vocab) decide on the color.  So far, 4 quarts of sample paints have been tried out to no one’s satisfaction.  If each quart of sample paint costs $6, and there are plans to try out 3 more colors, but – OH NO – they end up purchasing 5 more samples after the 3, how much will have been spent on sample paint?  A)  $30    B)  $42    C)  $60    D)  $72

After a color is finally agreed upon (YAY), 6 gallons (at $30 each) will be required to complete the paint job.  How much will have been spent on the gallons and sample quarts?  A) $180     B) $252     C) $72     D) $600  (story problem answers at bottom of post)

tango poster

We want to be Tango-ologists – My son and I concluded our South America unit this past week, absolutely loving our guide book: “Not for Parents South America – Lonely Planet Kids”.  This past week we read about:
– the importance of the coffee industry to the Brazil economy
– Columbian emeralds
– the navy of land-locked Bolivia
– AND WE READ ABOUT THE TANGO OF ARGENTINA.  We had no idea how much we were going to love the tango music!  Our toes have been tapping non-stop.

  • “Por una Cabeza” – this true Argentine tango, composed in 1935 by Alfredo Le Pera and Carlos Gardel, tells the story of a man comparing his horse race gambling addiction with his attraction to women.  Whoa.  The music: anguished, gorgeous, yearning – the perfect selection for the tango scenes in “The Scent of a Woman” (1992) and “Easy Virtue” (2008) (shown here):

  • “Hernando’s Hideaway” – if I had more friends that were more musically aware, and I asked them to hum a tango, this is the one they would probably come up with – it is from the 1954 musical, “The Pajama Game”. (The Pajama Game centers around labor troubles at a pajama manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa…Hernando’s Hideway is the local dive bar).  Great fun, a most aggressive tango with no pretensions toward subtleties:

  • “Blue Tango” – Leroy Anderson’s contribution to the tango genre, composed in 1951. My son and I have been tapping our toes to “Blue Tango” for a few years. Every time we listen to this we feel sorry for the snare drum player (mind numbing repetition).  Interesting: in searching for a “Blue Tango” video footage I think I came across more terrible filmed versions of this than of any other music I have researched:

  • MORE????? “Doc Martin Theme Song” – my son has heard this melody so often, as I have watched every episode of this favorite British TV series.  The theme was composed by Colin Towns in 2004, and is indeed a tango.  What a metaphor for the on again-off again relationship between the doctor and of the citizens of Portwenn:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
Jane BH
(story problem answers: part 1 -D)  $72 and part 2-B) $252)

JUMBLE!

jumble 2

Jumble! – we have been playing our own version of the popular-since-1954 newspaper word game, “Jumble”.  I mix up the letters of a word, and my son unscrambles the letters. My son LOVES this challenge!  As opposed to this:  I thought my son might be interested in watching a plant grow from seed, so a few nights ago I brought up a packet of radish seeds to the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER and was met with (in Victorian terms) “the cut direct”.  Well, bummer.  But at least I can tell when my son is engaged and when he is not.  And whether he likes it or not, we are going to be serving up home grown radishes in a few short weeks.

radish

Farmer Brown grows radishes (story problem) – (oh my, this one is so easy) It is rather late in the growing season, but Farmer Brown is laying in another crop of radishes – Le Fictitious Local Diner will buy all that he has to sell, and the radishes grow so fast.  If Farmer Brown plants 1,000 radish seeds and is able to harvest 800 radishes, what percentage of the seeds transformed into an edible (vocab) vegetable?  If rabbits ate half of the unharvested radishes, how many did they consume?  If the local diner garnishes every salad with two sliced-up radishes, how many radishes do they need for a PTA luncheon of 150 attendees and a bowling league dinner of 20 team members? (answers at bottom of post)

Cixi

“Cixi – Evil Empress of China?” – we are half-way through yet another book from the “A Wicked History” series.  These books NEVER disappoint.  So: China in the 1800s – we thought the book would be about inner-court intrigues or friction between royalty and peasants.  But no.  So far, the lead story is about the most preposterous foreign invasions. China had a centuries-long tradition of NOT welcoming foreign trade, so GET THIS – during the 1800s, Britain and France (I am sorry to say), using vastly superior military might, forced China to trade.  How upside-down is this?  My son and I seem to have this small discussion every night: does a country with any sense at all go to war to force a clearly reluctant other country to engage in COMMERCE?  Suffice it to say, we open this book every night hoping we will start to understand, and in the meantime learn more about Empress Cixi.  We are sort of hoping that her evilness doesn’t disappoint…tonight is promising – we will be reading a short essay that appears to infer that Cixi poisoned her enemies. Yikes!

greek quiz

Greek Mythology a la Ken Jennings – The fact is this: my son and I are still loving “Ken Jennings Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”.  The fact is this:  the Greek mythology family tree is hilariously confusing.  There is a dizzying quantity gods, goddesses, muses, nymphs, and super-strength mortals.  Just to make sure my son had a grasp of the basics, I gave him two quizzes – one that matched Greek gods with Roman gods and a multiple choice quiz that covered mythology vocabulary.  I also gave the quizzes to my husband. They both did so well!  (And if you are looking closely at the photo above – my son selected correctly – researchers now say that Pandora had a JAR, not a BOX!)

“Penny from Heaven” – we’ve just finished this fun fiction read by Jennifer L. Holm.  As we found from another of her books, “The 14th Goldfish”, Holm excels in characterizing family dynamics – in this case we ended up wanting to be a part of the protagonist’s father’s extended Italian family.  For us, this was a captivating book with a handful of serious discussion topics.  Tonight we start on another Holm novel, “Turtle in Paradise”.

cake with sparkler

Bohemian Birthday – Classical music listening – Last Friday (September 8th) was the birthdate of composer Antonin Dvorak. So, after finding his birth country on our globe (Bohemia – now the Czech Republic), and a few basic arithmetic questions (Dvorak was born in 1841, how old would he be if he were still alive to celebrate this birthday?  Dvorak died in 1904, how long did he live?), we enjoyed three favorite recordings.

Sidebar notes –
1) For no particular reason at all, we selected Dvorak recordings conducted by international treasure Seiji Ozawa. (Not to be jerky, but it is hard not to take notice of Mr. Ozawa’s hair.)
2) Two of our selected compositions were recorded by the acclaimed Vienna Philharmonic – and if the music were just not SO great, we would have been preoccupied by trying to find women musicians in the orchestra.

Slavonic Dance No. 1 – composed in 1878, under full encouragement of Johannes Brahms.  We think if we were musicians we would like playing this sweetly rambunctious folk dance, and we would definitely like to be somewhere in the orchestra hall if only to gaze upon Ozawa’s CRAZY cartoon-style coiffure.  Nonetheless, superbly conducted:

Humoresque – It has been written that Dvorak’s “Humoresque” (referring to the seventh of his eight “Humoresques”, composed in 1894) is probably the most famous small piano work ever written (after Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”).  We first listened to this as it was written (for piano), and our thought was, “yeah, yeah, yeah – this sounds familiar – sort of boring”.  THEN we listened to to a recording of Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Orchestra, showcasing Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma: GAME CHANGER.  Who knew “Humoresque” was a heartbreaker???  This is proof of the power of a conductor’s vision:

“The Largo Movement” from Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World Symphony”, movement 2) – composed in 1892. Majestic loneliness. Ozawa’s hair under control:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 80%, 100 radishes, 340 radishes)