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)


The Sweet Life


Sweeter than honey – I think this is our fourth bee study unit – we must so close to earning some sort of bee scholarship certificate – but who could resist the utterly giant, INYOURFACE “Bees – A Honeyed History” by Piotr Socha – AND – the book is even better than I anticipated.  We’re only half way through, but we’ve learned more than we knew previously about

swarming – bees and bears – bees and Napoleon – the waggle dance (!!!)
honey as a preservative – St. Ambrose (patron saint of bees) – pollination

Tonight: how to construct a beehive!  Clever graphics compliment the broad spectrum of bee topics addressed.  We just love this book. There is no other choice but to give it an A+.

bee book

“Wonder” IS wonderful – If you walk into any major book store you cannot miss R.J. Palacio’s prominently displayed book, “Wonder”.  The hype is not overdone.  This is a deeply thought-provoking read, with short chapters that grab your heart.  The author tackles several different points of view with authentic insight.  What a story.  What a privilege to work through this book with my son. (We know the “Wonder” movie is premiering this month.  Alas, our movie theater experiences have not been too positive, so thank heavens we have the book.)


Africa Calls – We have the most interesting and inspirational friend (yes, you, SLC) who serves as a school director in Guinea, Africa.  Lucky, lucky school.  (Sidebar – if I lived anywhere near and had school-age children, they would be enrolled in that school SO FAST).

But to the point:
Here is what my son and I know about Guinea: NOTHING.
Here is what we know about Africa: VERY LITTLE.
– the atrocities of the Congo Free State (late 1800’s) under the shameful King Leopold II of Belgium
– a bit about ancient Egypt
– Dr. Livingston’s travels and his meeting up with Henry Morton Stanley on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871

Shouldn’t we know a LOT more about Africa?

  • We are starting with another “Lonely Planet – Not for Parents” book, this one, “Africa – Everything you wanted to know”.  Already we’ve discussed the ridiculously huge Sahara Desert (and compared it to the size of the Amazon rain forest), wildebeest migration patterns, cannibals (!), African colonization, insects as snacks (we are so not eating bugs as snacks), cheetahs, and the very first heart transplant.
  • We have compared a currant African country map with an African country map from 60 years ago.
  • We have just begun reading “I Will Always Write Back” (this title makes me burst into tears), by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch.  This is a story about pen pals (vocab), one in Pennsylvania and one is Zimbabwe, who began their correspondence in 1997.

We now know where Guinea and Zimbabwe are.  Let the Africa unit begin!


Sweet Students for Sweet Seniors (a Local Diner story problem) The local junior high is hosting a “Design your own Donut” breakfast at Le Fictitious Local Diner, to raise funds for a Thanksgiving party they are planning for the senior citizens center.  It will cost the diner $750 to serve 1,000 donuts with 15 topping choices. Once costs are met, the diner will give all remaining money taken in to the school.  If a “donut and topping experience” will be priced at $3, and all donuts are sold, how much money will the junior high have raised for their Senior Citizen Center Thanksgiving party?
A)  $750    B) $1,000    C) $2,250    D) $3,000

If everyone purchases two donuts each, and half of these people order up a cup of hot chocolate (priced at $2) to enhance the sugar high, how much money will the diner gross from hot chocolate sales?
A)  $200    B) $500    C) $750    D) $2,000


Suite Music – I wanted to solidify in my son’s mind the concept of an orchestral suite and how it differs from a symphony or concerto.  If you are like my son’s grandmother, The Peach, and you have no idea what a suite is, we like to compare a suite to a book of short stories by a single author – each story stands alone, yet the entire collection resonates with the author’s style.  What composer better to turn to than Ottorino Respighi – really such a suite master:

“Pines of Rome” – “The Birds” – “The Fountains of Rome”
“Church Windows” – “Brazilian Impressions” – “Ancient Airs and Dances”

My son and I happen to like “The Cuckoo” from his “The Birds” suite (composed in 1928), so instead of listening to one movement from several suites, I decided we should listen to 3 of the 5 movements from this one work – so we could hear how each movement is complete in itself, yet all three have the Respighi touch (a very clean sound, exquisite attention to his subject matter).

“The Dove”, movement 2 from Respighi’s “The Birds”.  We listened for the cooing of the dove and the magical ending.  The music starts after about a minute-long introduction from the conductor:

“The Hen”, movement 3.  Nailed it:

“The Cuckoo”, movement 5 (We like to count the “cuckoo” sounds – SO many crammed into this 4 minute piece.)  Such a sparkling performance by the youth orchestra from the Bachmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv (and yet check out the bored stiff audience – how could this happen?):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH

(story problem answers:  C) $2,250;  B) $500)

What We Want

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


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)


The “C” Side

– we were finding the letter “C” all over the place last week –

CANDY – “Turtle in Paradise”, our third Jennifer L. Holm book, is giving my son a glimpse of life in the Florida Keys during the great depression (concept vocab).  No money.  No money at all.  What to do?  With the current emphasis on “Girl Power”, it is almost refreshing to see what a troop of young boys did to earn – well, not money, but CANDY – they banded together to form an exclusive club that tended to BABIES!  Babies????  This group of street-wise boys knew how to calm screaming babies and expertly change (cloth and safety pin) diapers – they even had a secret formula for soothing diaper rash.  AND it was considered an HONOR to be asked to be in the Diaper Gang.  There is so much more to the story than this amusing side theme.  Holm’s books make us glad to be immersed into her world.

lonely planet plus books

CIXI – We’ve recently finished “Cixi – Evil Empress of China?”, another excellent study from the “A Wicked History” series.  Cixi, oh my word – her multitudinous (vocab) self-centered ways provided the final nail in the coffin for the the end of the Qing dynasty (example – all public officials were expected to “donate” – GET THIS – 25% of their annual income to honor her 60th birthday!) (we stopped for a math problem).  While Cixi rebuilt her summer palace, China’s military budget was depleted – leaving the country vulnerable to outside forces.  At the end, my son and I were not completely certain she was EVIL (although there was that “poisoning her enemies” speculation).  OK, she was evil… but evil or not, she certainly was not the right person for the job – she was not interested in being  the leader that China needed.  This book provoked many side conversations.

CHILE – My son and I are in the middle of our South America unit – a DK book about the Amazon rain forest served as an introduction. We are now reading our first Lonely Planet book: “Not-For-Parents:  South America – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know”.  We’ve read about the fancy lady wrestlers of Bolivia, Panama hats (a product of  Ecuador – but used to be shipped to Europe from the Panama canal area. We looked at a map to figure out why these hats were being shipped from Panama), (it is sort of therapeutic to spend a bit of time focusing on hats), the driest place on earth (the Atacama Desert in Chile), and Alexander Selkirk who jumped ship and spent over 4 years on an island off the coast of Chile (inspiring Daniel Dafoe’s story “Robinson Crusoe”).  OF COURSE we have ordered a copy of Robinson Crusoe (duh).

cinnamon sticks

CIDER – Story Problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner is gearing up for their booth at the town’s “Autumn Daze Festival”.  The diner will be selling cups of hot cider, each garnished with a cinnamon stick. The facts:

– each gallon of fresh-pressed apple cider will cost the diner $5
– the diner will purchase 50 gallons of cider
– there are 15 servings of cider per gallon
– the diner will purchase cinnamon sticks at a cost of $15 for 100 sticks
– each bio-degradable (vocab) cup will cost the diner 10 cents

1)  If the diner sells out of cider, how many cups will they have sold?
2)  How much will the diner have spent for cider, cinnamon, and cups?
3)  If the diner sells each cup for $2, what will be the profit? (answers at bottom of post)


bach concerto

(Bach’s actual handwriting – Concerto No. 5)

You say “Concertos”, I say “Concerti” – All of a sudden, I felt my son needed to be exposed to the full scope of JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.  We had listened to No. 3 several times, but was that enough?  My son already knew the definition of a concerto (for those like my mom, “The Peach”, who have no idea: a concerto is an orchestral work, usually consisting of 3 movements, showcasing ONE particular instrument) (OK, sometimes more than one, but no need to confuse The Peach).  Here is what my son learned:

  •  “concertos” or “concerti” are both acceptable terms for the plural of “concerto”.
  •  the Brandenburg Concertos each showcase SEVERAL instruments. This type of set-up is referred to as a “Concerto Grosso”.  Very popular in Baroque times.
  •  HEART-BREAKING:  in 1721, Bach sent the set of 6 concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg, as sort of a job application…there is no record of the Margrave acknowledging the music.  FOR SHAME.  The music was simply archived in his library, forgotten, and FINALLY found 128 years later (1849).  Felix Mendelssohn, then conductor of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, understood the significance of the discovery and brought the Brandenburg Concertos to world wide attention.  OMG, thank heavens.
  •  these concertos are DIFFICULT to perform.  Jeanette Sorrel, from the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra writes, “The featured solo instruments(s) in each piece requires a level of playing that is literally athletic”.

We listened to all six concertos over and over.  These three selections are so noteworthy:

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, movement 3 – this is the concerto that puts the spotlight on the trumpet soloist.  Due to the abundance of high notes and the speedy tempo, this is regarded as perhaps the most difficult music to play in the classical trumpet repertoire (vocab):

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, movement 3 – our fave:

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, movement 1 – this concerto exhibits the skill of the harpsichordist, in this case, the great, great, great Karl Richter.  I do not see how anyone can watch this man play this piece without thinking THIS IS INSANELY RIDICULOUS.  The solo part is simply exhausting:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 1) 750 cups, 2) $445, 3) $1, 055)


Dial “M” for –

Dial “M” for the Mounties – My son and I have been augmenting our study of Canada by learning about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  We are going back and forth between Richard L. Neuberger’s book of 1953, “Royal Canadian Mounted Police” and the current RCMP website.  There have been so many HR-type changes since 1953 (personnel numbers, duties, salaries, women in service, etc.) but the Mounties still stand for “Upholding the Right”.  We are fans.
– We cannot ignore the obvious: my son and I love the spiffy scarlet jacketed outfits of the RCMP.  These certainly set the standard for completely awesome uniforms, claiming second only to the dashing apparel worn by Vatican Swiss Guards.

– Author Neuberger was an American who encountered, and was tremendously impressed by, the RCMP while working on the Alaska Highway with the US Army Engineers in the 1940s.  Speaking of the Alaska Highway – what a monumental feat!  We  had to break away from reading about the Mounties to read about the construction and trace the route of this 1,700 mile highway.

Two Entries from the Coincidences Files –

maphead books

1) We purchased “Olivia Bean – Trivia Queen”, a teen novel by Donna Gephart, because we are always looking for fiction that emphasizes brain power vs. “coming of age” themes.  We purchased “Maphead”, a geography biography by Ken Jennings, to further our knowledge of longitude and latitude.  We were surprised to discover a common bond:  JEOPARDY!  While Olivia dreams of being part of Kids Week on Jeopardy (and even mentions her hero:  Ken Jennings!), “Maphead” author Ken Jennings has the distinction of being the Jeopardy contestant with the longest winning streak! (74 games, total earnings over $3,000,000!)
BTW, we are enjoying both books, but how in the world did we end up reading “Olivia Bean” and “Maphead” at the same time? Serendipity (vocab)! We toasted the coincidence (vocab) by listening to the Jeopardy theme song:

2) What could the great big Northwest Territories (519,000 square miles) in Canada have in common with the teeny city of Idaho Falls, Idaho (22 square miles) (where our family lived from 1995 through 1999)?  Both have the same population (around 41,000 people)! Gee, we thought Idaho Falls was pretty spacious; we really cannot imagine the elbow room (vocab) of 519,000 square miles.  After we considered this coincidence we calculated the percentage of area that Idaho Falls would take up in the Northwest Territories.  Guess?
A. .004%    B. 1%    C. 10%    D. 40% (answer at bottom of post)

bad music

Dial “M” for Music at Le Fictitious Local Diner – Friday nights at the diner are now live music nights!  Four local bands have signed up to perform: Farmer Brown’s “Amazing Fiddle Assembly”, “The Loco Ladies’ Flute and Lute Society”, the junior high’s “Fusion of Confusion”, and the local doctors’ jazz band, “Musical Emergency”.
– The diner is pleading with other talented musicians to sign up, but if no other groups join in, and these four take turns performing, how many times will each band get to perform over the course of a year?
A. 4 times    B. 12 times    C. 13 times    D. 52 times
– Each band is to receive $50 per night for playing; how much will the diner spend during the course of a year on live music?
A. $50    B. $1,000    C. $1,300    D. $2,600
– If the diner realizes that live music is driving customers away, and they stop the program after six weeks, how much will they have spent for music?
A. $150    B. $300    C. $450    D. $600 (answers at bottom of post)

Dial “M” for Minuet – 

len dancing

Oh my gosh!  Isn’t this Len from “Dancing with the Stars”, in full minuet regalia???

What a happy coincidence that Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Paderewski each composed a short melody entitled, “Minuet in G”!   We reviewed the concept of a minuet: a slow, stately dance in waltz rhythm; the rage of 17th and 18th century France.  We hadn’t listened to these for years, and we like them all:

Mozart, “Minuet in G”, mid 1700’s – one of Mozart’s first published works,  written when he was about six years old!  Whoa:

Bach, “Minuet in G”, 1725 – Well, wouldn’t you just know it. Even though we would like to think that Bach composed this piece, scholars give credit to one Christian Petzold.  Christian!!!!  Where ever you are, you done good – this is a piece my son and I have listened to several times – we love it!  Note about the video:  kudos to the very patient conductor who was charged with leading what looks like thousands of sullen teenagers:

Beethoven, “Minuet in G”, 1796 – Originally written for orchestra, the score was lost, but the piano version remains.  This is the piece that was used by Professor Harold Hill (of “The Music Man”) for his “think system”:

Paderewski, “Minuet in G”, 1887 – My, my, Paderewski had his finger in many pies – in addition to being an accomplished musician, he was active in Polish politics, even serving as the second prime minster to the Republic of Poland (his term seems a bit short – he served from January 1919 to November 1919).  We are loving this film clip: Paderewski playing himself, playing his Minuet in G, in the (not classic) movie, “Moonlight Sonata” (1937):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
Math problem answers:
(Idaho Falls: A. .004% the size of Canada’s Northwest Territories)
(Diner math: opportunities – C. 13; live music cost – D. $2,600; music for 6 weeks – B. $300)


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)