The Vocabulary of Vocabulary

In our quest to learn something about everything, the overly complicated focus of the past week was part of our “Vocabulary of Vocabulary” unit:

“Vernacular” vs. “Lexicon” – which became a little more understandable when we differentiated between the vernacular and lexicon in our current home state of Texas:

Group – Texans
VERNACULAR examples – y’all, bless your heart (meaning “OMG, how stupid is that?”)
examples from the LEXICON – impordant (the Texan way with “important”), fixin’ (meaning getting ready to do something)

My son learned that vernacular and lexicon are almost-but-not-quite interchangeable; vernacular referring to the unique language/jargon of a particular group and lexicon (almost like a mini-dictionary) referring to the specific words of the language.  (Wow, picky.)

Anyway, using the book, “Pirates Magnified” by David Long and Harry Bloom, we had a blast looking into the vernacular and lexicon specific to sailors and pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries:

Group – Pirates
VERNACULAR examples – aargh, avast ye, barnacle-covered, Davy Jones’ locker
examples from the LEXICON – privateer, cutlass, crow’s nest, swabbies

“Pirates Magnified” also provided conversation provokers –
–  the pirate’s code (the classic case of honor among thieves)
–  lady pirates (these women were SCARY)
–  voted most important discussion instigator:  a significant percentage of sailors on pirate ships were escaped slaves
Good book!

blue plateblue plateblue plate

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – the diner is rife (vocab) with vernacular (slinging hash, mayo, Adam and Eve on a raft, greasy spoon)…How about their “blue plate special”?  For the month of February, the diner’s blue plate special will include a grilled bratwurst smothered in home-made chili, a side of their jalapeño honey corn bread, and a heaping spoonful of the house chunky cinnamon-spiked applesauce.  Each blue plate special is priced at $8 and costs the diner $3.  If the diner sells 100 specials per week, what will be the profit at the end of February?
A. $500      B. $1,000      C. $1,500      D. $2,000 (answer at bottom of post)

pirate whyeth     bach

The rowdy and the refined – my son and I got so embroiled with pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries that it jarred our brains to think something else might have been going on in the world.  So, when pirates and privateers were wreaking havoc on the high seas (and we learned “the high seas” means “open ocean, not within any country’s jurisdiction”) what was going on in the drawing rooms of European palaces?  How about Vivaldi, JS Bach, and Handel?  What a juxtaposition! (vocab)

– Vivaldi (1678-1741) – we listened to Vivaldi’s “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (1715). We love this quick paced piece and we’re ready to listen to all performances by conductor and harpsichord virtuoso, Trevor Pinnock:

– Bach (1685-1750) – we listened to Bach’s “Invention No. 13 in A minor” (1720).  Triple score here: 1) super short piece, 2) quick paced, 3) Simone Dinnerstein at the piano (heart, heart, heart):

– Handel (1685-1759) – we listened to Handel’s “Alla Hornpipe” from his Water Music (1717), performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (A+++).  What an upright, solidly British sound:

midnight clock

My, my, what a short post – I have no idea why there was so little material to work with for this blog post. Oh, yes I do:  my son has been in this most trying phase where he is not ready for stories and studies until WAY late (think midnight), so I have regretfully trimmed down our nightly study agenda.  Hope this is a short duration type of phase. (If wishes were horses…)

But still, welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
Story problem answer: D. $2,000


That’s Gotta Hurt

pike manpike manpike manpike man

The Macedonian Pike – my son and I are now studying Alexander the Great, who spent his short life (for thousands upon thousands of people, a life not short enough) as a most capable warmonger.  Home base was Macedonia (perched right atop Greece) (found it on the globe), where his Macedonian soldiers were totally whipped into shape and marched with 15-foot tall pikes.  YIKES (there is a sharp metal knife at the end of each pole).  LOADS of warmonger vocabulary words: phalanx, chariot, catapult, mercenary, infantry, cavalry.

alexander the great

Shakespeare this past week – we finished up the comedy, “Much Ado about Nothing” and we have just started the history, “Julius Caesar”.

peck novels

Reading for fun – to balance the war and intrigue study, we need novels that make us laugh.  We LOVED “A Long Way from Chicago” by Richard Peck. LOVED IT.  Every single chapter had an hilarious twist that had us marveling. This book WILL be re-read.  We are following “A Long Way from Chicago” with its sequel, “A Year Down Yonder”.  So far, it is a lot of fun (and it is a Newbery Award Winner), but for us,  probably isn’t in line for a re-read.  But maybe it will be!  Hope springs eternal.

pencil grip

We write – My daughter directed us toward “The Pencil Grip Writing Claw”, and I found a pack of six on Amazon – can’t remember the price, but very cheap.  My son has been practicing writing with this for the past week, and is getting comfortable using this little rubbery appliance on his fingertips.  It truly makes one grasp a writing utensil correctly.

Our Farmer Brown Story Problem of the week – Farmer Brown has 15 field hands who needed new summer hats to keep the blazing sun off their faces.  He purchased a dozen straw cowboy hats for $360 and a dozen canvas “outback” style hats for $300.  Ten of the field hands wanted cowboy hats and the others chose outback hats. Farmer Brown donated the remaining hats to a local farming extension office because they are always so short on funds. How much was his donation worth?

One of the music themes from last week: “Melodies from Exotic Lands” –

  • “Scheherazade” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, movement I, composed in 1888.  Based upon “The Arabian Nights”, SO elegant.

  • Overture from “Abduction from the Seraglio” by Mozart, composed in 1782.  Two words:  Turkish harem!  What’s not to like, and in this short overture we CANNOT get enough of the smashing symbols.

  • “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by Handel, composed in 1748, as part of his oratorio, “Solomon”.   We sort of chuckle every time we hear it, because the music seems more evocative of an arrival at Kensington Palace in the 18th century than the Queen of Sheba’s arrival in Jerusalem during Old Testament times.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

The Rattlesnake Sermon

Our Sunday Services – My son and I celebrate Sundays by concluding STORIES AND STUDIES time with music of an ecclesiastical bent.  But last night, we were so moved after reading from “John Muir – My Life with Nature” by Joseph Cornell, that we decided “Fellow Mortals” (a chapter from the book) also belongs in our Sunday evening line-up.  In this chapter, John Muir champions God’s plants and creatures, and gets specific about encounters with, of all things, rattlesnakes.  He writes that he had killed two rattlesnakes, for what he felt were responsible reasons, but upon reflecting, “… I felt degraded by the killing business, and farther from heaven.”  The entire chapter is powerful and deeply touching.  Welcome to our Sunday night, John Muir.

john muir book

On other fronts

Pastels (secretly, hand-eye coordination work) – we focused upon warm and cool colors.

pastels warm cool

Exponents – we are memorizing numbers 2 – 9 to the power of 0, 1, 2, and 3.

Book plots – last night, we talked about two well-used storyline strategies: the “situation” and the “villain”.  I do NOT like stories with persistent villains.  At the moment we are reading “Othello”, and I cannot get through it fast enough. I HATE HATE HATE that villainous Iago so much that I dread picking up the book every night.  You don’t suppose my revulsion shows?  Well, I hope so.  I want my son to understand that any example of “man’s inhumanity to man” SHOULD be painful to read about.

bell peppers

Our Farmer Brown story problem:  ratios and bell peppers – Farmer Brown grows acres and acres of bell peppers.  On an average, for every 10 green peppers he sells, he sells 8 red peppers and 5 yellow peppers.  What is the ratio of green peppers to red peppers?  What is the ratio of green peppers to yellow peppers?  If Farmer Brown puts together a box of mixed peppers, using the ratios as his guide, and the box contains 40 green peppers, how many red and yellow peppers are in the box?  If a single pepper sells for 40 cents, how much money will be earned if every pepper in the box is sold?

Our Sunday Night Music – our theme was “The Good Shepherd”:

  • Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze”, a cantata (No. 208) composed in 1713 for a duke’s birthday.  Written as a choral work,  how could my son and I not be fascinated by this skillful instrumental rendition, played on the Hinsz pipe organ (a baroque era masterpiece, and possibly the most important antique organ in the Netherlands).

  • Handel’s “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd”, from his oratorio “Messiah”.  Composed in 1741, using texts from the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.  I am a UCLA alum, so I was delighted to find this video clip.  Bruins rule.

  • “Tender Shepherd”, from the 1954 Broadway musical, “Peter Pan”.  Music composed by (WE HAVE A WINNER HERE!!!!!) Moose Charlap (we so want to know a person named “Moose”), with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH


Things that go bump in the night

beebee raccoons

Our Easter Evening Event:  As our family gathered to reflect upon a lovely Easter day, tranquility was interrupted by sudden bumps and scraping sounds coming from the attic. A quick look revealed a mama raccoon tending sweet, sweet “kits” amid the attic insulation.  This propelled my son and me to begin a mini-study on raccoons.  We found out that they are native to North America, they are “omnivores”, and they are “nocturnal” (that is why we didn’t hear them moving around during the day).  A happy ending to the day:  new vocab words for my son, and mama and babies are now enjoying their new home in a safe wooded area of the local golf course.

We thought the phrase, “things that go bump in the night” perfectly described our Easter Evening Event.  We learned that the words come from an old Scottish prayer –

“From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-legged beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!”

Zigzag Learning (where we let one topic lead us to another at lightning speed): Julia Rothman’s excellent book, “Nature Anatomy” started the learning chain this time. We were looking at her illustrations of butterflies, and we took particular notice of a “swallowtail” butterfly. My son needed to know why swallowtail butterflies were called swallowtail butterflies.

 swallowtail     swallows white background     capistrano swallows     swallowtail tux

  • So first, we looked at several photos of swallows. We saw how the birds’ pointy, forked feather tails could easily have inspired the animal naming committee to call butterflies with the tiny drip on the hindwings, “swallowtails”.
  • Then, we decided to read about the swallows of the San Juan Capistrano Mission (with a short-side trip to learn a bit about the California mission system). We found out that the swallows spend the winter in Argentina and the summer in southern California.
  • So now, we had to locate Argentina on the globe, and think about the iron-strong muscles in the birds’ wings, that allow them to fly the 6,000 miles.
  • Finally, we had to see how the swallows have had their way in fashion: we looked at men’s clothing from the Victorian era – the formal tailcoat, with “cutaway”, “swallowtail” or “morning coat” options.

That’s a lot of learning from one little butterfly.

Our music theme for last night – “Cuckoo for Music”. We considered the two-note cuckoo motif and then listened to three neat compositions:

  • “Organ Concerto No. 13 (The Cuckoo and the Nightingale)”, movement 2, by Handel (1740).  About one minute twenty seconds into the movement you can definitely make out the cuckoo motif.  This piece really moves right along. Classic Handel.  Fabulous pipe organ in this video!

  • “Symphony 6 (The Pastoral)”, movement 2, by Beethoven (1808). This is a long movement (around 13 minutes of happy, relaxing gorgeousness) (and this video clip has Leonard Bernstein conducting and one should NEVER miss an opportunity to watch Bernstein conduct).  The bird sounds aren’t evident until the final minute, but so worth the wait (or one could be the type of person that fast-forwards to the final minute) (your secret is safe with us, because maybe we have felt compelled to fast-forward upon occasion).

  • “The Birds”, movement 5 (The Cuckoo), by Respighi (1928). Here is what we like to do: count the number of times we hear the cuckoo motif. Try somewhere around 70 times, in the short span of 4 minutes.  This is an absolute jewel of a piece.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH


Desperately Seeking Ganesha

From our “World Religions” unit – we are reading from the Usborne Book of World Religions, last night finishing the chapter on Hinduism. How can our favorite Hindu deity not be Ganesha (the elephant-headed god in charge of removing obstacles)?  GANESHA STOP HERE!  We have obstacles aplenty that need removing.

ganesha line

Math Concept Check – we reviewed fractions, percentages, and ratios last night with the help of jillions of Legos.  So much fun!  Did my son like this?  Well, he went to sleep clutching a Lego tower.  I am taking that as a yes.

 lego math

Current Events – we dipped our toes into current events, using “The Economist” magazine as our resource. We found two articles of interest – first, an update on space probe “Philae” (which had us spellbound in November, when it landed on comet 67P – way way way way way far away).  And, since we just finished a unit on cats, we also read about the latest census of wild tigers in India (numbers way up last year!)(Good show India!).

 philae     tiger

Last night’s music theme was “Classical Broadway” – we listened to a few American musical comedy songs that were either embellished or inspired by particular classical music compositions:

  • “Rosemary” from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Frank Loesser, 1961) references Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A minor” (1868).

  • “Baby Face” from the 1967 movie “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (although the song was actually a MAJOR hit in 1926) includes a bit of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” (1742). (spoiler alert – the music is perfect, but this is one of the lamest youtube pages ever)

  • “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from “Evita” (Rice/Webber, 1976).  A significant musical phrase in the chorus certainly must have been inspired from Johannes Brahms’ 1878 “Violin Concerto in D minor”, movement 3. (Have a listen, it is glorious!)

(the Brahms) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOx0eKhD9f0

(Don’t Cry) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d01NpclvlE

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH



A Fanfare for the Water Bear

water bear

Water Bears? Last night we finished “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space” but not before this wonderful book tantalized us with a few facts about water bears. Do you know about water bears?  Water bears look like cousins of those icky dust mites that mattress companies use to scare you into purchasing a new bed. I have included a link (about water bears, not mattress critters) so you can see for yourselves. Interesting and borderline gross.  Two thumbs up from my son.

Here is why astro-scientists want to know about water bears: they are the hardiest organisms on earth. They can live in extreme temps (-300 degrees F to +300 degrees F), they are unfazed by high pressure, low pressure, or radiation, they can be completely dehydrated and then years later resuscitated, and they can exist in outer space without protective covering.  All hail the indestructible water bear!

Tick Tock: time for a new unit – we are starting to study the concepts of time and clocks. This looks like a cool topic, but we loved “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space” so much, I am afraid that any unit tackled after that book would pale in comparison. Bummer for the clocks.

We Read:  we are more than half way through “Under the Egg” by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. This is the perfect type of book for my son, with intrigue and friendship woven into the complex plot-line, AND we have learned so much – about the paintings of Renaissance painter Raphael, about the Monuments Men of WWII, and last night, about the people-locating resources of various holocaust museums. It is hard to put this book away at the end of each chapter.

Our Le Fictitious Local Diner Story Problem: The local diner sells lots of pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies in November (but not mince, because the chef thinks mince pies are just awful). If the diner sells 80 pies the week before Thanksgiving, and 60% are apple, how many apple pies are we talking about?  If the diner is planning to bake 150 pies for Thanksgiving week, using the same percentage, how many apple pies should be prepared?

Our music theme for last night was “Fanfare for the Water Bear”.  Why not?  This invincible organism surely needs a glam theme song. One of these might be perfect:

  • “Water Music, Alla Hornpipe” from Handel’s “Water Music in D Major”– is this the perfect fanfare for the little super bug?  It was perfect for King George I as he cruised up and down the Thames.
  • “The Aquarium” from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” – for the water bear looking for dreamy relaxation music with a bit of star power (this music was used at the beginning of the “Beauty and the Beast” movie).
  • “The Wild Bears” from Sir Edward Elgar’s suite, “The Wand of Youth” – we LOVE the high voltage energy this piece. It scampers all over the place. Maybe this is the theme music for the bad boy water bear?

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH