Handwriting Practice

Foxtrot – Uniform – November!

Heh!  This week my son and I are having F-U-N with the “The International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet” also known as the “NATO Phonetic Alphabet”.  We listed letters that could be confused over radio waves or telephone (B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V, Z – or how about F and S?) and understood how the phonetic alphabet could be a life-saver.  I have been presenting my son with short words like “Delta-Alpha-Delta” and “Sierra-Mike-India-Lima-Echo” and he is deciphering.  Fully engaged, BTW.  We are also continuing with our hangman games; both sneaky ways to work in handwriting practice.

Every Paragraph Fascinates – Wow. We are loving our book stack this week:

mounted police books

  • We have just finished the absolutely inspiring “Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, by Richard L. Neuberger. True story after true story electrifying us with whatsoever things that are upright, brave, dependable, reasonable, and heroic.  As was written about the RCMP in a Montana newspaper in 1877, “…what a comfort to the law abiding citizen.”  We concluded this study with a quiz to reinforce what we had been reading about.

RCMP quiz larger

  • “Maphead”, by Ken Jennings – A+A+A+!  This book is so well organized, the research and personal observations are first rate, and the author certainly takes us places we have never thought to go – like the Library of Congress map collection and the map sale at the Royal Geographic Society.  Last night we read about some unscrupulous (vocab) map dealers who replenished their stock by cutting maps out of library books! (We followed this reading with a discussion of the 10 Commandments).
  • Fiction – “Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen”, by Donna Gephart – we finished this book last night.  Excellent from start to finish – the author writes about a young teen’s determination to get onto Kids Week on Jeopardy, deal with divorce in the family, and come to terms with the estranged father’s gambling issues.
  • Fiction – We have started, “The Not Just Anybody Family”, by Betsy Byars, and OH MY this book is a riot! This book hooked us from page 1.

wedding banquet

Story Problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner is gussying up their back deck (that overlooks a duck pond), so it can be used for summertime banquets, like graduation parties and wedding rehearsal dinners.  They are adding a sound system ($1,000), 3 long tables (at $200 each),  20 strands of lights (at $20 per strand), and 10 potted small trees (at $50 per tree).
– If the diner has budgeted $3,000 for the renovation, is this enough money?
– If the diner makes a profit of approximately $500 with each banquet and has already booked 15 parties for the summer, will it recoup (vocab) the money spent on renovations?
(answers at bottom of post)

100 clouds

Wait for it – Wait for it – Wait for it – the next post will be my 100th post! Instead of a round up of what my son and I have been learning, this post will be a bit more personal than usual, in a Q&A format.

It’s Cliburn Piano Competition season in Fort Worth!  My husband and I attended a quarter finals session last night, so I was inspired to share some of our Van Cliburn recordings with my son when I got home.

cliburn time mag

– from the May 19, 1958 issue –

 We listened to:

  • “Winter Wind”, otherwise unmemorably known as “Etude in A minor”, composed by Frederic Chopin in 1836. Played by Van Cliburn, this piece sends chills down our spines:

  • “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”, composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1934.  I first heard this in the 1980’s movie, “Somewhere in Time” and was so enraptured with the music that I spent a LOT of time, pre-internet, trying to figure out what it was, who wrote it, and where I could get it. (BTW, there are 24 variations of this theme in the composition, Variation 18 – from minute 15:40 to 18:30 – is so utterly romantic):

  • Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat major”.  This is one of the final pieces that Van Cliburn played to win the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow!  The opening notes of movement 1 are so recognizable and so powerful.  This video was filmed when Cliburn made return visit to Moscow, in 1960:

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

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

It’s a date!

date palm     date shakes     lady and tramp     bad date video game

Were we learning about date palms, date shakes, perfect dates, or perfectly awful dates?  Uh, no.

B.C./B.C.E. – A.D./C.E.  My son and I keep running into the acronyms (new vocab word) “BCE” and “CE” during our academic studies.  Last night we decided to find out what the letters mean.  We learned that BCE (“before common era”) and CE (“common era”) refer to time periods that match up exactly with the traditional BC (“Before Christ”) and AD (“Anno Domini”).  In other words, the date 335 BC is the same as the date 335 BCE.  Likewise, the date 1990 AD means the same thing as 1990 CE.  The terms BCE and CE have been in widespread use for the past 20 years, but we learned they have actually been around for over 300 years.  We like to know stuff like this.

More Shakespeare – We have enjoyed reading adaptations of “MacBeth”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and “Hamlet”, so we are now reading a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet”, by Adam McKeown.  McKeown does an excellent job of introducing characters and storylines at a pace we can process, and he makes us eager to read the real plays.  I think you can imagine why we aren’t starting off with the plays themselves – we want to be familiar with the basic plots, characters, and motivations before Shakespeare’s spellbinding words mesmerize us.

 thespian masksThe Thespian Masks – How can we read about Shakespeare without understanding the basics of “comedy” and “tragedy”?  I gave my son a list of ridiculous situations and had him decide if each circumstance fell into a comic or tragic category, then I showed him thespian (new vocab word) comedy and tragedy masks, the concept of which originated from the dramas of ancient Greece around 335 BC (or shall we say, 335 BCE).

schooled and destiny novel

Novels – We continue to read, “The Way to Stay in Destiny” by Augusta Scattergood – still really like picking up this book every night.  And this past week, we began a re-read of one of our old favorites, “Schooled” by Gordon Korman (important read, heartwarmer read).

 lamblamblamblamb

Our Farmer Brown Story Problem –  Offspring in the spring!  Farmer Brown’s ranch is home to 20 ewes.  This spring, half gave birth to twins, a fifth gave birth to quadruplets, and the rest had a single lamb each. How many sweet lambs does Farmer Brown have now?

 Ben Frank poster

Last night’s music theme was “Benjamin Franklin in France” – We used the N.C. Wyeth poster on my son’s wall, of a young Benjamin Franklin, as inspiration.  We decided to focus upon the years Ben Franklin served as US Ambassador to France (1776 – 1785).  We know he was well-entertained in France, and this must certainly have included symphonic concerts and opera productions.  It is so likely that he heard these:

  • Mozart – Overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio (1782).  This is the composition that provoked Austrian Emperor Joseph II (maybe a bit short on the musical smarts) to remark that there were “too many notes” in the piece.  My son and I think the brilliant and far more musically inclined Ben Franklin would have loved this overture!

  • Bach – The Coffee Cantata (1735), a way-fun work that pits a father against his strong-willed daughter, fighting over her excessive consumption of coffee.  We think Ben Franklin, a known coffee enthusiast, would have been amused by this mini comic opera.

  • Haydn – Symphony No. 45, “The Farewell Symphony” (1772).  This is a symphony we want to see in person, because a most interesting thing happens in movement 4…entire sections of the orchestra sneak away, a bit at a time.  By the conclusion, only the conductor and the concertmaster are left.  We hope Mr. Franklin didn’t miss this!

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

 

Flying, Farming, and Felix

sis book

Yet another splendid Peter Sis book – this one, “The Pilot and the Little Prince”,  about Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of “The Little Prince”.  Besides the enthralling illustrations, there is much to fascinate in this book.  For example:

  • We learned that de Saint-Exupery’s primary focus, was not writing, but flying.  While reading about his remarkable flying adventures we came across a seemingly small fact that changed the direction of our studies last night: we learned that early French airplanes had no communication system, so they always flew with a cage of carrier pigeons. If a plane had to make an emergency landing who-knows-where, the pigeons could be released with an SOS message! OBVIOUSLY my son and I had to do an outside study of carrier pigeons. These birds are SERIOUSLY interesting!

pigeon

  • Of course, we need to get “The Little Prince” into our book line-up.  In researching “The Little Prince” we uncovered a heated controversy over various translations (the book was originally written in French).  Readers seem to be outraged over the current translation and show staunch loyalty to the translation by Katherine Wood. My, my, my.  Something new to investigate.

The Farm Unit – we have been learning about tractors, the true farm multi-tasker, and we welcomed a new vocab word: TILTH.  Meaning cultivated soil; soil that has been plowed and harrowed and is ready for planting.  We like this word.  We give it an A+.

book report

We write book reports – this was our first go at writing a book report, and heaven knows what took us so long venture into this activity.  We reviewed “Hatchet” and “A Young Reader’s Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.   I made it easy:  I wrote out a basic book report with about a dozen fill-in-the-blanks (as in, “This book report is about _____________, and it is a ___________ story.”).  My son filled in the blanks and then I read the reports out loud. Most satisfactory. My son really liked doing this. I think this puts a final stamp on finishing a book, so we will be doing this again.

You would think I could get this in focus, but...no.

You would think I could get this in focus, but…no.

Le Fictitious Local Diner’s story problem – Last night we pretended that the diner needed to prepare 20 dozen Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies to sell during intermission of the spring band concert at the local elementary school. We used the unbeatable recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package to work out the amounts of ingredients needed.

Our music focus for last night – listening to some of the music Felix Mendelssohn wrote for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

  • “The Overture” – Shakespeare wrote the play in the 1590’s and Mendelssohn wrote his overture (which is just so grand and descriptive) in 1826, at the age of SEVENTEEN!!!

  • “The Wedding March” – Years later, in 1842, Mendelssohn wrote a few other pieces for the play, most noteworthy is the glorious wedding march (which served three weddings at once – the Duke of Athens/Queen of the Amazons, Hermia/Lysander, and Helena/Demetrius) (and several million weddings ever since).

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Farm Fresh

farm book   cupolas

We have a new “IT” book: “Farm Anatomy” by Julia Rothman, published in 2011. Many, many aspects of farm life are competently presented with brief text and skillful illustrations.  As per usual, we are studying only two pages at a time.   The past few nights we’ve learned about crop rotation, windbreaks, and barn design.  This book is a jewel!

We continue with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:  Last night we read about Titania awakening (under a spell) and falling immediately and deeply in love with Nick Bottom (who at this point was sporting the donkey head).  LOVE THIS.  Meanwhile, a troop of actors is rehearsing their version of Ovid’s “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the Duke’s wedding, so we took a side trip to Wikipedia to see what “Pyramus and Thisbe” was really all about.  What a pleasure to slowly savor this complicated masterpiece.

 red pastel

We take time for art: we have been getting messy with pastels! We are using Prismacolor’s Nupastels.  Good for working on finger-motor control, fun to see what happens when one color crosses on top of another color.

Last night’s Farmer Brown Story Problem: “Farmers’ Friendly Mercantile”, the huge farm supply store in town, is having a 40%-Off-Everything-Sale AND Farmer Brown has a “15% off!” coupon for the FFM tucked in his wallet, so now is the perfect time to purchase heavy winter coats for his 8 farm hands.  If each jacket originally sells for $120, how much will Farmer Brown pay for the 8 coats (assuming both discounts will be honored), before tax is added?

chickens

Our music theme last night was “Melodies from the Chicken Coop”! We listened to:

  • Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 (1785), dubbed “The Hen” – many of Haydn’s symphonies ended up with nicknames usually due to some VERY SMALL rhythmic or melodic reference. In this case, “hen sounds” are found about a minute and a half into the first movement.  BTW, this performance by Camerata Bern (a Bern, Switzerland chamber orchestra that does not use a conductor) is outstanding.

  • “The Hen”, from “The Birds” (1928), a suite for small orchestra by Ottorino Respighi.  This short piece is wonderfully successful at transposing the sounds of chicken squawks and that jerky back-and-forth movement of the hen’s heads into music.  (Well, that was a long awkward sentence, but you get the idea?)

  • “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little”, from “The Music Man” (1957) by Meredith Willson.  This song is a hen party set to music – the gossiping town ladies sound like clucking hens and the bobbing feathers on their large hats accentuate the impression.

  • “Chicken Reel” was originally composed by Joseph M. Daly in 1910. In 1946, LeRoy Anderson arranged “Chicken Reel” for full orchestra, and did he ever gild the lily! Hysterical perfection. Watch out! The inmates are running the asylum!

 Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Barely Scraping By

green radargreen radargreen radar

I think I can put my finger upon one of the reasons I was barely scraping by (as far as grades go) in high school. SKIMMING. When I had to read something I was not interested in (i.e. textbooks), I SKIMMED.  My eyes were like radar screens, rapidly scanning every page for ANYTHING AT ALL that might prove interesting.  I evidently missed a great deal of information.  Cutting to the present: when I read aloud to my son, I wouldn’t dream of skimming.  And guess what? I am learning all kinds of stuff I probably should have learned during my formative years.   So, silver lining time:  my son learns something new and I learn something new, too.  I am grateful.

Current non-fiction studies: world religions – last night we were reading about Buddhism (“Usborne Book of Religions of the World”: A+), and non-vertebrate marine life – so elegantly photographed (“Spineless” by Susan Middleton: A+).

Current fiction: “Hatchet”, by Gary Paulsen (this is our third time through, and it is still riveting and important).

quill pen

Contemplating the quill pen: My son and I are learning about quill pens – the writing instrument of choice until the mid 1800s – so we thought we would try writing with one.  Holy cow, what a colossal mess! BLOTCH. DRIP. SPLOTCH.  Of course we had the cheapest of the cheap feather pen sets, so this may have been the problem (seriously, this WAS the problem), but it brought us to a new appreciation of documents such as the Declaration of Independence, which were handwritten with a quill pen. What an elegant hand penned the Declaration – not one inkblot or drip.

declaration    blotches

Last night’s story problem from “Le Fictitious Local Diner” – During the cold and flu season, townspeople flock to the diner to purchase quart upon quart of chicken soup to bring home. The diner uses organic chicken, celery, carrots and onions to make their soup and can make a gallon for $12.00. They sell a quart for $8.00. Each year the diner manages to sell 200 quarts of the chicken soup. What is their profit?

Last night’s music theme – “Summertime”.  This past week, the outside temp hovered around 30 degrees.  We needed to think about weather that was at least 50 degrees warmer, so we listened to –

  • “Summer” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, composed around 1720. (needs no comment)
  • “Fireflies” from Amy Beach, composed in 1892. This piano piece sparkles. It is one of our favorites.
  • “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (1935). We listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing – wow. Wow. Wow.
  • “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry, obviously not a melody that can compete with the others we listened to, and yet, this could be the consummate summer-vacation song.  Ridiculously rambunctious fun.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

How We Write

 handwriting photo

We Write – For the past few nights, we’ve begun STORIES AND STUDIES with handwriting practice.  There were years and years when my son could not manipulate a pencil of any size.  Even now, he cannot write independently, but the photo shows our progress.  On the left side of the page, I held the pen and my son grasped my fingers and pushed the pen around. On the right side of the page, my son held the pen and I supported his wrist.  I am thrilled that the words are finally legible. One thing that helps, is giving my son a rectangle to write into.  Without the rectangle outline, a single word scrawl can take up half of the page. BTW, what we have here are the states that we have lived in.

space books

We Read – After handwriting, we moved on to an exceptional A++++ book about the universe: “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space” by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman.  Last night we learned about the construction of the space suits that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong wore for man’s first walk on the moon.  This book is comprehensively researched, utterly interesting, and graphically outstanding. We purchased it from the Boeing Store, which was kind of neat, too.  It is a worthy companion to a book we read a few months ago, “MOONSHOT” by Brian Floca.  Extraordinary.  These are both informative, elegant books for everybody. Absolutely NOT just for children.

Le Fictitious Local Diner Story Problem – Last night’s question revolved around the annual cost of catsup for the diner. We started out with an insultingly easy trick question: If the diner goes through 7 giant bottles of catsup every week, how many bottles does the diner go through in a year?

Farmer Brown’s Story Problem – Farmer Brown wants to gussy up his front porch before all the relatives arrive for Thanksgiving, so he is going to order new rocking chairs for the porch. Wicker chairs run $200 and oak rocking chairs run $450. He has decided on 2 of each. Don’t start adding up the total yet. The wicker chairs need tie-on cushions at $35 each. And then there is 10% tax. Now, how much will Farmer Brown spend on the new rocking chairs?

Our Sunday Night Music – We listen to church-type music every Sunday night.  Last night’s selections:

  • “How Great Thou Art” – we love the comforting and humbling version by Alan Jackson.
  • “Turn! Turn! Turn!” – by The Byrds: a nod toward Ecclesiastes and a nod toward the late 1960’s.  Timeless.
  • “Let Us Cheer The Weary Traveler” – by Nathaniel Dett and sung by the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. Nathaniel Dett, a Canadian, was composing at the turn of the 20th  century.  His works are described as combining the style of European Romantic music (essentially meaning classical music of the 1800’s) with American Spirituals. This piece is one of our favorites. (Regarding the youtube link:  the real chorus begins about 30 seconds into the video.)

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH