Hansel and Gretel

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!



Here is the quandary (vocab):  I do not like reading to my son about man’s inhumanity to man; he has enough to deal with without trying to grasp the perplexing notion of cruelty.  HOWEVER, the “Wicked History” series books are so well written, organized, researched, and crazy fascinating – we can’t stay away.


We just finished the book on BAD BAD King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909); and he was indefensibly bad – Hitler and Stalin BAD.  There were passages in the book describing atrocities under his leadership of the “Congo Free State” (his PERSONAL colony) so barbaric, that while reading aloud to my son, I had to skip over paragraph after paragraph.
On the plus side:
– we learned a LOT about what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came away fascinated
– we added to our hero list:  George Washington Williams (a journalist), Edmund Morel (a most alert shipping clerk) and Roger Casement (a British consul). These men brought the brutal policies of Congo Free State administrators to world wide attention and censure (vocab)
– AND Leopold II died with just about everyone (well, maybe everyone) despising him. (ridiculously small consolation)

amazon-pic himalayan-pic

from “The Wonder Garden” book by Williams and Broom – stunning

The subject matter gets a LOT happier, but DRAT:  we just hate it when a good book ends. We loved EVERY page of “The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom; luscious illustrations accompanied by solidly interesting facts.  This startlingly beautiful book showcases animals of five distinct habitats around the world. We were familiar with the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, but we really hadn’t read anything about the Black Forest, the Chihuahuan Dessert or the Himalayan Mountains.  This delicious book is SO on our “read-it-again list”.

Last night my son took a simple matching location-to-fact quiz and then we paired up one piece of music with each habitat.


Music to remind us of five living wonders of our world:
– The Amazon Rain Forest – hosting around 1,500 species of birds, Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Aviary” (from his “Carnival of the Animals”, 1886) was an obvious selection.  The music is prefaced by an Ogden Nash poem read by Roger Moore.  Elegant:

– The Great Barrier Reef – again, from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals”:  “The Aquarium”. Gloriously haunting music provides a backdrop for the world’s largest living structure (however, as beautiful as this linked video is, “The Aquarium” takes up only the first 2.5 minutes; the carnival’s donkey and the cuckoo movements follow, for some unknown reason):

– The Black Forest – the habitat for not only the world’s largest owls, but also the setting for several fairy tales from the brothers Grimm.  My son and I listened to “Evening Prayer” from the opera “Hansel and Gretel”, composed by Englebert Humperdinck in 1893.  We twiddled our fingers during the three minute LONG introduction; however once we got to the meat of the composition we enjoyed possibly the most comforting lullaby ever:

SIDEBAR:  another Englebert Humperdinck??? we followed Humperdinck’s “Evening Prayer” with a short discussion of British pop star (of the ’60’s and ’70’s) Englebert Humperdinck (but really Arnold George Dorsey) (obviously NO relation to the composer of the late 1800’s).  My UCLA college room-mate, J’nette, warbled a mocking version of  Humperdinck’s giant hit “Release Me” throughout our undergrad years, so I made my unappreciative son endure a trip down memory lane:

– The Chihuahuan Desert – Well, first of all, we had no idea where the Chihuahuan Desert was (southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern parts of Mexico) and we are practically living in it!  We felt the second movement (the “Largo” movement) of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” evoked the loneliness, uncertainty, and the grandeur of this habitat:

– and finally, The Himalayan Mountains – we paired “the rooftop of the world” with  “Approaching the Summit” composed by genius genius genius John Williams for the 1997 movie “Seven Years in Tibet”.  We could hear how this music captures themes – majestic and mysterious – from both sides of the Himalayan Mountains (India and China):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(The story problems from this week seemed painfully frivolous after reading about the human suffering provoked by King Leopold II.  I just couldn’t post any of them.)