Liz Pichon

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:

snakes

  • “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)

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Curses and Cheers

cedar-brance

Curses!  January is Texas Cedar Pollen season.  I am sneezing all over the place, much to my son’s displeasure.  He really hates it when anybody sneezes.  Last night we began our STORIES AND STUDIES hour by learning about Juniperus ashei, the super hardy drought-resistant scourge that produces the dreaded pollen (so the culprit is a juniper NOT a cedar) (classic).  AND we read about why people sneeze and why sometimes people sneeze three times in a row (mildly interesting at best, but there is the grossness factor, so that is something).

jim-thorpe-olympic-poster

And so begins our Native American unit –  my son and I are more aware citizens for having read “Jim Thorpe – Original All American” by Joseph Bruchac.  We ended up overwhelmed by Mr. Thorpe’s athleticism and versatility – what a regret that there were no movie cameras used to record this best of the best in football, baseball and track.  This book is as much about Jim Thorpe as it is about Pop Warner, his (law-unto-himself) coach at the Carlyle Indian Industrial School.  YES, THE Pop Warner.  The author presents in an organized, well-researched, and dignified manner the unnecessary debacle that was the Olympic scandal involving Jim Thorpe’s supposed “non-amateur” status.  The author also gives us something else to puzzle over:  as Jim Thorpe represented the USA in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, bringing home gold in both pentathlon and decathlon, he was not considered to be an American citizen!  It wasn’t until 12 years later, with the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, that Native Americans were considered citizens.
If there were ever a “Native American History MONTH”, instead of the embarrassingly paltry “Native American Heritage DAY” (so passed by congressional legislation in 2009) (get this, it is on “Black Friday”) (FOR SHAME) this book belongs on the required reading list.

work-gloves

Well!  After getting all heated up we needed to cool down with a Farmer Brown story problem – “Warm Hands for Farm Hands”– a “compute-this-without-paper-and-pencil” question:
Every January, Farmer Brown purchases new winter work gloves for the 8 farm hands.  He purchases two pair for each man – one pair of extreme-weather gloves at a cost of $35 each and one pair of warm gloves that offer touch screen capability (so they can use their cell phones without taking their gloves off), at a cost of $20 each.  If the cost includes tax, what is the total Farmer will spend to reglove his workers?
A) $280    B) $800    C) $160    D) $440 (answer at bottom of post)

tom-gates-yes-no

We can’t get enough of Tom Gates!  My son received two more “Tom Gates” books (a series of consistently captivating books from the UK) for Christmas and we were so happy to start reading “Tom Gates – Yes! No (Maybe)” because Tom Gates IS A RIOT.  Here is the type of thing that has us laughing: 1) his grandmother’s latest terrible food offering: wood flavored “crisps”, 2) his neighbor’s dad was formerly in a rock band called, “PLASTIC CUP”.   Tom Gates books manage to be so funny while developing realistic, complicated predicaments that avoid “man’s inhumanity to man” and “coming of age” themes.  They are perfect for my son, and I just love getting to be the person who gets to read them out loud.  Cheers to author Liz Pichon!

orpheus

Cheers for the completely awesome Orpheus Chamber Orchestra!  My son and I wanted to learn about the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (formed in 1972, based in New York City, comprised of outstanding musical professionals – university professors/members of upper echelon symphonic orchestras) because this outstanding 30-member orchestra uses NO conductor –  they listen closely to each other, and decisions are made by democratic process.  Apparently they make this formula work because in 2007, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra won a worldwide award for  “Most Democratic Workplace”.  We wanted to watch and listen!

About Orpheus – a three minute introduction, well done:

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra plays from Rossini’s “La Cambiale de Matrimonio” (The Marriage Contract), Giocchiono Rossini’s first opera – composed in 1810, when he was 18!  About a minute and a half into this performance you can see the whole orchestra – playing away sans (vocab) a conductor – the overall look is a bit disorienting, but inspiring:

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra playing Maurice Ravel’sLe Tombeau de Couperin” (composed in 1919) – played at a very fast clip, just the way we like it:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer: D: $440)

We the People

Here is what is going on with us the people at the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER (my son’s bed, every night, 10:30 pm):

constitution photo

The Preamble to the Constitution – our hearts are touched by the perfectly worded preamble, so I am having my son memorize it.  For the past two weeks, every night after we read through the preamble, my son writes the missing words in a fill-in-the-blanks preamble.  And every night, more words are missing – so we are doing the successive approximation thing.  Interesting thought – what if schools alternated the Pledge of Allegiance with the Preamble every morning?  Another thought – what if every proposed law was required to read as clearly and straightforward as the preamble?

sharks book

Building a House – we’ve read through “How to Build a House” by Gail Gibbons.  Yes, this is a little kids book, but seriously, it is so well organized, every contractor should hand one of these to each of his clients, so they can get the basic idea of what comes before what.  This book provoked a yucky side study – my son wanted to know more about a house’s septic system.  Ick.

Sharks! – from the excellent Usborne book series.  Here is what has caught our eye so far – the eyes of the hammerhead shark. CRAZY. Also, so sad: baby sharks are left by their moms after they are born.  So, apparently they raise themselves.  No wonder they have such bad manners.

Reading for fun – We are laughing our way through #4 of the Tom Gates series, “Tom Gates – Genius Ideas (mostly)”, by Liz Pichon.  We LOVE this series!  Every single page is hilarious.  What a treat at the end of each day.  Love it, love it, love it.

guestcheck

Tips from Le Fictitious Local Diner – not exactly a story problem: We pretended that a waiter from Le Fictitious Local Diner gave my son a list of table order totals and asked him to figure out bare minimum tips (15%) and happy customer tips (20%). We talked about how waiters are paid and how much they depend upon their tips.  We talked about the difference between good and poor service.  We talked about whether it was the waiter’s fault if the food was substandard (of course this would never happen at Le Fictitious Local Diner – the food is always first rate at the diner).

string quartet sketch

EEEEEW, string quartets – I kept putting this off: listening to string quartets with my son.  Of course, I want to my son to know about this classical music genre, but alas, I am not a fan of the string quartet.  I have tried out dozens upon dozens of string quartets in the past few years, and all I hear is either spiders dancing across a hot pan or some poor soul gasping for breath.  But the time has come – I found 3 string quartets that changed my EEEEEWs to AHHHHHs, and I was enthusiastic about  sharing these with my son.

  • First, because we knew that Franz Josef Haydn (1732 – 1809) is considered to be the “Father of the String Quartet”, I thought we should listen to the first movement of his very first string quartet “String Quartet in B flat Major” (“La Chasse”).  This is the first of 68 (!!!) quartets Haydn composed between 1762 and 1803.

  • Next, we listened to “String Quartet No. 2 in D Major”, composed by Alexander Borodin in 1881.  We listened to movement 3 (“Nocturne”) over and over.  This is the deeply romantic melody used in the (1953 American musical) “Kismet” song, “And This is My Beloved”, for which he was posthumously awarded the 1954 Tony Award. (Good show Alexander! Good show Tony Award selection committee!  Good show Kismet people!)

  • And lastly, we listened to a wonderful contemporary musical ensemble, “The Vitamin String Quartet” (I am still laughing at the name). This group is known for applying their classical skills to renditions of modern and rock songs. We loved listening to their version of John Williams’ “Cantina Band” from Star Wars.

There now, that wasn’t so bad after all!

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

Tick, Tick, Tick

stopwatch

There has been a rather large time gap since my last post – I was doing the single-parenting thing last week (subsequently couldn’t summon up energy to write) while my husband visited his sweet mom in CA.  But he is back, so I am back.  Here is what my son and I have been learning about –

tick tick books

  • Bison!  Our primary take-away from this mini-mini-study was acknowledging that what we have in the United States are bison NOT buffalo (such a bummer for the “Home on the Range” song).  We would like to know more about bison – regrettably, our book, though chock full of excellent photographs, was not chock full of information.  I will be on the lookout for a more fact filled resource.

bison 2     water buffalo

– Bison to the left, Buffalo to the right –

  • Otto von Bismarck:  very strong personality, probably responsible for unifying Germany during the latter half of 19th century (so that is good), but still, he was a diabolical strategist with a very difficult personality.  Our von Bismarck book was from the “Wicked History” series, and it did not disappoint.  Well researched, well written, well edited.  Excellent reading.
  • Shoe Business!  We are reading our first business book, “Start Something that Matters” by Blake Mycoskie, of the inspiring TOMS (“tomorrow’s shoes”) win-win movement.  We think Mr. Mycoskie has it so right!  To enhance this learning unit, I brought my TOMS shoes to the “Stories and Studies Center” (my son’s large bed) (who wouldn’t want a stack of well worn shoes on their bed?).

TOMS

  • The History of Music in Fifty Instruments“, by Philip Wilkinson:  a good conversation starter book.  We are picking and choosing what we are reading (some stuff is just too mind numbingly technical), but this book is well worth wading through because we have learned about THE UGLIEST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT EVER – the serpent. OH, IT IS SO CREEPY. Take a look and take a listen:

(note to daughter, HKH:  I am just so hoping that we won’t be booking this type of music for your wedding reception.)

New topic – 

Tom Gates books

Here’s what’s fun: the Tom Gates books, written by Liz Pichon; we are in the middle of book 2 (“Tom Gates – Excellent Excuses”). The series is sort of a British take on Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (which we also really like) and has got us matching British words with their  American counterpart:  mate=friend, biscuit=cookie, crisps=potato chips,  dodgy=not good, rubbish=the worst.  Tom doodles all over the place, despises his sister, calls his grandparents “the Fossils”, and worships the rock band, “Dude3” (every time I read the band name I laugh).  We like opening this book every night.

Beginning to think about the upcoming summer Olympics – 

rio logo new

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – the local junior high school is seeking to bolster funds for their foreign language department so the diner has been coerced (vocab) into sponsoring a raffle (vocab), with the first prize being two first-class round-trip (concept) plane tickets to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro!  If each plane ticket costs $1,500, and if the diner is hoping to contribute $2,000 to the foreign language department, how many $5 raffle tickets will need to be sold? (answer “A” at bottom of post).

Oh my gosh, there’s more to this story problem: what if the airline can be persuaded to reduce the cost of the plane tickets by 20%, and what if the diner decides to try to up their contribution to $5,000. How many tickets need to be sold now? (answer”B” at bottom of post)

Classical music selections from last night – thinking about Brazil – we decided to cap off a discussion of the upcoming Olympics by listening to “The Little Train of Caipira”, written in 1930 by premiere Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos.  My son and I have listened to this delicious 5 minute gem about 75 times.  Yeah, we like this piece.

First we listened to the recording we have on our iPod, from the Heidi Grant Murphy/Aureole “Sueño De Amor” (dreams of love) album.  Soothing, flavorful, filled with yearning:

Then, an OUTSTANDING visual and auditory collage –  music students in Brazil putting together “The Little Train of Caipira”.  Did I say OUTSTANDING?  I think I meant DOUBLE OUTSTANDING.  Such a tribute to Villa-Lobos:

Then, what fun – from the fabulous Los Angeles Guitar Quartet , their version of “I Wanna Be Like You” (from “The Jungle Book”), orchestrated in the manner of Heitor Villa-Lobos:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story Problem A: 1,000)
(Story Problem B: 1,480)

Conversation Circle

220px-Ferris-wheel

Let’s Discuss – Hey! Look at the blog title block.  It says right there that my son is non-verbal. So how can I keep writing that “my son and I are having a talk about….” or “we had a conversation about…”?  Obviously I do all of the talking, but I try to set up every discussion with lots of statements for my son to respond to with short written answers.

Example – this past week we were looking at the very first Ferris Wheel, constructed in 1893 for the “World’s Columbian Exposition” in Chicago.  After we read through the Wikipedia entry and I put forth a few of my own observations, the questions:
– does riding on this Ferris Wheel look fun or scary?
– would it be safe to jump around in the Ferris Wheel compartment?
– should a Ferris Wheel be made out of metal or plastic?
– what would be a fair price for a Ferris Wheel ride?
– how long should a Ferris Wheel ride last?
– would you rather take a ride on a Ferris Wheel or a train?
– what sort of person could design a Ferris Wheel? A scientist? An engineer? A musician?

city book best

Conversation Starter – Oh my gosh, “City Atlas” by Georgia Cherry and Martin Haake has provoked so many conversations.  We focus upon one international city per evening.  We slog through the uninteresting info (every single city has museums aplenty, and they all seem to have some sort of body of water nearby) and then on to the stuff of fun conversations:
Berlin – Gummy Bears!   Moscow – Matryoshka dolls!   Budapest – Paprika!
Chicago – the original Ferris Wheel AND if that wasn’t enough: “Sue”, the world’s largest and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex!

gaudi better
The city that has sparked the most discussion so far has been Barcelona.  We wanted to know more about the intriguing architecture of Barcelona’s Antoni Gaudi…We have now read through two books on Gaudi.  Then we spent time comparing the work of the college-educated Gaudi with the work of uneducated, illiterate Sabato “Simon” Rodia and his audacious Watts Towers in Los Angeles. (Here’s an ultra-cool thing: Rodia is included among the many faces on the cover of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” album cover!) Great conversations!  Thank you “City Atlas”!

Reading for pleasure – We are still laughing through “The Brilliant World of Tom Gates” by Liz Pichon, and we are still loving “Ribblestrop”.  Oh my, what endless imagination has gone into this book by Andy Mulligan.  This story about a English lad who has been sent off to boarding school is a relentless hot-mess of hilarious entertainment.

Bullard book

Perfect for February, Perfect for Anytime – More to discuss!  We are acknowledging Black History Month by learning about the world’s first black fighter pilot.  A short blurb about this man, Eugene Bullard, appeared on my FaceBook wall; I was intrigued, so we found “Eugene Bullard, World’s First BLACK Fighter Pilot”, by Larry Greenly. Before we opened the book, we discussed the challenges of being a pilot, and then the double challenges of being a fighter pilot.  This biography/adventure story is perfect reading for us.

A bit of music to celebrate Black History Month – we listened to some pieces we have liked for quite while that happen to be the work of black composers:

  • “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin, composed in 1899; so popular that it provided a steady income for the rest of Mr. Joplin’s life (who passed away 18 years later).

  • “The American Scene – The Southwest: Song of the Riverman”, composed by William Grant Still (“the Dean of African-American composers”), in 1957.  “The American Scene” is a monumental work comprised of 3 sections, with 3 movements in each section. We have been enjoying “The Song of the Riverman” for about 4 years now. This descriptive piece makes us imagine that we are taking a train ride through the old west.

  • “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, composed by Duke Ellington in 1940, lyrics by Bob Russel added in 1942 (#1 on the R+B charts in 1943).  We listened to two versions – one instrumental version and one sung by Ella Fitzgerald (both, heaven).  And then we found video footage from 1968 featuring Duke Ellington AND Ella Fitzgerald. Nice.

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