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!


It’s All Fun!


Giant Cartoon Art – We are currently reading through “Whaam! The Art & Life of Roy Lichtenstein” by Susan Goldman Rubin.  This book is filled with examples of his pop art of the 1960’s that both shocked (“this is art?????”) and rocked a generation.  Each of Lichtenstein’s paintings was inspired by published comic book drawings of others, and I like that the author addressed the issue of copyright. My son likes looking at photographs of Lichtenstein’s art on display, with people standing near the paintings, so he can get an idea of exactly how large the paintings are.


Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show – Hot off the press! Candace Fleming’s “Presenting Buffalo Bill – The Man who Invented the Wild West” was just published in 2016.  We are only a few nights into this book and we are loving every minute.  Oh my! Buffalo Bill – what a man with BIG vision and what a risk (vocab) taker!  This book is part of our Native North American unit – we are impressed with the author’s excellent research and sensitivity regarding Lakota tribe members who were part of the Wild West Show (and this has provoked a short side study of the Lakota tribe).

Game ON – the other night, my son grabbed a pen, and I knew he wanted to communicate something – so I supported his wrist and here is what he wrote, “I want to play hangman.”!!!!  Really?  Well, OK!  We have been playing hangman about 2 times a week for a month or two, but I had no idea he was liking this spelling game.  I am relieved that his handwriting has improved to the point that I can read it.  Huge communication progress!

50 Days of Fun!  I am stretching the definition of “fun”, but this is sort of diverting:  we have started playing, “WHERE IS THAT?”.  I place a blank map of the USA on the desk and I ask my son to ink a dot in the middle of a particular state.  After he finds the correct state, we (hand-over-hand) color it in. Could this be a gateway activity – first the USA, then maybe the countries of South America?  Then WHO KNOWS???

And if that weren’t enough – I have added a new resource tab (look on title block) – “The Bookshelf”.  This is where I will keep a running list of the books that have worked particularly well for my son and me.


Box Lunches at Le Fictitious Local Diner –  Everyone knows that box lunches (vocab concept) are by definition FUN!  And here is a twist: the Local Diner’s box lunches are vegetarian, and include a bottle of kombucha that comes with it’s own teeny paper parasol.  FUN!  The lunches are apparently delicious, and the response has been enthusiastic:  during the first week 30 boxes were sold on Monday, 20 on Tuesday, 40 on Wednesday, 10 on Thursday, 40 on Friday, and 20 on Saturday!  Each box sells for $9.  If it costs the diner $4 to put the box together (including the box and the napkins, etc), what was the diner’s profit for the first week?
A. $800    B. $160    C. $1,440    D. $60 (answer at bottom of post)

Music – It was time to learn more about the SNARE DRUM – Yay percussion instruments!


First, we needed to see how the snare drum was constructed.  We learned that a band of narrow wires stretched across the bottom of the drum gives it that muffled rattly sound. We listened for the snare drum in:

Blue Tango, composed by LeRoy Anderson in 1951, and was ranked by Billboard as the number one song of 1952!  Sassy.

Scotland the Brave – this pipe and drum corps classic is considered to be one of three unofficial national anthems of Scotland.  BTW, in Scotland, the snare drum is called a side drum.  BTW, we are the sort of people that really like the music of bagpipes.  This footage is just so great:

Bolero, composed by Maurice Ravel, as a one-movement orchestral piece for ballet, in 1929.  From everything we have read – and can readily believe – playing the snare drum in this piece is a musician’s nightmare.  Seventeen-plus minutes of the same rhythm over and over and over and over.  But what a fine, fine performance by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted so carefully by Gustavo Dudamel:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer: A. $800)

Answers for Everything

8 ball white

Are we having fun yet?  Signs point to yes.  My son received a Magic 8-Ball for his birthday and he seems fascinated by the idea of receiving answers (to goofy questions) from the black ball.  Well, CHEERS!  I am always looking for opportunities to expand my son’s game/toy experiences.  The first hurdle (and it is a HUGE hurdle) is to find a toy that intrigues him.  Did we hit the jackpot with the Magic 8-Ball?  You may rely on it!  GREAT GIFT!

Non-Fiction – we are continuing to learn from the books “Maps” (yay), “Human Body”(yay), and “Genghis Kahn” (battle/skirmish/double-cross/repeat) (will this book never end?).

rules of road book

Fiction – we are enjoying “Rules of the Road” (winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize) by Joan Bauer.  This appealing book skillfully balances difficult concepts (alcoholism, Alzheimer’s) with the inherent hilarity of the shoe business and a new drivers license. I knew we were going to like this book, because years ago I read and loved “Hope was Here” (HKH are you reading this????), also by Joan Bauer.

pies in oven

Le Fictitious Local Diner’s story problem!  The diner is sponsoring a community “pie bake” and has set aside one afternoon in November for anyone (meaning high school students who need more volunteer hours for their graduation requirement) to come assemble pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies.  The diner will bake the pies and deliver them to the senior citizen center for their Thanksgiving dinner.  The diner’s plan is to make 20 pies of each type.  Here are the cost breakdowns:

pie tins: $0.50 each, pie crusts: $0.25 each, apple filling: $3.00 each, pumpkin filling: $3.00 each, pecan filling: $6.00 each. The diner’s tax lady needs the total costs for the 60 pies.

cowboy painting

Last night’s music program took its inspiration from a poster on my son’s wall:  Frederic Remington’s gorgeous, touching, lonely, “The Fall of the Cowboy”, painted in 1895.   This painting is on display at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, so we are lucky to have seen it “in person” several times.

  • First, to set the mood, we listened to George Winston’s gorgeous, touching, lonely piano solo, “Thanksgiving”, from his “December” album, released in 1982.

  • My son and I decided that after a long, cold day, the cowboys would want to head off to the local barn dance.  We like this video of two fiddle players expertly playing Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from his ballet, Rodeo (which premiered in 1942).

  • And finally, a little comfort music for the weary cowboys:  John Denver’s “Back Home Again”, released in 1974.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Back in the Saddle Again


Annnnnnnd, we’re back!  Since our last post, we have read about Princess Kaiulani of Hawaii (so refined, educated, and loyal to her people) and Genghis Khan of Mongolia (so unrefined, so uneducated, so loyal to himself. In his defense, the living was pretty uncertain on the Mongolian steppe (vocab) in the 13th century.  We get the impression that there was no lack of unrefined, uneducated, and untrustworthy yurt (vocab) dwellers.  My son and I are SO glad we didn’t live then and there.  So glad.)

marley door knocker

Current fiction – we loved learning about Charles Dickens last month, so we decided to tackle “A Christmas Carol”.  So far, the book’s conversational style is a delight, although I need to interpret countless phrases and concepts on every page: door knocker, counting-house, Bedlam, workhouses, melancholy, tavern.  This is not a problem!  Bring it, Mr. Dickens.

Current non-fiction

human body book

Reading only one page a night from Peter Grundy’s captivating book, “HUMAN BODY” gives us plenty of thought-provoking information. Example: on the page about the sense of smell, we learned that a human has 15 million olfactory receptors (vocab), most dogs have 1,000 million olfactory receptors, BUT a bloodhound has – GET THIS – 4,000 million olfactory receptors.  So this led to a little discussion about why bloodhounds are the dog of choice for finding lost people, followed by a discussion about how people get lost.  Graphics? Genius.

france map     map book     escargot2

We are also reading through “MAPS”, by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski.  What a joy this gigantic book is.  Again, one page a night is plenty.  As we begin each new country, we find it on our globe, then we treat ourselves to the jillions of darling hand-drawn illustrations.  Last night we spent time with the page on France and ended up discussing whether or not we would consider eating escargots.


Our story problem: Farmer Brown’s Halloween – Farmer Brown is giving glow-in-the-dark bracelets for Halloween instead of candy. He can purchase 300 bracelets for $24. How much will each bracelet cost?

glow in dark bracelets

If he gives the first 50 trick-or-treaters one bracelet each, but gives the next 100 children 2 bracelets each (because he really doesn’t want to end up with a bunch of bracelets at the end of the evening), how many bracelets should he give to the final group of 10 trick-or-treaters (so he doesn’t end up with any bracelets)?

Scary Music for Halloween

  • “Dance Macabre”, by Camille Saint-Saens, composed in 1874.  The clock strikes midnight on Halloween, calling the dead to arise and dance until dawn.  This splendid video showcases a most skilled youth orchestra from Poland.  Well worth the view to watch for the marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, and orchestral bells – instruments of perfection for evoking the sounds of rattling skeleton bones.

  • “Mars”, from “The Planets”, composed by Gustav Holst in 1914.  This is the poster child for menacing music.  We love this particular video – it is a simulation of a rover landing on Mars.  We’ve probably watched this 10 times.

  • “Masquerade”, movement 1 (the waltz), from a suite written by Aram Khachaturian in 1941.  This video is a full-blown production number, dark and decadent, just like the music.  For some reason, it is a bit out of focus, but this only adds to the Halloween creepiness.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH