city book

Around the world in perhaps 150 days – my son and I are working our way through Lonely Planet’s “The Cities Book” (thoughtful Christmas gift from sister –  Lonely Planet books are so A+).  There is a two page spread for each of the 200 cities showcased , and we are managing one or two destinations per evening.  Ten categories define each city, but alas, most are of little interest to my son, so here is how we are using this book:
1- we find the city on the globe.  I am dismayed to report that there are several cities of significant population that I have previously never heard of, like Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (5 million) or Lahore, Pakistan (almost 9 million).  For shame!  So I learn along with my son and I just keep appreciating the opportunity.


2- we find out how old the city is.  (eye-opener)
3- we read about the location’s “weaknesses” (beastly hot/spotty electricity/toxic smog levels)(always worth a side conversation).
4- we read about the city’s exports.  If the city produces enough of something to supply the city residents and the product is good enough to export, like coffee, oil, silks, and Siamese cats (!!!), we want to know about it.
And lastly, I should mention this book is quite large and weighs a lot.  I let my son guess how much it weighed.  He guessed 10 pounds, my husband guessed 2 pounds, I guessed 40 pounds (and ta-da! the book weighed in at 7.5 pounds on the cooking scale).  “The Cities Book” can be our new go-to device for pressing flowers or flattening out a curled document.

president book

Meanwhile, back in the USA – we are pretty much loving every page of Ken Jennings’ “Junior Genius Guide to U.S. Presidents”.  Frankly, we are planning on reading everything this super clever author publishes (we have read “Maphead” and his “Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”).  We like to know quirky info like:
– James K. Polk accomplished all of his campaign goals in his first term!  Commendable, but at what cost?  (He quit after one term and died three months later.)  Jennings suggests that Polk’s time was spent “working, not having fun, working more”.  (It would be so interesting to get a glimpse of the family dynamics of his childhood.) (It looks like mirth and relaxation were not encouraged.)
– James Garfield came from the most economically deprived upbringing. He was 19 before he ever heard a piano!  He was 23 before he tasted a banana!
– Woodrow Wilson was the only president (so far) to earn a PhD.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch – Farmer Brown has all the seed catalogs out, anticipating planting a large herb garden once the winter frosts have passed.  He wants to purchase 40 heirloom seed packets at $4 per packet from the “It’s About Thyme” company and 25 seed packets at $5 each from the “To Bee or Not To Bee Heirloom Seed Company”.  If Farmer Brown budgeted $250 for his herb garden, will he have enough money buy all the seed packets? (answer at bottom of post)

NY Phil

Well, listen to this!   I have recently enlisted the assistance of personal trainer “Brute” (not his real name – smirk).  Brute promised that I could work out to my choice of music.  Yay!  So I said, “classical” and was met with the most puzzled expression.  (Seriously?)  To make it simple, I said I would be happy to listen to any recordings by the New York Philharmonic, to which Brute responded, “Hmmm, I have never heard of that band.”. (Seriously?) AAAAAAACK.  See? This is what happens when school systems are forced to cut funding from the music curriculum.  My son selected three pieces that he decided even a new classical music listener could love, and I found a recording of each by the New York Philharmonic:

  • “Mars”, from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, composed around 1916.  The standard by which all scary aggressive music must be judged:

  • “The Radetzky March” , composed by Johann Strauss, Sr, in 1848, commissioned to commemorate Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz’s victory at the Battle of Custoza (Oh yeah, the Battle of Custoza)(?????).  This is just the dandiest of marches, maybe THE BEST MARCH EVER:

  • “Masquerade”, a waltz composed  in 1941 by Aram Khachaturian (as incidental music for a play of the same name).  Delicious, dark, depraved.  Yikes, it is all here:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer: NO)


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