Music Education

Looking Upward

My son and I are “Looking Upward”, zeroing in on a favorite topic:  OUTER SPACE.

(“Looking Upward” is also the title of a 3-movement suite composed by America’s “March King”, John Philip Sousa, in the early 1900’s.  Suite movements: “By the Light of the Polar Star”, “Beneath the Southern Cross”, and the piece we listened to several times (because we couldn’t believe our ears), “Mars and Venus”.  I am afraid this movement found us engaging in some Sousa smack talk. Sousa’s “Mars and Venus” is one of our “classical” music postings on this page.)

Here’s what helped us look upward – 

“Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space” – We learned so much from the Dr. Dominic Walliman/Ben Newman book of 2013, and we are loving every page of their revised edition (2022): the brighter color palette, the seriously cool, clever, sharp graphics (I am not sure if you can tell, but we are mesmerized by the design work in this book), the latest information on space travel, space apparel, SPACE JUNK (OMG), ridiculously frightening black holes, telescope findings, and captivating imaginings about the future.  A+ all over the place. 

DK’s Smithsonian “Behind the Scenes at the Space Stations” –  Great companion resource to the Professor Astro Cat book.  We’ve learned about the International Space Station’s giant robotic arm (Canadarm 2, almost 58’ long, designed/built by the Canadian Space Agency), the Chinese space station (Tiangong – translates to “Heavenly Palace”), NASA astronaut pins (!), gravity training (my son gave this a “yes”, it is a vehement “NO” from me), and launch rituals.

NASA’s “Spot the Station” web page – something fun!  NASA provides a global map and pinpoints the up-to-the-minute location of the ISS.  We have been logging onto “Spot the Station” twice nightly:  first, before we start our studies and then right before we listen to music (so, about a 45 minute time gap).  Every single night, it is a magical shock to see how far the Space Station has traveled in such a short amount of time. (

Internet Search #1:  Question of the evening:  How long does it take for an astronaut to journey from Earth to the International Space Station? (answer at bottom of post)

Internet Search #2:  Question of the evening:  With astronauts from several countries crewing the ISS, what language is used to communicate with each other?  (answer at bottom of post)

Story Problem:  Local Diner Plans Dinner Dance –  The local diner is making plans for their first ever “Dancing Under the Stars” event, scheduled for mid-summer’s eve (Saturday, June 24, mark your calendars).  The diner’s back deck, which can accommodate 200 seated guests, will be festooned with thousands of twinkly lights and simply everyone in town is making reservations.  $25 per person will include star shaped hors d’oeuvres, dinner, desert (star shaped cookies), and dancing to the rhythms of local band, “Keyboard Dave and the Star Tones”.  

  1. If the diner budgets $10.00 per person for appetizer/meal/dessert, $300 for the twinkly lights, $500 for the band, and $200 for the clean-up team, and if all 200 tickets have been sold, will the diner make a profit?
  2. If “Keyboard Dave and the Star Tones” play so well that they deserve a hefty tip, can the diner make a profit if they pay the band an extra $200?  (answers at bottom of post)

We’ve also been reading – 

Crossing in Time” –  Here is a topic new to us:  ship building.  Gifted writer/story teller/superb technical illustrator, David Macaulay, takes us from the invention of the steam engine to the construction of the grand passenger ship, SS United States (which won the Blue Riband – “riband”:  archaic form of the word, “ribbon” – for crossing the Atlantic with highest average speed).  This is the ship that would bring the author and family from London to New York in the late 1950’s.  The book ends with a heart breaker:  whereas the good ship RMS Queen Mary has enjoyed glamorous retirement as a destination event venue, docked in Long Beach, California, the equally luxurious SS United States has found itself docked in obscurity, on the Delaware River, basically unloved since it was withdrawn from service in 1969.  It was purchased by a conservancy dedicated to its renovation but alas, nothing so far.  So wrong.

“Maizy Chen’s Last Chance” – Lisa Yee’s engaging and important read is filled with layers of themes that provoked conversations (meaning me yammering on and my son resignedly listening):  racism, poker, friendship, independent thinking, the interplay of multiple generations, and fortune cookies.  We would read anything Lisa Yee writes.

“The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” – C.S. Lewis’s classic, published in 1950.  Ooooooh, good vs evil all over the place.  And since reading this, we cannot believe how many times we have overheard somebody referencing Narnia.  My son gave a definite yes to reading the next in the series.

Matilda” – After finishing “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” we started reading Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”.  About half way through, Matilda tells her teacher that her favorite book is  “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”.  Serendipity!  This was a terrifyingly delightful read as we watched our sweet protagonist outsmart stupidity and triumph over tyranny.  Role model.

Classical Music for our Solar System – 

Mars, The Bringer of War – movement 1 from Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, “The Planets”, composed between 1914 and 1917.  (Performance note:  we love the precision of the tapping violin bows.)  Holst was fascinated by astrology, so his suite musically depicts the Roman Gods for whom each planet was named.  Holst’s Mars is aggressive, relentless, intimidating.  Get out of his way – 

Venus, The Bringer of Peace – movement 2 from Holst’s “The Planets”.  Nearly 9 minutes of etherial mystery and dreaminess.  As in each movement, Holst successfully transports us to the destination that has captured his focus – 

And now, oh dear, Sousa’s take on Mars and Venus:

Mars and Venus, from John Philip Sousa’s 1902 “Looking Upward”.  Sousa jams a jumble of themes into this 7 minute movement, but we didn’t hear anything that would convey us to Mars and Venus.  Mr. Sousa!  Please!  What were you thinking?  All we can hear is CIRCUS MUSIC –

    • the jolliest circus parade music
    • a few fanfares
    • tightrope walker music
    • the bittersweetness of dismantling the circus when the show is over
    • train-on-the-tracks rhythms (maybe the circus ensemble is packed up and heading toward the next town?) – 

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

Astronaut travel question:  An astronaut is able to travel from Earth to the ISS (approximately 250 miles) in as little as 4 hours.
Astronaut language question:  All crew members need to have a working knowledge of English, but the two main languages in use aboard the ISS are English and Russian.
(Story Problem answers:   1).  yes and 2).  yes)

Study Break

Such an unfun set-up:  first the studies, then the study break.

The Greenland Focus – My son and I have proclaimed 2023 as the year we are going to learn about Greenland (the one large land mass we hadn’t “visited” during 2022).  We started with the Wikipedia entry (Greenland: largest island in the world, part of the Kingdom of Denmark, 70% of its energy comes from water power (renewable).  YAY!),  and then read, “Escape Greenland” by Ellen Prager.  This is not our usual type of fiction reading (it is a bit on the high tension/good guys vs. bad guys side)(we are more on the low tension-looking to be enchanted side).  Nonetheless, it successfully brought the location, terrain and climate of Greenland to our attention.

“Icebergs & Glaciers” by Seymour Simon.  A good accompaniment to “Escape Greenland”.  We needed to see photographs of glaciers and icebergs.  We needed grasp their definitions.  (This is hardly the end of our Greenland focus.)

Next Stop, Australia, via “The Great Barrier Reef” by Helen Scales and Lisk Feng.  You can now ask us about:

  • coral bleaching, John “Charlie” Vernon (Godfather of Coral), and the wicked, wicked Crown-of-Thorns Starfish  
  • the future of Green Sea Turtles (this is a species, not a description).  The facts: 
        • the temperature in the nest of baby sea turtle eggs determines the sex of the turtle.  WHAT???? My son and I took a few moments to puzzle over this.  
        • if the nest temperature is lower than 81 degrees, the turtles will be males.  If the temp is above 87 degrees, the turtles will be female.  In-between temps produce a mix.
        • at present, only 1% of green turtles hatching in the Great Barrier Reef are male.    My son and I discussed whether this is optimal.  

  • we read a bit about the world-famous whale, Migaloo (an albino humpback whale), who makes an annual appearance in the reef area (actually, scientists think Migaloo might have perished in the recent past)(RIP Migaloo).  We wanted to know more about Migaloo, so we read “Migaloo, The White Whale”, by Mark Wilson, which provoked us to take a listen to recorded humpback whale sounds. V soothing –


Bugs leading the way – how did scientists come up with the idea for:


  • the changing color (green to gold) of the “10” on the 10 dollar bill?  The Blue Morpho Butterfly
  • efficient use of electricity in light bulbs?  Fireflies
  • better solar panels?  The Isabella Tiger Moth
  • more comfortable medical needles?  Mosquitos (whoa: something nice about mosquitoes)

How do we know all this stuff?  “FANDEX Kids “Bugs”.  Anyone following our strict regimen, focusing upon 2 bugs a night would also know:

  • that the queen of some species of termites can live up to 50 years.  Yeeks.
  • the oldest known spider in the world was a female trapdoor spider.  She lived for 43 years!  We can only assume she was studied in a science lab, because she was heartlessly named, “Number 16”.

Yes, we are still on the bird thing we are half way through “What It’s Like to Be a Bird”, written/stunningly illustrated by David Allen Sibley.  We thank Ann P. (influential master teacher who mentored me through my student teaching days decades and decades ago) for suggesting this elegant book.  So far, our favorite 2-page spread:  Wild Turkeys 

  • turkeys were domesticated in Mexico over 2,000 years ago
  • in the 1500’s, they were brought from Mexico to Spain with returning explorers (conquistadors most likely, who are on our permanent bad list)
  • within 20 years, turkeys were the rage throughout Europe (the Pilgrims even brought them back to the Americas onboard the Mayflower)  
  • and TA-DA!!!  Somehow, some Europeans did not get the memo that these birds were from Mexico; it was widely believed they originated from the middle east, specifically, TURKEY.  Thus the name!  File this away for a Thanksgiving Day conversation starter.  We loved this entire segment and read it aloud 3 times.  Thank you again, Ann P.!

And BTW, we now have Sibley’s “Birds of Texas” poster up on the wall.  Very cool.

FINALLY, the study break!  Snack Time Story Problem   The local diner has purchased a popcorn cart with the intention of renting it out for birthday parties and local youth sporting events.  The festive cart was purchased for $300 and will be available for rental at $75 per day.  The diner can supply popcorn and popcorn bags (200 portions for $50).  For fancy affairs, clients may wish to hire Chef Iris to serve up the popcorn at an additional cost of $100 per day.

– How many times will the popcorn cart need to be rented to recover the $300? 
A.  4 rentals     B. 14 rentals     C.  24 rentals  D.  1,000 rentals 

– How much will a client spend if they require the cart for two days, 600 popcorn servings, and Chef Iris to tend cart?
A.  $300     B.  $400     C.  $500     D.  $1,000  (answers at bottom of post)

Classical Music Time – let us suppose that the popcorn cart client would love some carefree, cheerful background music.  Maybe Chef Iris would suggest –

  • Leroy Anderson’s very first work, “Jazz Pizzicato”, 1938.  We can almost hear the popcorn popping –

  • Beethoven’s “Five Pieces for a Mechanical Clock”, Number 3, composed around 1799.  Sweet carnival-type music that could provoke twirling around the closest popcorn cart.  (from what I’ve read, I’m thinking this may have appalled Beethoven)  –  

  • Shostakovich, “Ballet Suite No. 4”, movement 2  (“The Song of Great Rivers”), composed in 1953.  Fresh, lighthearted, an almost merry-go-round feel.  Signature popcorn cart music –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  A. 4 rentals, and C. $500)

Bird Nerds

Us?  Bird nerds?  You must have us confused with real ornithological enthusiasts.  It is true that we have our bird-watching binoculars at the ready and since May, 2022 (when we read our first bird watching book – Mike O’Connor’s hilarious and informative “Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches”) we have served up pounds & pounds & pounds of sunflower seeds, but other than that we have only accumulated:

  • 5 bird reference books
  • 3 bird posters
  • 3 bird baths
  • 1 bird feeder
  • 1 nesting box

Us?  Bird nerds?  I am not sure we aspire to nerd status, but birdwatching has turned out to be a lot more fun than we could have imagined pre-May 2022.

We comment upon our bird feeder visitors – 
We probably know about 2% of what bird people know about birds, so our amateur observations may understandably provoke criticism:

Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal:  our resident senior citizens (through the binoculars, they look pretty shabby, poor things, but they are a class act).  Very dignified, they perch for a moment, take a sunflower seed, fly off.  We give them an “A”.

The Chickadees:  we think of these cuties as the “little sports cars” of our backyard birds.  Compact and swift, they perch for a moment, take a sunflower seed, fly off.  We give them an “A”.

Our Tufted Titmouse:  this soft looking, dear bird seems to keep himself to himself.  He perches for a moment, takes a sunflower seed, flies off.  We give him an “A”.

Our Mourning Dove:  we haven’t seen this handsome bird perch on the feeder –  he seems content to dine on seeds that have fallen to the ground.  This bird is quiet, sweet, appears thoughtful, and we have to give him an “A”.

And finally, THE FINCHES:  house finches, purple finches, American goldfinches.  These birds hog the feeder and spit seeds all over the place.  They are like the non-productive workers that hang around the office water cooler.  They are like the relatives you wish you didn’t have to invite to the wedding reception.  We give these birds a “C-”, and that is a gift.

Rome Antics”, by David Macaulay – how clever is this book? 

  • the pun-intended title and a homing pigeon tie page one to the final page  
  • the exquisite illustrations of the architecture of Rome, presented pigeon-style (upside down/sideways/twirly-whirly)  

My son and I enthusiastically read this book 3 times in a row to appreciate Macaulay’s efforts.  A+ all over the place.

Big Birds – Speaking of birds, we did get out the measuring tape to see for ourselves the wingspan of some REALLY LARGE birds.  Example:  the Laysan Albatross – 82”.  Whoa.

Current Re-Read – “The Penguin Lessons”, by Tom Michell – so much to learn from this captivating non-fiction book – lots about penguins, lots about Argentina in the 1970’s (hoo boy, talk about inflation).  Well worth the re-read.

We’re not just about birds:

Fandex Kids “Ocean” – this Fandex-Kids card deck is surprisingly good.  An enticing variety of sea life presented with skilled humorous writing.  Our favorite entries:  ocean depth zones (new vocabulary “pelagic”, rhymes with “magic”), the coelacanth, giant kelp, giant squid (measuring tape out again to envision this 40 foot wonder), the graceful decorator crab.  If we were employed as Fandex editors we would replace the cartoony illustrations with photographs.  Other than that, fun resource with a most helpful glossary.

Story Problem:  Farmer Brown upgrades the bunk house It is time for Farmer Brown to replace all the bedding in the ranch hands’ bunk house.  For each bed, new sheets (at $75 per set), new blankets (at $100 each) and a new quilt (at $100 each) will be purchased.  If there are 8 ranch hands and Farmer Brown wants  2 sets of sheets, 2 blankets, and 2 quilts for each bed, will Farmer Brown spend more or less than $4,000 to replace the bedding? (answer at bottom of post)

’22  in Review – our academic goal for 2022 was to find the location on the globe of everything we studied.  In all, we “visited” 44 countries.  The only large landmass we missed was Greenland, so this is ASSIGNMENT ONE for 2023.

Classical Music is for the Birds – 

The Aviary, from “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens.  The suite was composed in 1886, but not published until after Saint-Saens’ death (1921).  He thought his reputation as a serious composer would be tarnished by this “too frivolous” work (of course he was wrong).  A jewel of a performance by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andre Previn –

The Dove (La Colomba), Ottorino Respighi.  Perfect way to honor our mourning dove.  Respighi based this 1928 composition on the music of 17th century lute virtuoso Jacques de Gallot.  We can hear the dove cooing throughout and we love the magical flute and harp ending –

Bird Feeder Banquet Music –   How about “Tafelmusik” (literally “table music”, composed  specifically to provide light background music while people AND MAYBE BIRDS were banqueting)?  We chose an absolutely delightful piece by Georg Philipp Telemann (his Quartet in G major, movement 4, composed in 1733)(and BTW, Telemann wrote lots of tafelmusik).  We can hear the birds darting to and from the bird feeder throughout the movement –

Welcome to the best part of my day,
Jane BH
(Story problem answer:  Farmer Brown will spend more than $4,000.  He will, in fact, spend $4,400 plus tax)

Been Here Awhile

4.5 billion years – Earth. Yeah, it has been here awhile.  My son and I are currently entranced by photos of Earth taken by UK astronaut, Tim Peake, presented in his book “Hello, Is This Planet Earth?  My View from the International Space Station”.  

Our favorite photos:  


  1. the dazzling night time photo of Italy…I don’t know why this shocked us, but from space, the shape of Italy looks exactly how it looks on our globe.
  2. the cartoony, loopy route of the Amazon River

Before we gazed at the photos we got firm with a few facts:   

  • The moon is approximately 240,000 miles from Earth
  • Low Earth Orbit (LEO to those in the know) – is anything that circles the Earth within an altitude of 1,200 miles from Earth 
  • The International Space Station orbits at an altitude of approximately 220 miles above the Earth, well within LEO
  • the ISS circles the Earth 16 times a day – the photographer’s opportunity for “the perfect shot” is minuscule (this book represents a lot of planning)

250 million years – Crocodiles.  Yeah, they have been here awhile.  We’ve just finished Owen Davey’s “Curious about Crocodiles” (graphics:  A++).  But, oh dear, crocodiles.  Everything about them is bad news.  My son and I mused over this:  what if we were crocodiles and the only good thing anybody could say about us was that we help regulate populations of other species by preying on them? 

35 million years – Squirrels.  Yeah, they have been here a while.  We decided to learn more about squirrels since we have been glaring at one (“Dennis”, our own personal backyard menace) every single day since we installed our bird feeder.  We are picking and choosing our reading topics in the Thorington/Ferrell book, “Squirrels, The Animal Answer Guide”.   Sad fact:  only 25% of squirrels make it to their first birthday party.  The rest provide banquet fare for ever so many larger animals.  From what we’ve read, those who make it past their first birthday can be found congregating around bird feeders.

200,000 years – Man.  New kid on the block.  Let’s just admit that we don’t stand a chance against crocodiles and squirrels. 


17,000 years ago – Cave Paintings of Lascaux.  Yeah, these have been here awhile.  We did a quick internet study of the breathtaking, graceful drawings of horses, bulls, and deer found in the French caves.  This inspired our new Read ’n’ Draw project:  once a week I give my son drawing paper that has been divided into 4 squares.  Atop each square is a noun (like arrow, question mark, cat head, snail, stop sign, Saturn).   Without me saying the word aloud, my son has to draw a picture of the noun.  A fun, satisfying activity, with results so close to being breathtaking and graceful.

These books have been around awhile – recent fiction re-visits: 

  • from 1958, Mary Nash’s “While Mrs. Coverlet was Away”.  We read this every August and we love every theme (self reliance, cats, vitamins, neighbors) in this fun, original work.  Maybe the best overlooked part is found in chapter 15;  a captivating account of “turtling” at the local slough…by the end of of this descriptive narrative we feel as sweaty, sunburned, muddy as the book’s characters – an afternoon well spent.
  • from 1941, Holling C. Holling’s (we pause to consider the author’s name)(sorry, we are that immature) “Paddle to the Sea”.  This is our second time through this poetic and observant journey through the Great Lakes, and we are focusing on the geography aspects.

The Local Diner – Yeah, it has been here awhile.  A story problem to elucidate:  One of the busboys was rummaging around the diner attic and found a chest filled with old menus.  The diner called in designer, “Miss Jane”, who selected a menu from 1920, 1930, 1950, and 1960 to frame and install near the entrance of the diner.  The designer said she would be able to frame the menus in jazzy retro “diner style” colors for $80 each.  But the diner accountant, “Mr. Tom”, said that he could frame the menus with supplies from the local mega art store for $25 each.  

– If diner management selects Miss Jane to frame the menus (which really is the best idea), how much more will they spend on the project, than they would if Mr. Tom’s plan was put into action?
a)  $25     b)  $80     c)  $180     d)  $220

– If Mr. Tom is directed to purchase the cheapo frames, and the frames fall apart after one year and have to be replaced, this time using Miss Jane’s framing services, how much will the diner have spent to have the menus framed twice?
a)  $150     b)  $420     c)  $575     d)  $1,000      (answers at bottom of post)

Classical Music Corner – The Symphony  – Yeah, it has been here awhile.  Franz Joseph Haydn composed from the mid-to-late 1700’s and created a 4-movement template for symphony construction that has been used by a majority of composers to this day.  Cheers for Haydn’s organizational skills!  Cheers for the following Haydn compositions:

1785 – Symphony # 83 in G minor, known to all as “La Poule” (the hen), movement 4.  Jaunty, happy, sort of fussy-precise…this is the piece where we can hear bits of “Pop Goes the Weasel” –

1787 – Symphony #88 in G major, movement 4.  We refer to this as “Busy Bugs”.  Who can hear this and not envision jillions of ladybugs on roller skates?  This piece flies!  We came across this movement about a month ago and have listened to it about 15 times.  My son LOVES it – 

1791 – Symphony #94 in G major known to all as “Surprise Symphony”, movement 2, this performance conducted by one of our favorites, Mariss Jansons.  We wait in anticipation for the mighty boom (about a half minute into the piece) – 

Welcome to the best part of my day,
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  d) $220 and  b) $420)

…and the categories are –


I know it looks like my son and I are gearing up to secure spots on a TV game show;  our current stack of books is crammed with so many unrelated topics and we are jammed with facts, ready for trivia question number one – 

FAST FOOD FESTIVAL – We are ready for questions about the history of mega-popular American foods (pizza, hot dogs, french fries and the like) after reading “There’s No Ham in Hamburgers”, by Kim Bachman.  Now we know:

  • a surprising number of the foods Americans consume like mad were brought to public exposure at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition AKA the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair:  hamburgers, yellow mustard, cotton candy, puffed rice cereal, and Dr. Pepper.
  • Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to have a TV commercial (this kooky bit of info found in the potato chapter).
  • WWI American soldiers were the first to enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (high in protein and no refrigeration needed).  The US Army bought the ENTIRE first batch of Welch’s grape jelly for the cause.  And speaking of peanut butter, I am sure EVERYONE wants to know that Skippy filed for a patent for hydrogenated peanut butter the very same WEEK that my son’s grandfather was born (April 1921) AND in the very same city in which he was born (Alameda, California).  Whoo hoo!  Chills!  Making history personal!

WINGING IT – We are ready for questions about North American birds after reading Mike O’Connor’s second book, “Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me?”.  Same format (question and sidesplitting/informative answer) as his first book, “Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches”.  Per suggestion from first book, we teamed our nightly reading with the Kaufman Focus Guide, “Birds of North America”.  Thanks to a repetition of themes, we now know:

  • birds want sunflower seeds, not “special birdseed mix” 
  • seeds need to be fresh
  • birds need a birdbath:  we now have a birdbath!!!! Tiny, but AWESOME, handcrafted of river stone by an artisan in New Hampshire (
  • there is a correlation between backyard bird sightings and bird migration
  • we can be a kinder people, thanks to a superb essay on bird feeder hospitality

Final note – O’Connor’s way with words made me laugh so hard, that with most of the Q&A’s, I had to stop reading aloud until I could gain composure. What is better than that?

POWER PLAY – “Solar Story – How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant”, Allan Drummond.  Easy to read, endearing illustrations, enlightening.  We are ready for questions about solar plants and sustainability AND we get to mark another country on our global map:  Morocco.  We now know that the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant is located in Ouarzazate, Morocco (in the blindingly sunshiny Sahara Desert).  We augmented our reading with the Wikipedia article on this Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, and we saw it with our own eyes via a Google Earth view. 

BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE – “Resist!”, subtitled “Peaceful Acts that Changed our World”, an A+ resource by Diane Stanley (all of her books are A+).  We are ready for questions about the gutsiest people who have acted boldly, guided by an inner sense of what is right.   Some we have already studied (like Harriet Tubman and Mohandas Gandhi), some we have never heard of (like Irena Sendler and Ai Weiwei).  Each 2-page mini bio has grabbed ahold of our hearts (and I am pretty much weeping at the end of each profile). 

BIODIVERSITY UNIVERSITY – We are ready to answer questions about the most biodiverse place on Earth because we have just finished “Amazon River”, a well-edited introduction to the world’s largest river basin, by Sangma Francis, brilliant artwork by Romolo D’Hipolito.  We now know a bit about the geography, indigenous people, current dangers, and the ridiculously enormous variety of plant (like 16,000 species of trees) and animal wildlife (like 2.5 million species of insects).  Our final take-away:  we would like to see “in person” a pink river dolphin, and we would not like to see “in person” a green anaconda (but we sort of would – from at least a 17 foot distance).

THE NEW DEAL GOES NORTH –  We are ready for questions about an aspect of FDR’s New Deal program:  during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the Matanuska Colony was established to give displaced Midwestern farmers a new start in the Alaska territory.  This is the basis of Carole Estby Dagg’s well researched and continually interesting YA historical novel, “Sweet Home Alaska” – a family from Wisconsin becomes part of this new community.  Good reading every single night.

Story Problem at the Local Diner   What doesn’t Chef James do well?  He has recently revealed that he is a nationally ranked chess player, so diner management has asked him to preside over a week long (Monday-Friday) chess camp for middle schoolers in August.  The camp will be held mornings in the diner and will include a hearty breakfast to activate brain cells.  20 students have signed up.  The participants are to be charged $75 for the week.  Chef James will received $50 for each morning of chess instruction.  The daily breakfast for each camper is priced at $8.00.  

– How much profit will the diner realize at the end of the week?

a)  $250     b)  $450     c)  $1,050     d)  $1,500

– If the diner pays $250 for a large outdoor banner to advertise the chess camp, will they still make a profit? (answers at bottom of post)

Something new:  keyboarding skills!  I was so inspired by this year’s (2022) graduation speech by Rollins College valedictorian, Elizabeth Bonkers (easy to find her delivery on YouTube).  She, like my son, has autism and is non-verbal.  Her speech was achieved through a text-to-speech program and was the worthiest of graduation addresses.  What a wake-up call!  Could my son learn keyboarding skills? We had tried this years ago with no success, but I decided to try again and now, THE ANSWER IS YES!  He is focused and interested!  We begin with keyboarding practice (finding vowels, the letters of his name, the space bar) and then for the best part: my son gets to text his brother and sister (one in NY, one in Seattle) and they both text right back.  Talk about effective positive reinforcement.

Classical Music Time –  Our brains are crammed and jammed with facts and this is not the time for challenging music selections.  Here are the top three super-soothers that my son selects over and over for night time listening –

Song to the Moon, from Antonín Dvořák’s opera, Rusalka (1901). This is sort of  the Czech version of the little mermaid story; this particular piece has a water nymph asking the moon to tell the prince of her love. This recording showcasing violin virtuoso, Joshua Bell, is the one we have listened to about 300 times – 

 Oven Fresh Day, from Grant Kirkhope’s BAFTA (which we learned was the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nominee score for the Xbox 360 game, “Viva Piñata”, composed in 2006.   A lovely, wistful melody, recorded by the Prague Philharmonic – 

The Barcarolle, from Act 3 of Jacques Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffman” (1880).   Although referred to as “The Barcarolle”, the real title of the work is “Belle Nuit, ô Nuit d’Amour” (“Beautiful Night, Oh Night of Love”) (FYI, a barcarolle is the song of a Venetian gondolier) . There is no reason for any other orchestra to record this, as this smooth-as-glass, masterful performance by the Berlin Philharmonic cannot be improved upon – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
 – Jane BH
(Story problem answers:  b)  $450, and yes)

Hey, Rhododend!

Hey, rhododend!
Courage, little friend.
Ev’rything’ll end rhododandy.

Hurry! It’s lovely up here!

My son and I are experiencing the satisfaction of growing plants from seeds, and I have been humming the GO TO gardener cheerleading tune, “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here”, from the 1965 Lane/Lerner Broadway musical, “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever”. 

How this came to be – 

First, back in December, my son started a microscopic volunteer job at the most wonderful local nursery.  Mr. Paul, the manager, as well as every single employee we have encountered, has been accommodating, tolerant, and welcoming.  So, when we arrive for the once-a-week “job”, my son literally bursts from the car and yanks on his garden gloves, revved up to walk through the magic land of plants and get to work.  At completion of the day’s task, we purchase a seed packet (so far:  radishes, sunflowers, thyme, cucumbers, peppers, turnips) for planting that very afternoon. 

Then, we learned so much from Riz Reyes’ “Grow”, a superbly organized book offering a four-page spread for each of 15 different types of plants (plants that my son can understand, like mushrooms, bamboo, maple trees, daffodils), enhanced by the vibrant illustrations of Sara Boccaccini Meadows.  This A+ book has inspired us to plant tomatoes, pumpkins, and carrots from seeds.  (And speaking of “A+”, this book was written by a former high school student of my best college room-mate, (top flight language arts teacher) Miss Jeanette – who has made it into a few of my story problems).  We are already on our second read through. We just love every page of this book AND his Instagram page:  rhrhorticulture.

Finally, a few months ago I paid a visit to the very best kind of new relative (a half-sister!), whose backyard produces such an abundance of fruits/citrus/vegetables that I knew, right then, that I wanted my son to be able to witness the slow motion miracle of all sorts of plant growing cycles.

Change of topic, but still in the backyard –  “Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches”, by Mike O’Connor, of the “Bird Watchers General Store” in Orleans, Massachusetts.  First of all, this is the work of a skilled and knowledgeable writer and almost more importantly, THIS BOOK IS NON-STOP HILARIOUS.  It is comprised of letters of inquiry to Mr. O’Connor, whose responses make me shriek with laughter, and are filled with information we had never considered (how can we be responsible citizens if we don’t have a birdbath in our back yard?????)(we are SO getting a birdbath).  Learning while we are laughing is THE BEST.

More outdoor stuff – We have just finished “The Northern Lights – Celestial Performances of the Aurora Borealis”, dazzler photos by Daryl Pederson and Calvin Hall and relevant accompanying essay by Ned Rozell – prompting us to discuss the commitment a photographer would need to spend endless nights in the freezing cold environs of the North Pole, just waiting and waiting and waiting to capture aurora phenomena.  (Of course, we learned what causes the aurora:  solar winds jousting with the earth’s electromagnetic field.  Sort of FREAKY STUFF.)  We augmented our study (Wikipedia) by learning that  “aurora borealis” means  “northern lights”.  Is there a similar phenomena by the South Pole?  Yes, the “aurora australis” (australis meaning “south”, not a reference to Australia).  Damn, we know a lot.

Story problem from the nursery – a project my son is currently working on (at his volunteer job) involves moving pavers (that have been stacked on a falling-apart wood palate) to a brand new palate.  Over the course of the past few weeks he has moved:

week 1 – 25 pavers
week 2 – 30 pavers
week 3 – 30 pavers
week 4 – 33 pavers

Question:  If the pavers sell for $3 each, and Farmer Brown needs 50% of the pavers on the new palate to create flooring for his new birdbath sanctuary, how much cash will he need to retrieve from his secret safe (not including tax)?

a)  $60     b)  $177     c)  $300     d)  $354  (answer at bottom of post)

And more outdoor stuff  – We’ve just finished the Gordon Korman YA book, “Unplugged”, which takes place in the great outdoors (a remote camp in Arkansas) and involves a ban on electronics, a vegetable-forward diet, quirky new friends AND a sinister, illegal alligator enterprise. This is the most advanced mystery/adventure book I have tackled with my son.  He liked it!  As per usual with a Gordon Korman work:  excellent book, excellent message.

Classical Music Time: celebrating the growing season –

“Spring”, movement I – from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, composed around 1720.  About 30 seconds into this spirited performance we can hear jillions of insects buzzing like crazy in the meadow.  We love this part!

“Spring Song” from Mendelssohn’s “Songs without Words”, book 5 (of 8 books), composed around 1844.  My son is familiar with the main theme of this composition because it has been used more than once in cartoons (case in point, Disney’s 1937 “Clock Cleaners” – about 6 minutes into the cartoon) – 

And of course, “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here” – Adorably sung in this video clip by Audra McDonald – my fave lines (about the “rhododend”) are stuck right in the middle of the song – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer:  b)  $177)

Be like Sarah

A Citizen of the World – 

Among other things, last week found my son and I exploring the depth and breadth of The Royal Society of London and continuing our 2022 quest to match academic and non-academic topics with places-of-origin on the globe.  But something came up that caused us to put aside our stack of books for a bit.  We had the opportunity to cheer for up-to-the-minute SUPERB GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP IN ACTION.  

May I present long time family friend, international educator Sarah LC, who currently resides in Germany.  Here is what she posted a few days ago:

I volunteered to meet Ukrainian refugees at the Berlin Central Train Station today.  Wearing an identifying yellow vest, along with about 30 other people, I met incoming trains of refugees, some of which were carrying as many as 750 people.  I roamed, or I stood still, and people knew they could ask me a question, and I would do my best to help.

– “Are you traveling on to another German city? Stand here, and you will get a ticket “
– “Do you need food? Follow me, here is the area where you can get food and sit for a bit.”
– “You do not have any place to go beyond this? You are here in Berlin and you don’t know anyone, or you don’t have a plan beyond this? Then come here…a bus will take you to an apartment or hotel room here, or in Dresden, or Hamburg…we will put you up.”
– “Are you traveling on to Portugal? Then let me show you where you can get your next train ticket.”
– “Do you need a SIM Card? Here is where you can get one.”
– “You need a COVID test? Follow me.”
And on and on.

Signing up to volunteer was the easiest thing in the world. Read a few few rules, register, and show up. I don’t speak a word of Ukrainian, Russian or Polish. It didn’t matter. We made things work.
I was quite impressed with the ad hoc consortium that set up this spontaneous structure in the midst of the greatest migration of people since WWII.

We think Sarah is a superb citizen of the world.  We want to be like Sarah.  (Of course we located Germany and Ukraine on the map and marked each with a gold dot.)(We are cyber-sending a bouquet of gold dots to Sarah LC.)

That settled, our current studies – 

The Royal Society – two books have caught our attention:  Adrien Tinniswood’s “The Royal Society and the Invention of Modern Science” and Bill Bryson’s masterwork anthology, “Seeing Further – The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society” (which is WAY too intellectual for the likes of us…nonetheless, we are charting key points).  Before this study, here is what we knew about The Royal Society:  nothing.  Now we know – 

  • Founded in 1660, to assist and promote the accumulation of useful (scientific) knowledge
  • Members (“Fellows”) have included:  Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (all of whom we have studied).  So far there have been over 8,000 members (women are included in the number).
  • In the official name, “The Royal Society of London”, “London” refers only to the location of the society’s headquarters.  It is not “pro-Britain”, but is rather “pro-scientists of the world” (example:  Benjamin Franklin was a welcomed member even during the Revolutionary War).

Owls –  Currently we are reading about 40 species of owl in Jack Byard’s “Know Your Owls” and marking a dot on the map where each is found (and BTW, there are no owls in Antarctica).  Every species’ particular hoot is notated, so in order to make this a 3-dimensional learning experience I give each hoot a try.  “A” for effort, “B-” for execution.  OK, here are two owl relationships we were not aware of:

  • Owls and Woodpeckers:  many of the smaller owl species set up their nests in trees where gaps have been drilled by woodpeckers
  • Owls and Mice:  owls eat a lot of mice

“Daily Bread – What Kids Eat Around the World”, an original artistic endeavor by Gregg Segal documenting over 50 children from around the world (another opportunity to dot up our map) and what they eat.   A full page, gorgeous photograph of each child, surrounded by food they consume during the course of a week is accompanied by a few enthusiastic and respectful paragraphs, but there is an implied message about each kid’s nutritional intake (the junkier the foods, the chunkier the kids).  BTW, interesting fact in the author’s introduction: a 2015 Cambridge University study ranking diets around the world placed Chad and Sierra Leone at the top of the list for healthiest diets.  Author concludes that these countries have such poor infrastructures that food conglomerates haven’t figured out how to set up shop there.  Maybe Chad and Sierra Leone are luckier than they know.

Make us laugh – After all this heavy duty reading and analyzing we really needed to conclude our evenings with something funny.  Something like the latest book by Liz Pichon,  “Tom Gates – Ten Tremendous Tales”.  Layers of fun with an always amusing ensemble cast (we are not sure who we like reading about most – Tom’s impossible sister, his annoying uncle, his overworked teacher, the out-of-touch principal, the ridiculously upbeat music teacher?).  We are sort of fans of Ms. Pichon.

Story problem from the local diner – (oh, this is such an easy one) Every April 1st, the local diner hosts the premier social event of the season:   Stand-Up Comedy Night!  10 super hilarious members of the community have signed up to tell jokes on a hastily erected stage and tickets have been sold out for months.  The ticket price includes not only the outstanding entertainment, but also a slice of pie and a beverage.  If 150 tickets have been sold and each of the comedian wannabes gets a slice of pie, and each pie serves 8, how may pies should be prepared for the event?

a)  16 pies     b)  20 pies     c)  40 pies     d)  75 pies (answer at bottom of post)

Classical Music:  Fanfares for Global Citizens – We wondered if the type of person (like Sarah) who volunteers to make the world a kinder place, is the type of person who would relish being announced with a fanfare (we sort of think not), but that doesn’t mean that a fanfare is not deserved – 

  • First, we listened to “Call to Post”, a classic fanfare familiar to anyone who has ever seen the Kentucky Derby.  This 34 note fanfare has been used at horse races since the 1860’s and alerts everyone of the next race commencing in a mere 10 minutes –  

  • Handel, “Music for the Royal Fireworks”, movement 4 (La Rejouissance) (1749).  A regal, no funny business, 3 minute piece.  What we hear is essentially 2 robust fanfare themes played over and over –   

  • Gilbert and Sullivan, Iolanthe, “Loudly Let the Trumpet Bray” (1882).  The intent of this piece in the operetta is a satirical jab at the powers that be.  Regardless, it is still great fanfare music, worthy of our inspirational volunteers –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  b)  20 pies)

Global Positioning

My son and I have chosen global positioning as a study theme for 2022.  For every topic we tackle this year we are going to to answer this question: where in the world is this or where did it come from?  (We are primarily limiting our focus to countries.)

Our world map and colored pens are at the ready.  Every time we find out where something originated we mark a color coded dot on the map (example:  goat breeds – a black dot, penguin breeds – a silver dot).  Our big map is becoming our big polka dotted map.  The idea is to find ourselves at the end of 2022 knowing where every country on the globe is located.  

To illustrate:  reading from Jack Byard’s “Know Your Goats”, we learned

  • the Girgentana goat (best in class for truly WOW horns) originated in Sicily:  mark a dot on the island of Sicily.  
  • the Boer goat (super sweet Basset Hound ears) is indigenous to South Africa:  mark a dot on South Africa.
  • the Kiko goat (off-the-charts hardy – resistant to disease, parasites, weather) initially from New Zealand:  mark at dot on New Zealand.
  • we have read about 6 breeds of goat from Switzerland.  When you keep going back to Switzerland to mark yet another dot, you finally learn where Switzerland is (this is for my son’s benefit, please don’t think I didn’t know where Switzerland was).

Our topic line-up so far:  goats, penguins (hey! 18 species of penguins and only 2 live their lives in Antarctica: so, 18 sparkling silver dots scattered about our map’s southern hemisphere), owls, bears, and here’s a change of pace:  breads of the world.  This dot marking is more satisfying than one would think.

But all other topics get a dot on the map, too.  Example:  we are reading Lori Alexander’s well researched, well written, “All in a Drop – How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World” (BTW:  illustrations by Vivien Mildenberger are just so right for this book)(and another BTW:  the timeline at the back of the book is worth the price of the book) .  

  • I can finally pronounce his name without pausing to gather my wits:  “LAYVENHOOK” 
  • this man ground down a lentil shaped lens (hey!  we learned “lens” comes from the word “lentil”) and made a separate microscope for every single item he viewed 
  • kind of chilling: van Leeuwenhoek saw things under his microscopes that had NEVER EVER BEEN SEEN before.  My son and I reflected upon this crazy wonderfulness
  • after seven years of heel dragging, the Royal Society in London finally accepted van Leeuwenhoek as a Fellow (1677)

Yes, yes, yes, but where did he come from?  Delft, The Netherlands.  Bring forth the map and mark a gold dot on The Netherlands.

Current Fiction Reads (and global positioning dots) – 

“Room to Dream”, Kelly Yang.  The third in her very readable and very worthy series.  At the point we are in the story, protagonist Mia’s family is about to embark on a trip (from Anaheim, CA) to see family in China (2 dots marked on the map).

“Surviving the Applewhites”, by Stephanie S. Tolan.  I think this is our 4th time through this relentlessly entertaining book.  With each reading we discover new truths about human nature and the creative spirit.  Location?  North Carolina: another dot on the map.

Back to the Goats: Story Problem – 

Farmer Brown has 6 acres of overgrown weeds that need to be cleared out, so he is hiring a team of goats from neighbor, Farmer Fran (yes, THE Farmer Fran of “Farmer Fran’s Grazin’ Goats”), to get the job done.  Farmer Fran has a herd of 30 goats that can clear a half acre in 3 days. The cost runs $400 per acre.  

1)  How long will it take the goats to clear Farmer Brown’s 6 acres?
a-  3 days     b- 18 days     c- 30 days     d-  36 days

2)  How much will it cost to have the land cleared? 
a- $240     b-  $400     c- $2,400     d-  $4,000

3)  If Farmer Brown hires a local construction company to clear the brush, it will cost $4,000 per acre.  How much will he save if he hires the goat team instead?
a- $0 (they both cost the same)     b- $2,400     c-  $4,000     d-  $21,600
(answers at bottom of post)

Classical Music Time with the Goats – 

Farmer Fran says that her goats work more efficiently if they are munching to music, so my son and I looked for music with a happy, rambunctious melody and rhythm – 

  • “Hoe-Down”, from “Rodeo” by Aaron Copland (1942).  An A+ performance by the USA National Youth Orchestra of 2018.  Thanks to the outstanding percussion section we can imagine the goats’ little hoofbeats all over this exuberant composition –

  • “Maple Leaf Rag”, Scott Joplin (1916).  Oooooh, we found an actual pianola roll played by Scott Joplin.  The tempo is much faster than we’ve ever heard this piece played.  Just the right thing to keep those goats moving – 

  • Alexander Glazunov’s “Symphony No. 4”, movement 2 (1893).  This piece transports us smack into the middle of Farmer Brown’s acreage.  We can feel the fresh air, we can see the goats scampering from one clump of weeds to the next.  They are making short work of this 6 acre task!  This is not exactly rambunctious music, but there is a playfulness and joyfulness present –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1) d- 36 days     2) c- $2,400     3) d- $21,600 )

Let’s Get This Party Started!

This is post #148, ever so close to our 150th post; definitely cause for a party, so my son and I started the festivities by laughing through two favorite story problems from the vault – 

From the Oct 2, 2018 post (Did absence make the heart grow fonder?):  A  Farmer Brown Story Problem –

Poor Farmer Brown, literally, poor Farmer Brown. He is spending so much money replacing items that his cats, Olive and Owl (the hissing sisters), have destroyed. Over the past twelve months, Farmer Brown spent:

– $300: area rug in kitchen (shredded)
– $150: winter coat (clawed to death)
– $100 each: 3 farmhand bed quilts (each mistaken for litter box)
– $200: office blinds (permanently bent from bird watching)
– $100: large ceramic planter (tipped over so many times that it finally cracked)
– $ 78: small ficus tree (casualty of repeatedly tipped over planter)
– $300: neighbor’s yarn stash (don’t ask)

Judging the past year to be typical, how much should Farmer Brown budget per month to replace things Olive and Owl will most likely have their way with in the coming year? 

A). $59      B). $79      C). $99      D). $119  (answer at bottom of post)

From the September 19, 2015 post (Lights! Camera!  Edison!):  A Local Diner Story Problem – 

Art at the Local Diner – The diner is gussying up the place with selected pieces of what some might call art. Of course, they are installing the classic “A Friend in Need” (the rest of us know it as “Dogs Playing Poker”) by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, purchased for $45. A portrait of Elvis on black velvet has also been purchased for $90. Posters of Batman, Superman, and Marilyn Monroe round out the collection, the lot acquired at a garage sale for $10. 

How much has the diner spent on “artwork”? (Heh, heh, the answer is not “zero”.)

A).  $10     B).  $145     C).  $175     D).  $900 

 Money to purchase the exciting wall decor came from the diner’s tabletop jukeboxes. At 25 cents per song, how many songs had to be played before the art could be purchased? 

A).  45     B).  580     C).  850     D).  1,000  (answers at bottom of post)

We take a break from story problem frivolity to present a few notes from the current academic focus:  our “Shining Stars of the 1860’s” unit –

Ely S. Parker – “One Real American – The Life of Ely S. Parker”, by Joseph Bruchac.   A larger-than-life man:  Seneca sachem (which we learned is pronounced “say-chem”, meaning chief), Mason, Civil War General (close aide to General Ulysses S. Grant), competent engineer, skilled writer, diplomat, bi-lingual, you name it.  We love this man and we loved this book.

Abraham Lincoln – “Abraham Lincoln – A Life from Beginning to End”, an Hourly History book by Henry Freeman.  Of course, there are so many books written about Lincoln, but this one speaks to my son’s level of comprehension.  Here is something that caught our attention:  before marrying Lincoln, one of Mary Todd’s previous suitors was NONE OTHER THAN Stephan A. Douglas, YES that Stephan A. Douglas of the Lincoln-Douglas debates!!!!  

Matthew Brady –  “Matthew Brady, Historian with a Camera”, by James D. Horan.  This book includes 450 of Matthew Brady branded photographs (many were taken by his trained assistants).  Totally interesting to us:  a Matthew Brady photograph of Lincoln is used for both the $5 bill and the copper penny.

Harriet Tubman –  “Harriet Tubman – A Life from Beginning to End”, another Hourly History book.  Excellent resource.  This caught our attention:  as Harriet Tubman would guide fugitives along the underground railroad, she would change the tempo of the spiritual “Go Down Moses” to indicate whether it was safe to move forward.  Of course, we had to listen to “Go Down Moses” and consider the parallels between the tasks of Moses and Harriet Tubman:

Back to the party!  What is a festive gathering without a prize drawing? 

I have set up a container for my son to draw three surprise classical music suggestions for Saturday night listening.  I did not know this was going to involve a learning curve – my son does not have the grasp of selecting only three items from the container, but we will get there.  Here are last Saturday’s winners –

“The Hen Symphony” – from Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 in G minor, “The Hen”, movement 4, (1785).  We LOVE this super merry movement and have probably listened to it 15 times so far.  We sort of think we can hear a few measures from “Three Blind Mice” stuck right in the middle:

“Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” – from Handel’s Old Testament-based (Book of Kings and Book of Chronicles) oratorio, “Solomon” (1748).  The 18th century “Englishness” of this piece almost makes us smirk, but then we hear those oboe harmonies and all is forgiven:

“Brandenburg Concerto No. 3” in G major, movement 3 –  from Bach’s 1721 assemblage of the 6 concertos.  Hurries along at a fast clip.  Who can’t like this?

As if two story problems and a surprise drawing for music listening were not enough, there is EVEN MORE partying to come in the next two blog posts! 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  D.  $119, B.  $145,  B.  580 songs)

Our Hour

Class is in session for one hour every single night and my son and I LOVE this time together.  We are focused, fascinated, and leaning forward to learn more.  Here is how we divided up our studies and stories hours this past week:

Before Carl Linnaeus, before Charles Darwin, before John James Audubon:  MARIA MERIAN  (1647-1717), artist/nature observer.  We learned all about Merian in the Sibert Medal 2019 book, “The Girl Who Drew Butterflies”  (Joyce Sidman).  Merian’s meticulous work documenting caterpillars/butterflies/host plants was cited 130 times by Carl Linnaeus in his major opus, “Systema Naturae”.  Maria Merian was the first to bring scholarly attention to the caterpillar-to-butterfly connection.  More, of note:

  • We rolled our eyes:  As a female in her native Germany, Maria Merian was forbidden to study at college, and yet her groundbreaking work was criticized because she was a “self-taught amateur”.  
  • We cheered:  Tsar Peter the Great bought 300 of her original watercolors to start Russia’s first art museum.  My son selected one of her works in poster form for his room:

History Time:  

“The World Jesus Knew – A Curious Kid’s Guide to Life in the First Century”, by Marc Olson/illustrated by Jemima Maybank.  A scholarly work, accented with sly humor.  Here is what caught our attention:

  • Palestine was under the rule of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus.  This was actually a BIG deal – Roman rule infiltrated all aspects of life
  • Because fisherman were in the water so often, they often fished WITH NO CLOTHES ON
  • The Sanhedrin, what was it and how powerful was it?

Learning-about-Careers Time:  

“Vet Academy” (Martin/Keoghan) – My son’s cousin Kelly is a vet (and as far as we are concerned, THE BEST VET), so we thought we should learn more about her world: 

  • My son and I mused over three vet specializations and what each would mean in terms of life-style:  small pets (vet treats animals at local veterinary clinic), farm animals (vet drives all over creation to check on “patients”), or zoo animals (vet essentially lives at the zoo).  
  • Our favorite page of the book was in the zoo animal section:  we learned to distinguish between cheetahs, leopards, and jaguars by examining their spots.  We keep getting smarter.   

Language Arts Time:  


After spending really a lot of time putting together months and months of puzzles, I bought a “Jumble Junior”  book.  Perfect.  

Math Time:  

A Farmer Brown Story Problem – Even though Farmer Brown has a perfectly good rooster to awaken his 8 farmhands, he has been under pressure to purchase an alarm clock for each worker.  Farmer Brown is letting them choose between a digital (vocab) clock ($12) or a vintage analog (vocab) clock ($15).  Three fourths of the farmhands want a digital clock, the rest have ordered the analog.  Total shipping will be $10.  Farmer Brown has budgeted $100 for new clocks, will this cover the costs?  (answer at bottom of post)

Reading for Fun Time:  

Three words:  Hank the Cowdog.  Years ago we read through the gigantic series and we are now revisiting our favorites.  Two weeks ago we read, “The Mopwater Files”.  Last week it was “The Disappearance of Drover”, this week, “The Incredible Priceless Corncob”.  Hank time is Texas-sized smile time.

Arts and Crafts Time:

French curve – We were swerving and curving after I found an envelope of plastic French curve templates that had belonged to my father (an engineer).  Why shouldn’t my son know about Ludwig Burmester’s (a German mathematician) French curves?

Music Appreciation Time:  last night we listened to music for CLOCK-WATCHERS: 

– Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 “The Clock” (movement 2, the “tick-tock movement”) composed in 1794.  Performed competently (and adorably) by the Kawartha (Ontario, CA) Youth Orchestra –

–  Zoltan Kodaly’s “Viennese Music Clock” from his Hungarian folk opera “Háry János” (1926).  A spirited performance, complete with dancing clock, by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra –

– LeRoy Anderson’s “Syncopated Clock”.  This piece was composed in 1945, while Anderson was serving in the US Army, as Chief of Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence (proving that he could do two things at once).  I sort of think that Leroy  Anderson (a brilliant man with a huge sense of humor) would have approved of this kookie performance by the St. Luke’s Bottle Band (and I totally want one of those feathered green hats).  This ensemble is having WAY TOO MUCH FUN –

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