Susan Middleton

Affordable Housing Forever

crab 1 crab 2 crab 3

Our study of invertebrates concluded with an in-depth look at hermit crabs, one of nature’s super-star recyclers.  My son learned that hermit crabs take over shells left behind by snails…the snail dies and disintegrates, but the shell remains in prime condition for hundreds and hundreds of years.  As the hermit crab grows, he houses himself in larger and larger shells.  We learned that the posterior of the hermit crab is soft and curvy so it can easily back into a shell (miraculous and yet, a teeny bit repulsive).  We bid a regretful farewell to Susan Middleton’s book, “Spineless”.  Terrific resource.

Our Farmer Brown story problem last night – we calculated the number of stitches in a pair of striped boot-socks that Farmer Brown just knit for himself (seriously, more than 6,000 stitches).

A new unit! Chemistry.  I need a pair of Farmer Brown’s socks because I am quaking in my boots about this chemistry unit.  I did serve as a lab assistant for my high school chemistry teacher, but as I recall, my primary responsibility was to manage donut orders for all of the science teachers. We are using a DK book, so I know the images will be fantastic.  We’ll just see how this goes.

Maestro Matching – I gave my son two matching tests last night – first we matched symphony composers with famous compositions. Then I gave my son a list of composers and he placed them in chronological order.  Yay!  A+.

 drucker

Music: Last night was VIRTUOSO NIGHT showcasing clarinetist Stanley Drucker! While listening to “Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin” on the car radio last week, we heard Mr. McGlaughlin talk about clarinet player, Stanley Drucker.  AWESOMENESS: in 1948, at age 19, Stanley Drucker was appointed principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (let’s just think about THAT for a moment), and he retired in 2009.  The math: Stanley Drucker served as principal clarinetist for the NYPO for 60+ years!!!!!!!! (this really calls for 60 exclamation points!).  This is the sort of thing that grabs our attention, and listening to him play flew to the top of our priority list.

  • First, a short youtube video celebrating his 60 year tenure with the NYPO:

  • Then we listened to Mr. Drucker play Brahms’ “Clarinet Sonata No. 1 in F Minor”.
  • Then we listened to the “Doppio Movimento” movement (the “Simple Gifts” variation) of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, played by the NYPO.  The clarinet is paramount in this piece.
  • Finally, we watched a show-stopping performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, with Leonard Bernstein conducting AND playing the piano, and Stanley Drucker beginning the piece as no one else could:

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

In Which We Learn about the Cambrian Explosion

We have a gorgeous book to nominate for textbook status: “Spineless” by Susan Middleton.  Along with her jaw-dropping photographs, this book absolutely burgeons with interesting information.  Last night, after learning about the phylum Porifera, I was starting to close the book when my son’s hand came slapping down onto the page, meaning quite vehemently, THIS IS AWESOME, KEEP READING!

spineless    crab

This book has introduced us to our favorite crab: the green-eyed red-spotted guard crab. Not only is this crab THE CUTEST THING EVER, but it is one of only two species that protect coral reefs from the destructive HORRIBLE crown-of-thorns starfish. And we are learning about THE CAMBRIAN EXPLOSION (a short period of time, some 540 million years ago, when animal life diversity jumped from simple, single celled beings and humble sponges toward today’s insanely vast animal assortment). And if that wasn’t enough, we are becoming familiar with new vocab words, “phyla” and “phylum”. GREAT BOOK!

better stamp book     washington stamp

We go postal:  did my son understand how a valentine card from his Aunt Michelle made its way from California to Texas?  We talked about the basic postal system and about stamps.  We considered the neat concept of the “forever” stamp.  We paged through his grandfather’s stamp collection (put together in the 1930’s).  We saw stamps from the 1800’s and we thought about what somebody could have been writing in a letter then…regarding the current president? Farm crops? Holiday felicitations?  We paused to look closely at stamps from countries that have different names now.  What a splendid learning tool.

From our religions of the world unit: last night we looked at beautiful Islamic mosaics – a triumph of geometric shapes, and compared this artwork with intricate stained glass windows from an Anglican cathedral.  Both stunning.

Last night’s music theme: a soundtrack for the Cambrian Explosion!

  • For the single celled amoeba – “Simple Gifts”, the 19th century Shaker hymn, written by Joseph Brackett.  We listened to a very spare and simple rendition by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss.  Elegant.
  • For the green-eyed red-spotted guard crab, we chose Frank Sinatra’s first big hit, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”  by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke (1940).
  • To honor the Cambrian Explosion, the finale to “1812 Overture”, by Tchaikovsky:

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Barely Scraping By

green radargreen radargreen radar

I think I can put my finger upon one of the reasons I was barely scraping by (as far as grades go) in high school. SKIMMING. When I had to read something I was not interested in (i.e. textbooks), I SKIMMED.  My eyes were like radar screens, rapidly scanning every page for ANYTHING AT ALL that might prove interesting.  I evidently missed a great deal of information.  Cutting to the present: when I read aloud to my son, I wouldn’t dream of skimming.  And guess what? I am learning all kinds of stuff I probably should have learned during my formative years.   So, silver lining time:  my son learns something new and I learn something new, too.  I am grateful.

Current non-fiction studies: world religions – last night we were reading about Buddhism (“Usborne Book of Religions of the World”: A+), and non-vertebrate marine life – so elegantly photographed (“Spineless” by Susan Middleton: A+).

Current fiction: “Hatchet”, by Gary Paulsen (this is our third time through, and it is still riveting and important).

quill pen

Contemplating the quill pen: My son and I are learning about quill pens – the writing instrument of choice until the mid 1800s – so we thought we would try writing with one.  Holy cow, what a colossal mess! BLOTCH. DRIP. SPLOTCH.  Of course we had the cheapest of the cheap feather pen sets, so this may have been the problem (seriously, this WAS the problem), but it brought us to a new appreciation of documents such as the Declaration of Independence, which were handwritten with a quill pen. What an elegant hand penned the Declaration – not one inkblot or drip.

declaration    blotches

Last night’s story problem from “Le Fictitious Local Diner” – During the cold and flu season, townspeople flock to the diner to purchase quart upon quart of chicken soup to bring home. The diner uses organic chicken, celery, carrots and onions to make their soup and can make a gallon for $12.00. They sell a quart for $8.00. Each year the diner manages to sell 200 quarts of the chicken soup. What is their profit?

Last night’s music theme – “Summertime”.  This past week, the outside temp hovered around 30 degrees.  We needed to think about weather that was at least 50 degrees warmer, so we listened to –

  • “Summer” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, composed around 1720. (needs no comment)
  • “Fireflies” from Amy Beach, composed in 1892. This piano piece sparkles. It is one of our favorites.
  • “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (1935). We listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing – wow. Wow. Wow.
  • “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry, obviously not a melody that can compete with the others we listened to, and yet, this could be the consummate summer-vacation song.  Ridiculously rambunctious fun.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH