The Birds

…and in conclusion

– Farewell 2018 – 

Books that made the biggest impact with my son this past year –

books best 18

  • “The Erie Canal” by Martha E. Kendall  (surprisingly interesting)
  • “The Violin Maker” by John Marchese  (surprisingly interesting)
  • “The Cities Book”, a Lonely Planet book  (the lengthiest book we’ve ever tackled, but worthy of our perseverance)
  • “The War that Saved by Life” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley  (we learned so much about the daily struggles of British civilians during WWII)
  • “The Right Word (Roget and his Thesaurus)” by Jennifer Bryant and Melissa Sweet  (the most beautifully illustrated book we read this past year)

What we are reading now – 

space book

“Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius Guide to Dinosaurs” – well researched, cleverly organized, hilarious.  And now we know:

  • the complexity of dealing with dinosaur fossils (which we learned have been found on EVERY continent)
  • the main types of dinosaur skeletal structure (lizard hipped and bird hipped)
  • dinosaur IQ (really, really low.  really low)
  • how dinosaurs became extinct (FREAKY HEARTBREAKER)
  • to mull on:  dinosaurs lived on the earth for 150 MILLION YEARS (becoming extinct 65 million years ago), yet the first dinosaur bone was not officially recognized and identified until 1824.  So, it is interesting to consider that (for example) our USA founding fathers had no idea that their world was once anything other than as they experienced it.

“Professor Astro Cat’s SPACE ROCKETS” by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman.  My son and I like to keep abreast of current outer space exploration – astronauts, telescopes, space probes – but we have never considered how astronauts, telescopes, space probes actually get into outer space.  This book has the answers  (and who can’t be fascinated by the engineering genius of space rockets?  And we keep laughing about the very first earthly inhabitants to journey by rocket to outer space (FRUIT FLIES) (we actually want more info about the fruit flies – how many did they send?  did they reproduce?  how many came back alive?).  The book’s content is really pared down, but the information comes across clearly (and we haven’t gotten this information anywhere else), so KUDOS Walliman and Newman ONCE AGAIN).  

BTW – the books of Ken Jennings and Walliman/Newman always make a big impact with my son.

dog santa hat

Story Problem – Early in December, Le Fictitious Local Diner cordoned off their parking lot and hosted a Holiday Pet Parade, complete with diner-made treats baked for all participants and a photographer to commemorate the event.  50 families each brought a pet dressed in holiday finery.

  • If 80% brought a dog wearing a Santa hat, how many dogs in Santa hats were in the parade?
  • If one family brought a turtle wearing teeny reindeer antlers, the turtle was what percentage of the parade?  
  • If 8 families brought cats wearing doll sweaters, what percentage of the parade was causing a snarling uproar? 
  • If there were exactly 50 pets in the parade, and the pets were either dogs, cats, turtles or birds, how many parakeets in cages with twinkly lights were in the festive procession? (answers at bottom of post)

Sweet Endings (actually, SUITE endings) – last night’s classical music listening:

My son and I always enjoy a piece of classical music that takes us by surprise with a non-traditional ending –  such as Elgar’s “The Wild Bears”, Smetana’s “The Moldau”, and John Williams’ “The Imperial March”.  To bring 2018 to a sweet ending we chose compositions with quirky conclusions from three different suites:

  • The Dove, from Ottorino Respighi’s orchestral suite, “The Birds” (1828).  A somber, reflective piece with a most delicious, elegant swirl of an ending:

  • Mercury, from Gustav Holst’s suite, “The Planets” (1916).  Mercury, the Messenger God, zooms erratically all over the universe and at the end of the short piece, quietly fades away with an utter lack of fanfare:

  • On the Trail, from Ferde Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite” (1931).  We found an excellent recording from the NY Philharmonic that accompanies an engaging video featuring the Grand Canyon MULES.  But back to the music –  the abrupt ending is perfection:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
Story problem answers:  40 dogs, 2%, 16%, 1 parakeet

Finishing Touches

Finished:   Lonely Planet’s “The Cities Book”, AKA “The Seven and a Half Pound Book that is also a Weapon”.   Our plan was to tackle two cities a night and we did!  We ended up taking 200 trips around our globe and it was sort of exhilarating to find every single location.

globe and book

A few final observations:

  • really old cities:  
    • Lisbon – since 1,000 BC
    • both Mecca and Jerusalem – since 2,000 BC 
    • Nicosia – since 2,500 BC
    • Dubai – since 3,000 BC
    • Amman – since 3,500 BC 
    • Shanghai – since 3,900 BC
  • altitude sickness possibility:  Lhasa/Tibet, Santa Fe/New Mexico, Cuzco/Peru
  • city built upon coral:  Male, Maldives
  • cities really close to active volcanoes:  Kagoshima/Japan and Arequipa/Peru
  • world’s steepest residential street:  Baldwin Street (with a 35% grade), Dunedin, New Zealand.  (yes, we compared it to San Francisco’s Lombard Street; sorry, only a 27% grade)
  • cities my son and I would like to visit based solely upon the two page spread in the book:
    • Ljubljana, Slovenia (fairy tale charm with early morning fog making the “weakness” list)
    • Muscat, Oman (pristine beauty)

Finished:   Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s simply excellent book, “The War that Saved My Life”.  I wanted my son to spend a little time reflecting upon how well conceived and well written this book was, so I had him fill out a report card.  I talked about each category before he decided upon a grade.  This book is so deserving of its 2016 Newbery Honor Book award.

report card

Of course, a story problem:  A Vegetable Tasting at Farmer Brown’s:

sugar snap peas

Farmer Brown has put out trays of cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and turnips because he is hosting a vegetable tasting for local school children (specifically, Ms. Becque’s and Ms. Lesh’s picky first graders).  (There are 18 students in each class.)
Results:

Ms. Becque’s class vegetables Ms. Lesh’s class
6 tastes cauliflower chunks 12 tastes
12 tastes sugar snap peas 18 tastes
9 tastes turnip slices with dip 3 tastes

1)  which class had the pickiest eaters?
2)  what percentage of Ms. Becque’s class tried turnips?
3)  what percentage of Ms. Lesh’s class tried cauliflower?
4)  the school district will will have the greatest chance of getting kids to eat vegetables if they purchase which vegetable from Farmer Brown? (answers at bottom of post)

moon

Finishing up the day – we always end each STORIES AND STUDIES session with 3 pieces of classical music.  Unless I have a very specific theme for the evening (like “The Anvil as Musical Instrument” or “Circus Music Classics” – see “Our Music Themes” in title block), I try to promote drowsiness by selecting something soothing for the final selection.  Something like these:

  • Song to the Moon, from the opera “Rusalka” (1901), Antonin Dvorak
  • The Flower Duet, from the opera “Lakmé” (1883), Leo Delibes
  • The Little Train of the Caipira (1930), Heitor Villa-Lobos
  • Scottish Fantasy, movement 1 (1880), Max Bruch
  • Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, movement 3, (1798), Luigi Boccherini
  • Sailing By, (1963), Ronald Binge

or these:

  • The Dove, from “The Birds” (1928), Ottorino Respighi.  This is the very recording we’ve been listening to for years on our iPod. The best parts:  the cooing of the dove throughout the piece, and the ending (just splendid):

  • Theme from “Out of Africa” (1986), John Barry.  We listen specifically for distant rolling thunder brought to us by the timpani:

  • Nimrod, from “The Enigma Variations” (1899), Sir Edward Elgar.  Dignified and sobering.  An adaptation of Nimrod was used in the score for the 2017 movie, “Dunkirk”.  No better choice:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1)  Ms. Becque’s class,  2)  50%,  3)  66%,  4)  sugar snap peas)

The Sweet Life

honeycomb

Sweeter than honey – I think this is our fourth bee study unit – we must so close to earning some sort of bee scholarship certificate – but who could resist the utterly giant, INYOURFACE “Bees – A Honeyed History” by Piotr Socha – AND – the book is even better than I anticipated.  We’re only half way through, but we’ve learned more than we knew previously about

swarming – bees and bears – bees and Napoleon – the waggle dance (!!!)
honey as a preservative – St. Ambrose (patron saint of bees) – pollination

Tonight: how to construct a beehive!  Clever graphics compliment the broad spectrum of bee topics addressed.  We just love this book. There is no other choice but to give it an A+.

bee book

“Wonder” IS wonderful – If you walk into any major book store you cannot miss R.J. Palacio’s prominently displayed book, “Wonder”.  The hype is not overdone.  This is a deeply thought-provoking read, with short chapters that grab your heart.  The author tackles several different points of view with authentic insight.  What a story.  What a privilege to work through this book with my son. (We know the “Wonder” movie is premiering this month.  Alas, our movie theater experiences have not been too positive, so thank heavens we have the book.)

AfricaCountriesMap

Africa Calls – We have the most interesting and inspirational friend (yes, you, SLC) who serves as a school director in Guinea, Africa.  Lucky, lucky school.  (Sidebar – if I lived anywhere near and had school-age children, they would be enrolled in that school SO FAST).

But to the point:
Here is what my son and I know about Guinea: NOTHING.
Here is what we know about Africa: VERY LITTLE.
– the atrocities of the Congo Free State (late 1800’s) under the shameful King Leopold II of Belgium
– a bit about ancient Egypt
– Dr. Livingston’s travels and his meeting up with Henry Morton Stanley on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871

Shouldn’t we know a LOT more about Africa?

  • We are starting with another “Lonely Planet – Not for Parents” book, this one, “Africa – Everything you wanted to know”.  Already we’ve discussed the ridiculously huge Sahara Desert (and compared it to the size of the Amazon rain forest), wildebeest migration patterns, cannibals (!), African colonization, insects as snacks (we are so not eating bugs as snacks), cheetahs, and the very first heart transplant.
  • We have compared a currant African country map with an African country map from 60 years ago.
  • We have just begun reading “I Will Always Write Back” (this title makes me burst into tears), by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch.  This is a story about pen pals (vocab), one in Pennsylvania and one is Zimbabwe, who began their correspondence in 1997.

We now know where Guinea and Zimbabwe are.  Let the Africa unit begin!

donuts

Sweet Students for Sweet Seniors (a Local Diner story problem) The local junior high is hosting a “Design your own Donut” breakfast at Le Fictitious Local Diner, to raise funds for a Thanksgiving party they are planning for the senior citizens center.  It will cost the diner $750 to serve 1,000 donuts with 15 topping choices. Once costs are met, the diner will give all remaining money taken in to the school.  If a “donut and topping experience” will be priced at $3, and all donuts are sold, how much money will the junior high have raised for their Senior Citizen Center Thanksgiving party?
A)  $750    B) $1,000    C) $2,250    D) $3,000

If everyone purchases two donuts each, and half of these people order up a cup of hot chocolate (priced at $2) to enhance the sugar high, how much money will the diner gross from hot chocolate sales?
A)  $200    B) $500    C) $750    D) $2,000

Gli_uccelli_score_respighi

Suite Music – I wanted to solidify in my son’s mind the concept of an orchestral suite and how it differs from a symphony or concerto.  If you are like my son’s grandmother, The Peach, and you have no idea what a suite is, we like to compare a suite to a book of short stories by a single author – each story stands alone, yet the entire collection resonates with the author’s style.  What composer better to turn to than Ottorino Respighi – really such a suite master:

“Pines of Rome” – “The Birds” – “The Fountains of Rome”
“Church Windows” – “Brazilian Impressions” – “Ancient Airs and Dances”

My son and I happen to like “The Cuckoo” from his “The Birds” suite (composed in 1928), so instead of listening to one movement from several suites, I decided we should listen to 3 of the 5 movements from this one work – so we could hear how each movement is complete in itself, yet all three have the Respighi touch (a very clean sound, exquisite attention to his subject matter).

“The Dove”, movement 2 from Respighi’s “The Birds”.  We listened for the cooing of the dove and the magical ending.  The music starts after about a minute-long introduction from the conductor:

“The Hen”, movement 3.  Nailed it:

“The Cuckoo”, movement 5 (We like to count the “cuckoo” sounds – SO many crammed into this 4 minute piece.)  Such a sparkling performance by the youth orchestra from the Bachmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv (and yet check out the bored stiff audience – how could this happen?):

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

(story problem answers:  C) $2,250;  B) $500)

Things that go bump in the night

beebee raccoons

Our Easter Evening Event:  As our family gathered to reflect upon a lovely Easter day, tranquility was interrupted by sudden bumps and scraping sounds coming from the attic. A quick look revealed a mama raccoon tending sweet, sweet “kits” amid the attic insulation.  This propelled my son and me to begin a mini-study on raccoons.  We found out that they are native to North America, they are “omnivores”, and they are “nocturnal” (that is why we didn’t hear them moving around during the day).  A happy ending to the day:  new vocab words for my son, and mama and babies are now enjoying their new home in a safe wooded area of the local golf course.

We thought the phrase, “things that go bump in the night” perfectly described our Easter Evening Event.  We learned that the words come from an old Scottish prayer –

“From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-legged beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!”

Zigzag Learning (where we let one topic lead us to another at lightning speed): Julia Rothman’s excellent book, “Nature Anatomy” started the learning chain this time. We were looking at her illustrations of butterflies, and we took particular notice of a “swallowtail” butterfly. My son needed to know why swallowtail butterflies were called swallowtail butterflies.

 swallowtail     swallows white background     capistrano swallows     swallowtail tux

  • So first, we looked at several photos of swallows. We saw how the birds’ pointy, forked feather tails could easily have inspired the animal naming committee to call butterflies with the tiny drip on the hindwings, “swallowtails”.
  • Then, we decided to read about the swallows of the San Juan Capistrano Mission (with a short-side trip to learn a bit about the California mission system). We found out that the swallows spend the winter in Argentina and the summer in southern California.
  • So now, we had to locate Argentina on the globe, and think about the iron-strong muscles in the birds’ wings, that allow them to fly the 6,000 miles.
  • Finally, we had to see how the swallows have had their way in fashion: we looked at men’s clothing from the Victorian era – the formal tailcoat, with “cutaway”, “swallowtail” or “morning coat” options.

That’s a lot of learning from one little butterfly.

Our music theme for last night – “Cuckoo for Music”. We considered the two-note cuckoo motif and then listened to three neat compositions:

  • “Organ Concerto No. 13 (The Cuckoo and the Nightingale)”, movement 2, by Handel (1740).  About one minute twenty seconds into the movement you can definitely make out the cuckoo motif.  This piece really moves right along. Classic Handel.  Fabulous pipe organ in this video!

  • “Symphony 6 (The Pastoral)”, movement 2, by Beethoven (1808). This is a long movement (around 13 minutes of happy, relaxing gorgeousness) (and this video clip has Leonard Bernstein conducting and one should NEVER miss an opportunity to watch Bernstein conduct).  The bird sounds aren’t evident until the final minute, but so worth the wait (or one could be the type of person that fast-forwards to the final minute) (your secret is safe with us, because maybe we have felt compelled to fast-forward upon occasion).

  • “The Birds”, movement 5 (The Cuckoo), by Respighi (1928). Here is what we like to do: count the number of times we hear the cuckoo motif. Try somewhere around 70 times, in the short span of 4 minutes.  This is an absolute jewel of a piece.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

Farm Fresh

farm book   cupolas

We have a new “IT” book: “Farm Anatomy” by Julia Rothman, published in 2011. Many, many aspects of farm life are competently presented with brief text and skillful illustrations.  As per usual, we are studying only two pages at a time.   The past few nights we’ve learned about crop rotation, windbreaks, and barn design.  This book is a jewel!

We continue with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:  Last night we read about Titania awakening (under a spell) and falling immediately and deeply in love with Nick Bottom (who at this point was sporting the donkey head).  LOVE THIS.  Meanwhile, a troop of actors is rehearsing their version of Ovid’s “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the Duke’s wedding, so we took a side trip to Wikipedia to see what “Pyramus and Thisbe” was really all about.  What a pleasure to slowly savor this complicated masterpiece.

 red pastel

We take time for art: we have been getting messy with pastels! We are using Prismacolor’s Nupastels.  Good for working on finger-motor control, fun to see what happens when one color crosses on top of another color.

Last night’s Farmer Brown Story Problem: “Farmers’ Friendly Mercantile”, the huge farm supply store in town, is having a 40%-Off-Everything-Sale AND Farmer Brown has a “15% off!” coupon for the FFM tucked in his wallet, so now is the perfect time to purchase heavy winter coats for his 8 farm hands.  If each jacket originally sells for $120, how much will Farmer Brown pay for the 8 coats (assuming both discounts will be honored), before tax is added?

chickens

Our music theme last night was “Melodies from the Chicken Coop”! We listened to:

  • Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 (1785), dubbed “The Hen” – many of Haydn’s symphonies ended up with nicknames usually due to some VERY SMALL rhythmic or melodic reference. In this case, “hen sounds” are found about a minute and a half into the first movement.  BTW, this performance by Camerata Bern (a Bern, Switzerland chamber orchestra that does not use a conductor) is outstanding.

  • “The Hen”, from “The Birds” (1928), a suite for small orchestra by Ottorino Respighi.  This short piece is wonderfully successful at transposing the sounds of chicken squawks and that jerky back-and-forth movement of the hen’s heads into music.  (Well, that was a long awkward sentence, but you get the idea?)

  • “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little”, from “The Music Man” (1957) by Meredith Willson.  This song is a hen party set to music – the gossiping town ladies sound like clucking hens and the bobbing feathers on their large hats accentuate the impression.

  • “Chicken Reel” was originally composed by Joseph M. Daly in 1910. In 1946, LeRoy Anderson arranged “Chicken Reel” for full orchestra, and did he ever gild the lily! Hysterical perfection. Watch out! The inmates are running the asylum!

 Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH