The Cities Book

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)

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It’s all about the triangle

We played “Quiz Show” last night – last week’s studies were so jam packed with quirky facts, they seemed to beg for a quiz.

Did my son know about Euskara?
Did he know about blackout curtains during WWII?
Did he know about altitude sickness?
Did he know about Robin Goodfellow?
Did he know about monsoons?
Did he know which were the fastest muscles in the human body?

quiz

Yes, yes, yes!  And the prize for getting a correct answer???  Wait for it – wait for it – wait for it:  for every correct answer my son got to ding a triangle:  1) the fun never stops at our house, and 2) who wouldn’t focus more diligently, knowing that the merry ding of a triangle was only one correct answer away?

Current studies and books – 

basque books

The Basque Country – first of all, the few books available on the Basque Country seem to be  oriented toward the angry plight of Basque citizens and grievances against their host countries (France and Spain) (mostly Spain) (Hey! I get it, but that is not the direction I want to head – I try to keep the “man’s inhumanity to man” themes away from our study table – my son has enough to deal with).  So, that left us with hardly any books from which to choose (and most of them were cookbooks).  Nonetheless, we are happily reading, “A Basque Diary” by Alex Hallatt (my son really likes the casual reflections in this small book) and the cookbook, “The Basque Book” by  Alexandra Raij.  Both are giving us a feel for this 8,000 square mile area of the western Pyrenees.  By default, we are learning a LOT about Basque food and we are so not eating periwinkles (cute tiny snails) no matter how well seasoned.

midsummer books

Another Professor Astro Cat book – We LOVE the Professor Astro Cat books.  Every page teams non-boring information with turbo-charged graphics.  This book, “Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey”, is the fourth book we’ve read on human anatomy and our attention has finally been captured.  We read two pages a night and end up with more than enough to mull over for the next day.  Last night we had to be grossed out about DEAD SKIN CELLS floating through the air.  Tonight, nose mucus.  Life is good.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – we are re-reading an adaptation, “The Young Reader’s Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Adam McKeown, for one reason only:  to enhance our enjoyment of Felix Mendelssohn’s ridiculously clever “Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  We can hear the beating of the fairy wings and Bottom with his donkey head braying, what else can we hear?  This piece was composed in 1826 when Mendelssohn was SEVENTEEN – music scholar George Grove wrote of the overture: “the greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music”.  So there.

An outstanding performance of the overture by Leipzig’s Gewandhausorchester – where Felix Mendelssohn served as director from 1835 through 1847:


Dinner time at Farmer Brown’s (story problem) to summon the farm hands to supper, Farmer Brown needs to purchase a new “Cowboy style” triangle dinner bell.

triangle dinner bell

He can purchase a cheapy at a well known discount warehouse for $20 or he can commission the local blacksmith to create a heavy duty hand-forged iron triangle for $60.  The $60 triangle is what percentage more costly than the $20 model?  A)  30%     B)  150%     C)  200%     D)  300%  (answer at bottom of post)

 

roosterethics

Ethics Corner – OK, right after I yammered on about staying away from themes of man’s inhumanity to man, I am ambushed with a variation (man’s inhumanity to animals):  in the excellent Lonely Planet “The Cities Book” (the 7.5 pound tome we are almost through) we came across COCKFIGHTING while reading about Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  Well.  First I had to explain what cockfighting was to my son.  Did I try to hide my heartsickness from the explanation?  No.  So, question to my son:  what do we think about cockfighting?  Is this an OK thing?  NO!  Are there any circumstances where this would be an OK thing?  NO!  Thank you.

Our music last night – we were so enthused by the the magic of the triangle during our quiz show that we decided to listen to compositions showcasing this simplest of instruments:

triangle

  •   Beethoven’s “Turkish March”, composed in 1809.  This short piece is played at a very fast clip (we LOVE this pace) by the Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra.  The sound of the triangle is woven throughout the piece to evoke the sound of exotic Ottoman Janissary Bands (oh my gosh we learned what Janissary Bands were!):

  • Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4 in E minor”, movement 3.  This symphony premiered in 1885.  We have listened to this movement several times, enjoying how it alternates between sounding like a wild west theme and a royal fanfare.  The triangle sparkles throughout the piece:

  • “Theme from The Pink Panther”  written in 1963 by Henry Mancini.  Nothing but the sound of the triangle was good enough to introduce this piece:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
story problem answer:  D) 300%

April, at last

welcome mat

March was really a long month, full of planned and abrupt schedule changes.  A beloved grandmother, “The Peach” passed on (so many tears) – a cousin got married (adorable) – an iPad got lost in the TSA security screening at LAX (oh no, oh no, oh no) – and there was the daylight-savings time switch (ugh).  Not a dream month for an autism family, but STUDIES AND STORIES times were a constant, and that helped.

happy faceTSAhappy face

The “Lost and Found” department – this was a new concept for my son. (What? Hotels, schools, grocery stores, gas stations and the like are equipped to deal with people losing things?????  This is so handy!)  And happy, happy day!  The lost iPad turned up within 24 hours in the TSA “Lost and Found” office, and with a minimum of paperwork, was in a box on its way to our home in Texas.  Cheers cheers cheers TSA!  Their lost and found system really works!  Excellent!

geography books.jpg

Reporting from “The Cities Book” (a Lonely Planet publication) – reading about two cities per night, we are one third of the way through this book – the locations are presented in alphabetical order and we are just about through the “K’s”.  We scamper all over our globe finding each night’s destinations (this is actually kind of fun).  We are also interested in each city’s:

Primary Exports – some of the better conversation starters:
– Asmara, Eritrea – salt
– Baku, Azerbaijan – pomegranate juice
– Hamburg, Germany – Steinway pianos
– all cities on the equator – coffee

Observed Weaknesses – again, some of the better conversation starters:
– Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – bugged hotel rooms (yikes)
– Dhaka, Bangladesh – polluted waterways (yikes)
– Christchurch, New Zealand – situated on a major tectonic fault line (yikes)
– Florence, Italy – pigeons everywhere (yikes)

More geography – “The Philippines, Islands of Enchantment”, by Yuson and Tapan.  Side story:  It would be impossible to find a kinder heart, a more dedicated worker, a more mechanically adept young man than the super fantastic Ogie M, who cared for “The Peach” (grandmother supreme) for the final 10 years of her life.  Upon her recent passing, Ogie returned to his family in the Philippines.  So this has propelled my son and I to begin a Philippines unit with a book filled with beautiful photographs and decided opinions (this is not a “let’s pretend everything is perfect” book).  We are getting our first glimpse of this tropical paradise of 80 dialects (vocab) and 7,000 islands.

violin book

We thought we knew about violins.  We knew NOTHING.  This is changing:  we are reading “The Violin Maker”, by John Marchese.  Every night we get smarter and smarter, learning about:

Cremona, Italy, home to Stradivari and Guarneri, rival luthiers (vocab) of the early 1700’s who produced stringed instruments of astounding quality that remain highly sought after and extremely valuable to this day.
Sam Zygmuntowicz, recognized expert violin maker and stringed instrument historian extraordinaire.
The Emerson String Quartet (or “ The Emerson”), and specifically, quartet member Eugene Drucker for whom Sam Z has been commissioned to create a violin.
Bach’s compositions for the violin – and most emphatically stressed, the final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D minor, “the Chaconne” (composed around 1720).  This piece is the gold standard for the crushing relentlessness of loss, despair, and grief – I think my son and I are a bit too immature for this, but we did give it a try (and we listened to the best):    

 

Classical Music Time – well, duh, we had to listen to more music that showcased the violin:

From The Emerson String Quartet   we always like listening to The Emerson’s (we are so in-the-know now) recording of Alexander Borodin’s “String Quartet No. 2 in D”, composed in 1881 (perhaps better known as music used in the 1953 American musical, “Kismet”, for which Borodin won a Tony, posthumously (vocab)):

The perfection of a performance by Itzhak Perlman – when we are tired, Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” (1880), movement 1, soothes us:

Thank you good friend Amy S for suggesting that my son and I would love “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka” (1900).  The performance by Joshua Bell clutches our hearts:

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

Meanwhile…

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.

globe

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.

herbs

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)