The Iliad

Caw Caw Caw

Bird Watching –  There were only about 500 crows cawing their heads off in one of our trees last week, and what did my son and I know about these screeching black beauties?  Not one thing.  The remedy:  Pamela S. Turner’s book, “Crow Smarts – Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird” (and HEY! we’ve already learned something from the book title).  Written in casual conversational style, Turner’s readers join a field study on the island of New Caledonia to observe these terrifically astute birds.  So far, the focus for judging crow intelligence is TOOL USE.  So far, the crows are using tools (leaf stems) to “fish” for grubs (beetle larvae) nestled in an old log (and I am once again gagging for the cause of scholarship).

“How Animals Build” A mere sampling of what’s captured our attention from this Lonely Planet Kids book: 

  • on the home front – a few days ago my son and I spotted a rabbit hopping about our backyard.  Thanks to “How Animals Build” we knew this might mean that UNDER our very trees and ivy and general chaos, there could be a RABBIT WARREN – a whole city of activity, complex travel patterns, escape hatches, and HQ for 20 rabbits.  (Since we’ve only seen one rabbit, maybe the warren is under a neighbor’s backyard).  We’re keeping our eyes open.
  • nine thousand miles away (and I am not sorry about this)Termitariums (termite mounds) –  found throughout the African savanna, these massive architectural marvels are constructed by those teeny insects.  Termites must be busy as bees, but where bees have three different work ranks (queen, worker, and drone), termites have SEVEN work ranks that comprise their productive team (oh, the information we are accumulating from “How Animals Build”).  My son and I paused to consider whether we would be interested in being a scientist who studies termites.

Maybe our academic achievement of the year –  OH MY GOSH, we finally finished “The Iliad”.  In our concluding conversation (meaning me talking on and on and my son letting me talk on and on) we agreed that one reason “The Iliad” makes for superior reading is Homer’s surprising fairness in presenting bad and good about both Greeks and Trojans.  First we root for the Greeks, then we root for the Trojans, then the Greeks, the the Trojans – up to the epilogue (vocab) we didn’t know which side Homer favored.  What a long, but instructive read.

tom gates iliad

Antidote for “The Iliad” – After reading about fatal wounds, hatred, sorrow, revenge, and blood thirsty battle after battle after battle, it is a relief to have our attention captured by an old friend (Tom Gates of Liz Pichon’s series) who’s preoccupied with figuring out how to stockpile caramel cookies and avoid doing homework.  We are smiling our way through “Family, Friends, and Furry Creatures”.  

The Cranberry Sauce Story Problem   Early in November, Le Fictitious Local Diner hosted a FREE cranberry sauce class for all local high school students (so they would have SOMETHING to contribute to the holiday meal besides attitude).  180 students showed up to the class.  If each student needed 1 cup of sugar to mix with the cranberries and water, and there are 2.25 cups of sugar to the pound, how many pounds of sugar were needed for the class?  (to be worked without paper and pencil)
A.  80 pounds     B.  180 pounds     C.  225 pounds     D.  360 pounds  (answer at bottom of post)

Classics rather than Classical – the music to bid farewell to November:

  • Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag of 1899.  My son and I talked about the concept of “royalties”:  for every sheet music copy sold of the super famous Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin earned 1 cent  (apparently this provided a steady if not overwhelming income): 

  • The wildly popular Shine On Harvest Moon written in 1908 by husband and wife team Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth.  Most recorded versions are sung ballad style (which makes me crazy – so dang slow).  So we listened to the full-of-pep vintage 1950’s recording by The Four Aces:

  • The contemplative Thanksgiving by George Winston, composed in 1982.  Perfect for a night’s final listening selection:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  A.  80 pounds of sugar)

Ancient History

Are we Ancient Egypt experts yet?   My son and I are mid-way through another Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius book – this one on “ANCIENT EGYPT”.  Of course, we’ve learned A LOT about pyramids, the Nile River, the 2,000+ gods of ancient Egypt (each with an animal head), sacred bees, bugs, hippos, cats,  but last night was THE BEST:  

BECAUSE WE READ ABOUT EMBALMING RITUALS!!! (which we learned were rather like spa days for the deceased).  Pages and pages of unappetizing-yet-can’t-look-away information about removing organs, packing corpses with salt, and wrapping, wrapping, wrapping.  As a surprise bonus, we learned how to make mummy snacks using a tube of dough and hotdogs (awful/awesome/still laughing).

ALSO:  we now know we do not want to encounter THE EYE OF RA in any dark alleyway.  

Ken Jennings’ books never disappoint.

3,000 years old and still spellbinding – Yay Homer! – The Iliad and The Odyssey are the oldest surviving examples of Greek literature and WE are sitting at the edge of our seats enthralled with stories that have enthralled how many generations before us? (generations – discussion topic)   We’ve finished The Odyssey and we’ve started The Iliad.  Last night was just excellent reading:   a fierce battle between Ajax, representing the Greeks, and Hector, representing the Trojans, resulting in a draw (vocab).  The retelling of these stories by Gillian Cross is superb; the complex, really weird illustrations by Neil Packer are perfection.

It was time for another GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ (based on ANYTHING we have studied in the past)   My son is enthusiastic and focused whenever I present a quiz – I think he likes chance to reveal his super sharp memory:   

Autumn at the Diner story problem – for the months of October and November, the diner is offering dense, spicy gingerbread cake topped with a thick lemon sauce and whipped cream.  The cake can be ordered by the individual square for $4 – OR – an entire cake may be purchased (for taking home) for $15.  For each month, diner management is projecting to sell 500 squares and 80 cakes.  If the cake is so delicious and in such demand that the sales are double the projections, how much money will the diner have grossed on gingerbread cake sales for the two months?  (answer at bottom of post)

The ancient call to the sea – I have no idea why our nightly book stack always seems to include something that transports us to the high seas.  Must be in the DNA.  Crazy.  This week it is Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  We are a few chapters into our abridged version of Moby-Dick – we’ve met Ishmael and Queequeg, and we are liking the pace of the book.  I did compare the abridged version with the Melville’s original, which is way, way, way too wordy for my son.

Controversy on the high seas –  

We foolishly thought all sailor type songs came under the umbrella of “sea shanties”.  WELL.  Whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry on Sea Shanties was firm and unwavering:  

  • A shanty is a work song, to establish rhythm for group tasks that involve HEAVING or HAULING (vocab:  not so much the hauling part, but definitely the heaving part).  
  • A sea song is for the general entertainment of sailors after work is done.  GOT THAT?

Now we had to decide if the following were shanties or sea songs:

Jack’s the Lad” aka “The Sailors’ Hornpipe” – the classic SEA SONG – my son knows it from the Disney cartoon staring Goofy as sailor.  It is documented that Captain Cook ordered his sailors to dance the hornpipe to keep fit:

Heave Away” – obviously a SHANTY, said to be sung by Indian Ocean whalers of the 1840s.  We became familiar with “Heave Away” from the current Broadway show, “Come From Away”.  If ever there were a song that makes you want to sing along, this is it:

The Maid of Amsterdam” aka “A’Roving” – a SEA SONG, said to have been sung as early as 1630.  When I attended UCLA in the mid 1970’s, this song was an enthusiastic staple of the Men’s Glee:

Blow the Man Down” – a well known SHANTY from the 1860’s, used to set the rhythm for hauling:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  $12,800)

Did absence make the heart grow fonder?

Good heavens!  Over six weeks since last I reported in.  Did ya miss me?  My goal is to write and post every other week, but my son and I have been slogging through months of disruptive routines – our stories and studies times have been cut short and I have so much less to write about.  Not happy about this, but there you have it.

odyssey ithaka

The Odyssey – we are coming to the end of Gillian Cross’s superb retelling of Homer’s ancient adventure poem.  As we bid farewell to this book we will discuss C.P. Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaca” and its Odyssey references.  Next up: “The Iliad” (which, if I had been a more aware scholar, we should have read first.  Darn.).

citrus

We are Citrus Savvy – it seems like we always have a book in the nightly line-up about sailors, pirates, the sea and such, and one cannot read about sailors, pirates, the sea and such without reading about the SCOURGE OF SCURVY and the importance of citrus.  So, after reading through the Wikipedia entry on citrus, we got out the pastels.

cat paw and dollar

There is always time for a  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

classical music

Classical Music:  How I am able to act like I know what I am talking about –

  • ClassicFM.com – a hip website that makes you feel like you are sitting at the cool kids’ table at lunch.  The graphics, clever topics, quizzes, surveys, contests, video links – all VERY COOL.  
  • The Great Courses – (college level courses offered on DVD, etc, through thegreatcourses.com) so far, I have taken 17 of 26 music history courses taught by the organized, captivating, and hilarious Dr. Robert Greenberg.  These classes have had enormous influence on the classical music experience I share with my son.
  • Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin  – an hour-long radio show broadcast 5 times a week, full of entertaining anecdotes from decades of Mr. McGlaughlin’s music profession memories.  If my son and I are in the drive-thru lane of “In-N-Out” at 7pm we are tuned to “Exploring Music”.
  • Wikipedia – in terms of the 300+ classical music entries I have come across, this resource offers dependable and comprehensive information.  A+.
  • The Secret Lives of the Great Composers”, by Elizabeth Lunday – this is the first book that made me aware that the very finest composers are quirky individuals.  Jarringly quirky.
  • The Really Terrible Orchestra (Edinburgh, Scotland) – I cannot get enough of this ragtag group of enthusiastic musician wannabes who find themselves blatantly unqualified to play with any recognized orchestra.  Just thinking about their performance of “Entry of the Gladiators” makes me collapse in laughter:

  • Mozart in the Jungle, both book and Amazon series are eye-opening and entertaining.  A few pieces that I have shared with my son, after hearing them in various episodes:

– Mozart’s “Oboe Concerto in C major”, movement III (rondo) – composed in 1777.  This is such a proper, almost fussy, piece but it moves right along and my son and I love it:

– José Pablo Moncayo’s “Huapango” – this Mexican folk dance was composed for orchestra in 1941 (which is why we listen to this piece played by orchestra, not by a mariachi band)(even though we LOVE mariachi bands).  Absolutely full of the flavors of Mexico:

– Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe”, suite 2, dawn – composed in 1912 for a ballet based upon the ancient Greek romance between goatherd Daphnis and shepherdess Chloe.  So much to listen for in this 6 minute piece, but when dawn actually breaks we hear nothing but GENIUS!

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  D).  $119.)