Vienna Philharmonic

“D”s Dominated

duncan 2

First, DUNCAN DORFMAN – Meg Wolitzer’s engaging, “The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman” transported us into the world of competitive Scrabble.  A member of our family plays competitive chess (a US Chess Federation “National Master” – we are kind of proud), so my son is familiar with the concept of board game competition.  The book mentions scrabble tiles and racks over and over, so I brought some tiles and racks for my son to see, touch, try out (regretfully, NO interest).  My son actually does like filling out book reports, and I was happy to see that he picked up on the main themes of this well structured book (ethics, friendship, the roller-coaster emotions of competition).  

doolittle illustration

Then, DR. DOOLITTLE – My son and I are nearly through Hugh Lofting’s timeless adventure, “The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle”.  Here is what we think:  the pleasures of reading this book double when it is read out loud, allowing reader and listener to savor the poetic preposterousness of Lofting’s relentless imagination – delicious names and places like Popsipetel, Bag-Jagderag, Jip, Dab-Dab, Wiff-Waff, Don Ricky-Ticky.  One more thing – the copy we are reading (a 2012 printing) includes spectacular vintage-style illustrations by Scott McKowen.

indian contributions book

Then, DUCK DECOYS – “Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World”, complied by Emory Sea Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield – a well edited resource we looked forward to opening every night.  A better mom would have read aloud every single entry, but alas, my son had to settle for learning about one topic from each letter of the alphabet.  Adobe, balls, canoes, duck decoys, earache treatments (well, that was gross), fringed clothing, gourds, hominy (I really built this one up with the hope of my son giving hominy a try – GIANT CORN ARE YOU KIDDING????  Who wants to sample some WAY FUN GIANT CORN??? Alas, no luck.  I have no influence.), igloos, jicama, kayaks, lacrosse, maple syrup, nasturtiums, observatories, popcorn, quipus, rafts, salsa, tipis, umbrellas, vanilla, wampum, yams (we skipped X and Z).  

lattice pie

Then, DESSERTS AT THE DINER (a story problem)During summer months, Miss Michelle (famed pastry chef at the diner) bakes pies every morning:  4 apple pies, 2 apricot lattice (vocab) pies, 2 peach pies, 2 cherry lattice pies, 1 blueberry pie, 1 blackberry pie, 1 rhubarb pie, and 2 lemon meringue pies.  Each pie gets sliced into 6 servings.  

  • If a tour bus with 80 passengers stops at the diner for lunch, would all passengers be able to enjoy a serving of pie?
  • How many pie crusts does famed pastry chef, Miss Michelle, roll out every week?
  • It takes 1 hour to bake a pie.  The diner has 3 ovens and each oven can accommodate 4 pies at a time.  How many hours does famed pastry chef, Miss Michelle, need to bake every pie? (answers at bottom of post)

dvorak portrait

Finally, DVOŘÁK DAZZLED –  on the classical music front, it was Antonín Dvořák week at the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER (my son’s bedroom):

  • Slavonic Dance No. 1 in C major, composed around 1880.  This is one of our favorites and it gets the performance it deserves by the Vienna Philharmonic.  Side notes:  1)  As per usual, conductor Seiji Ozawa’s hair is too wild to be ignored – we should all be so confident.  2)  If you look closely, you will actually see a woman in the orchestra (back row,  violin section).  This video footage was posted in 2008 (so I don’t know when it was filmed) and I am sure the orchestra is trying to be more with the times, BUT REALLY.

  • Humoresque No. 7, composed in 1894 – we love the way YoYo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and conductor Ozawa transform this carefree little piece into a heartbreaker.

  • Song to the Moon, from the opera, “Rusalka”, premier performance in 1901.  Soprano Susan Karinski and the US Navy Band deliver an exquisite performance.  ATTENTION EVERYBODY:  Susan Karinski.  Whoa.  

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  yes, 105 pie crusts, 2 hours)

JUMBLE!

jumble 2

Jumble! – we have been playing our own version of the popular-since-1954 newspaper word game, “Jumble”.  I mix up the letters of a word, and my son unscrambles the letters. My son LOVES this challenge!  As opposed to this:  I thought my son might be interested in watching a plant grow from seed, so a few nights ago I brought up a packet of radish seeds to the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER and was met with (in Victorian terms) “the cut direct”.  Well, bummer.  But at least I can tell when my son is engaged and when he is not.  And whether he likes it or not, we are going to be serving up home grown radishes in a few short weeks.

radish

Farmer Brown grows radishes (story problem) – (oh my, this one is so easy) It is rather late in the growing season, but Farmer Brown is laying in another crop of radishes – Le Fictitious Local Diner will buy all that he has to sell, and the radishes grow so fast.  If Farmer Brown plants 1,000 radish seeds and is able to harvest 800 radishes, what percentage of the seeds transformed into an edible (vocab) vegetable?  If rabbits ate half of the unharvested radishes, how many did they consume?  If the local diner garnishes every salad with two sliced-up radishes, how many radishes do they need for a PTA luncheon of 150 attendees and a bowling league dinner of 20 team members? (answers at bottom of post)

Cixi

“Cixi – Evil Empress of China?” – we are half-way through yet another book from the “A Wicked History” series.  These books NEVER disappoint.  So: China in the 1800s – we thought the book would be about inner-court intrigues or friction between royalty and peasants.  But no.  So far, the lead story is about the most preposterous foreign invasions. China had a centuries-long tradition of NOT welcoming foreign trade, so GET THIS – during the 1800s, Britain and France (I am sorry to say), using vastly superior military might, forced China to trade.  How upside-down is this?  My son and I seem to have this small discussion every night: does a country with any sense at all go to war to force a clearly reluctant other country to engage in COMMERCE?  Suffice it to say, we open this book every night hoping we will start to understand, and in the meantime learn more about Empress Cixi.  We are sort of hoping that her evilness doesn’t disappoint…tonight is promising – we will be reading a short essay that appears to infer that Cixi poisoned her enemies. Yikes!

greek quiz

Greek Mythology a la Ken Jennings – The fact is this: my son and I are still loving “Ken Jennings Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”.  The fact is this:  the Greek mythology family tree is hilariously confusing.  There is a dizzying quantity gods, goddesses, muses, nymphs, and super-strength mortals.  Just to make sure my son had a grasp of the basics, I gave him two quizzes – one that matched Greek gods with Roman gods and a multiple choice quiz that covered mythology vocabulary.  I also gave the quizzes to my husband. They both did so well!  (And if you are looking closely at the photo above – my son selected correctly – researchers now say that Pandora had a JAR, not a BOX!)

“Penny from Heaven” – we’ve just finished this fun fiction read by Jennifer L. Holm.  As we found from another of her books, “The 14th Goldfish”, Holm excels in characterizing family dynamics – in this case we ended up wanting to be a part of the protagonist’s father’s extended Italian family.  For us, this was a captivating book with a handful of serious discussion topics.  Tonight we start on another Holm novel, “Turtle in Paradise”.

cake with sparkler

Bohemian Birthday – Classical music listening – Last Friday (September 8th) was the birthdate of composer Antonin Dvorak. So, after finding his birth country on our globe (Bohemia – now the Czech Republic), and a few basic arithmetic questions (Dvorak was born in 1841, how old would he be if he were still alive to celebrate this birthday?  Dvorak died in 1904, how long did he live?), we enjoyed three favorite recordings.

Sidebar notes –
1) For no particular reason at all, we selected Dvorak recordings conducted by international treasure Seiji Ozawa. (Not to be jerky, but it is hard not to take notice of Mr. Ozawa’s hair.)
2) Two of our selected compositions were recorded by the acclaimed Vienna Philharmonic – and if the music were just not SO great, we would have been preoccupied by trying to find women musicians in the orchestra.

Slavonic Dance No. 1 – composed in 1878, under full encouragement of Johannes Brahms.  We think if we were musicians we would like playing this sweetly rambunctious folk dance, and we would definitely like to be somewhere in the orchestra hall if only to gaze upon Ozawa’s CRAZY cartoon-style coiffure.  Nonetheless, superbly conducted:

Humoresque – It has been written that Dvorak’s “Humoresque” (referring to the seventh of his eight “Humoresques”, composed in 1894) is probably the most famous small piano work ever written (after Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”).  We first listened to this as it was written (for piano), and our thought was, “yeah, yeah, yeah – this sounds familiar – sort of boring”.  THEN we listened to to a recording of Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Orchestra, showcasing Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma: GAME CHANGER.  Who knew “Humoresque” was a heartbreaker???  This is proof of the power of a conductor’s vision:

“The Largo Movement” from Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World Symphony”, movement 2) – composed in 1892. Majestic loneliness. Ozawa’s hair under control:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 80%, 100 radishes, 340 radishes)

It’s All Fun!

roy-whaam

Giant Cartoon Art – We are currently reading through “Whaam! The Art & Life of Roy Lichtenstein” by Susan Goldman Rubin.  This book is filled with examples of his pop art of the 1960’s that both shocked (“this is art?????”) and rocked a generation.  Each of Lichtenstein’s paintings was inspired by published comic book drawings of others, and I like that the author addressed the issue of copyright. My son likes looking at photographs of Lichtenstein’s art on display, with people standing near the paintings, so he can get an idea of exactly how large the paintings are.

bill-polka-dots

Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show – Hot off the press! Candace Fleming’s “Presenting Buffalo Bill – The Man who Invented the Wild West” was just published in 2016.  We are only a few nights into this book and we are loving every minute.  Oh my! Buffalo Bill – what a man with BIG vision and what a risk (vocab) taker!  This book is part of our Native North American unit – we are impressed with the author’s excellent research and sensitivity regarding Lakota tribe members who were part of the Wild West Show (and this has provoked a short side study of the Lakota tribe).

Game ON – the other night, my son grabbed a pen, and I knew he wanted to communicate something – so I supported his wrist and here is what he wrote, “I want to play hangman.”!!!!  Really?  Well, OK!  We have been playing hangman about 2 times a week for a month or two, but I had no idea he was liking this spelling game.  I am relieved that his handwriting has improved to the point that I can read it.  Huge communication progress!

50 Days of Fun!  I am stretching the definition of “fun”, but this is sort of diverting:  we have started playing, “WHERE IS THAT?”.  I place a blank map of the USA on the desk and I ask my son to ink a dot in the middle of a particular state.  After he finds the correct state, we (hand-over-hand) color it in. Could this be a gateway activity – first the USA, then maybe the countries of South America?  Then WHO KNOWS???

And if that weren’t enough – I have added a new resource tab (look on title block) – “The Bookshelf”.  This is where I will keep a running list of the books that have worked particularly well for my son and me.

box-lunch

Box Lunches at Le Fictitious Local Diner –  Everyone knows that box lunches (vocab concept) are by definition FUN!  And here is a twist: the Local Diner’s box lunches are vegetarian, and include a bottle of kombucha that comes with it’s own teeny paper parasol.  FUN!  The lunches are apparently delicious, and the response has been enthusiastic:  during the first week 30 boxes were sold on Monday, 20 on Tuesday, 40 on Wednesday, 10 on Thursday, 40 on Friday, and 20 on Saturday!  Each box sells for $9.  If it costs the diner $4 to put the box together (including the box and the napkins, etc), what was the diner’s profit for the first week?
A. $800    B. $160    C. $1,440    D. $60 (answer at bottom of post)

Music – It was time to learn more about the SNARE DRUM – Yay percussion instruments!

snare-drum

First, we needed to see how the snare drum was constructed.  We learned that a band of narrow wires stretched across the bottom of the drum gives it that muffled rattly sound. We listened for the snare drum in:

Blue Tango, composed by LeRoy Anderson in 1951, and was ranked by Billboard as the number one song of 1952!  Sassy.

Scotland the Brave – this pipe and drum corps classic is considered to be one of three unofficial national anthems of Scotland.  BTW, in Scotland, the snare drum is called a side drum.  BTW, we are the sort of people that really like the music of bagpipes.  This footage is just so great:

Bolero, composed by Maurice Ravel, as a one-movement orchestral piece for ballet, in 1929.  From everything we have read – and can readily believe – playing the snare drum in this piece is a musician’s nightmare.  Seventeen-plus minutes of the same rhythm over and over and over and over.  But what a fine, fine performance by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted so carefully by Gustavo Dudamel:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer: A. $800)

26 Candles!

candles

My son celebrated his birthday this past week!  Among the wrapped presents, two spectacular books:

wonder-garden-book

“Star Talk” by astrophysicist and consummate showman, Neil deGrasse Tyson.  So far – tremendously engrossing; last night we read about why astronauts grow taller in space (due to lack of gravity) (and apparently this is NOT good for bone density), the night before we learned how long it would take to travel to Mars via current space travel technology. (3 years).  Full of quirky facts and explanations, this is exactly the type of book we like to spend time with.

“The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom focuses upon animal life in five distinct habitats (vocab) around the world.  We are in the middle of the Amazon Rain Forest (located it on the new globe/another birthday present!) chapter.  Gross fact from last night: the green anaconda NEVER STOPS GROWING.  Ewww ewww ewww.  Aside from that, this book is a jewel. The obsessively decorative artwork is first rate, the book is well written and the excellent research is apparent.  Learning materials were NOT this captivating when I was in school.

horseshoe

Story problem – Farmer Brown recycles used horseshoes!  Farmer Brown has 6 horses and is filling up a barrel with used horseshoes.  He has found a craftsman who would like to purchase the horseshoes and turn them into “good luck” wall art items.  If each horse gets fitted for new shoes every other month, how many used shoes will Farmer Brown have in the barrel at the end of a year?  If he is able to sell the used shoes to the craftsman for $10 each, how much money will he collect by the end of a year?  If it costs $125 to shoe one horse, how many horses could be shod from the money earned from selling the old shoes? (answers at bottom of post)

blacksmith

Speaking of horseshoes – our poem for the evening was “The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1840), which led us to look at and talk about anvils (vocab) and bellows (vocab), which led us to our music theme:

Plink, clank, plink – the anvil as musical instrument!  What a most satisfactory listening experience:

anvil

The Anvil Chorus from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera of 1853, “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour).  This song of the gypsies praises hard work, good wine, and gypsy women.  For my son, I emphasized the hard work and the unique sound of the sledge hammer hitting the anvil, and sort of didn’t mention the good wine and gypsy women.  Outstanding production:

The Feuerfest (fireproof) Polka, composed in 1869 by Josef Strauss, brother of waltz king, Johann Strauss II.  This is probably one of our top ten favorite classical pieces; we like to anticipate each anvil clang.  In this linked video Mariss Jansons conducts the Vienna Philharmonic WHILE “playing” the hammers and anvil.  Adorable, and kind of spellbinding.

– Finally, “Heigh Ho” from Disney’s 1937 blockbuster, “Snow White”.  Music by Frank Churchill, words by Larry Morey.  Anvil plinking all over the place.

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 144,   $1,440,   11 horses)

High Five!

dwarf-planets-121120b-02

FIVE?  Last night we were reading from “Information Graphics – Space”, and my son and I were startled to learn that there are 5 dwarf planets in our solar system.  FIVE????  Of course, we knew about Pluto, but 4 others?  Joining Pluto: Ceres (actually an asteroid, but so large that in 2006 it was designated a “dwarf planet”), Eris, Haumea, and Makemake.  We learned more about these cuties via a Wikipedia search.  And we want this poster!

Bullard book

Required Reading:  We have finished reading “Eugene Bullard, World’s First Black Fighter Pilot” by Larry Greenly, and it deserves another shout out.  Really! What this man (1895 – 1961) couldn’t do well.  He wasn’t just the first black fighter pilot (WWI), he was a prize-winning boxer, an excellent drummer, a night club owner, a spy for the French Underground…he spoke excellent French (once serving as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong when he toured France) and passable German.  Eugene Bullard was an American with a CAN DO attitude – who started from nothing and did everything. (This book also casts a wonderfully positive light on France.  Quite refreshing.)  This should be required reading, or at least an alternative choice for high schoolers struggling through “All Quiet on the Western Front”.   A definite HIGH FIVE in the inspirational/motivational reading catagory.

To honor those who served in THE GREAT WAR, we read “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae, twice. (and I wept) (couldn’t help it) (just think what my kids have had to put up with).

poppies

On the lighter side: Last week we started playing HANGMAN.  I am always looking for “normal” interactive games, and I think we have a hit with hangman.  It was fun, and my son quickly figured out the words I had chosen (rabbit, waffle, dentist, cattle); words selected because one comes upon some of their key letters rapidly, if one is simply selecting letters alphabetically (you do know how to play hangman, right?).  We’re playing again tonight.

Mid-Terms: Last Night my son took a multiple choice “mid-term” quiz and scored 100%!  (I had typed up questions that touched on topics we have covered since January – e.e. cummings, Punxsutawney Phil, the doldrums, Catherine the Great, rodents, the French Foreign Legion, and Cleopatra.)  Best of all, he demonstrated an understanding of how to take a multiple choice test – he no longer needs prompting to select the letter that goes with the correct answer. Yay!  We are making progress!

airplane

Farmer Brown story problem:  Farmer Brown had to travel out of state to attend a lecture on hay, and he traveled on a plane with recently refitted coach seats.  The seats were luxurious and really comfortable for everyone under 5’6” tall.  A large man himself, Farmer Brown noticed that 3/5 of the passengers were well over 5’6” tall.  If there are 180 seats in coach, how many people were desperate to reach their destination, de-sardine their bodies and stretch their legs? (answer under signature at end of this post)

empire state building               burj khalifa

High in the Sky:  we have just finished a study on enormously tall structures, and discussed whether we would be happy finding ourselves at the top of said tall buildings.  My top height is the Empire State Building.  My son indicated that he would be OK going to the top of that frighteningly half-mile-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai (which also boasts the world’s fastest elevator) (NOT A PLUS in my book).  Kudos to those who will go where my genetics cannot.

Beethoven

A High Five to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, who recently hosted a FREE performance for kids with autism.  The auditorium was filled!  Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducted Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in C Minor – what a PERFECT choice –  short, grand, majestic, deep (but uncomplicated) and polished from beginning to end.  What a gift.  My son and I decided that we needed to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth again.  For added interest, I selected a different conductor for each of the movements.

Beethoven’s Fifth – movement 1, Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (so, in other words, awesome):

Beethoven’s Fifth – movement 2, Jose Luis Gutierrez conducting the Carlos Chavez Youth Orchestra (good job for a youth orchestra, but excellent job for such a youthful conductor, I swear he looks 18):

Beethoven’s Fifth – movement 3 and 4 (difficult to find these filmed separately because the 4th movement commences without a pause from the conclusion of movement 3), this features conductor Paavo Jarvi conducting the Deutch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Farmer Brown story problem answer: 108)

Rodent Rage

rat

Almost finished:  We are sorry that we are coming upon the final pages of “Animalium”, by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom. This splendid book is rich in conversation-provoking information and rich in captivating illustrations. This is a book that we have looked forward to opening every single night (even last night, when we had to read about rodents).

Animalium book 2

Speaking of rodents:

– To establish a baseline, we took a little “Is this a rodent?” quiz, then voted upon the cutest. Our faves: chipmunks, chinchillas, hamsters, guinea pigs, voles, and porcupines.  Not our fave: squirrels are on our bad list at the moment (we are unhappily hosting one in our attic, and are attempting to remove him humanely)(but this is not going well, as he is a member of Squirrel Mensa).

– February 1st I gave my son a pre-test on the big doings of February 2nd: Groundhog Day. I was quite surprised by how much information he knew about this “holiday”.  I am not sure we added much to his store of knowledge, but we read through Wikipedia entries on groundhogs and Groundhog Day, and concluded with a small discussion about whether Punxsutawney Phil was a bit plumper than the average groundhog.  We learned that groundhogs are the same thing as woodchucks, which prompted me to recite the “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck” tongue twister. Rodents and poetry on the same night. Winner.

hamster

Farmer Brown’s petting zoo story problem – The first graders from the 4 local elementary schools love visiting Farmer Brown’s petting zoo. This year, Farmer Brown has hired a photographer to snap photos of each first grader with one of his sweet hamsters. The photos sell for $2 each (and everyone purchases one). It costs Farmer Brown 50 cents to process each photo and he pays the photographer $35 for each school visit. There are 40 first grade children in each school. NEW CONCEPTS!: What is Farmer Brown’s GROSS income from the endeavor? What is Farmer Brown’s NET income (after paying the photo processing and the photographer) from the endeavor?

Catherine Great

What a rat! We have begun another “A Wicked History” (we do love this series), this time we are learning about Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. Right off the bat we find out that she came to power by disposing of her husband, Tsar Peter III. Yikes. What a rat. We want to know more.

snowflakesunshine

Music for Groundhog Day:  Was Punxsutawney Phil going to be greeted by bright sunlight or cloudy skies?  We had the music to mark the occasion:

  • Phil sees his shadow: “Winter”, from Vivaldi’s timeless violin concerto of 1723, “The Four Seasons”. Ugh. We don’t want 6 more weeks of winter!  But we are always happy for a tiny slice of Itzhak Perlman magic:

  • Phil sees his shadow: “Waltz of the Snowflakes” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet, which premiered in 1892.  We may be weary of the cold weather, but at least Tchaikovsky revives us with a winter that is as pretty as it is capricious (vocab):

  • Phil doesn’t see his shadow: “Symphony No. 6 in F major” (movement 1), composed by Beethoven in 1808. Known also as “The Pastoral Symphony” (familiar to many from Disney’s award winning “Fantasia” of 1940), it is all about the promise of spring.  Leonard Bernstein (always a conductor we want to watch) leads the Vienna Philharmonic in this video:

  • Phil doesn’t see his shadow: “Put on a Happy Face”, composed by Charles Strouse (lyrics by Lee Adams) for the 1960 Broadway production “Bye Bye Birdie”.  Hey, Phil!  Grey skies are gonna clear up!  My son was tapping his toes to this rendition from the mid sixties, featuring The Supremes:

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH