Friday, October 31, 2008

And one more thing. . .

I'm having a fine time not watching a movie I just got from Netflix, Sweet Violets, or something like that (actually, no, it's Purple Violets written by, directed by, and starring Ed Burns--it's usually an omen when all three are the same person, though there are some exceptions), which has got to be the most boring movie I think I've seen since, hmm, I can't remember when. While "enjoying" the flick, I'm also catching up on my blog reading, so here is yet another enjoyable tidbit for those of you who are not fans of the current Republican veep candidate. Thanks much to Alex Ross for this entertaining video. The music is Steve Reich's Different Trains, and the speaker, well, I won't name names.

The poetry of L.M. Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery is best known for her works of fiction, including Anne of Green Gables and its sequels. Scattered throughout her novels are poems, often "created" by the characters in her books. Recently I found a pdf of all of Montgomery's poems, including some I don't remember from the stories I've read. I enjoy the way she evokes images, such as in "Autumn Evening," which you can find here, in my entry in today's Poetry Friday round-up.

Visual Elements Periodic Table

I found this at At Home Science, with a link to the Flash version at The Royal Society of Chemistry, and just had to share. Isn't it cool?

Happy Halloween!

Let me know if you think of a caption for this guy--a result of some photography experiments on my part. I can't think of anything!

Poetry Friday - Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)

For those of you who will be out with children trick-or-treating tonight, here are some nice images from the beloved author of Anne of Green Gables.

An Autumn Evening

Dark hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow
And wake among the harps of leafless trees
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies.

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar,
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star
Above the darkening druid glens of fir
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir.

And so I wander through the shadows still,
And look and listen with a rapt delight,
Pausing again and yet again at will
To drink the elusive beauty of the night,
Until my soul is filled, as some deep cup,
That with divine enchantment is brimmed up.

by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Poetry for Children.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Music Monday - Halloween Music No. 4

Saint-Saens again this time. One of my favorite pieces by this composer is Carnival of the Animals, and the Aquarium movement from this orchestral suite is perfect for invoking a spooky aura. The Fossils movement isn't bad for getting into the Halloween spirit, either, but unfortunately I didn't like any of the YouTube videos I could find for either movement.

But I can't let my last Halloween Music Monday post be so boring, so here is quite an enjoyable animation in the style of The Nightmare Before Christmas, to the tune of Funeral March of a Marionette, by Charles Gounod, a contemporary of Saint-Saens, and a fellow countryman. In the video, the music doesn't begin until almost two minutes in, just fyi. This animated short was created by Eric Fonseca, an artist from San Antonio, according to the blurb on his YouTube page.

You may know of another little ditty by Gounod with the title Ave Maria, though he composed only the melody there, and a more famous composer wrote the underlying prelude (J.S. Bach). Other of Gounod's compositions that are still performed today include his operas, Romeo & Juliet and Faust.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Poetry Friday - Robert Frost

After Apple Picking
Robert Frost
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spik
ed with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at the blog where it all began,
Big A little a.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


My older son (age 10) is part of a poetry group whose similarly-aged members meet monthly and recite for one another. Recently, another mom and I have started taking turns talking to the kids about a form in poetry when recitations are finished. Having had an excellent introduction to haiku last month, the kids learned about the ballad at this month's meeting. Since I have a bit of a musical bent, anyway, this seemed to me like a good style into which to delve.

While learning that a ballad, simply put, is a poem that tells a story and is or was meant to be sung, I was fascinated to learn that one of the oldest existing printed ballads is about that heroic figure, Robin Hood. Printed around the late 1400's or early 1500's, "A Gest of Robyn Hode" is almost certainly a compilation of earlier versions of the legends that existed in the oral tradition.

I began, however, with a recording of the song, "The Grey Selkie," as su
ng by the band Solas on their Words that Remain cd, and then gave the kids a simple definition of the ballad. After this, I mentioned the titles of several ballads I knew the kids knew (as they had all sung at least two or three of them in the recent past). The list of traditional ballads is long, but these were the ones I mentioned--

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Oh, Shenandoah
The Rising of the Moon

The Highwayman

Tam Lin
Barbara Allen

A Gest of Robyn Hode

One of the children read a few stanzas from "Robyn Hode," and from there we began to talk about rhyme schemes. The kids were all given a copy of "The Great Selkie of Skule Skerry" from the Evan-Moor book,
Read and Understand Poetry (Grades 5-6+) to figure out what rhyme scheme this particular poem follows (AABB). Then I read a bit from "The Highwayman" and "Casey at the Bat" and had them find the rhymes. From here we went on to discuss other common aspects of ballads, including

regular rhyme schemes (often AABB or ABAB)

regular rhythm

unanswered questions

unhappy and sometimes abrupt endings

dialogue between characters

sparsity of narration

in medias res form of storytelling (pronounced ĭn mē'dē-əs rās, as I found out afterwards with the help of a trusty dictionary)

I left the kids with a challenge to find a news story with which to use their imaginations and the facts to create a story featuring two individuals. They will also need to invent some dialogue between the characters, and use the story and dialogue as the basis for a ballad, relying on the possible components of that form listed above to help them. After creating their ballads, they will hopefully bring them to next month's meeting and share them. Since I challenged them, I suppose this means I should work on one of my own, hmm? Stay tuned. . .

Monday, October 20, 2008

Music Monday - Halloween Music No. 3

Modest Mussorgsky was a 19th-century Russian composer, and he wrote some incredibly dramatic music for orchestra and for piano. For this week's Halloween music entry, here is a free download of Night on Bald Mountain from iTunes, courtesy of Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and their CD label, Telarc.

As a bonus, here is a video clip of parts of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition along with an old Russian cartoon. Be sure to watch the chicks' ballet at the end!

Classics for Kids is featuring Mussorgsky's music this week. Check it out! There's even a pdf to download with information and activities in it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday

I've moved my Poetry Friday posts over to my new blog, A Habit of Reading. Mosey on over and see what we're reading, and check out today's entry in the Poetry Friday Roundup, hosted this week by Becky's Book Reviews.

Poetry Friday - Traditional

The Wind and the Leaves


Come, little leaves, said the wind one day,
Come over the meadows with me and play.
Put on your dresses of red and gold.
For summer is gone and the days grow cold.

Soon as the leaves heard the wind's loud call
Down they came fluttering, one and all.
Over the fields they danced and flew
Singing the soft little songs they knew.

Dancing and whirling the little leaves went,
Winter had called them, and they were content
Soon fast asleep on their earthly beds,
The snow laid a coverlet on their heads.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Learning about plants

I feel good. We're actually getting some things done besides spelling, handwriting, and math. Nature walks are an almost daily habit for us, but I've never really tried to get my kids to learn anything on them--they usually just enjoy the fresh air and exercise, and the view, unless they are grumbling about having to take a walk. Come to think of it, I haven't heard many complaints about walking lately. Ah, something else for which to feel grateful.

But back to the learning part--today we created a "family tree" for plants, of sorts, with brown wrapping paper (courtesy of the local Hallmark store--craft paper would have been better but craft stores are farther away) serving as the trunk and branches of the tree. Having learned the difference between vascular and non-vascular plants, we further divided plants into five categories: on the vascular side of the family, flowering plants, conifers, and ferns; on the non-vascular side, mosses and algae. (If you click on the picture I think you'll be able to see a larger version of the photo.) There are obviously a few we left out--such as horsetails that can be grouped with ferns and liverworts that are spore-bearing plants similar to mosses. Simpler is better for us these days (see getting things done, above).

The fun part was going outside and finding specimens of everything except algae, which we looked for at the pond but came home empty-handed. It would have been tricky to attach to the tree, too, so we used printouts of illustrations and photos of algae from the internet.

The idea for this project came from Keepers of Life, by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. I'm not sure how much we'll end up using this book, though we have enjoyed several of the Native American stories about plant life in it.

For more books we're using to learn about plants, check out this post.

Botany Books for kids

This list is by no means exhaustive--it's just what we've used and are using right now for the plants portion of our Life Science study (begun last year with animals and the human body). I've found that my participation in the 100 Species Challenge has come in handy as inspiration to get the kids excited about plants, and about identifying mystery plants. Who doesn't like a mystery?


Plant Classification (The Life of Plants), by Louise & Richard Spilsbury. I really like the way this book is laid out--easily digestible 2-page spreads, but enough knowledge to keep my ten-year-old learning. Great photos! Currently checked out from the library but also in my Amazon cart.

Plant (DK Eye Wonder), by Fleur Star. Same 2-page chunks, but less information. Again, nice photos. Just about right for my seven-year-old.

A Seed is Sleepy
, by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long (a favorite). Gorgeous illustrations. Conversational tone. A good bit of information snuck in, too. Great for all three of my kids (10, 7, and almost 4). Have this one out from the library but it's in my Amazon cart to buy soon.

What Kinds of Seeds Are These? by Heidi Bee Roemer and illustrated by Olena Kassian. Aimed at the 4-8 crowd. Shows how seeds travel and what kinds of packages in which seeds come.

What Do Roots Do? by Kathleen Kudlinski. Gives a great view to what happens underground. All three of kids really liked this one.

Trees of North America (Usborne Spotter's Guides)
, by Alan Mitchell. A lot of information packed into a small, take-along book. The only thing I wish is that it was two books--one for the Eastern Region, and one for the Western. Recommended.

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Trees, by Jim Arnosky. I love this series of books. Crinkleroot is like Santa Claus meets John Muir as imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien. The books have a nice tone, and the illustrations are sweet. Perfect for my seven-year-old.

Tell Me, Tree--All about Trees for Kids, by Gail Gibbons. We have many books by this author and they're all great. A good amount of information for ages 4-8.

Plants that Never Ever Bloom
, by Ruth Heller. This author is a recent find for us--many of her books are now out-of-print, but I believe some of them are being reprinted. This particular title is a little out-of-date (pub. 1984), as well, as it places mushrooms and other fungi in the plant kingdom, but it is still worth checking out if you don't mind explaining how classification can change as scientists gain more knowledge about different species. The book does a great job of covering non-flowering plants, such as mosses, lichens, algae, etc. Highly recommended for ages 6-10.

Autumn Leaves, by Ken Robbins. A basic look at a few trees and their leaves in full autumn splendor. Worth getting from the library. Ages 3-6.

The Flower Alphabet Book, by Jerry Pallotta and illustrated by Leslie Evans. We've liked a lot of Palotta's alphabet books, and this one is a favorite. Will definitely dig it out again in the spring when everything starts to bloom again.

Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children, by Joseph Bruchac and Michael J. Caduto. Good for inspiration but not concrete enough for me. For example, we used the family tree of plants idea from this book, but had to pull information from other books to complete the project.

Shanleya's Quest: a Botany Adventure for Kids Ages 9 to 99, by Thomas J. Elpel and illustrated by Gloria Brown. This one will appeal to any Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers out there. Teaches about plant identification through story. My ten-year-old liked it. I've ordered the author's other book, Botany in a Day via interlibrary loan.

A Forest of Stories--Magical Tree Tales from around the World, retold by Rina Singh and illustrated by Helen Cann. As with most books from Barefoot Books, the artwork in this book is top-notch. The stories are well told, as well, making this yet another want-to-have in my Amazon cart. All three of my kids listen with full attention when I read from this book!

The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle. Follows the story of a seed. Ages 4-8.

A Tree Can Be. . .
by Judy Nayer and illustrated by Anna Vojtech. A sweet illustrated poem about all the things a tree can be to different people and animals. For ages 2-4.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The City of Ember, Pt. 2

Dave at Night has been deleted from FB's fall line-up. It's one I hadn't preread--I had read Ella Enchanted (also by Gail Carson Levine) and had read somewhere that Dave at Night was the author's favorite book she had written. The story deals with some brutality experienced by the main character while in a NYC orphanage, though, and, given the make-up of our group, with younger kids in it than originally planned and every member in it (including their fearless leader) on the sensitive side, we're going to pass on this book for now.

On to the second day we spent on The City of Ember. We began with some general questions, which you can find here (click the link and a pdf should download). The kids had a lot to say--it was an excellent discussion. After the kids had talked themselves out, we moved on to an online animated visual aid of how a hydro-powered generator works, with additional photographs of actual generators on the same page. Then we also watched the trailer for the movie and talked about how the story can often change in being translated from book to screen.

The previous week we had read aloud the part of the story when Clary sees Lina's bean plant beginning to grow on her windowsill, and this week we planted bean plants in individual plants which the kids took home.

The kids's enthusiasm for this book made it an easy one to discuss. They liked the first book they read for the group (Chasing Vermeer--look for a blog entry about this book soon), but they loved The City of Ember. Most of them are currently reading The People of Sparks, with plans to finish the series.

Music Monday - Halloween Music No. 2

Okay, so maybe it's not really that spooky, and I wish it was longer, but my entry for today is the opening theme of the Sherlock Holmes series that aired on Mystery on PBS from the mid-1980's through the mid-1990's. I've loved it for a long time. Patrick Gowers wrote the main theme (it's only 47 seconds long!) and also music for thirty-three episodes. Mp3s of music from the series are available from iTunes under the title, "Sherlock Holmes (Granada Television Production Soundtrack)." A bonus in the following YouTube video is that you get to see the opening for Mystery in general, with an introduction by Vincent Price, may he R.I.P.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Dinner

In honor of my mother-in-law's visit this weekend, I made a mostly traditional Sunday dinner today. Yankee Pot Roast, raw summer squash and zucchini because I forgot until too late to peel, slice, and cook the carrots and parsnips (we eat our veg raw in the summer, so it's hard to remember to get them back to the stove in the fall), mashed potatoes (the real deal) and (here's the exciting part) Caramel Apple Pudding Cake. I didn't have time to bake an apple pie today, what with all the gorgeous New England autumn weather to enjoy, so I opted for an ostensibly less time-consuming new recipe, and it was delectable! There are a couple of ingredients I left out so everyone could and would enjoy the dessert, but here's the recipe, slightly altered, from my old standby, The Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book:

Caramel Apple Pudding Cake
Prep: 25 minutes Bakes 35 minutes
Oven: 350 degrees F Makes 12 servings (hmm, I'd probably say 10)

2 cups thinly sliced, peeled tart apples (I used Cortland apples, my preferred pie apple, but the ever present Granny Smith or any other tart cooking apple would work equally well)
3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t. (heaping) ground, excellent quality cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg OR cardamom, if you happen to be out of nutmeg, as I was
(1/4 c. raisins or dried cherries, optional)
1 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 c. milk
2 T. butter, melted
1 t. vanilla
(1/2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts, optional)
3/4 c. caramel topping for ice cream
1/2 c. water
1 T. butter
Vanilla ice cream (mandatory!)

1. Grease a 2-quart baking dish. BH&G calls for a square dish, but I used my 2-qt. rectangular Pyrex to no ill effect. Put apples evenly in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. (Top with raisins or cherries, if using.)

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Add milk, the 2 T. melted butter, and vanilla, and mix well. (Stir in nuts, if using.) Spread the batter evenly over the apple mixture.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the caramel topping, water, and 1 T. butter; bring to boiling. Pour mixture evenly over batter in baking dish.

4. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for about 35-40 minutes or until the center is set. Let cool slightly. While still warm, spoon into bowls and top with ice cream. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Those crazy creative people.

And you thought it was just the late stages of syphilis that caused the likes of Schumann and Schubert to go mad. But no, a recent study by psychologists from Harvard University and the University of Toronto may link creativity to psychosis. From Science News at Science Daily:

The study in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says the brains of creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment. Other people's brains might shut out this same information through a process called "latent inhibition" - defined as an animal's unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs. Through psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.

"This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment," says co-author and U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson. "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities."

. . . .

"Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity seem linked," says Carson. "It appears likely that low levels of latent inhibition and exceptional flexibility in thought might predispose to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment under others."

You can read the rest of the article, which was adapted from materials provided by the University of Toronto, here at Science Daily.

The City of Ember, Pt. 1

FB (Favorite Books, the book discussion group at our co-op) just finished The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. I had no idea what good timing it would work out to be--the movie opened yesterday!

The group was set up to have activities the first week of two spent on a book, and discussion the second, but I've found that it works better to mix the two up. And since Monday is Columbus Day, the co-op isn't meeting, and I've decided that Dave at Night (by Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted), our next book, can be squeezed into one week.

During our first week spent on Ember, we discussed where everyone was in the book (only one child, mine, hadn't yet started it), read the introduction aloud, and talked about what we knew about Ember from these few pages, and what we didn't know. Then we read aloud a bit in the first chapter where Lina (pronounced LY-na, according to the author, which the movie disregards) and Doon are given their job placements. The kids picked mock assignments from a green felt bag I whipped together Sunday night and read aloud from job description sheets I made. We talked about how it would feel to be assigned to a profession for at least three years and to have very little choice in the matter. The kids responded with ways they would get out of jobs they didn't like.

Then most of the children participated in making a book of Crawling and Flying Things, which I will color-copy and give to each child to make into a book of their own. The plan was to bring my computer the second week to input descriptions of the bugs they created (from cutting and pasting ETC clipart insects), but we didn't end up with enough time the second week to do so, so I will let each child fill in the descriptions for each bug by hand on their own.

For the remainder of the first week's time, the kids decoded a "secret message" (a la the Instructions for Egress) I created by writing a note to them, and then leaving out 1-3 letters in each word. To make it easier, I put a list of the letters the would need at the top of the page (A A A A C D D E E, etc.). This was the biggest success of the day.

When I figure out how to post my pdfs for each activity, I'll put a link here. In the meantime, here are some links I found helpful for week one:

Teachers@Random--The City of Ember
Literature to the Rescue by Lynne Farrell Stover (a pdf) City of Ember

Part 2, coming soon!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin?

It would taste better in a pie, Lyla dear.

Beginning Anew

My other blog, Rockhound Place, has taken on a life of its own as a place to record music, poetry, and trivia, plus occasional whining sessions and even more infrequent opinionated pieces. Books are getting shoved to the side (literally), and I don't like it! If I had to choose between books and music, I would be agonizingly hard-pressed to make a decision between them. Luckily, I don't have to choose, and have started this blog to record specifically any children's or YA books that are being read in my house, either by me or my kids.

I'm currently running a book discussion group for kids reading at or above the fifth grade level at our homeschooling co-op, so I may record what we've done in that group from time to time, if I think others might eventually wind their way here and find what I've pulled together on a title useful.


Better late than never

This visual aid works nicely in conjunction with the SNL version of the VP debate:

If America elects this woman and her running mate, I'm moving here:

I'll miss the fall leaves and the first snow, but them's the breaks. . .

Poetry Friday - John Haines (b. 1924)

If the Owl Calls Again
by John Haines

at dusk from the island in the river, and it's not too cold, I'll wait for the moon to rise, then take wing and glide to meet him. We will not speak. . .

This poem is still under copyright, but you can read the rest of it here. It's not my usual fare, but I loved it, and want to find more of this poet's works to read. Inspiration to find a poem like this came in the form of owls calling to each other in the night outside my window.

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week by Picture Book of the Day. Check it out! You can view the schedule of where Poetry Friday is being hosted in the coming weeks here, on the blog where it all began.

Steppin' Out

Thanks to LB and her video clip of Get Happy, I just spent an hour on YouTube (Yes, I Blame You). Just thought I'd share another of this year's chorus songs, as danced by the incomparable Fred Astaire.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Because I'm still awake and it's a new day:

"Blind respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."
-Albert Einstein

Monday, October 06, 2008

Music Monday - Halloween Music No. 1

In honor of that most enjoyable of holidays which is fast approaching (25 days and counting), I give you this extraordinary version of Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens as performed by Vesko Eshkenazy.

This work is usually performed by a full orchestra, though arrangements for piano solo (by Franz Liszt and by Vladimir Horowitz) and for organ solo (arr. Lemare) and likely others also exist. I like this arrangement for violin and piano, which is probably the one transcribed by the composer himself.

As an aside, I first heard a snippet of this piece as the introduction of the British tv mystery series Jonathan Creek, and had to investigate to find out what larger work to which it belonged. I must have heard it before (I've been listening to classical music since I was in the womb), but it never clicked with me before that time. Tune in next week for another great violin piece from a fantastic mystery series.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Now this I gotta see. . .

Bill Maher has a new movie out called Religulous. Here's his recent interview with Larry King:

Friday, October 03, 2008

Poetry Friday - Margaret Morgan

The Oak and the Reed


The great oak tree
Thinks he's the strongest
As he's been standing
There the longest.

The wind it blew,
The rain came lashing;
And down the great oak tree
Came crashing.

The slender reed
She knows much better,
For she can bend
In stormy weather.

The slender reed
Swayed in the weather,
And at the dawn
Was strong as ever.