Friday, January 30, 2009

Poetry Friday - Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Snow in the Suburbs
by Thomas Hardy

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eye
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.
The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.

I posted this poem today at the request of ds (11 - today!). Besides being a favorite poem of his, he wants to know if "inurns" is right or if "inturns" as is in one of our poetry books is correct. Thoughts? Links? Comments? All welcome. : )

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Adventures in Daily Living.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New study shows mercury in corn syrup

Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.

Read the rest of yesterday's article here, at The Washington Post. Man, between this news and the presence of soy lecithin (the "sludge" of the food industry) in almost every processed food--makes me want to freeze, can, bake, and cook everything from scratch. But then when would I find time to blog? : )

Monday, January 26, 2009

Music Monday - Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

It's not a big anniversary year for J.S. Bach this year (though 2010 is the 300th birthday of lesser-known son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach), but I've been playing and listening to some of The Well-Tempered Clavier the past couple of weeks, and am wondering what else I might want to listen to of Bach, Sr.'s music. I've always liked Baroque music, and finally, as an adult, seem to have acquired enough patience to learn a fugue or two on the keyboard. As a teenager, I played the Inventions and some of the Preludes, but only ever started a fugue (most of which have three to five distinct parts, often playing simultaneously), and never finished it. Right now I'm working on the C Major Fugue (BWV 846) and the C Minor Prelude and Fugue (BWV 847) (might as well start at the beginning). I think I played three of Bach's violin concerti as a young violinist, and went on to work on Partita No. 3 for unaccompanied violin as a grad. student. Perhaps I've found the patience needed for the rest of the sonatas and partitas, too, but I doubt it--they are extremely challenging.

Mendelssohn was a great admirer of Bach's, and his (Mendelssohn's) Magnificat seems especially influenced by the Baroque composer's music. It would be fun to listen to both Mendelssohn's and Bach's Magnificats sequentially see what similarities there might be.

Bach wrote so very much music it's hard to pick a few favorites out of the bunch. But my favorite recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier is, hands-down, Glenn Gould's. Here is the C Minor fugue I'm currently working on (at about half the speed Gould plays it):

And every violinist knows "The Bach Double," or Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, the first movement played here as I first remember hearing it, by Isaac Stern and Itzahk Perlman:

One choral work of Bach's that I haven't sung but would love to is the secular canata nicknamed, "The Coffee Cantata," performed here by The Academy of Ancient Music under the direction of Christopher Hogwood, with soloists Emma Kirkby and David Thomas:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poetry Friday - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

The Arrow and the Song
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I know not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I know not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

These words have been set to music many, many times, usually for solo voice and piano. Two better known composers that have written art songs with this text are Charles Gounod (who also wrote a setting of Ave Maria with Bach's C major Prelude, BWV 846, as the accompaniment) and New England's own Amy Beach.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Laura Purdie Salas. Check it out!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Good finds of the week

1. Kundalini Yoga: the yoga that's currently (well, at least as far as I, in suburban MA, know) in favor with Hollywood types. I really like the way I feel after doing yoga in this style. It's not (that) difficult, even for someone who hadn't done yoga in a year; it's rhythmic--and the music has a beat, so it's fun to keep in time with it; and I feel very energized afterwards. I feel a little silly chanting, but that's just more incentive to get up and exercise before anyone else is awake. Ana Brett and Ravi Singh have many yoga cds in this style, but the Maya Fiennes (concert pianist and composer as well as yoga practicioner) dvd pictured left, is the one I found first at a local library.

2. Cherry-Vanilla Oatmeal: from The Food You Crave, by Ellie Krieger. To old-fashioned oats, add dried cherries and the appropriate amount of water (for two servings, or one cup of dried oats, I would use 1/3 c. dried cherries), plus a little salt. Cook the oatmeal like you normally would, then add a little cherry fruit spread (low sugar option) or some cherry preserves and about 1/2 t. vanilla per serving, top with your choice of milk (I used rice milk--DH used half and half!), and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Food for thought from a favorite children's author

Concerning the music of John Williams, and other composers whose work is dismissed as "popular":
"Art should communicate with as many people as possible." ~Madeleine L'Engle (in her book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art)
Words from one of my heroes--with which I agree for the most part. Now, if she'd said "Art should always communicate with as many people as possible," I would have disagreed.

Inaugural music #2

One of the highlights of yesterday's historic event for me was the incredible performance of John Williams' arrangement of Simple Gifts. Here are violinist Itzahk Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Gabriela Montero, and clarinetist Anthony McGill performing outdoors in 30 degree F weather. I hope we get a chance to see and hear them perform this piece in a more intimate venue soon.

P.S. I think I have a budding clarinetist in the family!

New word: effortful

"Everyone else had made it look so effortless she hadn't even noticed how they'd done it... She felt like her one talent in life was for making things effortful." ~Ana in 3 Willows, by Ann Brashares

Ah, a kindred spirit. This book is now on my "to read" list. Thanks to Jen Robinson's Book Page for the review, and the quote.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sending a message to kids

"Well, I own a bookstore, and when kids come into contact with books, I see them loving them. But I think we have to be a little more passionate about getting books to children--which includes putting books in our own hands. I see a lot of parents not reading, but instead spending hours and hours on computers. It sends a strong message to kids that books are not important. The book is still the best transportation device to take us through time, to new worlds and ideas. Once you've tasted it, it's hard to give it up. I think we just need to give kids more opportunities to taste it."--Peter H. Reynolds, children's author and illustrator, co-owner of the Blue Bunny bookstore, Dedham, Mass., and co-founder of educational media firm FableVision, in a Boston Globe interview.

Note to self: it's okay to sit down with a book of my own during the day. Probably better for my eyes than all that reading with a booklight in bed, too!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Music Monday - Everyone Sang

I just found out today that, in a happy bit of kismet, the poem I posted on my other blog, A Habit of Reading, for last week's Poetry Friday, serves as the text for a lovely choral work from 1975 that the community chorus I sing with will be performing this spring. The author of the text is British poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), and the composer is fellow Brit Peter Willsher (b. 1951). This clip is from the BBC's 2008 Remembrance Sunday episode of Songs of Praise.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Poetry Friday - Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

Everyone Sang
by Siegfried Sassoon

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away. . . O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never
be done.

Look here for more about this 20th century English poet, and be sure to check out the external links at the bottom of the page. Many resources for learning more about the poet and links to his poems online are included.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Karen Edmisten.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Astronomy activity and living books

I should be getting ready for tomorrow's homeschooling day--photocopying math pages, printing out spelling sheets, deciding which Egyptian activities to attempt (where does one buy natron, anyway?), but, since I recently sat down and went through the stack of astronomy books I got from the library with the intent of seeing what would work for our spring study of the stars and planets, I thought I'd upload my thoughts before they disappear into the ether. Can you tell my memory is failing as I approach forty? ☺

One book I thought I might use is Galileo for Kids, part of a long list of resources from Chicago Review Press that has Lewis & Clark, Darwin, and other historical figures or events as the basis for activity books. Kind of "Williamson Kids Can" for the logic stage, I inferred from reading the synopsis. I think I will use it, but later, when we hit the Renaissance (Spring or Fall 2010 if all goes according to plan, which it never does) again in our history studies, especially if DS (now almost 11) is still interested in astronomy then. The information contained within the text, and there is a lot of it, contains loads of history. Some of the activities are history-based, as well, but the bulk of them are science- and/or math-oriented, with historical side-notes. There are twenty-five of them! It seems extremely through, and, (dare I say it?) slightly reminded me of a textbook, albeit a well-written, singly-authored one. The age range on the book states ages nine and up, but I'd push it higher (12 and up), unless you have a really interested and willing child, and even then I highly suggest being selective amongst all those activity choices.

I had one absolute dud in the pile that I had thought sounded promising, and that is The National Wildlife Federation's NatureScope Astronomy Adventures. It's out of print, but then so are many books recommended either in The Well-Trained Mind (the new edition has a release date of February 4th, according to Amazon) or listed in The Complete Home Learning Sourcebook. The activities were either (to use a forbidden word in our house) stupid ("create or decorate an invitation to a cosmic party") or require lab materials many homeschoolers may not have access to (spectrum tubes of helium, hydrogen, sodium???). There were some "okay" activities or experiments in the book, but they were all ones I had seen in other books, as well.

One book I'm on the fence about is Janice Van Cleave's Constellations for Every Kid. I may get it from the library again and use it selectively in the spring. Things I liked about it--it has instructions (aimed at the student, not the teacher) on how to use a star map, and how to locate constellations; and each constellation/atronomical sight covered has a related experiment (e.g., demonstrating why the Lagoon Nebula has dark areas). My general thought about the book is that I could probably replace it with a couple of trips to the Museum of Science in Boston, but, conversely, and possibly easier to implement, we could focus on finding a constellation per night (weather permitting) and then complete the corresponding activity in the book the following day. Most activies/experiments use household materials. I looked at Astronomy for Every Kid, too, but wasn't impressed enough to even write down the title in my notes, evidently.

A book I loved the looks of is How the Universe Works, another out-of-print recommendation listed in The Well-Trained Mind.
  • It's very visual, like a DK Eyewitness book
  • It has easy to follow instructions for each activity
  • It has plenty of activities that seem easy to implement and seem like they would be fun to complete
  • The experients occasionally call for more than household materials (e.g., lenses for a "make-your-own-telescope" activity; a large battery and wires; foamboard, etc.)
  • The activities are sometimes complicated--the "build your own Galileo model" activity has one cutting out 26 different shapes to specific dimensions
  • One could get bogged down amongst all the choices--must be selective when choosing experiments or one could burn out on a subject before getting through all the material
In reference to this last negative aspect, I know of which I write, unfortunately. We tried using another book in this series, How Nature Works, and were done with plants well before we got to very many of the activities.

The absolute keepers:

1. The Stargazer's Alphabet--Night Sky Wonders from A to Z. Okay, I admit it. I'm a sucker for rhyming couplets. But, who wouldn't like
"A is for Andromeda, our neighbor galaxy;
B is for the Big Dipper, that's an easy one to see"
accompanied by stunning photographs and a few sentences' to a couple of paragraphs' worth of information about each alphabetical astronomical item? Author John Farrell also includes pronunciation guides for many names (wish he'd written a dinosaur book back in the day): "IO=EYE-oh or EE-oh"; "Halley rhymes with Sally"; and many, many more. This is one for my younger two (DD7 and DS4), but I bet the eleven-year-old will be hanging over the back of the sofa while we read, and may even sneak it up to his room to be tucked away with other favorites.

2. Exploring the Night Sky by amateur astronomy giant and science writer, Terence Dickinson. This is not an activity book, either, but a great general introduction to astronomy for ages nine and up (so says Amazon, and I agree, for once). The first section is très cool, in my book. Called "A Cosmic Voyage," it consists of two-page spreads with one of those pages being a full-page illustration and the other page being text with some smaller visuals. At the beginning of this section, Dickinson starts 1.3 light-seconds from Earth, briefly explains light-speed, and proceeds to describe the moon as if the reader is there. The next two pages are 4 light-minutes from Earth, the next are 4 light-hours from Earth, then 2 light-months from Earth, then 4.3 light-years, and so on until the last two pages of this section, which explore galaxy clusters and the expanding universe (300,000,000 light-years from Earth).

The other two sections are equally entertaining. Part two, "Alien Vistas," has the same two-page spreads as before, but now with more text and less full-page illustrations throughout. Topics covered are The Solar System: Our Sun's Family (nine planets, of course, as this book dates from 1987, and was updated in 1998. A more recent edition I could not find, but I'm hopeful one will be released soon),which has a chart of information about the planets (diameter, length of year, known moons, distnace from sun and length of day); Venus & Mercury: Two Broiled Worlds; Mars: the Most Earthlike Planet; Jupiter: King of the Planets; Saturn & Beyond: Rings and Ice Worlds; Planets of Other Stars; Nearby Stars: Our Sun's Neighbors; How Stars End Their Lives; Black Holes: Gravity Whirlpools in Space; Quasars: the Beacons of Deep Space; and Extraterrestrials: Is Anyone Out There?

The last section is simply titled "Stargazing," and covers how to recognize planets, stars, and constellations;"easy sky guides"; how to use fingers and hands to measure star patterns; and stars and constellations to look for in each season; plus it ends with a page about binoculars and telescopes.

3. A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky, by Michael Driscoll. This book's conversational tone and basic information augmented by sidebars with interesting tidbits, like how planets got their names, won me over. I would like an updated edition of this book, as well, since the "Night Sights" section at the end of the book, which is a recap of when to see planets, comets, and shooting stars only goes through 2008--aaargh! Two of the most interesting (to me) sections in this book have the titles, "What We Can See--Stars; the Sun; Planets (9); Hunks, Chunks, and Flying Objects; and Galaxies," and "What We Can't See--Gravity; Dark Matter; Black Holes; and a New 'Neu' Puzzle." Other sections include one about Astronomers--what they do and the tools they use, one called "A Brief History of Space," and a short list of resources (books and internet links), as well as chapters on the constellations.

It occurs to me now that none of my "keepers" are activity books! It's not for lack of trying, however. Another I looked at and decided would be hard for us to implement was Keepers of the Night, by Michael Caduto. I used a little bit of Keepers of Life in our study of plants this past fall, and while I liked the Native American tales that went along with each section (as did my children), Keepers of the Night has only one chapter of six devoted to astronomy--the others are about nocturnal animals. Some of the activities require a group of children larger than the three I have here at home. And some of them are too easy for my eleven-year-old (e.g., the flashlight-globe activity that shows daylight vs. night), which makes sense since I think this book is aimed at elementary aged kids. It would probably make a good co-op class for that age, in fact.

One activity book I may try to use is the GEMS publication, Earth, Moon, and Stars (Grades 5-8) from Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley. It's very classroom-oriented, however, with worksheets to go along with activities, etc., but it seems like it may be easy to adapt for home use. Some of the activites include making star clocks, drawing constellations after learning to use star maps, and modeling the phases of the moon. I own this book ("got it in a shrewd business deal") so I'll do further contemplating at a later date.

All of the books I've checked out so far have two things in common--with the exception of How the Universe Works, they are orientated for the Northern Hemisphere, and they all need updating! I've seen some newer books at bookstores that feature the dwarf planets, and plan to check them out--look for an update soon. I'll also post about Jacqueline Mitton's beautiful books, and other picture books I come across.

Happy stargazing, and stay warm!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Poetry Friday - Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986)

Cat on a Night of Snow
by Elizabeth Coatsworth

Cat, if you go outdoors you must walk in the snow.
You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
little white shoes of snow that have heels of sleet.
Stay by the fire, my Cat. Lie still, do not go.
See how the flames are leaping and hissing low.
I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite,
so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet--
stay with me, Cat. Outdoors the wild winds blow.

Outdoors, the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,
strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore,
and more than cats move, lit by our eyes' green light,
on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar--
Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,
and things that are yet to be done. Open the door!

Elizabeth Coatsworth was an American author of more than sixty children's books, including Newbery Medal Winner, The Cat Who Went to Heaven.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Picture Book of the Day. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Maria Montessori

On this day in 1907, Maria Montessori opened her first school and daycare center in Rome. Maria focused on letting children develop skills at their own pace. Her method is now used in preschools and elementary schools all over the world.
~The 2008-2009 Learning Calendar
And in homeschools, too, I might add. While we don't follow any method strictly, there are definitely some areas of learning with which we tend to utilize Montessori methodology. Math would be miserable without it for my oldest (almost 11, ack!) and dd (7) thinks Montessori math is the most fun thing to do outside painting (and she is blissfully serene with a paintbrush in hand--and that's saying a lot for my turbulent, I'm-dreading-her-teenage-years daughter with her already giant emotions). Spelling for us has a Montessori flavor to it, too. Sequential Spelling uses the visual cues of multiple colors showing word roots and has the added bonus of the kids correcting their own work.

I like the very basic Montessori tenet of the teacher (or parent) presenting information and stepping back--my kids seem to thrive best when they have ownership of the connections they make and discoveries they happen upon, if that makes sense. And the organizing ideas I've seen from some Montessori-oriented homeschoolers are great, if difficult to implement in my often chaotic household. I did just come across this thread on a homeschooling forum, which has some fairly practical ideas for a multi-child household.

There is much information about implementing Montessori in the homeschool environment out there. One of my favorites for getting the basics is a site simply called Montessori Homeschooling, which looks like a fairly recent addition to the internet with more info. to come soon.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Music Monday - Felix Mendelssohn, PLUS Opera from the Met

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn, and I expect to hear and hopefully perform a lot of his music this year. The chorus I rehearse with on Monday nights is singing three works by the composer in our March concert, and I like all three, but my favorite is Verleih' uns Frieden, written in 1831, which was about the middle of Mendelssohn's heyday of composing:

As you can probably guess just by listening to that last clip, Mendelssohn was a master of melody. You can also tell by listening to the opening bars of any of the three movements of his violin concerto. The first movement's clip (chosen for where in the music the clip originates) is played by Israeli violinist and former child prodigy, Maxim Vengerov, and the last two movements are played by the incomparable Joshua Bell:

Mendelssohn was from a family with a strict work ethic--his father made Felix and his three siblings (including his older sister Fanny, a brilliant though unknown pianist and also a prolific composer in her own right) learn music, French, English, Italian, Latin, Greek, math, history, geography, politics, art, and foreign literature, among other things. Makes what we try to get done at home seem almost laughable, somehow.

Anyway, I'll save other enjoyable Mendelssohn compositions for another day. But before I post, I must tell you all about the live, HD broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera performances--live from New York, selected operas are broadcast on movie theatre screens around the U.S. and internationally! Check here to see if one is coming to a theatre near you. I'm planning to go this Wednesday night to an encore performance of Massenet's Thaïs with Renee Fleming singing the title role. The next live performance is scheduled for this Saturday at 2 p.m. EST: Puccini's La Rondine.

Bravo to the Met!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Holiday Music #12 - The Wrap Up

It's been fun to reflect on some old favorites, remember some forgotten ones, and discover new music to love this past December. I'll take a leaf out of Melissa Wiley's book and alert you to the fact that, while I used Amazon links via the Amazon associate program to post music (and books) here, I don't even have the program set up to pay me (which notice appears every time I go to create yet another mini widget for a carol or book). It was just the easiest way for me get the music out there. Personally, I use iTunes for almost all my music purchases these days, but they don't pay me to say that.☺

Two of my new favorites that I discovered thanks to the December issue of BBC Music Magazine are "Born on a New Day," by Welsh composer John David and with Christmas text by King's Singers member Philip Lawson, and an Ave Maria by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, called "Bogoroditse Dyévo." I only wish this latter song was longer--it is that lovely. I plan to explore other music by Arvo Pärt soon!

Born on a New Day, as sung by The King's Singers:

Bogoroditse Dyévo, as sung by the Pro Arte Singers and Theatre of Voices under the direction of Paul Hillier on the cd, I Am the True Vine:

Happy New Year!