Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hänsel und Gretel

Serena went to her first opera today - the English adaptation of Englebert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel by the Vancouver Opera In Schools (VOIS).  It was a great production sung by four singers accompanied by a pianist.
The VOIS is on tour with public performances of Hansel & Gretel throughout B.C. until next spring.  It's a great way to introduce opera to young children.  Check it out if you can!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


What an inspiration!  We read the book "Seabiscuit, the Wonder Horse" by Meghan McCarthy, watched the historic 1938 Pimlico match race, and saw the 2003 biographical movie Seabiscuit.  

When we were at the A&T Equestrian for the YNC field trip, as soon as the staff led a bunch of horses into the paddock, Serena had her eyes immediately trained on Blackberry - the only horse of pure black, like a real race horse. She broke into tears when someone else got to him first.  She wouldn't take another horse and would wait til Blackberry was available again.

That same day I brought home a couple dozen books from the library, a few of them on how to draw horses. Not long after, Serena's desk is filled with sketches of horses. Her Christmas wish list? The crystal horse at Swarovski. (Note to Santa: it's $510.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Based on Star Dancer by Edgar Degas, 1876, made with pastel on paper:

Degas started using pastels when he got older; the smudgy effect looked like what he saw with his failing eyesight.

Painting with pastels steers Serena away from clean lines and makes imperfections acceptable.

Degas and Serena share the same love for ballet as an art form and pastel as their medium of expression.  I think they would make good company!

My Art Book: Amazing Art Projects Inspired By Masterpieces
Children's Book of Art: An Introduction to the World's Most Amazing Paintings and Sculptures

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


From "If You Were Alliteration" by Trisha Speed Shaskan:
Alliteration - the same sound repeated at the beginning of two of more words in a phrase or a sentence.
Acrostic Poem - the first letter of each line spells a word vertically.

An Illustration by Serena:
Serena sat on a sunken stool sipping strawberry sundae in the sunshine.
Ed erased the editor's egg and eel enchilada.
Rosy Ruben rubbed his rusty ruler on a rich red rug.
Eleanor the elephant explored Egypt with her extremely essential ears.
Narrators never eat nuts and nuggets without nifty napkins.
Archaeologists ate ancient apples with anchovies and aphids.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


"I've been fine for nine years without any pluttification tables," said Pippi.  "And I'm sure I can manage in the future, too."

Before there were Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls in Serena's world, there's Pippilotta Comestibles Windowshade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking, the alter ego of every child.

Serena didn't know what multiplication meant then when we first came upon the word in "Pippi Plays Tag with the Police" in Astrid Lindgren's book.  Now pluttification is no longer a mystery.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Presenting New Artwork and Haiku by Serena:

A smooth pumpkin grows
On a vine that twists and twirls
Waiting to be picked

Buttery pie crust
With creamy pumpkin filling
Cinnamon whip cream

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

O Canada

Once in a while in our homeschooling days our learning falls together tidily yet unintentionally.  We love our libraries and use them extensively, bringing home dozens of books each week.  What we ended up reading and watching lately looks very much like a unit study on Canada.  We posted the stories of Annie Edson Taylor and Laura Secord, and the documentary on the War of 1812 recently. Here are a few more good finds on the topic of our home and native land:

"O Canada" by Ted Harrison:

The first illustrated version of our national anthem O Canada with spectacular paintings by acclaimed Canadian artist Ted Harrison as he pays tribute to each province and territory.  The book comes with French lyrics - we're now attempting to learn O Canada in French!

Serena loves this one, it's a ton of fun - we counted our way across Canada with "Loonies and Toonies: A Canadian Number Book" by Mike Ulmer:

1 nation
2 languages
3 metres-a-side border
4 theatres at Stratford
5 kinds of Pacific salmon
6 time zones
7 fathers of Confederation
8 left shoes (Terry Fox)
9 cattle head (John Ware)
10 of the metric system
11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month
12 of a clutch of Canada geese eggs
13 provinces + territories
14 days to canoe down the South Nahanni River in Northwest Territories
15 daredevils going over Niagara Falls in a barrel (Annie Taylor was the first!)
16 spokes in the calèche's wheel
17 of Hwy 17 dividing the city of Lloydminster between Saskatchewan and Alberta
18 undefeated years of the Bluenose
19 the jersey number of Paul Henderson
20 dollar bills linking Canadians to Queen Elizabeth II
50 polar bears on an ice floe
100s of loonies and toonies traded by the toothfairies

In the October issue of The Canadian Reader, we read up on the first successful whale hunt by Inuit hunters in Iqaluit this past August after the decades long ban on hunting bowheads was finally lifted.  The video on the butchering of the 70-tonne bowhead whale into meat and muktaaq was quite surreal!

Finally we watched another Explorers of the World DVD, this time on Henry Hudson. He was English but his voyage along our eastern coast was very influential on the colonization of the New World. Now we know where the name of our famous Hudson Bay came from!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

History Through Biography

Being a very relational person, Serena loves a good character in any story and reading biographies has been a great way to introduce history to her.

Daddy took on "Laura Secord's Brave Walk" by Connie Brummel Crook, enriching the story with what he knows growing up around the Niagara region. PBS happened to premiere The War of 1812 last week.  We're able to see some re-enactments of "a small but bitter war" with no real winners in the end but the native nations being the clear losers.

We went back further in time and read "Follow The Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus" by Peter Sis.  While the book presents a simplified story of a romanticized explorer, the Schlessinger video "Explorers of the World" brought to light some of the more questionable qualities of Columbus during his voyage, especially the brutality toward the Taino, the native people of the Caribbean. Sadly the injustice upon the natives was a thread that ran through both periods of history.

Other biographies explored recently:
"Marco Polo" - Explorers of the World DVD
"Abraham Lincoln" by Ingri & Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
"Leonardo da Vinci" by Diane Stanley
"Leonardo da Vinci" - Inventors of the World DVD
"Michelangelo" by Diane Stanley
"Peter Tchaikovsky" by Mike Venezia
"Cleopatra" by Adele Geras

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Community House

Serena made a pop-up book about the people in her community home.

What does it mean that you live in a community house, Serena?
To live in a house with a bunch of people!  And we're all Christians!

What do you like about living in community?
Because they're all my friends and I have company to play with me!

What do you do together?
We pray together, we have house dinner too. We bake cookies together! I play the flute with Pris, I watch "Amazing Race" with Geoffrey, I play games with Jonathan, I play "Phillippe" with Ben, and I squeeze Brenda!

Anything you don't like about living in a community house?
Sometimes it is too noisy in the kitchen when everyone cooks together!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book In A Bag

The topic for our first Wednesday Club meeting with the VCHEA this year is Book In A Bag.  Serena picked a book by Chris Van Allsburg, whose books such as "Jumanji", "Probuditi", and "The Sweetest Fig" we've read and thoroughly enjoyed.

"Queen of the Falls" is a bit different than the other books by the author.  It's a true story about Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Serena painted this picture of Niagara Falls as part of her presentation.

Check out this video of Chris Van Allsburg talking about his book, "Queen of the Falls" which came out this year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pioneer Thanksgiving

We're on the sixth book, "The Long Winter", in the Little House series. Serena is completely drawn into the Ingalls family story, partly by the rich descriptive narration, and partly by the charm of pioneer life.

This past week, we tried following some pioneer traditions leading up to Thanksgiving, based on the book "A Pioneer Thanksgiving, A Story of Harvest Celebration in 1841" by Barbara Greenwood.
Weaving a Nutting Basket:
The Pioneers made theirs with honeysuckle vines or willow wands.  Children were sent into the forest with these baskets to gather from the wild - acorns, beechnuts, black walnuts, butternuts or sweet chestnuts.  We filled ours with acorns.
Playing Conkers:
Serena remembered a perfect spot for collecting horse chestnuts - it's the same spot where we always go to get our leaves in the fall for composting. We made our conkers by threading a string through each chestnut.  To play, take turns whirling your conker to strike the nuts on the ground!

Peach-Stone Game:
We saved and cleaned some peach stones for this game popular among the Iroquois children at the Green Corn Festival.
Making a Corn Dolly:
This ritual was a harvest superstition to pass the "harvest spirit" on to the new crop.  It's traditionally made with wheat stalks - wheat is called corn in Europe and Britain.  We made ours with twine.
Making Cranberry Sauce:
The pioneers would gather cranberries after the first hard frost.  It was slow work to pick the berries out of their tangle of stems in the cranberry bog.  We picked ours from the supermarket.  It was fast.
The highlight for Serena is definitely making festival bread.  It's our first time making bread from scratch, and it worked!  Pioneers decorated their festival bread with favourite pictures like sheaves of wheat, a cornucopia spilling fruit, baskets of fish, etc.  Patriotic Serena chose CANADA and the maple leaf as her decoration.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Happy Thanksgiving!

Related Reading:
"A Pioneer Story: the daily life of a Canadian Family in 1840" by Barbara Greenwood
"Canadian Pioneers" by Maxine Trottier

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tool Girl

Kids Workshop at the Home Depot: a perfect daddy-daughter date!

Related reading: 
"Workshop" by Andrew Clements
"I Love Tools!" by Philemon Sturges

Friday, October 7, 2011


"En el otoño las hojas cambian y caen al suelo!"

That's what Serena will say if I ask her, ¿Como se dice "in the autumn the leaves change and fall to the ground" en español?

It's a gorgeous autumn day today.  We soaked it all in with the heron and the turtles at Diefenbaker park.  Feliz otoño!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Burrowing Duck?

Being a meticulous child who loves details, Serena's drawings are full of information.  She loves it when you notice that little caterpillar she added on the pansy, or the beehive hanging over the calla lily.  On top of the picture hangs the long morning glory vine.  Then there's a snake underground, and what's that in the middle?  Oh, a mole she clarified.  Now this one on the right, is that a

We recently read a biography on Ted Giesel (Dr. Seuss) and how he was teased as a child drawing nonsensical and fantastical animals.  I tried my best not to sound suspicious or doubtful when I asked Serena why there's a duck underground, but my tone failed me.  I might as well have said what this logical practical mom was really thinking - ducks don't burrow.

"No, mom, but there IS this kind of duck that make their nests in empty holes left by aardvarks!  Really!"

So it's not just any plain old ducks she's drawing.  She's referring to the South African Shelduck that breed "in disused mammal holes, usually those of the Aardvark" according to Wikipedia.  Upon further digging, we found out that the Shelduck in Kazakhstan make their nests in holes of foxes or marmots, and the Shelduck in UK prefer old rabbit burrows.

So she's not nonsensical afterall.  Isn't she just a little too realistic?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Barnacles & Whales

"I want to know how barnacles grow on humpback whales."

That was what Serena said last night just before I turned off the lights in her room.  Who knows what got that into her little head.  Wait, there's that poster of a humpback whale with barnacles on the wall by her bed...

We can't possibly leave a question unanswered, even after a good night's sleep, can we?  Thankfully we found this wonderful article that explains everything to our curious scientist's satisfaction.  Serena laughed at the thought of these barnacles larvae using their front antennae to walk around the whale scouting for "prime real estate" - do you know that the spot where barnacles hunker down on a whale is not at all random?

Apparently even the marine biologists don't fully know exactly how these barnacles find their way to the whales.  Serena was quite pleased to have asked a question that even the know-it-all grown-ups haven't yet figured out.