Thursday, October 20, 2016

Classics Club 32: The Woman in White

I really enjoyed reading this novel by Wilkie Collins. Among the reasons -

1. Plot - There was always something intriguing going on - bigamy, kidnap, asylums committals, forged documents, murder, stolen identities, madness, to name just a few. Collins revealed the details in a way that maintained the intrigue and suspense, yet wasn't frustrating. A real page turner, that justifies its classification as a sensation novel. It was originally published in serial form and I can well imagine the original readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.

2. Characters - There were so many to love, from the strong, resourceful intelligent Marian who wasn't  afraid to take action and didn't conform to the Victorian stereotype, to the self-centred hypochondriac Mr Fairlie, to the eccentric, charming (when he chose)  devious villain Count Fosco. Many I wouldn't like to meet in real life but they were fun to read. All except the vapid, child-like Laura Fairlie. Her I didn't like and was frustrated when Walter Hartright preferred her over her half-sister Marian just because Laura was pretty.

3. Theme - The relationship between Laura Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde is based solely on his desire to obtain her inheritance. Much harm comes to her as a result. Obviously women's legal rights, especially within marriage, is one of this novel's central themes.

4. Structure - The Woman in White is an early detective novel. In fact it is my pick for  the detective novel category in the Back to the Classics 2016 challenge. Walter Hartright utilizes many sleuthing techniques and the novel unfolds as a series of "evidence" from various characters that was obtained after the events themselves. I felt this structure suited the story.

5. The Ending - This was  nice and satisfying. No loose ends, no wondering what exactly happened. The characters who deserved to live happily ever after seemed to; those that did  not got their just desserts!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Week Ending 16 October 2016

With this being the official first week of the last school term of the year most kids are back to their books. But Miss 15 is officially 'done' for the year. So what did she choose to do in this child-led, delight-directed, low-tide week?

She spent a lot of time on Drivers Education. She turns 16 next month and will then be able to sit the theory test for her learner's license, which will enable her to get behind the wheel so long as there is a qualified person in the passenger seat to supervise and give instruction and guidance. She was looking forward to Miss 21 taking on that role but since she is still in England Miss 15 will have to make do with me. Anyway she spent a lot of time reading the road code and taking quizzes. She's already pretty good at the practical, on-road things but will need put some effort into memorising the more abstract, less useful stuff eg the amount of alcohol adults can legally have in their blood while driving.

We watched The Philadelphia Story - perfect for livening up a grey day. One of the things Miss 15 said she wanted to do this summer was watch a lot of movies. Shortly after that I stumbled across the Movies as Literature curriculum. A perfect fit! The current, very loose, plan is to watch about half the movies over the summer and just discuss the questions. Then next year, once we are back in our academic high tide we'll watch the remaining movies and she'll write some essays and do some of the suggested extension projects. The Philadelphia Story was a good first pick since we could make links between it and the slapstick tradition which Miss 15 recently studied.

She fitted in one birding trip - a low key walk through the Botanic Gardens with members of our local birding group. Lots of nests, eggs and chicks. The weekend bush walk had to be cancelled since the track was very slippery and the stream they had to cross was running high - not so safe for older members of the group. Hopefully it can be rescheduled.

Mr 18 had an eventful week. His last week of lectures at university. Just final exams and then his first year is finished. Over the weekend he was busy with JOTI - Scouting's international  Jamboree on the Internet. He had to take some time out though to attend the official presentation of his Queens Scout Award. It's the highest award in Scouting and was presented by the Governor-General, so quite a big deal. Mr 18 ended up having to leave early and miss the refreshments and informal mingling at the end since there was a technical crisis back at JOTI and he was the only one who could fix it.

I was absolutely gutted to have to miss the ceremony entirely since I was felled by the worst of a health problem I've been suffering on and off (sadly a lot more on than off lately) since last year. I couldn't even sit up let alone get out of bed. Thankfully I've finally received an appointment for an MRI which I've been waiting for for nearly six months. It will be nice to hopefully have a definitive diagnosis (and a cure) - right now one doctor says its one thing and another says it isn't.

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fortnight Ending 9 October 2016

Last week Miss 15 was out of town  competing at the national trampoline championship. It was great event for her. She won a gold medal in her individual event - her first-ever first placing at the national level! Two days after that she and her friend also won gold in the synchronised event.

These really are both gold! Obviously the lighting wasn't great.

I'm really proud of her and pleased for her - just disappointed I couldn't be there to share it with her. Some of the excitement had worn off by the time she got home. Below is one of her routines - sadly not the best one (her friend messed up the videoing of that one) and the quality isn't great. With any luck I'll get better videos and photos soon.


This week has been pretty low key, partly because she is recovering from last week and partly because she's got some bug which is sapping her energy. She did attend a  course for gymnastics coaches at her gym. She mainly coaches trampoline but also coaches one gymnastics class each week. The course was the first two days after nationals, so less than ideal timing. She considered not going but her natural diligence won out!

She's back into trampoline training and is delighted to have mastered one new skill already - on the first day her coach started teaching it. Since she is notoriously slow to gain new skills this was a major accomplishment and she was really buzzing when the session was over. It made the hefty training fees worthwhile!

We managed to finish the final two weeks of  Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies.  Luckily the final week was a short one so doing two weeks in one wasn't as much work as we'd feared.

After having to postpone twice (first I was sick, then it hailed) we managed a successful birding trip to a reserve on the outskirts of town. I say succesful since we did see the bird we were after but the views weren't great so we may go back in hopes of a better look. At least it wasn't too far to drive or too far to walk. Driving for a couple of hours, then walking for more than an hour and then missing the birds we were after or only getting unsatisfactory views is really frustrating. All part of birding though.

The rest of the time has been spent in the kitchen baking, relaxing with good books, and exercising her brain a little with some logic puzzles.

Linking with the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Classics Club 31: Journey ot the Centre of the Earth

I found Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth  a quick and  relatively engaging read. It tells the story Professor Lindenbrock, a mad German, scientist, who discovers an old manuscript giving directions to the centre of the earth. Of course he must attempt the trip himself, and convinces his very reluctant nephew, the novel's narrator Axel, to accompany him.

As I was reading I couldn't help noticing many parallels to Moby Dick, which I read last month. The lead-up in both novels is slow with lengthy preparations for the actual journey. The narrator is not the instigator of the adventure. In both cases the leader is a very obsessive personality, and despite being adventure novels both feature an awful lot  of travel tedium. I enjoyed this one more though, at least partly because of the differences. Journey to the Centre of the Earth was shorter since Verne mostly stuck to telling his story. Also, the obsessive leader of this adventure actually featured  in most of its retelling which made for a more interesting narrative. Another key difference is that everyone survives this adventure - not that a happy ending is a prerequisite for literature to be enjoyable.

Some aspects of the novel have not aged well. It is hard to imagine the awe and wonder the original readers might have felt when they read this account of what could be at the centre of the earth. With our greater scientific knowledge  such accounts simply read as inaccurate impossibilities.  Thankfully other facets - the plight of Axel who becomes separated from his fellow travellers or the ongoing conflict between the gung-ho professor and his more risk averse nephew - have lost nothing  in the 150 years+ since the novel was first published.

This was my science fiction pick for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Week Ending 25 September 2016

This was the week I officially declared our homeschooling year over. Given that most of Miss 15's courses don't have textbooks or outlines or any sort of formal guidelines deciding when we were "done" came down to a gut decision.

Algebra 2 did have a textbook and at the start of the week seven lessons remained. The majority of those covered geometric proofs and the lessons were poorly taught in my opinion. So we completed the non-proof lessons and then I searched online for some lessons that covered the geometry material and we used that instead.

In her child labour course she had investigated the issues in two distinct historical periods and then looked at the issues involved with child labour today. That seems a nice, tidy package to me. Her interest is sated and to do more would just be to do more for the sake of doing more. I doubt huge amounts of extra knowledge or insight would be gained. In other words this course feels done.

We dabbled a little in oology this week and closely examined a chicken egg.

Ornithology was a buffet course and I had gathered far more resources than we'd ever use. So it isn't surprising that we haven't done "everything". But the goal was never to do everything but simply to let Miss 15 pick what interested her. And she's done a lot - read living books, attended lectures and workshops by experts, covered topics like anatomy, evolution, ethography, conservation and phylogeny, conducted plenty of observations, completed a lot of field work including assignments from university level courses, taken part in some citizen science projects, learnt about statistical analysis, and a whole lot more. Since birding is a passion I know she'll continue to learn in this area. But I'm equally confident that even if she did nothing else bird-related ever again that the work she has completed this year is more than worthy of a highschool credit. So ornithology is also officially done.

I only had vague plans for Miss 15's writing course this year. I had hoped she'd do two online courses but she didn't especially enjoy or benefit from the first one, and the second one just felt way too pricey. So we mostly did our own thing. She ended up producing  eight major pieces of work including a book review, an expository essay, a scientific critique, a persuasive essay, a scientific research paper plus several smaller pieces, many for actual publications. She also worked through several writing exercises, chiefly from Help for High School. Since I'm all about quality rather than quantity this feels sufficient. I've also been reminded that trying to force Miss 15 to write following someone else's guidelines, especially  regarding process,  is more likely to result in complaints than a quality product! I know she was exposed to some new ideas and techniques, but it has to be up to her which if any she applies to her future writing. While her writing could always improve (whose couldn't?) I believe Miss 15 could competently write a university level essay and undertake whatever writing might be required in the adult world, even if we never do any more writing instruction. Consequently I'm happy to declare this course is also complete.

The arrival of spring is another factor leading us to end our formal homeschooling and move into a more low-tide learning phase.
Essentially her four main courses all feel finished. Conveniently this is also the last week of the official school term and Miss 15 will be out of town next week so we'd be taking break anyway. There are still a couple of weeks to go in her MOOC on slapstick in the movies so we'll finish that up when she gets home - not that watching and discussing slapstick really feels like work.

When I declare that our homeschooling year is over what I really mean is our formal, structured, high-tide, and somewhat parent-led learning is over. There will undoubtedly still be plenty of learning for the remainder of the year. It's just likely to be low-tide, child led,  unstructured and less formal.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fortnight Ending 18 September 2016

Academically it has been a productive couple of weeks.

* Miss 15 finished the Introduction to Animal Behaviour  MOOC. As well as watching the lectures she was busy working on her assignment. She conducted an experiment to monitor the food choices of garden birds and see whether they matched predictions she made based on a theoretical model. They didn't!  But that was fine. It was a great learning experience, not to mention the opportunity to practice correct protocols for scientific writing. Once her report was submitted she then had to peer review the work of four of her course mates.

Animal Behaviour was an unexpected,  recent addition to our studies but it has been a highlight, and a great extension to her interest in ornithology.

*The course on slapstick in the movies is injecting some light relief into our days. We started with silent movies last week - think Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd - before analyzing the transition to talkies this week. This isn't really my genre but I'm learning a lot since I'm watching alongside Miss 15. The course is a little frustrating since the workload varies from week to week, and is released in a piecemeal fashion rather than in one chunk at the at start of the week. Planning is difficult but we're coping so far.

Nothing like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd to lighten a heavy homeschool day.

* She's on the final stretch with Algebra 2 but it has been slow going as logarithms have been tripping her up. The highlight of my week was being able to figure out where she was going wrong with one type of problem and explain it in a way she understood!

Miss 15 is definitely "anti" when it comes to logarithms!

* Miss 15 finished a section on child labour in the Progressive era by drafting a speech to Congress outlining her recommended approach to the issue. She's now researching present day child labour issues in developing countries. She did  note the irony of having to stop research so she could get ready to go to work herself!

Basil's family is home from holiday so we've farewelled him for now.
* In ornithology she has been researching senses in birds and prepared a PowerPoint presentation on taste. We also took a group field trip to a small local reserve. I ended up waiting in the car. The good thing about this reserve is how much you can see from the car park. The highlight was two Grey Ducks who, due to interbreeding with Mallard Ducks, are becoming rare. I don't think we saw a single one all last year.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Week Ending 4 September 2016

This was a good week for birding for Miss 15 with three trips. At the start of the week we made a trip to my favourite estuary. Many of the waders which wintered elsewhere are starting to return but the highlight for us was undoubtedly a White-winged Black Tern in breeding plumage. This species is rare in these parts. While we've seen a couple before this was the first we'd seen in breeding plumage. It was pretty spectacular looking, although small and trickier to spot than we were anticipating.

Later in the week Miss 15 went out birding with friends who varied in age from more than 4 times her age to nearly 6 times her age! They went out to a spot where a large number of waders, including several rarer species had been seen earlier in the week. When they went very few waders were around and none of the rarer ones. Still it was a lovely day and Miss 15 did see a Gull-billed Tern - her first for the year.
These two terns were the highlight of the birding week.
The following day we went to our local estuary. It was Global Shorebird Day and birders all over the world were attempting to spot as many of the world's shorebirds as possible. Sadly we didn't have a lot of luck (and I started to feel sick so we cut out trip short) but it was another lovely day to be outdoors.

Miss 15 has  a surprising fondness for slapstick comedy. When I discovered a MOOC on slapstick movies I was pretty confident she'd be keen to add it to her schedule. It'll make a fun addition to an English course. We aren't actually doing any English this year but a previous course was a bit light because I 'stole' some Shakespeare from it to add to some other Shakespeare we did later. Having an entire Shakespeare course made sense and I was sure we'd fill the gap in the first English course somehow. This fits the bill nicely and it is uniquely her.

The week ended with a trampoline competition - a smaller one but the last before the National Champs at the end of the month. It was Miss 15's chance to compete her new routine which (finally) includes a half-out (a double somersault with a half turn for the uninitiated) She's taken forever to gain this skill. Training had been going well all week but on Friday everything turned bad - so bad her coach suggested she train on Saturday which is normally her off day! So she was pretty nervous before the competition as she had no idea whether she'd actually complete the routine. Thankfully she made it through and amazingly enough managed to win - albeit by a very small margin. Now three weeks of hard work to fine tune that routine before Nationals.

For me another highlight of the week was the spring-like weather. Whenever I step outside I'm delighted by the fragrance from my Daphne bush and I've also enjoyed watching the Monarch butterflies flit around. Some have even been laying eggs.

Signs of spring.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.