Saturday, May 20, 2017

Week Ending 21 May 2017

This has been an especially uneventful and routine week, which basically means I have nothing interesting to say.

* All the homeschooling proceeded as planned - one statistics lesson (on samples and surveys), half a chapter of animal behaviour, a history chapter (looking at the state of Maori society in the latter nineteenth century), some grammar, vocabulary and poetry, several books from The Odyssey,  one movie (The Music Man, which was much more appreciated than the previous week's selection), plus a meaty, belated paragraph relating to The Pearl.

* Trampoline coaching and training also proceeded as normal - except for Tuesday when Miss 16 texted me to pick her up early. Plain bouncing was okay but any attempts at twisting or somersaulting resulted in her feeling dizzy and nauseous. Obviously the lingering effects of the cold which affected her competition last weekend.

* We had planned to go birding today but the forecast was for very low temperature with cold, gale force winds. Driving over 90 minutes to explore a river mouth in such conditions sounded unpleasant at best, and likely to be a total waste of time (too windy to hold scopes steady and heavy rain in the high country means rivers are running high, forcing the birds to move away from the gravel islands they use for roosting and foraging). So I canceled the trip and we read and baked instead.

Red Velvet Cake


*In many ways I'm glad for this quiet week. It's the calm before the  coming storm. June is shaping up as a busy month (good busy, but busy is busy) and it's now virtually certain we are moving out of our house - in just over a week. So next week will be a whirlwind of sorting - what do we need to take with us to our temporary abode and what can go into storage for five weeks. It also means decisions need to be made about paint colours, floor coverings and the like. Unfortunately I missed the interior decorating gene and these decisions fill me with dread rather than excitement.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Classics Club 48:The Count of Monte Cristo

I can't believe I haven't already posted a review of this since I read it last year!

The plot drew me in immediately. When we first meet our protagonist, Edmond Dantes everything is right in his world. Not only he is well-loved and respected  but he is on the brink of being promoted to captain on the ship he sails. But there are those who are jealous of his success and happiness, including both a colleague and a love rival. They conspire to spread rumors about him and, on the day of his wedding no less, he is arrested and then falsely imprisoned. Where he stays for fourteen years. Eventually he escapes and after a time working on a ship he retrieves the treasure a fellow prisoner (now deceased) told him about. Dantes then spends the rest of the novel carrying out elaborate schemes of revenge on those who wronged him.

Up until this point I enjoyed the novel. Dantes was a sympathetic character and the reader could genuinely root for him as he struggled through the mostly isolated prison experience and patiently worked to escape. Not only does the plot become more complex and difficult to follow (Dantes assumes multiple disguises and aliases, and  the reader isn't always initially aware of them), but Dantes  himself becomes less sympathetic, less easy to relate to, and less easy to empathize with. On the one hand I can understand that being unjustly imprisoned for fourteen years would make anyone bitter add harden them, and I'm sure revenge felt sweet. Yet some of his desire for revenge felt unjustified and simply mean-spirited. Mercedes, after all, had done nothing to harm him, had tried to secure his release and  had only married after being falsely informed of Dantes's death. It seems he felt she should have remained true to him forever. Yet, if he truly loved her wouldn't he want her to find happiness? Even in those cases where Dantes's desire for revenge was more justified, I still wondered if he would have been happier if he had spend his time and energy trying to positively experience his freedom, rather than focusing on revenge.

For me The Count of Monte Cristo was a novel of two halves. For all its length it was not a difficult read and was an excellent illustration of the perils of revenge.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Week Ending 14 May 2017

Some random notes from this week.

* Miss 16 decided that rather than do a poetry unit in one big chunk, she'd prefer to do a poem or two most days of the week. So that's what we were going to do this term. Except we entirely forgot last week! That's what happens when I don't write things down. Anyway we belatedly got started this week with some selections from Sound and Sense as well as some from here. There's no particular focus.  The Sound and Sense poems have questions but the other poems we just  read and discuss in a freestyle fashion, unless some particular inspiration strikes!

* For literature  we've started The Odyssey. In truth Miss 16 has started. I plan on reading it alongside her but I'm currently reading Dracula, so I want to finish that first. Since I tend to read fairly quickly I should catch up with her in a day or two. This week I took our discussion questions and background information from here, here and here.


The Odyssey and the New Zealand Wars. Two of the things keeping us busy this week.

* In history we finished off the DVD documentary series on the New Zealand Wars and then took a quick look at some key political leaders of the latter nineteenth century.

* This week's movies was The Quiet Man. Miss 16 didn't appreciate the the portrayal of women's rights (or lack thereof) and the way domestic violence was played for laughs. Still it made for some good discussion.

* She's working steadily through both her animal behaviour and statistics courses. She seems to be whipping through statistics pretty quickly at the moment so we might increase the number of lessons from 1 to 2 each week, at least until we hit material which slows her down again.

* Tuesday was an "interesting" day. We left the house before 9 am and, apart from an hour in the middle of the day, Miss 16 wasn't home again until after 9 pm. No bookwork happened whatsoever. Instead the day was filled with birding, driving (including a mock test with the instructor - he says she's good to go so as soon as she officially turn 16 1/2 we'll be able to book her test) and trampoline (both coaching a training). So science, driver's education and PE if I had to record any of it. I could even throw in some home economics since she tried a new recipe for breakfast - gingerbread pancakes!

* Miss 16's first trampoline competition of the year was this week. She placed middle of the field and just narrowly missed out on qualifying for Nationals. But given that it was her first competition in the international division, that she was battling a cold (her voice was coming and going all day), and that she crashed badly in training the day before and had to scale back one of her routines as a result I think she was reasonably pleased. Certainly relieved to get it our of the way.The next competition is just over a month away and she's hoping that with some improvements (and no cold) she'll get the marks she wants. Apart from competing she also found herself unexpectedly on a couple of judging panels. It was her first time using the time of flight machine and to complicate matters the machine was a little temperamental and didn't work for some routines. By rights she would have had to use a stopwatch to time the videos of  those routines but since her event was next up one of the other judges got stuck with that job. She didn't mind. Apparently timing with a stopwatch isn't a favoured activity among judges!

Miss 16 and some of her teammates getting ready for their warm-ups.

* This week was also the one where  Miss 16 claimed her 15 minutes of fame  - at least in birding circles in this part of the world. A new bird was added to our country's official list. There was a blog post from the national museum announcing the fact and giving more information about the bird. Miss 16 was mentioned by name since she was the one who submitted the official report. She wasn't the one who first found the bird but she recorded her sighting of it on eBird . That led to her being asked to submit an official report without which the bird couldn't be officially recognized. She had learnt how to make these official reports at a field camp a couple for years ago so it was a great chance to put theory into practice. It's been nice to see the process come to fruition and see first-hand the importance of good record keeping and pesky paperwork.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Week Ending 7 May 2017

Last year whenever we'd taken a two week break maths was normally a struggle on the first day back. Miss 16 seemed to have forgotten everything she had learned the previous term. Thankfully things always cleared up after a day or two. Since this was our first week back at the books I was somewhat apprehensive about resuming statistics. However, that went smoothly with no issues whatsoever. Instead it was grammar - of all things - that caused us grief. Luckily we were able to retain our sense of humor. At one stage I - jokingly - remarked that it was lucky we were just about finished since I was nearly being driven to drink. "Forget nearly," Miss 16 retorted. "I need a stiff whisky now!" I hasten to add that she has never had a stiff whisky - or an unstiff one for that matter.

Thankfully the rest of the week went smoothly. We quickly whipped through a novella - John Steinbeck's The Pearl - for literature. I mainly used a Bravewriter Slingshot guide (those are now the  Boomerangs - our copy is really old. I won it in 2005 if the date on the email is to be relied upon) plus a Penguin guide that I found online. We finally reached the New Zealand Wars in history and I found a 5 part documentary in the library. We didn't get through as much of it as I'd hoped but we'll finish it next week. We watched and discussed Friendly Persuasion for her movies course. I was surprised by how humorous it was. Since we can only obtain the remaining movies from the specialist movie store in the centre of town we'll ramp up our study and cover a movie a week. It's more efficient to pick up a new movie when we return the old one, rather than making extra trips to return a movie one week and get a new one the following week. Animal behaviour was focused on mating systems. Learning about the mating behaviour of the humble dunnock has me convinced that they provide inspiration for many of the plot lines on various soap operas!

Trampolining has now reverted to its regular schedule. A change to the coaching schedule means Miss 16 is coaching the same number of hours as last term but over fewer days. That's great because she has less downtime at the gym. Friday afternoon felt very leisurely since we didn't have to leave home until 5:30 as opposed to 3:30 pm. An added bonus was that she lost her least favored class (lots of behavioural issues) and gained one which should be much easier to manage.

We did a little birding one day, searching for a species which normally shows up in May or June. No sign of it yet so we'll try again in a couple of weeks. Numbers have been declining over the years and I guess one year there won't be any that make the journey to this spot. We also watched a documentary on the conflicting needs of migratory shorebirds and commercial oyster farmers in the Delaware Bay region.


Sometimes Miss 16 and I work on her stuff together. Other times she works alone and I have time to pursue my own interests.

I've started a new MOOC - this one on the history of rock music. It's lighter and less directly related to our homeschooling than any of the ones I've previously done. As always though I think it's good for the kids (mainly Miss 16 because even though Mr 19 and Miss 22 still live at home they are so busy with work/study/the rest of their lives that they aren't actually at home a lot) to see me living the truth that learning is a lifelong endeavour.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Classics Club 47: Nicholas Nickleby

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby opens when Nicholas, his sister and mother are left destitute following the death of his father. The novel follows Nicholas as he attempts to provide some measure of security for his family. His subsequent life and adventures include travelling to London to appeal to a wealthy uncle - only to have that uncle take an immediate dislike to him, working for a villainous schoolmaster, attacking the schoolmaster and escaping with one of the abused schoolboys, working as an actor for a theatre company, meeting, falling in love with and later rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress, and finally obtaining a good position with a wealthy and benevolent employer. There are also many interesting subplots including the harassment of his sister Kate, a duel between two noblemen, a suicide, the downfall of a gigolo, business blackmail and much more. In the end though everyone (at least all the good and worthy characters) get to live satisfyingly happily ever after.

In Nicholas Dickens's created a worthy young hero whom the reader could root for and be happy to see prosper through a combination of his own hard work and the well-deserved kindness of others.Nicholas does have some flaws though, especially his quick temper, and these ensure that he is not so unbelievably perfect that the reader can't relate to him. In typical Dickens fashion there is a large cast of supporting characters, many of whom are both well-rounded and memorable. However, if you are looking for a strong, courageous female lead this is not the book for you. Kate tries, she certainly isn't afraid of hard work and attempts to fend off the unwelcome advances that come her way. But she has no success by herself and has to rely on Nicholas for protection. The most memorable female character is probably Mrs Nickleby. Her self centerdness and lack of self-awareness is delightfully horrible, amusing to read but definitely not the stuff of literary role models. One aspect of many of the characters I especially appreciated was their revealing names. You don't even need to have cracked open the novel to know who, out of Wackford Squeers, Mr Cheeryble and Sir Mulberry Hawk, is the generous and benevolent employer, who is the evil schoolmaster with a fondness for using his cane, and who preys on young girls.

Dickens is well-known for using his writing to highlight some of the social problems of his day. The harassment of Kate and the attempted forced marriage of Madeline Bray to ensure her father' s debts are paid off, shines light on some of the difficulties faced by women in nineteenth-century England, while the actions of Mr Squeers and his running of his "school" at Dothebys Hall was a clear indictment of unregulated boarding schools and the lack of care given to orphans.

If you enjoy Dickens but have not yet read Nicholas Nickleby then you should. However, if Dickens is not to your liking I doubt this novel will change your opinion.

Since I've long wanted to visit England, especially London, I'm using this as the "classic set in a place you'd like to visit" for the Back to the Classics Challenge. It would be interesting to visit Dickens's London but I wouldn't want to live there!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Week Ending 30 April 2017

This week was supposed to be all about trampoline training with two sessions every day, including 7:30am starts. However, Miss 16's coach ended up taking a couple of days off in order to move house. So instead of being all about trampoline the week was only mostly about trampoline.

The time off was very welcome since, as fate would have it, this turned out to be publishing deadline week in our birding world. As a result Miss 16 had a newsletter to publish,  an article to write for one magazine and a column to write for another. When she wasn't at the gym she was chained to the computer. If I had to worry about counting hours for credit we'd have PE and language arts nailed this week!

Editing copy for the newsletter.

Wednesday was a crazy day for me. I got Miss 16 to the gym by 7:30, was home for 20 minutes then had to drive Dh to the out of town university. Headed back in to town, parked at the gym and squeezed in a quick walk in before Miss 16's first session finished. Dropped her home then drove back to the out of town university to collect Dh.  Home for 20 minutes then it was time to return Miss 16 to the gym.On the way there I got a call from Mr 19 to say the plumber was early and would be arriving soon.  He pulled up just before me and while he got on with replacing our hot water cylinder I managed to  bake bread rolls for dinner. Plans to make some important phone calls got put on hold though. Replacing a hot water cylinder turns out to be a noisy business. After a couple of hours it was time to collect Miss 16 from the gym. Thirty minutes after we got home it was time to take Dh back to the out of town university since his class had a two hour test that evening. I couldn't facing making an extra round trip so I tossed a book into the car and did some reading while I waited for him. I'm just glad all our days aren't so crazy. Just to add to the fun the electrician wasn't able to come when we wanted, meaning we had 24 hours without hot water.

There were only two other events of note this week. Our monthly birding meeting, my first in charge, thankfully ran smoothly. There was an interesting talk from a guy who did his PhD in Peru. Looking at the size of the spiders there I don't think Miss 16 will be too keen on doing field work in that part of the world. We had Miss 22's boyfriend around for dinner one evening. We've all met him in passing before, but this was the first proper meeting. Yet another reminder of the new parenting stage I'm increasingly finding myself in. 

A trip to a cafe for a belated Easter shake was a fun way to mark the end of the holiday training programme.

I'm somewhat surprised to have completed thirteen books this month. I thought tackling Nicholas Nickleby would have slowed me down a little. The fact that there was no formal homeschooling for two weeks, plus the fact that I picked a couple of short, quick reads after Dickens probably compensated. Among my favourite reads were The Wish Child, A Hundred Summers and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, plus Nicholas Nickleby of course. I'm exactly half way through the Back to the Classics Challenge, and have just two more books to read before I complete Modern Mrs Darcy's twin challenges. What I will have to do is put some planning time into researching books that fit the remaining 17 categories of the Pop Sugar challenge. I've penciled in some titles, but I've got no idea for other categories.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Week Ending 23 April 2017

This week was all about the annual teen birders camp. Miss 16 left on her flight up North early on Monday, got back late on Friday and in between had a great time. She knew almost everybody already, either from last year's camp or from the young birders group. It's not surprising that this was the best camp socially and in terms of pure fun. There was a lot of driving between locations so lots of opportunity for singing and other hilarity.

At one stop they discovered over 400 Royal Spoonbills roosting in the trees.

At another stop Miss 16 was happy to spot this New Zealand Dabchick since we don't get them down our way.. 
Among the activities were a day trip to a nearby island where they practiced 5 minute bird counts in the bush, and a beach patrol, searching for dead or dying birds that have washed ashore. It's one of those activities where you are never sure whether you actually want to find a lot or not! Since the weather had been calm for a few days preceding their patrol they didn't find much. There was also a kiwi survey at night. Since kiwi are known to be shy the teens were not really surprised, but still a little disappointed, to only hear but not see them.

A great place to look for bush birds.
The camp's big activity was a 5 hour pelagic - bird watching from sea. Miss 16 was not at all sure about this since her last time on a boat had been pretty miserable. But she knew she couldn't live with herself if she didn't give it a try. So we got her some seasickness medication and hoped for the best. Apparently she didn't feel great, but she was better than last time and so long as she stayed seated in one position the seasickness wasn't unbearable. Luckily she managed to see all the birds from her chosen seat.

A Campell Island Mollymawk and a Flesh-footed Shearwater were two of the birds she saw on the pelagic.

Of all four birding camps and field courses she's gone on in the past three years this the most productive in terms of new birds. She managed 32 new species for the year, twelve of which she had never seen before. Her favorite was the Barn Owl, a species which has only recently established in this country. There is a very small localized population that happens to be close to where the camp was held. Apparently organizers hadn't planned to visit, but Miss 16 and a couple of others begged so much that they relented. Another favorite was the New Zealand Storm Petrel which was thought to be extinct, until being rediscovered early this century. Their breeding site was discovered just three years ago. Another favorite was the Grey Noddy, a bird that wasn't even on her radar. But on the boat they found a small group resting on a rocky island and were able to circumnavigate the island a couple of times, ensuring everyone got good views.
Miss 16's three favourite birds. Photos from NZ Birds Online

On her return Miss 16 was right back into trampoline training with a session on Saturday morning. In the afternoon we went birding, since you can never have too much birding, at least in our house. The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing - reading, chatting online with friends from camp and watching Moana.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights