Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January in Review

January was a mixed month - plenty of periods of quiet, relaxed summer living, interspersed with periods of busyness, including lots of coming and going on the kids' part - and multiple trips to and from the airport in one week as a result on my part.

Mr 20 was the first to leave, but he drove so no airport duty for me! He spent just over a week volunteering as an abseiling instructor at a Scout jamboree. By all accounts he had a great time but one story he told made me especially proud. One girl (Scouting is mixed gender here) had apparently not brought suitable trousers with her and as a result was going to have to miss out on an activity the following day and was pretty upset by this fact. So that evening Mr 20 hopped into his car, drove 45 minutes to the nearest town, bought her a pair of trousers with his own cash, and then drove back to camp. In many ways that typifies him - he likes to solve problems, help out and is happy to take decisive action. Now that he's back home he is auditing a summer school course at university. One of the courses he is going to take this year has a reputation for being really hard with a high failure rate. He heard parts of this summer course would be  good preparation he so arranged to sit in on it - or at least the relevant sections. You have no idea how surprised I am by this - although if you read here a few years ago when  I was still homeschooling him and fretting about his motivation (or lack thereof) perhaps you will!

On the day he returned  Miss 23 and her boyfriend departed on a trip up north to see his parents and then enjoy a bit of a road trip. I drove them to the airport. The next  day it was Miss 17's turn to depart. She also flew north to spend a few days with a friend. Plenty of birding was on their agenda and she saw about 30 new species for the year, including a couple she'd never seen before, which pleased her greatly. The day she arrived home was also the day Mr 25 flew in for a quick visit. While he was here .... he got married! It was a very small, low key registry office affair and we only found out a few days before. They are planning a church wedding (which they'll consider their real wedding) in a few months, but wanted to get started on the long process of obtaining a visa for his wife to join him overseas. And to do that they needed a marriage certificate - so they made the  decision to get one while he was in town.

In less exciting news Miss 17 finally got the results of the trampoline judging course she attended at the beginning of December. She hoped to move up a level and qualify as a Junior judge, but instead did well enough that she skipped a level and is now a Junior Advanced judge. She was nervous about how she had done so I'm especially pleased for her.

In the latter part of the month many elements of our regular routine started returning. Miss 17 got busy getting the local birding newsletter ready for publication, and also drafting a couple of items for the national magazine. Plus she received the proofs of her scientific paper to check-over prior to publication. We had the first bird banding session of the year and we've done plenty of birding at our favourite local spots as well.

This Muscovy duck was keen to make our acquaintance.

At the end of the month Miss 17 and I took a birding road trip across to the other side of the country - we are on a skinny island so the drive only takes a few hours. We were in search of Blue Duck or Whio, yet another of our endangered species. We'd never seen one in the wild before - our two previous trips to a likely spot had been without without success. This time however we were in luck and found them a pair just 100 metres from where we parked the car. We bumped into a conservation worker who told us if we walked another 30 minutes we would likely find another couple of pairs. However, it was just too hot for us to muster the energy - the country is in the grips of a heat wave at the moment. We'd expected to have to put much more effort into finding these ducks and had been prepared to stay the night but instead made it there and back in the one day  - and added nine new birds to our year lists which was a very good day's birding for us.

Seeing our first ever Whio was definitely one of the highlight of this month.

At the end of last year I was confident Miss 17 had reached a decision about her university studies and we'd found the best way for her to gain admission to the university of her choice. Less than a month later those decisions were all up-in-the air again, for a mix of positive and not-so-positive reasons. Sigh! Earlier in the month Miss 17 was approached by a guy we sort-of -know through birding circles. He mentioned that he might have some work for her. Later in the month we went out with him and he showed us what would be involved. And it is exactly Miss 17's dream work - bird monitoring. As she said she'd volunteer to do it for free - and he is offering to pay her! It's not yet guaranteed but is part-time, summer only and flexible hours so could relatively easily be combined with university study - but only if she studied at the local university, which wasn't her university of choice. But the potential job opportunity had her rethinking her plans.

Miss 17's possible job later this year will require her to drive a manual. So Mr 20 went out and bought a manual car (he already owns a car - it's an automatic like ours) just so he can teach her. That's brotherly love in action - I was planning on just sending her to a driving instructor for a lesson or two!
The following day she had an interview at the local university regarding her application to do a short sub-degree level course there, the course that is needed for her to gain admission to the university of her choice the following year. And it was one ridiculous thing after another. They didn't have her transcript, she said it had been uploaded on-line, they said they didn't do that anymore, except that is exactly what the online application required and when she suggested they actually look, of course her transcript was there. Then the course advisor couldn't give her any actual advice, didn't know whether it was possible to do two of the classes she had selected, and mentioned that one class wasn't being offered this year despite its and location being on the website. And they kept pressuring Miss 17 to declare the work she had done was equivalent to the state qualifications. As she said she had no idea since she'd never looked at the state qualifications and isn't an educational expert so has no basis to make such a declaration. There was other stuff too that really made us question the value of this course. Especially when the other arm of the university offered to admit her straight into their degree programme - which is the route her three older siblings took. I find it ridiculous that it is easier to gain full admission to the university degree programme, than it is to be accepted into a short course designed to prepare students for university study.  Anyway, enough of my rant.

So Miss 17 spent some time plotting out - class by class - what a degree in what was her first choice university would look like, compared to what a degree at the local university would look like. And there wasn't a huge difference. So the the upshot is that she's now enrolled at the local university. Classes start in less than three weeks. She never wanted to enrol early (by rights 2019 should be her first year) but we'd just have been killing time if we home schooled for another year. So she's going to spread her first year courses out over two years which will give her time to ease into university life and give her plenty of time to continue with her bird bander training, finish up the Cornell Ornithology course she's started, fit in other bird events (she's hoping to attend another camp plus the conference later in the year) not to mention the potential job. And, importantly for her, she'll start the second year of her degree at the same time as her age peers. I'm very relived the whole saga now seems to be sorted - think it is fair to say that my chocolate stash from Christmas is considerably reduced as a result of all this!

Despite a few airport trips, a wedding and upheavals to study plans much of January was quite relaxed for me. I've done a ton of reading - twenty books so far - which is just as well since I've signed up for about six different reading challenges. Many books will be able to count for more than one challenge though so the total number of books I'll need to read is merely aspirational, rather than deluded and unattainable!  My favourites of the month were  Exit West, Before We Were Yours and  The Course of Love. I also completed a 30 day yoga challenge from Yoga with Adriene. I've been doing yoga pretty consistently (5-6 days per week) for the last year but it was great to push myself to do 30 days in a row - even those days when I didn't necessarily feel like it, like following a 12 hour road trip in a heat wave! One of my January goals was to visit a careers advisor to get some help putting my CV in order before starting to look for work. However, I put that on hold for a couple of weeks until Miss 17's plans firmed up. Now that they have it'll be one of the first things I tackle in February.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Our Year in Review

2017 was a year of change for us, with many members of the family moving on to the next stage of their lives, or signalling that they were ready to do so. Mr 25 got his first career job - one which required an overseas move. Miss 23 meanwhile returned from her overseas adventures, enrolled in a PhD programme, found a part-time job connected to her future career goals, and has now permanently left home. Both Mr 25 and Miss 23 gained a serious significant other during the year - yet another change to the family dynamic. Mr 20 was the outlier to the change theme, just continuing on with his university studies and existing part-time job.

For Miss 17, 2017 was the year where it felt like she bade farewell to her childhood. Trampolining  had been a constant  since she was 9 and as she got older it became a bigger part of her life. But she retired from competition mid-year, and by year end  resigned her coaching job as well. She passed the second stage of the tiered drivers licence system, meaning she can drive without supervision  - another step towards adulthood. Homeschooling went well (barring a few odd hiccups, mostly with statistics) and she completed five courses which I titled English Literature, Film History and Analysis, Introductory Statistics, New Zealand History - An Overview, and Animal Behaviour II. However,  I often felt that we were going through the motions, and that she was ready for a new challenge, one that didn't involve me. So while she technically has one more year of homeschooling left, her decision to undertake a university preparation course instead (the easiest way of gaining admission to the university of her choice for 2019, since they will not look at her homeschooling transcript - it's only now that I realise how easy the university admission process was for the older 3) definitely feels like the right one. I'm not entirely sure what we would have done had she opted to continue homeschooling for another year.

One thing that didn't change  - unless change means intensify - this year was the interest in birding . It continued to play a major role in Miss 17's life - and mine. She attended two teen birding camps, plus a university summer school programme in zoology, and a short plant identification course. Attendance at the two courses was an outgrowth of her interest in birds. The start of a local banding project gave her the hands-on work she craved. She continued to edit the local newsletter and write for both the national ornithology magazine and the Young Birders magazine. A big achievement was having a short paper accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Meanwhile I took on the key leadership role in our local birding group. Together Miss 17 and I attended the national ornithology conference, and later in the year went on a birding road-trip with a couple of her friends. Altogether she observed 137 birds during the year, 19 of which were 'lifers' (ones she'd never seen or heard before). My figures were a little more modest (114 and 7 respectively) but more than enough to keep me happy.

For me personally, 2017 was a better year than 2016. The worst symptoms of my health issues were largely under control and I only suffered a handful of major flares all year. Apart from homeschooling and birding, reading occupied a lot of my time. I somehow got through 172 titles last year - being a fast reader helps! There were a few disappointments among my selections, but most I'd happily read again or recommend to others. If I was giving a prize to the book that impacted me the most, or whose message stayed with me the longest it would probably be a tie between Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaids Tale and This is How it Always is by Laurie Frankel.

For our family as a whole the big event of the year was the completion - finally - of the earthquake repairs (and re-repairs of the unsatisfactory first repairs). We had to move out of the house for six weeks (the packing and unpacking was a major job I hope to not have to repeat anytime soon) and there were lots of unwanted hassles but, more than six years after the most damaging quake, it is so nice to have our home fully functioning again, and to be finished dealing with the earthquake repair bureaucracy.

The year ended on a bit of a sad note with the passing of an honorary family member.  Basil lived with us for nearly two years (while his family was forced into a no-pet rental as their home was rebuilt following the earthquakes) and we continued to have him for occasional visits. It seems that he ruptured a disk, probably the result of the spread of his bone cancer, thus rendering him paralyzed.

Looking ahead to 2018 and I doubt I'll be blogging as often. This blog came about for two reasons. One was to connect with a group of bloggers who all homeschooled and  had girls of a similar age to Miss 17. I learnt a lot from them, and wanted to contribute more fully to their informal community. The other was to help rectify the shortage of homeschooling blogs that focused on high school. Since I'll no longer be homeschooling (assuming Miss 17 is accepted into the university prep course that is) there won't be much for me to blog about!  At this stage I think I'll post quick monthly updates. If nothing else I'd like to document the process of transition from homeschooling to beyond - for both Miss 17 and for me.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Back to the Classics 2018

For the third year running I'll be participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen from Books and Chocolate. I've found it's a great way to add more classics into my reading diet. I'll be aiming to read one title for each of the twelve categories, thus earning myself three entries into the drawing for the book voucher prize. The categories and my tentative selections are below.

1.  A 19th century classic - I'm pretty sure I'll go with something by Charles Dickens but haven't yet settled on a definite title.

2.  A 20th century classic - I picked F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night for my 50 book Classics Club challenge.  Since I completed that challenge without getting to this book I'll probably use it here.

3.  A classic by a woman author  - Right now I'm leaning towards Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I

4.  A classic in translation - I've settled on Franz Kafka's novella The Metamorphosis

5. A children's classic  - I've somehow got through my childhood and that of my four kids without having read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This is a good chance to remedy that.

6.  A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction. - I've been meaning to read Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. According to Google it can be considered a crime novel, so that's good enough for me.

7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction  - John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley is rumoured to be wry and sarcastic. Since I appreciate both this seems like a good bet for me.

8. A classic with a single-word title - It should be Ivanhoe since it was also supposed to be read as part of my 50 book classics challenge. But I've just come across Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth and may read it instead.

9. A classic with a color in the title - I'm intrigued by the period of tulip mania and mostly enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo, so Alexandre Dumas' The Black Tulip seems like a sound pick.

10. A classic by an author that's new to you -  I'll be reading it for another challenge so will go with Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave - unless I get inspired to read something else that is!

11. A classic that scares you - This was an easy choice - Dante's The Divine Comedy. If only it turned out to be an easy read as well.

12. Re-read a favorite classic - Another easy choice. If I survive Dante I'll deserve a treat so I'll read Pride and Prejudice.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Fortnight Ending 24 December 2017

It's been a relatively quiet couple of weeks - except for today. This morning I've been crazy busy in  the kitchen but the desserts (raspberry cheesecake, lemon tart and pavlova) are all made and the bagels for breakfast are rising, so I've got a few minutes before house cleaning calls! I've felt busier than previous Christmas Eves and I couldn't work out why. Then I realised I was doing everything myself. Normally the kids help but both Miss 17 and Mr 20 are working all day - funnily enough supermarkets are busy places the day before Christmas! And Miss 23 (she had a birthday a few days ago) has moved out a month earlier than first planned. More accurately she's in the process of moving out - she's in her new place but much of her stuff is still here waiting to be moved or stored or discarded over the next few days.

We only have one blackcurrant bush, but it produced enough berries for several jars of jam. It'll be delicious on bagels for Christmas morning breakfast.

Proving you are never too old for a good story, Miss 17 and I spent time one afternoon reading some of our favourite Christmas picture books.

We also found time to make some more decorations, including this owl.

Some gorgeous lilies courtesy of my father-in-law. They've got a wonderful scent, which you'll just have to imagine.

We finally started work on Miss 17's application for the university preparation course she needs to complete since the university of her choice will not even look at a homeschool transcript. She's going to do the prep course at the local university which my older three have all attended. I'm not sure if they've changed the application process or whether it is different since Miss 17 won't be doing a degree course there. But there is absolutely nowhere on the application form for any of her academic records, no list of courses she's done at home, or anything. There is a section where they ask about interests and jobs etc but it specifically says not to mention academics there. So the admissions office will know about trampolining and birding, but will have no idea whether she can read, write or do basic maths. Seems crazy to me - not to mention a waste of the transcript I lovingly and carefully compiled! I guess we'll have to cross our fingers that they consider a bouncing ornithologist worthy of admission for a pre-degree qualification.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Week Ending 10 December 2017

Last weekend's wader count turned up a relatively rare bird - one neither Miss 17 nor I had seen before. So of course this week started with a drive back to the lake! There had been two reports of the bird, one in a section we weren't familiar with but that we knew required a lot of walking, and another at a section we knew well and that involved a more moderate amount of walking. Given the temperatures we opted for the lazy girls' approach to birding, fully expecting to have to return and make the long trek later in the week. But for once luck was with us and we were rewarded with really good views of our first ever Hudsonian Godwit. The only way to definitively identify this bird is to check the colour under its wing and it conveniently lifted its wing so we got a clear view of the black colouration which separates it from a similar looking species.

Tuesday wasn't such a good day since I came down with a mild attack of a long running health problem. Luckily a few hours in bed took care of things and I was able to get up and moving later in the day. Miss 17 spent some time drafting her first ever resignation letter. She's decided she definitely won't return to trampoline and gym coaching next year.

On Wednesday we braved the mall (my least favourite place ever) to tackle some long overdue Christmas shopping. I survived - although not as much shopping was accomplished as I'd hoped.

Thursday's highlight was a bird banding session, the first in a couple of weeks. It was a busy, productive session. A school group arrived for a picnic/sports day in the park and came over to see what we were doing. Miss 17 was given the job of extracting a bird from the net and then banding it in front of the large, inquisitive audience. She was relieved the bird was compliant and not a stroppy, uncooperative one!

Getting ready to put the band on this Greenfinch

This Silvereye doesn't look too impressed!

Normally the birds come to the nets. Sometimes the nets go to the birds.

Friday was a relaxed day at home. We even made a couple of new Christmas decorations. Hopefully we'll make some more this coming week. The kids always made at least one new decoration each year when they were younger and it is a tradition Miss 17 is still keen to continue.

Miss 17 was busy all weekend at a two day course for trampoline judges. She's hoping to move up a level on the judging ladder. The theory and practical tests sounded pretty brutal - over 100 questions for the theory component plus forty different routines to score in the practical section - and a big jump from what was required to gain her current judging qualification. Results should be out before Christmas.

Meanwhile I spent Saturday staffing a stall for our birding group at a local environmental expo. It was the hottest day of the year, and the fans in the hall weren't up to the job - I was in danger of melting into a puddle all day long!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Back to the Classics 2017: The Final Wrap-Up

I've participated in several reading challenges this year. I find them a good way to help me solve the "what should I read next" dilemma, and I enjoy being forced out of my reading rut of mostly reading the same type of book. This is the second year I've participated in the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen from Books and Chocolate . The goal was to read between 6 and 12 books, one for each of the given categories. Now that I've  - finally - posted my final review it's a good time to reflect on what I read for this challenge this year.  And start crossing my fingers since by reading 12 books and posting a review of them all I earn three entries into the prize draw!

1.  A 19th Century Classic - I selected Heart of Darkness for this  but regretted it. For a short novella I found  it slow going and felt the lack of immediacy in the story plus the racist overtones were off-putting

2.A 2oth Century Classic -  I had ambivalent feelings towards Willa Cather's O Pioneers!  I didn't dislike it, even appreciated it, but it didn't really resonate with me or leave a lasting impression.

3.  A classic by a woman author -The Dollmaker by Hariette Simpson Arnow  was definitely the highlight of the classics I read this year. While the grimness of the industrial Detroit setting plus the intricacies of the rural Kentucky dialect stop it being an easy read, it really rewards the reader's effort. It seems to be a little-known gem and one I recommend if you haven't already read it.

4.  A classic in translation. -   Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich was simple and thought-provoking. The volume I read also included A Confession, but it was too didactic for my taste.

5.  A classic published before 1800 - I read Homer's Odyssey. I wasn't a fan of Odysseus or the perception of him as a hero. But I liked how most of the themes still resonated today.

An romance classic -The beautifully written Rebecca, with it's lush, detailed descriptions was among my favourite classic reads this year.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic   - This was not my favourite genre but Dracula wasn't as frightening as I'd feared and I loved the capable and resourceful character, Mina.

8.  A classic with a number in the title - Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona is not his finest work, but it is enjoyable in a lighthearted way and it contains many quintessential elements which were developed further in later works.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title -  It's sheer unrelenting brutality made  White Fang a tough read, but it is an interesting counterpoint to Landon's better-known The Call of the Wild.

A classic set in a place you'd like to visit -  In the titular character of  Nicholas Nickleby Dickens created a worthy, but not insufferably perfect, hero whom the reader could root for. While I might like to visit London, the plight of Kate Nickleby added to my conviction that I wouldn't have wanted to live in the London that Dickens portrayed.

11. An award-winning classic  - Pearl Buck's The Good Earth details the rise and fall of a Chinese peasant family. Its universal themes make it worthy of being by anyone who hasn't already done so.

12. A Russian Classic -  Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was a rich and compelling read. I was glad I overcame my initial hesitation since it wasn't neither as long nor complicated as I'd feared.

Many thanks to Karen for hosting this challenge.

Fortnight Ending 3 December 2017

It's been another relaxed couple of weeks around here. It's also been hot - and heat doesn't really lend itself to energetic productivity. Still there have been a few things of note.

* Miss 17 has finally had her supermarket training and has worked her first couple of shifts. So far she seems to be enjoying it although working six days a week limits what we can do. Still there is only a couple of weeks left in the term and she'll probably resign from her coaching job then.

* We've done lots of birding. Mostly it has just been short trips by ourselves but we did take part in the annual summer wader count. It was the hottest day of the season so far and we were short of volunteers so Miss 17 and I ended up covering a section each to ensure the lake got covered. It meant lots more walking as we had to zigzag back and forth instead of one person walking close to the lake edge and one walking a bit further inland. I've still got blisters on my feet today!

* Miss 17 has started binge watching The Big Bang Theory. I'm not sure what's sparked the interest but I really must watch an episode or two and attempt some Big Juicy Conversations. Unfortunately, they've never been my strong point.

* Her interest in birds took an unexpected turn into the area of wildlife rehabilitation last week. We were out on a birding trip when she heard a lot cheeping coming from a field. Some careful examination (we were on one side of an electric fence and the noise was coming from the other) revealed a very young bird. It didn't even have any real feathers - just pinfeathers. All the advice says to return it to the nest  or to put the bird in a substitute nest (hanging plant basket or plastic container wedged in the fork of a tree) nearby where the parents should find it. Except we had no way of climbing the nearest tree in search of a nest, nor any nest substitutes on us, nor any way of making one. So, despite knowing that the odds were against her, Miss 17 opted to bring him home. She researched best care practises, after checking with a local bird rehabilitator who couldn't take him, and was kept busy feeding her charge every 15 minutes (thankfully night feedings weren't needed). She even pressed Miss 22 and her boyfriend into bird sitting duty when we had to go out once. Sadly the bird didn't make it but Miss 17 was undeterred and said she'd try again if another opportunity presented itself.

* She spent half a day judging at a trampoline competition.  Her new job prevented her judging for the whole day.

* She's been working out at the gym three times a week and seems to have found a good routine with it. She hasn't yet found a good routine for working through Cornell's Handbook of Bird Biology. Progress is a lot slower than I'd expected. I'm debating whether or not to enrol her in the online course that uses the book. It's pretty pricey but there is a good discount available at the moment and birds are her passion. Not sure whether the course would help her work through the text or just be a waste of money. Decisions, decisions...