Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fortnight Ending 22 January 2017

The highlight of the past fortnight has undoubtedly been the road trip Miss 16 and I took so that she could attend a week long programme at a southern university.

Miss 16's course was at a university about 4 1/2 hours drive south of here. My parents live about 30 minutes drive away from the university so the plan was that we would drive down and I would stay with them while she attended the course. Us being us we managed to turn a four hour trip into a twelve hour trip in one direction and an eight hour trip in the other by means of taking the very long and scenic route on the drive down, and making several diversions from the shorter route on the way back. The reason for such a convoluted journey was of course to maximize the number of birding opportunities along the way!

Miss 16 shared a lot of the driving load so I could sometimes sit back and enjoy the views

We did a lot of bush birding this trip. The scenery was more beautiful than the mudflats where we often do our birding.

Sometimes we didn't even have to walk to find the birds. This Red-billed gull landed on the car while we were eating lunch

Kaka are Miss 16's favourite bird. We visited a predator-proof reserve and saw 14 at one feeding station alone, the most we've ever seen at one time.

Miss 16 is involved in a Young Birders group. She was pleased to see their new poster on display at the reserve.

Miss 16's programme was called Hands-On, an opportunity for students going in to the final year or two at high school to get a hands-on experience of university life. She was in the zoology section where her hands-on experiences included a dissection (no small scale here, the students were given wallabies to dissect), ecomorphology (basically analyzing bones - she was delighted they were given bird bones to work with and especially delighted to get to work on the bones of a Kakapo, a critically
endangered nocturnal, flightless parrot), and comparative anatomy through looking at skulls of different species and also measuring frogs. The big excitement was that this measuring has possibly
led to the discovery of a new sub-species of frog.

Measuring and analyzing bones

A Hochstetter's frog

Her favourite activity was a trip to an eco-sanctuary to focus on ornithology. The group learnt about triangulation and used their skills to locate marked bird's nests. They also used radio transmitters to find specially hidden collars (since there are no suitable birds to practise on at the sanctuary). Finally, they looked at South Island Robins and the research to understand their behaviour, especially the ways in which they are losing their alert behaviours in this predator-proof sanctuary and what that means for their survival - especially if they get translocated ou of the sanctuary to a less protected environment. She was the only one in the group really keen to handle the mealworms they were using to bring the robins in. She'll do pretty much anything when it comes to birds!

First nest successfully located!

Using a radio transmitter

A very bad photo of a South Island robin!

In addition to the projects in their focus area, course participants were given a taste of other university programmes. Since this university is introducing a new degree giving equal weight to arts and sciences they made sure the science students were given a taste of arts and vice versa. Miss 16 experienced physical education, which she said was lots of fun, as well as theatre studies and art conservation. She enjoyed them both but wasn't inspired to give up ornithology/zoology to pursue them further! As well as the academics the course involved lots of fun social activities - a dance, quiz night, an Amazing Race type event as well as a lip-synch contest - plus the chance to experience living in a hall of residence. She was lucky to get one of the best rooms, but felt the food quality was rather variable. All in all the week was a great experience for her.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Classics Club 41: Villette

Villette tells the story of Lucy Snowe, a young English woman who is orphaned and, in order to support herself, takes a job at a French boarding school, first as a nanny and then as an English teacher. It is Charlotte Bronte's most autobiographical work and explores themes of isolation  and loneliness in powerful ways. Although there are many superficial similarities between Lucy Snowe and  and Bronte's better-known heroine Jane Eyre,  I found Lucy and Villette more difficult to warm to.

One reason is the character of Lucy herself.  Despite some flashes of gumption e.g. locking a disrespectful, troublesome student in a closet, she is infuriatingly passive for much of the time. I prefer my female characters to show a little more initiative. Lucy is also cold and distant, often holding herself in reserve. As a result I felt I knew more about the more minor characters like shallow, fickle Ginerva, indulged Polly,  domineering Madame Beck, and cranky Paul Emanuel than Lucy herself. Even though she is the narrator and Villette is her story, Lucy frequently spends pages telling the stories of others e.g the developing romance between Polly and Dr John rather than sharing her own thoughts and experiences with the reader.

Not only does Lucy Snowe withhold herself from the reader but she also withholds key aspects of the story from the reader before eventually, casually dropping them in. As a reader it was very frustrating to discover that Dr John was in fact Graham, whom we had met earlier while Countess Paulina turned out to be little Polly. Lucy knew this but didn't initially share her knowledge with the reader.  She maintains this secretiveness at the end of the novel, alluding to rather than directly stating the fate of Paul Emanuel. It's hard to warm to such a secretive character.

Another frustrating aspect of Villette is that significant portions of the dialogue were in French. Since my knowledge of French is rudimentary at best I was left trying to decide whether to stop and translate word for word, read what I could and make an educated guess at the rest, or skip in entirely. In reality I used all three approaches! My version (not the one pictured) was very old and published at a time when most readers would have a good knowledge of French. I don't know if more modern versions include translations - but it would be very helpful and make the novel more accessible.

There is also a lot of religious debate and proselytizing in Villette. Lucy is Protestant while Paul Emanuel is Catholic and they have lengthy discussions trying to convince the other of the superiority of their belief system. This plot line undoubtedly grew out of the religious conflict of the time and Bronte's own religious convictions but I found it a turn-off.

While I appreciated Villette, for the reasons given I didn't love it. I'm glad I read it, and it is definitely worth reading, but I doubt I'll read it again.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Week Ending 8 January 2017

Given that birding is one of Miss 16's favourite things to do, this has been a good week for her as we've managed to get out everyday. As a result I've already seen over half the number of species I saw all last year, while she is getting close to that number as well. (She got to travel a few places last year, including overseas, meaning she saw many more birds than I did).  All that birding in different spots meant plenty of driving practise so a double reason for being happy - at least if you are Miss 16!

There's also been lots of reading. Somehow I've managed to finished six books so far this month. My favourite was probably Letters from Skye (I obviously enjoy epistolary novels that feature strong, somewhat unconventional female characters since 84 Charing Cross Road and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are among my favourite reads). The most interesting was Georgia, historical fiction based on the life of Georgia O'Keeffe. I also tackled a steampunk novel (The Clockwork Angel) since that is one of the categories in Popsugar's 2017 reading challenge. While it won't rank as one of my favourite reads I enjoyed it more than I thought I might. I haven't been keeping a close eye on Miss 16's reading (too busy with my own books)  but I know her current read is an Ellery Queen mystery novel.

After spending hours trying to decide between two books for her animal behavior course Miss 16 finally made her decision. So I've ordered a second-hand copy that will hopefully arrive before we are ready to start. It definitely pays to shop around. I know international postage is pricey but several places wanted to charge me $US75 - on a book that cost less than $US10! I know the actual cost is nowhere near that and I ended up buying a slightly more expensive used copy from a retailer charging less than $US10 postage. Big difference! Miss 16 also settled on New Zealand history for her final course. I use the word settled because I don't think there is any real thirst for the subject, more a feeling that it's something she should do and it would look good on her transcript. So I'll put off organizing this course just yet in the hope something else will light her fire. If not I can easily pull it together quickly in the final week of our break. My PhD in history has to be of some use! After our discussions last week I also updated her academic transcript. I think she was pleasantly surprised with how it looked once we translated what we've done into academic speak.

Miss 22 continues to keep us busy with virtual travel. This week involved general sightseeing around London, plus a few day trips.
Sightseeing in London

Stonehenge, Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Week Ending 1 January 2017

After the hub-bub that is the lead-up to Christmas I always love the week between Christmas and New Year. Copious leftovers mean very little cooking is required, a temporary 'blindness' means we can skip most cleaning, and everyone is at home (well except Mr 19 who had to work most days, but thankfully some were short shifts) so we can relax together. There was lots of reading, game playing, and movie and  tv watching.

Two of Miss 16's recent reads
We had fun pitting ourselves against quiz show contestants (Miss 16 was delighted when one question related to trampolining moves!), while the guys have also watched a lot of cricket.  Mr 24 popped in a couple of times and we Skyped with Miss 22, who was a little disappointed not to get a white Christmas but had a great time regardless. She's based in London for a week or so, so we've been enjoying virtual day trips.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

The Freud Museum, an essential visit for our psychology student!

When the weather cooperated - which wasn't as often as it should have given it is supposedly summer here - Miss 16 and I went out birding. One of our highlights was all the Welcome Swallow nests in one of the bird hides. It's amusing watching the parents fly in to feed the chicks. The nest looks empty, an adult arrives and instantly there is a lot of peeping and four wide open mouths pop up. Another highlight was the Pied stilt chicks. They were probably a similar age to the swallow chicks but running around feeding themselves, with their parents barely in sight. A good example of two very different breeding styles. When the weather didn't cooperate we enjoyed a little international birding - courtesy of a DVD set we received for Christmas. So far we've visited Canada and Britain. Next stop, China.

Miss 16 and I have been chatting about the year's homeschooling to come but still haven't made all our decisions. She was worried she hadn't been doing enough but I showed her her transcript so far, showed her some typical US requirements (since we don't really have any) and showed her some official school material for her age group. Hopefully she's reassured that she is more than on track both quantity and quality wise! That still doesn't solve our issue of what to do this year. English and Animal Behaviour are all sorted and there will be a Statistics course (exact shape and content still to be determined). We're agreed on the need for one more course (she's thinking two but given the difficulties we're having coming up with one....) , that it should probably be in the social sciences/humanities area and are thinking it should be mainstream/academically heavy since she already has a few quirky courses. But other than that we are totally clueless. I'm looking through MOOCs and video courses. She's enjoyed those in the past and if she's not inspired by the content then she might as well enjoy the instruction method. Hopefully inspiration strikes in the next week or two so I have time to sort all the details before her academic year starts in earnest.

Outwardly  this wasn't a productive week but it was a great one for recharging our batteries for the year ahead.

Linking to the Homeschool Highlights over at Homeschool Coffee Break.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

I've decided once again to participate in the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen, over at Books and Chocolate. Basically the goal is to read between 6 and 12 classic books in 2017 according to the categories given and then to blog about each one. There's even a prize up for grabs! For the interested, here are the categories and my tentative selections.

1.  A 19th Century Classic -I've still got Heart of Darkness and Ivanhoe left on my 50 book Classics Club Challenge.   So it will be one of them.

2.  A 20th Century Classic - I enjoyed My Antonia so I'm looking forward to Willa Cather's O Pioneers!

3.  A classic by a woman author -  I came across The Dollmaker by Hariette Simpson Arnow in a list of classics. I'd never heard of it before but the description leads me to believe it's my sort of read.

4.  A classic in translation. -  I'm going with Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich

5.  A classic published before 1800 - I should pick Dante's The Inferno since it's on my 50 classics list. But I'm feeling a calling to read The Odyssey. And Miss 16 may be tackling it this year. So either of these two. I could always read both!

An romance classic - I've already read many of the top classics in this category but have yet to read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. So that'll be my choice here.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic   - Not my favourite genre. I'm still deciding between Dracula and Frankenstein.

8.  A classic with a number in the title - Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona is being performed locally in February so that's an easy choice since we prefer to read the Bard's work  before seeing it performed.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title -  I'm not certain about this category but am leaning towards White Fang since I read The Call of the Wild with the kids when they were younger and enjoyed it. Or possibly The Metamorphosis.

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit - This is another category I'm not sure about. But I'll probably go for something by Dickens since I'd love to visit England (especially London). Perhaps Nicholas Nickleby. I'm doing another reading challenge (Popsugar's) which requires a book with a title that's a character's name so I could get two for the price of one!

11. An award-winning classic  - I'm leaning towards Pearl Buck's The Good Earth which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

12. A Russian Classic - I'll tackle Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Our Year in Review

The end of 2016 has prompted me to take a look back at the year that was. In many ways it was a frustrating year for me as I was plagued by a variety of vestibular symptoms that at times severely limited what I could do. However, there were lots of achievements and other positives as well and sometimes it is good to remind myself of them.

Homeschooling ran smoothly and easily this year - mostly hits but a few misses along the way. By far the most popular of Miss 16's classes was ornithology. The subject matter meant it was always going to be a favourite but I think the structure really helped. I had gathered together a whole heap of resources and ideas and effectively presented it to Miss 16 as a buffet. She could pick what she wanted from what was on offer and I had no preconceived ideas as to what or how much she would do. Some of the highlights were the many lessons we used from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds without Borders, some lessons from HHMI BioInteractive, a MOOC on animal behaviour, citizen science bill marking, plenty of field work and observations- including the albatross cam. We utilized textbooks, living books, DVDs, live speakers and lesson plans from middle school to college level. We even attended a one day conference on braided rivers  which had a big bird focus. The other most popular course was Applied Ecology and Conservation, where she attended lectures at a local university. My fears that it would be too much were thankfully unfounded and it only cemented her interest in this area. Algebra 2 was solid but uninspiring. It was never going to be loved and while it wasn't hated I know Miss 16 was delighted to finish the final level of maths we require. I had high hopes for her composition course but the first online class she took via Fortuigence focused more on process and technical competence when I was wanting her style and voice developed more. The course was fine, just not what we needed. The second one proved to be too costly. Instead she worked through Brave Writer's Help for High School and ended up taking from it what she wanted when she wanted. She claims she can't write someone else's way - a point I think I instinctively know. It's probably why we've used a variety of different writing programmes over the years - in the hope that all my kids would be exposed to a variety of ideas and be enabled to take what worked for them. In addition to this specific writing instruction Miss 16 wrote a variety of papers for "school" plus several short articles for real-world publications. I think my expectations and standards may be too high when it comes to writing - Mr 19 earned A+s on his university essays when I would not have graded them that highly. While Miss 16's writing is always competent the stand-out stuff only happens some of the time - when inspiration strikes. While I'd love exceptional all the time I need to remember that's not really realistic. Miss 16's final course - Child Labour - was initially a bit unfocused and we had a hard time finding the type of resource we wanted for Victorian Britain. However, we salvaged it by adding a comparative element looking a child labour issues in Progressive era America and in third world countries today.

Birding is a big part of Miss 16's life outside of an official ornithology class. She continued to edit the local newsletter, wrote a regular column for the national birding magazine, and contributed articles to a magazine for children, published by a Young Birders Network that she is involved with. She attended most of our group's field trips, assisted on several organized bird counts and otherwise got into the field as often as she could. A highlight was attending a camp for teen birders. Overall she saw  more than 120 different bird species this year, including some Australian ones. Her favourite was the Black-tailed godwit, spotted at the teen camp.

The other key thing in Miss 16's life is trampolining. 2016 was probably her best ever year. At the start of the year she attended an introductory level judge's course and has been working on completing the required number of hours before taking the next course. She really enjoys judging and can see herself continuing even after she retires from competition. Her club held a training camp in Australia (which she was able to fund herself as a result of her part-time job as a trampoline coach) and the facilities and different coaching input really helped her master a new skill that she'd been struggling with. Since then she's progressed in leaps and bounds, adding several other new skills to her repertoire. Competition wise she's had a great year going undefeated in individual trampoline and winning two national titles - one in individual and one in synchronized - her first ever national titles.

Passing the first stage of her drivers licence was another high point for Miss 16. She's getting behind the wheel every chance she gets and is looking forward to passing the second stage in six months time, which will allow her to drive without supervision.

Despite my limitations,which I've chafed against some times, 2016 has not been all bad for me. I knew this was not the year for big plans but I was still determined to do some awesome adulting by carving out time to do some things I enjoy. I enjoy birding as much as Miss 16 and despite not getting out as often as her, still managed to see 95 different species this year (respectable by New Zealand standards), including my first ever Pacific golden plover which I have unsuccessfully sought for the past three years. I love to read and luckily have been able to continue with this, on all except a handful of days. All told I read 152 books. I also met my self-imposed challenge of trying at least 50 new recipes, thus justifying somewhat my slight addiction to recipe books. I took up yoga and despite a few illness imposed breaks along the way, feel like it's a practise I'll stick with. I toyed a couple of times with becoming a more serious blogger, but in the end decided it wasn't for me. I'm glad I didn't pursue my  plan of writing reviews. I originally started this blog to document and share our experiences of homeschooling teens since several groups I was involved with were bemoaning the lack of such blogs. I feel most comfortable doing that in a weekly "this is what we did and used" format. I don't wish to encourage anyone to homeschool our way or hold our approach up as an ideal, especially since our way keeps evolving and has looked very different for each of our four kids! Rather I'd just like to be one of many different examples of what homeschooling can look like in the high school years. And since that's what I feel most comfortable with that is what I'll continue to do. It makes a good record to look back on if nothing else!

For all my homeschool graduates 2016 has been a significant year. Mr 24 finally completed his PhD and is now busily searching for a job in his chosen field, while continuing to develop his programming skills which he taught himself during his thesis work. Miss 22 officially graduated with her degree in psychology, and then departed for a working holiday in Europe. She was meant to be away for six months, but  had such a good time that she extended her trip. Mr 19 successfully completed his first year of university and was officially presented with the highest award in Scouting by the Governor-General.

I hope 2016 was a good year for all of you and your families. Wishing you all the very  best for 2017.

Classics Club 40:Three Sisters

My overall impresssion of Chekhov's Three Sisters is one of unhappiness and depression. Admittedly the fact that I listened to most of this (via Librivox I think) would have contibuted to this impression. The voices of many of the actors  struck me as whiny - it certainly didn't endear them to me.

The three well-educated sisters and their brother are living in the country (which they clearly consider to be beneath them intellectually and culturally) but dreaming of returning to Moscow, where they are sure their lives will automatically be better. As the play progresses it becomes clear the return to Moscow will never eventuate and the sisters fortunes are declining in the interim. Motherly, oldest sister Olga ends up taking on a principal's role at the school where she teaches, even though she doesn't want the job, not least because of the workload it involves. Masha, the middle sister, is in an unhappy marriage and falls in love with Veshinin, a soldier, but he is transferred away. The youngest, Irina, is convinced she will only find true love in Moscow but ends up marrying Tuzenbach, whom she respects but does not love. He is killed in a duel, leaving her to devote her life to the service of others. Brother Andrei seems destined for a promising career but ends up marrying and becoming a shadow of his former self. While the Prozorov family is declining, Natasha (Andrei's wife) is the one character whose fortunes seem to be rising, in terms of power if not happiness. In the beginning she is mocked by the educated sisters for her poor choice of clothing. By the end she has taken control of the family home, telling Andrei exactly what to do and forcing the sisters to give up their rooms for her children. The parallels with changes in Russian society - the rise of the bourgeois and the decline of the educated, upper class - is unmistakeable.

There is definitely a lesson for the reader in all the depression. As Veshinin said "We're never happy. We can never be happy. We only want to be happy." The sisters were so busy pining for the Moscow of their past and dreaming about the Moscow of their future, that they didn't seem to have any interest in becoming happy in their provincial now. Interstingly they didn't seem to make any real attempts to actually move to Moscow either. How much happier would many of us, the readers, be, if we put our efforts into enjoying the life we had now and/or actively working towards the future we wanted, instead of simply complaining and wishing?

A key feature of the play is the lack of action. While much exciting action - affairs, fires, duels - is referred to in the play, all the action happens offstage. Onstage there is a lot of sitting around alternately complaining and wishing, or musing on the philosophy of life. Masha herself remarks that "You've got to know what you're living for or else it's all nonsense and waste." I was left with the impression that it was the inability to know what they were living for, rather than their inability to return to Moscow that was the root cause of the sisters' unhappiness.