Saturday, February 18, 2017

Week Ending 19 February 2017

If I were giving out prizes for the highlights of our week, second place would go to the smaller grey bird in the back.



He's a Marsh Sandpiper and was first reported last weekend. On Tuesday I suggested that Miss 16 plow through her work in the morning so we would have time to find him in the afternoon before she had to go to work. She convinced me to go in the morning since the light is better then and the wind can get up in the afternoon, making small birds harder to spot. So we spent the morning searching likely sites along the edge of the lake. After several unsuccessful searches we thought we were going to have to leave empty-handed so-to-speak, but we finally found him on what would have been out second to last stop. Miss 16 has seen this species a couple of time before when she's attended bird camps in the North Island, but it's been 7 or 8 years since one was last recorded in our part of the country so this was my first view.

We'd just arrived home from this expedition, literally 10 minutes in the door, when Miss 16 came rushing excitedly up, announcing that a crested penguin had just been seen - as in less than an hour ago - on a beach 40 minutes north of home. Time was tight since she had to be at work later that afternoon but we figured we could make it, so we skipped lunch, ran back to the car and quickly headed north. We spent an hour scouring the beach but couldn't find a penguin anywhere. Turns out he'd been moved to the rehabilitators less than an hour after arriving at the beach. We'd also just missed seeing another crested penguin during our trip south last month. That bird kept going onto the road so was moved to a remote, undisclosed location for his own safety. Clearly we weren't the luckiest penguin spotters.

So, after all that, it is no surprise that the real highlight of this week - definitely the first prize winner - was this guy.



He's an Erect Crested Penguin and they breed on remote offshore islands, so our chances of seeing one were slim. However, this guy conveniently came ashore on the mainland to moult (and yes, the piles of white around him are his moulted feathers) so Miss 16 convinced me to take a road trip. She managed to find someone to cover her class on Friday giving us time to make the six hour round trip. The roads were rough in places, with several  diversions and places where the road was down to one lane - a large earthquake in November caused a lot of infrastructure damage and the town we visited was isolated for a week or two before road access could be partly restored. The road to the north is still blocked and the one to the south that we used is only open during daylight hours and can be closed as a result of  heavy rain or larger aftershocks. Thankfully neither happened while we were there. The trip was also notable for the flat tire we got, the second in as many weeks. Thank goodness for the AA. Still all the hassles were worth it as Miss 16 was so pleased to finally get her eyes on a crested penguin. Luckily we went when we did since his moult is nearly finished - just a small patch of his older feathers remain - and he'll soon return to sea.



On our trip back from penguin spotting, and after our flat tire had been changed, we took a quick diversion to an area where Indian Peafowl can sometimes be found. We couldn't immediately see any and were about to give up (Miss 16 didn't want to miss training so we didn't have a lot of time to spare) when we saw these heads pop up from among a field of cabbages. We were amused as they reminded us of submarine periscopes, just more colourful and ornamental.



On one other day this week, we joined a group of local birders for our monthly mid-week ramble. This time we visited some local ponds and were surprised to discover one, possibly more, pure Grey Duck. Pure Grey Ducks are rare since they have hybridized so much with the more common Mallard Ducks.



One of the items Miss 22 bought back from her travels was a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans and we finally got around to divvying them up and trying them out. Apparently earwax, soap, vomit and earthworm taste disgusting. Who would have guessed? I didn't eat anything worse than sausage and black pepper, strange flavours in a jellybean but perfectly palatable. We do feel the need for a Harry Potter reread following the beans though!


Despite all the birding we did actually spend some time at home, engaging in activities that other people would recognise as homeschooling. Miss 16 started The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for literature, completed two grammar lessons and one vocabulary lesson, investigated standard deviation for statistics, rewatched Shane and answered questions from the guide plus viewed Emma for the first time, finished a chapter in her animal behaviour text, and learnt about the life of early Maori in history.



The big news in our city this week has been the bush fires in the hills on the edge of the city - thankfully not close to us. We've just had lots of helicopters and planes going overhead since we're between the airport and the fires and the smoke only reached us once. However some friends were evacuated, some acquaintances lost their house and everything in it and others had a very close call. Thankfully the blazes seem to be contained now, if not yet extinguished.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap Up and Homeschool Highlights




Sunday, February 12, 2017

Week Ending 12 February 2017

This goes down as one of those weeks in which we never really got our homeschool groove on. Lots of interruptions and disruptions, not all of them bad, but still.While the week wasn't as productive as it could have been, especially in terms of book work, it did still include lots of good stuff.

Monday was supposed to be an at-home day, one where we would make a good start on this week's formal work. However, late on Sunday night Miss 16 came into my room and asked, "What are we doing tomorrow?" When I replied that we were just staying in and working, she asked if we could go to the sewage ponds instead. What? Your children never randomly request a trip to your local sewage ponds - not even as a way to get out of planned homeschooling? As regular readers may have guessed Miss 16's reason was bird related. She'd just read an online report that an extremely rare bird had been briefly sighted at our local ponds. So, of course, that's where we went . We spent a couple of hours scanning the ponds from the road and checking out other likely spots nearby. Just as we were about to head home one of the park rangers, the guy who reported seeing the bird, arrived and gave us permission to climb the fence. (For obvious reasons the public doesn't have free access to the sewage ponds!). One of his colleagues was already there so the four of us stationed ourselves at different parts of the most likely pond and we spent another hour peering through our binoculars. Sadly, still no joy. We decided to call it quits then and head home to get some book work done. An update at night revealed that nobody had managed to  find the bird but it has been seen since. I foresee another trip to the sewage ponds in our future!

Tuesday started with a driving lesson for Miss 16. The instructor says her driving is great but she has to check her mirrors more frequently. Statistics caused a couple of headaches today. One wrong answer in the solution manual was easily dealt with, but Miss 16 didn't understand how to do one thing and it wasn't  covered in the video. A little searching revealed where the missing instruction was to be found. At least we'll know where to look if we run in to similar problems in future lessons but it did suck up a bit of time. Then Miss 16 received an email from the editor of the national birding magazine advising that the regional columns, of which she writes one, were due in just 3 days. The previous editor used to give 10-14 days notice. So she needed to get started on that straight away. And then she received a text asking if she would permanently take on coaching two extra classes at the gym. This was a big decision with many variables to weigh up so we spent an hour or so tossing the pros and cons back and forward. In the end she decided to take the extra classes. Hopefully  it won't prove too much, but if it does she can always cut back her hours next term.

Wednesday could have been a productive at-home day but Miss 22 had to go shopping ... and Miss 16 needed some new clothes ... and shopping with a sister is much more enjoyable than shopping with a mother (especially one who hates shopping with a passion) ... and the two of them have missed spending time together while Miss 22 has been in Europe... so Miss 16 spent most of the day at the mall with her sister. And when she wasn't at the mall she was coaching and training. And when she wasn't doing that she was sleeping. So no bookwork at all.

Thursday was - thankfully - a much more productive day,  helped no doubt by the fact that Miss 16 didn't have to leave the house until 5:40pm. She was only training, not coaching. The new coaching hours that she agreed to take on are on a Thursday, but she said she couldn't start until next week. It's amazing how much work can be got through with determination and no interruptions. Only a couple of points of interest. She managed to get through two day's worth of statistics, although I helped by pruning the number of questions she needed to answer since the lesson was on the statistics concept she is probably most familiar with. And, since we've finished reading and listening to The Two Gentlemen of Verona we tackled some of the questions from Shakespeare Online. Since this is one of his lesser known plays I had a hard job finding many suitable resources to use in our study.

Friday was a great day, although no bookwork was involved. Instead we visited a local wildlife park where Miss 16 observed the Keas, a mountain parrot endemic to New Zealand, and completed a variety of different ethograms to record their behaviour. We used this assignment as the basis of our work. We had hoped to complete this last year as part of her Ornithology course but my health problems prevented us making the visit. So it was great to finally get there and the assignment works well with  this year's Animal Behaviour course. The Keas are housed in a walk- through aviary and we spent over four hours there. Some of them were as interested in observing us as we were in observing them - much to Miss 16's delight. Perhaps the most curious of all was a Kea known as Katie who has a deformed beak, but was still well able to explore all sorts of novelties with it!






Saturday morning was an all-bird count at a local lake. This is a big undertaking.  The lake is divided into sections, groups of volunteers are assigned to each section and every.single. bird is counted. In some sections there are several species which number more than a thousand! Miss 16 and I ended up taking the high road. Half our group walked close to the lake edge counting hundreds of waterfowl, while Miss 16 and I zig-zagged back and forth on the vast area of dry, exposed lake bed searching for flocks of waders. We did find a few, but none of the rarer, exciting species we were hoping for. Hopefully the results will be out early next week and we'll get an idea of which sections of the lake are holding the birds we're after.

On Sunday evening Miss 16, Miss 22 and I attended an outdoor performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. There's an outdoor Shakespeare here every summer and Miss 22 and I have been going for about 10 years. Miss 16 joined us four or five years ago. I think the boys both came once or twice each, but they aren't such fans of Shakespeare. These outdoor plays are always enjoyable, without pretensions of being the highest calibre - they are put on by an amateur company. Miss 16 was especially fond of this one since it includes a dog. Forget Sir Laurence Olivier or Kenneth Branagh. As far as Miss 16 is concerned the "actor" who played Crabbe the dog is the finest Shakespearean actor ever!

The ex-homeschoolers who live at home both had busy weeks. Mr 19 sat the final exam for the maths course he's been taking over the summer. He's now on holiday until university proper resumes in a just over a week. He spent one day of his break volunteering at the Coast to Coast race. The race goes across the South Island from the west to east coast and is a mix of running, cycling and kayaking. The elite athletes do it in a day but Mr 19 was helping out at the two day event - marshalling, assembling kayaks and various other jobs. He had a great time and hopes to volunteer there again next year. Miss 22 has also been busy, mainly catching up with all her friends but also starting back at her old job as a checkout supervisor at a local supermarket. I'm glad she's having fun this week since she is about to enrol for a PhD, which should keep her busy for a few years!

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


Monday, February 6, 2017

Classics Club 42: Rebecca


Right from the opening line - "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." - I was hooked on this beautifully written novel. Admittedly the plot does have  a certain soap operaish quality to it. The protagonist and narrator is a naive young girl who gets married to a more experienced, wealthier, older man. She's not really fitted for nor comfortable in his world  and he makes no effort to help her make the transition. She's always in the shadow of, and feels haunted by and inferior to  her husband's first wife, the perfect, titular but late Rebecca. Then Rebecca's body is discovered and the truth of her marriage with Mr de Winter is revealed - to our unnamed protagonist, if not to society at large. Despite, or perhaps because of,  this there was plenty in the plot to keep me interested. The delightfully awful snobbish of Mrs van Hopper was a highlight of the early part of the novel. This was followed by gothic spookiness and  the outright evilness of Mrs Danvers, and then suspense, as the real reason for Rebecca's death was revealed and the court process unfolded.

Even though the plot may seem light, not to mention sensational in places, it is meaty enough to give pause for thought and highlights several important life lessons. Our protagonist and her husband, Mr and Mrs de Winter, certainly demonstrate the importance of honesty and communication in a happy marriage. On the return to Manderley they both seem unhappy, and their marriage seems to exist more in name than in substance. However, once he tells her the truth and they start communicating and working together, they are both happier despite the threat that looms over them.  The theme of justice is also explored as the reader is forced to confront the issue of how much and in what way Maxim should be punished for his crime. Rebecca is unusual in that an admitted murderer is not punished by the justice system. One wonders if the Colonel would have been so helpful, so willing to pursue one avenue of inquiry but not others, had the de Winters not been society darlings. Plenty of other class related issues to mull over too.The novel is  also unusual in portraying the cost of an unhappy marriage on the husband, rather than just the wife.

To me though the strength of the novel, and the aspect that contributed most to my enjoyment was the writing style. The lush, detailed descriptions of Manderley really brought that place alive. Sometimes I find detailed description irksome, they seem to interrupt the narrative flow. Not here though. Instead they made me feel as if I was seeing Manderley through my own eyes. And du Maurier is no one-trick pony. Her ability to create spooky suspense and threatening gothic overtones is as strong as her ability to bring beautiful scenery to life. She also has the ability to make me root for our protagonist, despite being supremely irritated by her passiveness - such as her inability or unwillingness to tell her husband how miserable she was feeling and why.

I am counting this as my romance classic for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Week Ending 5 February 2017

We've spent most of this week easing into new routines as we've resumed more formal/high-tide homeschooling, and the new coaching and training timetable at the gym has also started. So far, so good - if anything I'm thinking our workload is a little on the light side but I'll leave things for a few weeks before I make any changes. The first lessons and chapters are frequently easier and shorter than those which follow!

This week Miss 16 completed:

* 2 lessons from Against All Odds:Inside Statistics. The first lesson was a quick introduction; the second covered stem and leaf plots. The plan for the year is work through this at whatever speed seems appropriate - probably 2 lesson per week to begin with then dropping back to one when we hit unfamiliar material. Depending on when we finish we may tack on extra lessons probably from here.
* 1 chapter from Principles of Animal Behavior, an introduction to some of the big concepts we'll be examining in more depth as the year progresses.
* 2 chapters from The Penguin History of New Zealand. We'll be using this as a spine and adding in other resources  especially primary source material, videos and scholarly articles - as we go.
* Three acts, plus a couple of scenes from the Act 4 from Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona. There's an outdoor production of this opening next week, which is why we're starting with it. Rather than just read it we are reading as we listen along to a version by the Marlowe players that we found on Spotify.
* 1 section from Vocabulary from Classical Roots . I'm not really sure Miss 16 needs to focus on vocabulary but I had this on the shelf, it doesn't take her long and it can't hurt.
* 2 sections from Killgallon's Grammar for Middle School, one a general overview and the other looking at opening adjectives. This was on the shelf - somehow I forgot to use it with her earlier - and it'll only take 10 minutes or so a couple of times per week.  She doesn't need to focus on grammar but I like the way it uses grammar to enhance writing. Since it's only middle school level we'll whip through it in a few months before switching to another programme for the remainder of the year, another one that links grammar to improving writing quality.
* the first viewing of  movie Shane as part of her Movies in Literature course which we started over the summer.


* 17 hours at the gym either coaching or training. It was only meant to to be 14 hours but she was asked to cover a few classes for sick coaches.

On Friday we abandoned our routine went birding in the morning. Our very early start was not rewarded with the bird we'd hoped to see, so after a couple of hours we gave up and moved to another site where we were rewarded with hundreds of small waders. Well over a hundred Wrybill who have obviously finished breeding on local braided river and will soon be moving to the north of the country to spend the winter. Several hundred Banded Dotterel, many juveniles in their confusing plumage, not to mention some migratory waders from the northern hemisphere including two Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and more than thirty Red-necked Stints, including one that was already moving in to breeding plumage. Our identification and counting skills got a good workout!

The highlight of the week came on Saturday with a trip to the airport to collect Miss 22 who is finally home from her working holiday in England. Mr 24 came around and once Mr 19 got home from his cricket game we had the whole family together -  for a few hours at least!

Sheepskin lined socks - a belated Christmas gift from Miss 22 - almost have me looking forward to winter!

Linking to the Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up and Kym's Homeschool Highlights.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Week Ending 29 January 2017

It's been a busy week for Miss 16, filled with two of her favourite things, trampolining  and birds - enjoyable, but tiring too. The trampolining came in the form of  the holiday training boot camp - seven hours of training Monday-Friday. She's been on a break from trampoline since just before Christmas and missed the first week of holiday training so she could attend the zoology programme so it was no surprise that she was tired and stiff and sore for the first couple of days. By Wednesday she was back to normal and I was amazed at how energetic she was when I picked her up. Overall she had a good week's training and was delighted to learn that rule changes mean she only has to learn one new skill, not two as she had thought, before she will be able to move into the international division and then work towards her goal of being named to the national team and competing overseas. Gulp!

Once she was home from trampoline she spent the rest of each day on bird-related matters. The young birders group she's involved with is due to publish their next magazine and she had a couple of short articles to write for that. The next edition of our local group's newsletter is also due for publication. Miss 16 is the editor so had to work chasing up people for their contributions, as well as drafting her own column. Then she had an unusual bird report to submit. We'd seen a unusual bird at one of the local lakes several weeks ago. For it to be  recognised and included in official birding records a report needs to be sent to a national body which will either accept or reject it based on the details provided. Since plenty of people had seen this bird (we were definitely not the first) and photos were circulating online we assumed someone else had submitted a report but apparently not. The national body wanted this sighting officially recognised and she was approached and asked to make the report. It took awhile since she's never done one before, but it was a good learning experience. Then an opportunity arose for a a bird camp later in the year but the application needed to be returned immediately. Fingers crossed she's accepted since we've heard it filled up in 24 hours and her application wasn't in by then. We did manage to actually get out birding yesterday which is much more fun than writing about it. We were targeting four birds and thought we had a realistic chance of finding three of them. Instead we only managed one! Luckily there were a few things to console us, including the antics of a Pied Shag as it stirred up the water, dived and reemerged with an enormous fish which it somehow managed to swallow. Very amusing to watch.

Over the past couple of week's we've been struggling to keep up with Miss 22's travels since she's been so busy and so have we!

Amsterdam, Budapest, Berlin, Auschwitz, Prague and Krakow have been among Miss 22's recent visits.


One fun thing we have managed - at least a little-  is game playing. One of Dh's colleagues is pruning his extensive collection of board and card games. Rather than sell them, he's offering them to a few people who knows and we are one of the lucky ones.

Miss 16 and I have been battling for world domination with this game!


One of the best parts of the week for me was the installation of our new dishwasher. Our old one died several years ago and we'd been told it was no longer viable to repair it. Finally we've been able to replace it and I'm really grateful. I know a dishwasher is a total luxury and after being without for so long (perhaps 5 years) I really appreciate it.

Mr 19's summer class ended this week. Well classes ended. He now has a week's study break before the final exam. Then a week and a half before his new academic year begins.

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

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.