Saturday, December 20, 2014

Week Ending 21 December 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. The girls and I went out to the tree farm mid-week and selected a live tree which we decorated that evening. There's not a lot of room left on our living room but I do love the smell of a real (pine) tree. Thankfully Basil doesn't seem that interested in the tree and it is tucked away in a corner, so I'm hoping it will survive unscathed.

As the girls were decorating they commented that it was hard to find space  for all ornaments. So we decided not to make any new decorations for the tree this year. Instead we decorated the fridge - not seasonally appropriate but snowmen are still associated with Christmas here regardless of the fact that it is summer.

We also had a few minutes of fun playing this roll-your-own-elf game.

The one thing everyone wanted to do this Christmas was to check out the houses with Christmas light displays. So last night we drove around (singing carols loudly to ourselves as we went!) and checked out some of the lights.

Mr 17 completed another very successful tramp this week - five days and lots of rivers to cross. It was his final requirement for  both the Gold Venturer Award and the Silver Hillary/Duke of Edinburgh award.

Miss 14 and I drove up to the mountains to collect him and the rest of his group and had high hopes of seeing some new birds. Sadly (for us at least) the guys were out sooner than they first planned so we only managed to squeeze in an hour of birding and didn't manage any new birds. Two birding trips earlier in the week also failed to turn up any new species.

However, Miss 14 did receive one piece of good news. She's been offered some paid coaching next year. Just two classes at this stage but we weren't sure she'd be offered any paid hours, and I wouldn't want her working too many hours anyway.

My exciting news was a letter from an old friend. We met each other when we lived in Canada and had kept in touch ever since. We lost contact a couple of years ago after her husband died so it was great to hear from her again. Even better news is that she and her daughter (who is the same age as Mr 22 - we met at a library story time for babies when they were both a few months old!) will be holidaying in Australia in the middle of next year and will be making a side trip to New Zealand to see us. By then it will be nearly twenty years since we left Canada. I'm really looking forward to catching up in person.

With formal homeschooling on hold for our summer break and extra-curricular activities winding down (trampolining finally finished this week) we've had more time for reading. Miss 14 has finished Eleanor and Park and made a start on Mockingbird. They are slightly grittier than her normal reading material - another sign that she's getting older I guess. She's also reading The Christmas Mystery (a chapter per day this month until Christmas Eve) and A Christmas Carol as well as some bird books. I finished Jodi Picoult's Leaving Time , which I didn't especially like (normally I enjoy Picoult but not this time  - it may have been the psychic element), and The Funeral Dress which I do recommend, especially if you are a fan of stories set in the South.

The main event of the week for us was the last family birthday of the year. Miss 19 is now Miss 20  - homemade chocolate mousse to celebrate tonight!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Classics Club: 3 Othello

Still on my Shakespeare kick and this tragedy is powerful. Manipulated by the vengeful Iago, proud Othello is driven to despair by the idea that his new wife Desdemona has been unfaithful to him. I've never seen it performed but his anguish was palpable, practically jumping off the pages in many scenes. Even though Othello wanted to trust his wife, he trusted Iago more. Seeming to have no positive ways to handle the jealousy that consumed him he was driven first to murder,  then (coming to his senses and being battered by grief, remorse, and a realisation of what his future held) to suicide.

A salutary lesson of the dangers of seeking revenge and letting jealousy consume you. Plus it was one of the earliest plays to deal with race and racism, themes all too relevant today. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Week Ending 14 December 2014

The highlight of the week for Miss 14 and I was a birding trip to a local estuary. Lovely weather, lots of birds on nests or tending to their young and, best of all, a new bird for our life list. The Eastern Curlew is a rare Arctic migrant with only ten or so birds in this country at any one time. The site we were at is one of the sites they are known to frequent with one or two birds normally present during the summer. So far we'd had no luck seeing it but this was our lucky day and we spent half an hour or so watching it roosting and preening. It is difficult to mistake the Eastern Curlew since it has the longest bill of any wader in the world at 20cm long. In fact it looks slightly ridiculous, but at least it is easy to identify! So many waders look very similar - especially to the uninitiated.

Not the bird we saw - we couldn't get a photo. This one from By Aviceda (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Miss 14 and I attempted to get ourselves in the Christmas spirit. The local museum runs a Santa hunt every year and for some reason we've never gone. So we spent a morning wandering round the museum, spotting Santas as we went.

We also went did some giraffe spotting the same day. Wild in Art is an international organisation sponsoring public art trails worldwide. The theme of ours is Stand Tall - a good, positive slogan undoubtedly designed to boost post-earthquake fatigue. Nearly one hundred large decorated giraffes are gracing public spaces all over the city. Some have been decorated by schools and these will be returned to the schools once the event is over. Others have been sponsored by businesses and decorated by artists. These will be sold with the money donated to charity.

Speaking of earthquakes our sleep was disturbed the other night by a reasonable sized earthquake. The girls and dh were woken by it and I was woken by the budgie squawking (he probably fell off his perch) but Mr 17 slept through. Luckily it wasn't large enough to cause any damage. Just large enough to get the heart racing and remind us that Mother Nature isn't entirely settled just yet. It was the first earthquake we've felt in months. When I checked the official site we'd still had 100 quakes in the last couple of months but, with the exception of this one, all were all small and undetectable. Back in the worst of 2010 and 2011 we were experiencing 100 in a day or two and feeling most of them! Hopefully those days are over.

The girls made a day of Christmas shopping and took the time to purchase some gifts for charity. It's a tradition we started when they were quite small and it's nice that they have decided to continue it for  themselves.

We also attended a Community Carol service but were a little disappointed since there were very few actual carols. We were going to try another this evening but my routine optometrist's appointment turned out to be rather less routine than planned. As a result my eyesight was still rather fuzzy and uncomfortable so we stayed home. I have a repeat performance at the optometrist's in seven days. Hopefully it will rule out the major complication he is currently concerned about.

Miss 19 had a meeting with a potential supervisor for her honour's project next year. It went well and it looks like she might make an unofficial, early start so they can get ethics approval sooner rather than later. In years gone by some students haven't received approval until June for research projects which must be submitted in October. Sacrificing part of a summer break to avoid such stresses seems worthwhile!

Miss 14 and I finished our Shakespeare MOOC this week and Mr 17 finally finished the history one. He had his Venturer AGM where he happily passed over the chairperson's role. It will be his final year in the unit. He'll continue to represent it on the regional council, and also provide background support as he eases into "retirement" and completes the last of his requirements for the Queen's Scout - the highest award in Scouting here,  sort of comparable to Eagle Scout I think. He's been busy preparing for a five day tramp which starts tomorrow. Since it involves a number of river crossings I'm hoping for no rain and calm, gentle-flowing rivers until he's safely home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Classics Club: 2. Macbeth

This was a reread for me, since I studied the play in high school. Mind you that was more than 30 years ago (gulp) . My main recollection (apart from the general plot) was being required to memorise three lines and my friend (normally a studious, diligent sort) selecting the three witches': "Hail!","Hail!","Hail!"

Miss 14 and I both found Macbeth to a be short, easy to read play, but very powerful - a cautionary example of the costs of unbridled, unprincipled ambition, and what can happen to those who will do anything to achieve their ambition.

When we first learn about and meet Macbeth he is a heroic and loyal subject to King Duncan. However, this changes when he encounters three witches who address him as Thane of Glamis (his current title), Thane of Cawdor (a title King Duncan soon bestows upon him) and soon-to-be King. He is convinced that their prophesy must come true  but is not content to simply wait until it unfolds naturally. Spurred on by his wife, and against his own better instincts, he murders King Duncan. Both Macbeth and his wife struggle with their guilt. She becomes mad and eventually dies. He undertakes more murderous plots to try and hold onto his power against the increasing suspicion of and resistance from other nobles. He receives another prophecy from the witches that he should beware Macduff, but that he would not be overthrown until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill and that no one born of a woman would harm him. He tries to calm himself after these prophesies, reasoning that woods cannot move and that since all are born from women, then surely no one would be able to hurt him.

Of course the witches' prophesies do come true and Macbeth is killed - a once seemingly great man, who has lost everything because he refused to check his ambitions.

On the one hand this was not an enjoyable read. None of the major characters demonstrated any redeeming qualities, so it was hard to relate to them or sympathise with them As soon as Lady Macbeth succeeded in goading her husband to murder you knew it was going to end badly for them, but you knew they deserved whatever was coming to them. On the other hand Shakespeare's writing - his way with words, the poetry, the emotion he has his characters portray, and the humour that even features in this tragedy - is always a pleasure.

Shortly after Miss 14 and I finished reading this play I was discovered that it will be performed early next year by a local company. While Shakespeare is a pleasure to read, his plays were written to be performed and watched. Attending the annual outdoor performance of this company is a highlight of our summer but in the years that we've been attending they've only performed comedies. So it really was a pleasant surprise to discover them branching out, particularly since Macbeth will still be fresh in our minds. Seeing it performed live should only add to our appreciation of this powerful tragedy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Classics Club: 1. The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice opens with Antonio wanting to lend money to his young friend Bassanio so that Bassanio can court the wealthy heiress Portia. However, he has no spare funds available so instead underwrites a loan from Shylock, a Jewish money lender. In place of the usual terms Shylock requests a pound of flesh from Antonio if the loan is defaulted on. Antonio agrees to these terms despite Bassanio's objections. Unfortunately, Antonio's ships are all lost at sea and it seems he will be obligated to give Shylock his pound of flesh. Thankfully Portia, disguised as a man, saves the day in the courtroom. Of course, in typical Shakesperian fashion, there are also plenty of sub-plots to keep things interesting!

I enjoyed this play and one of the main reasons was because of the complex character of Shylock. He's often written off as greedy, uncompassionate and unprincipled. After all he seems to value his ducats more than his daughter. Yet Shakespeare highlights the anti-semitism Shylock  faced which contributed to his hated of Antonio and his preference for revenge in the form of the pound of flesh rather than financial recompense (and more) which Bassanio was then able to offer. Shakespeare also highlights the softer side of Shylock when he mourns a ring given to him by his wife and subsequently taken by his run away daughter Jessica, for sentimental not financial reasons. While Shylock is not the most sympathetic, likeable character, neither is he a one-dimensional villain. And Antonio, the generous benefactor, is not simply an innocent victim either.

I also loved having a woman in a take-charge role. At the beginning Portia seems controlled by her dead father. After all she must marry whoever wins the game of his devising. Yet in the end it is she who comes up with a plan and then stands up in court, turns the law on itself , thus saving Antonio's flesh. She also plays a trick on  Bassanio, which should demonstrate to him that she will be a force to be reckoned with in their marriage.

Like most of Shakespeare's plays the language is wonderful, there is both humour and pathos  to be found, complex issues are raised and one reading is not enough to uncover all the treasure to be discovered. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Week Ending 7 December 2014

Lots of things happening this week but it has felt fairly relaxed anyway.

Miss 14 and I went birding hoping to find the rare wader seen the previous weekend during the count at the lake. We had no luck but did see a good variety of other waders and enjoyed exploring a new section of the lake.

Miss 19, Mr 17, Miss 14 and dh went to see Mockingjay Part 1 at the movies. I enjoyed several hours at home all by myself which was wonderful. I'm an introvert and truly appreciate those rare occasions when I get time alone. The general consensus was that the movie was well done and fairly true to the book, although both Miss 19 and Miss 14 felt that in the visual medium the wars and violence dominated more than they did in the written format. Interestingly their seats shook due to the volume of the bombs being dropped on-screen (on those rare occasions I go to the movies I always find the volume too loud) and it brought back earthquake memories for them both. I guess large earthquakes are an experience you never forget! Apparently post battle Panem looks a lot like our city post-earthquake, especially the cracks in the bunkers in District 13.  As I write this Mr 17 and dh have left to go back to the movies to see Fury - not my sort of film but I'm sure they'll appreciate it.

Earlier in the week Miss 19 went to the premiere of a short film made by some film students. Her best friend played the part of the villain. She's pretty happy at the moment since final grades have been released. Her marks were high, she topped half her classes and has won a departmental award. This isn't meant to sound like bragging (although I am proud of her - she's worked hard for her grades) but to reassure nervous Mums that homeschooling through high school will not ruin their kids and mean they won't succeed at university if that is where they choose to go. Sometimes finding the correct balance in blogging is difficult. Homeschooling blogs where parents continually discuss their childrens' massive overachievements in all areas can be off-putting, but so many parents still worry that homeschooling through high school will hold their kids back. I feel it is important to at least mention the successes - if only to reassure myself that a less than perfect homeschool did not hold my older kids back academically so I shouldn't be ruining the chances of the younger two either.

The girls and I finally got around to deep-cleaning part of the house this week. Normally I do the whole house in spring but uncertainty about when we will have to move out for repairs led to me putting it off. But I finally caved in to the inevitable (and the fact that the repairs probably won't happen until later next year, which suits me anyway) and we did the two largest rooms. The bedrooms were all done in March after Mr 22 moved out and everyone switched rooms so I felt justified skipping them. I may or may not work on some of the smaller rooms this week. Never one of my favourite jobs but I do feel better when it is done.

The girls also ramped up the Christmas preparations by making our Christmas cards and doing some decorating. Not sure that we'll be able to get a real tree this year though. With Basil's bed in the living room there isn't a lot of space and when he has a seizure he's very clumsy, meaning he will probably bump into the tree and knock it over!

Miss 14 and I finally finished reading Antony and Cleopatra this week and also completed the lessons on The Tempest. Only one more week to go, which might be just as well since I've signed up for a MOOC on Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It doesn't look too challenging or too much work which is good - I'm not sure I can spend a lot of time on it. But I normally reread A Christmas Carol at this time of the year anyway so signing up for the MOOC seemed like a good addition.

In amongst this I've managed to spend some time in the garden. Our "Basil-proofing" seems to have finally succeeded so it's now worth planting some more vegetables. All the potatoes are up and some of the tomato plants have flowers. I should be able to start sparingly picking basil and coriander next week.